West and South Asian Religions

Course of Study Description

The course of study in West and South Asian Religions (WSAR) draws on the extensive strengths of Emory’s faculty in Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions to offer seminars and dissertation supervision in these traditions from a range of methodological perspectives. While these three main traditions broadly define three primary streams of study within WSAR, the cross-fertilization of ideas and practices across traditions and throughout West and South Asia remains a core interest of the faculty and students. 

All students are required to have a secondary area of expertise, most frequently one of the three religious traditions within WSAR but occasionally another religious tradition (e.g., Judaism) or area of academic inquiry (e.g., cognitive science). The result is a diverse intellectual community that engages in conversations touching on a wide range of cultural, historical and theoretical issues. These conversations are pursued through the regularly scheduled WSAR colloquium, at which faculty and advanced graduate students present their research.

Methodologically, the faculty in WSAR offer preparation in a wide range of approaches to the study of religion, including ethnography, historiography, gender studies, philosophical studies, performance theory, philology, cultural studies, literary studies, legal studies, hermeneutics, cognitive science, and contemplative practices. Most students will specialize in one of these approaches, usually incorporating elements of one or more of the others. Seminars in these methodologies are offered regularly as part of the general preparation. In some cases, methodological preparation will come through directed readings in addition to, or in place of, seminars.

The WSAR faculty are united in their assessment of the critical role that indigenous categories and local culture must play in the formation of the scholarly study of religious traditions. Thus, in addition to the rigorous training in methods described above, it is expected that in most cases WSAR students will spend at least one year abroad conducting research in one or more West or South Asian countries. Our students have had outstanding success in securing external grants to fund this year of research.

Students are required to complete two years of course work, with qualifying exams and the dissertation prospectus completed by the end of the fourth year. While these requirements are standard, every student’s career will differ to some degree. In the third year, many WSAR students will travel abroad for language study, usually with funding from an outside agency. After completing the candidacy requirements in the fourth year, students generally devote the fifth year to dissertation research, often conducted in the field with the support of a research grant. In the sixth year, students write up their research, aiming to complete the dissertation by the end of that year or, in some cases, the year after. 

The language requirements for WSAR students are tailored to their particular projects and are worked out in conjunction with their main adviser. In general terms, WSAR students are required to demonstrate advanced research proficiency in two or more foreign languages, one of which at least must be a West or South Asian language. Emory currently offers introductory to advanced levels of instruction in the following languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi, Persian, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Urdu. Students also may apply for funding to undertake private tuition in other less commonly taught languages such as Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu.

Significant library holdings in West and South Asian religions are housed in Woodruff Library. The Pitts Theology Library also has extensive holdings related to West and South Asian religions, especially in the area of the history of Christian missions. Considerable acquisitions are being pursued via electronic formats, including extensive holdings in Tibetan texts.

Emory and Atlanta offer wide resources in support of the program. The Law and Religion Program of Emory School of Law offers seminars and occasional major international symposia in the interrelations among law, religion, and religious human rights, including attention to Islamic ethics, law and politics. The Atlanta metropolitan area offers significant opportunities for the study of West and South Asian religious traditions in their diaspora context in the American South. Emory enjoys cordial relations with many religious communities, which have been most hospitable in welcoming students to observe and study their communities and practices.

Associated Research Programs and Forums

Emory Forum for the Ethnographic Study of Religion
South Asia Seminar
PhD Program in Islamic Civilizations Studies


Anandi Knuppel,
“Beyond Seeing: Embodied Multisensory Performance, Experience, and Practice in Contemporary Transnational Gaudiya Vaishnavism” 

Summar Shoaib, "Fulfilling the Mission: Minhāj-ul-Qur'ān, Women's Authority and Reinstilling Love for the Prophet


Rebecca Makas,
“In Spite of Their Thoughts Their Words Require Interpretation: Silence and Ineffability in Medieval Islamic Mysticism” - Assistant Professor at Villanova University

Deeksha Sivakumar,
Dolls on Display: A South Indian Festival of Identity and Play"

Recent Placements and Promotions (2012–2017)

Gil Ben-Herut, Assistant Professor, University of South Florida

Manuella, Ceballos, Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Antoinette DeNapoli, Associate Professor, Texas Christian University

Brooke Dodson-Lavelle, Co-Founder and President, Courage of Care Coalition

Philip Dorroll, Assistant Professor, Wofford College

Tiffany Hodge, City Director for After School Programs, Center for Refugees, Nashville

Aftab Jassal, Assistant Professor, Colgate University

Harshita Mruthinti Kamath, Assistant Professor, Emory University, Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies

Constance Kassor, Assistant Professor, Lawrence University

Jonathan Loar, South Asian Reference Librarian, Library of Congress

Mohamed Mohamed, Assistant Professor, Northern Arizona University

Mohammad Abdun Nasir, Assistant Professor, State University of Islamic Studies, Lombok, Indonesia

Jennifer Ortegran, Assistant Professor, Middlebury College

Brendan Ozawa-de Silva, Associate Director for Education Programs, Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics, Emory University

Catherine Prueitt, Assistant Professor, George Mason University

Peter Valdina, Assistant Professor, Albion College

Katherine Zubko, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina, Asheville

Recent Dissertations (2012–2017)

Manuella Ceballos (2016): “Violence and Communal Boundaries in the Western Mediterranean.”

Tiffany Hodge (2016); “The Rules of God: The Practice of Religion and Law in Rural Bangladesh.”

Jonathan Loar (2016): “My Bones Shall Speak from Beyond the Tomb: The Life and Legacy of Shirdi Sai Baba in History and Hagiography.”

Catherine Prueitt (2016): “Carving out Conventional Worlds: The Work of Apoha in Early Dharmakīrtian Buddhism and Prayabhijñā Śaivism.”

Brooke Dodson-Lavelle (2015): “Against One Method: Toward a Critical-Constructive Approach to the Adaptation and Implementation of Buddhist-based Contemplative Programs in the United States.”

Jennifer Ortegren (2015): “Dharma and Aspiration: The Shifting Religious Worlds of Rajasthani Women.”

Brendan Ozawa-de Silva (2015): “Becoming the Wish-Fulfilling Tree: Compassion and the Transformation of Ethical Subjectivity in the Lojong Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.”

Aftab Jassal (2014): “In Search of Nagaraja: Narrative, Place-Making, and Divine Embodiment in Garhwal” 

Constance Kassor (2014): “Thinking the Unthinkable: Conceptual Thought, the Nonconceptual, and the Philosophy of Go rams pa bSod nam Seng ge.”

Gil Ben-Herut (2013): “Narrating Devotion: Representations and Prescriptions of the Early Kannada Śivabhakti Tradition According to Harihara’s Śivaśaraṇare Ragaḷegaḷu.”

Philip Dorroll (2013): “Modern by Tradition: Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī and the New Turkish Theology.

Mohammad Abdun Nasir (2013): “Islamic Law and Social Change: The Religious Court and the Dissolution of Marriage among Muslims in Lombok, Indonesia.”

Peter Valdina (2013): “Reading the Yoga Sūtra in Colonial India.”

Harshita Mruthinti Kamath (2012): “Aesthetics, Performativity, & Performative Maya: Imagining Gender in the Textual and Performance Traditions of Telugu South India”