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Research Interests for Leela Prasad

Research Interests: Ethics & Civic Engagement, Hinduism, Performance & Material Culture, Everyday life, Anthropology of Religion, Gender, Narrative, Colonialism & Postcolonial Theory

My primary interests are in ethics and its lived, expressive dimensions in Hindu and other Indic contexts, and in colonial and postcolonial anthropology of India, folklore, narrative, gender, and the South Asian American diaspora. My book Poetics of Conduct: Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town (Columbia University Press, 2007) explores ethnographically how ethical discourses and self-formation can be understood through a study of oral narrative, performance studies, vernacular material practices ranging from architecture to foodways, and the poetics of everyday language. (This book was awarded the “Best First Book in the History of Religions Prize” by the American Academy of Religion in 2007.)

My second book, in progress, is at the intersection of oral narrative and colonial-era anthropology. Titled Annotating Pastimes: Cultures of Narration in Colonial India, this work looks at how the collection and publication of Indian folktales between 1860 and 1920 by British and Indian collectors shaped a new textualization of “everyday life in India” and especially of oral expressive forms (see article on some of this work.). My book studies how such a textualization, embedded in a variety of personal stories, crucially influenced the anthropology of India.

I co-edited Gender and Story in South India (SUNY Press, 2006) which presents ethnographic research by Indian women scholars on Hindu and Muslim women-centered oral narratives performed in different cultural and linguistic settings of South India. I also co-directed a documentary film ("Back & Forth: Two Generations of Indian Americans at Home") and edited a catalogue of essays titled Live Like the Banyan Tree (1999) to accompany an exhibition I guest-curated on Indian American life in Philadelphia & the Greater Delaware Valley (The Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies, now the Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

A major area of interest for me is in understanding how visual and material cultures reflect theorizations of ethics. Underway is my ethnographic study of an immensely popular Telugu call-in live television program in India that offers interesting insights into the mediation by mass media between ‘normative expertise’ and ethical doubt or uncertainty.

An emerging area of interest for me is “Gandhian ethics”--especially its contemporary imagery and manifestations in practice. To understand what might be implied by a Gandhian social practicum, I have been involved in civic engagement: Since summer 2008, I co-direct, with Dr. Baba Prasad, a DukeEngage program in Hyderabad , India, where along with the Duke students we supervise, we teach communicative English, basic science, and arts in economically underprivileged elementary schools. Our partner in this effort is the Hyderabad chapter of the Association for India’s Development.

From July 2010, I will assume the first faculty directorship of the Duke Center for Civic Engagement. I also serve on the boards of the Kenan Institute Ethics Certificate program, Center for Documentary Studies, and the North Carolina Consortium for South Asian Studies.

Areas of Interest:

Ethics & Civic Engagement
Anthropology of Religion
Colonialism & Postcolonial Theory

Recent Publications
  1. Prasad, L, The Audacious Raconteur: Sovereignty and Storytelling in Colonial India (November, 2020), pp. 222 pages, Cornell University Press, ISBN 1501752286 [doi[abs]
  2. Prasad, L, Ethical Resonance: The Concept, the Practice, and the Narration, Journal of Religious Ethics, vol. 47 no. 2 (June, 2019), pp. 394-415 [doi[abs]
  3. Prasad, L, Nameless in history: when the imperial English become the subjects of Hindu narrative, South Asian History and Culture, vol. 8 no. 4 (October, 2017), pp. 448-460 [doi[abs]
  4. Prasad, L, Co-being, a praxis of the public: Lessons from hindu devotional (bhakti) narrative, arendt, and gandhi, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 85 no. 1 (March, 2017), pp. 199-223 [doi[abs]
  5. Prasad, L, Maithil Women's Tales: Storytelling on the Nepal-India Border, Journal of American Folklore, vol. 130 no. 518 (2017), pp. 478-480

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