Neena Mahadev

Social Sciences (Anthropology)

Assistant Professor


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Assistant Professor Neena Mahadev received her PhD and MA in Anthropology from Johns Hopkins University (2013), an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and a BA in Sociology/Anthropology from Carleton College. Her specialisation is in the anthropology of religion and religious politics, with focus on Buddhism and Christianity. She is also involved in study of forms of religiosity and ritual that fall beyond the scope of what are ordinarily classified as ‘World Religions’.

Dr Mahadev is especially attentive to the relationship between religion and the political economy in her analysis. Her ethnographic fieldwork, carried out in Sri Lanka for 24 months from 2009-2011, was supported by a dissertation fellowship from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Her graduate studies were supported by a National Science Foundation (United States) fellowship (2004-2007), and a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship from the Johns Hopkins University. She was employed as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the ‘Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities’, an initiative of the Trans-regional Research Network (CETREN) at the University of Göttingen, Germany.

Most recently (2015-2017), Dr Mahadev carried out her research and writing as a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (Göttingen, Germany), and carried out a stint of research in Singapore through a short-term affiliation with the Asia Research Institute at NUS. She currently serves as an Associate Editor for HAU Journal of Ethnographic Theory.

Dr Mahadev is a cultural anthropologist with expertise in the anthropology of religion, and secondary focus on political anthropology and the anthropology of exchange, gift, and sacrifice. Her research centres on pressing debates about religion and the political economy, proselytism, religious freedom, and differing perspectives over what constitutes the ethics of religious attraction.

Her ethnography documents the ritual and theological adaptations, continuities, and change that come out of stark inter-religious competition. Specifically, she has carried out work on the arrival of relatively new, expansionary forms of Christianity, within a milieu of established Buddhist (Theravada) Buddhism, and the range of inter- and intra-religious relations that are emerging from the new configuration of ethno-religious politics in post-war Sri Lanka. Dr Mahadev’s in-progress book manuscript is tentatively entitled Karma and Grace: Buddhist-Christian Conversion Rivalries and Politics in Millennial Sri Lanka.

(2016) “The Maverick Dialogics of Religious Rivalry: Aspiration and Contestation in a New Messianic Buddhist Movement.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, doi:10.1111/1467-9655.12337.

(2014) “Conversion and Anti-Conversion in Contemporary Sri Lanka: Pentecostal Christian Evangelism and Theravada Buddhist Views on the Ethics of Religious Attraction,” in Proselytizing and the Limits of Religious Pluralism in Contemporary Asia, Feener and Finucane (eds). Singapore: Springer. 211-235.

Book Reviews
(2014) The Golden Wave: Culture and Politics after Sri Lanka’s Tsunami Disaster, by Michele Gamburd. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. In Journal of Asian Studies.

(2012) Language, Charisma and Creativity: Ritual Life in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, by Thomas Csordas (1997 re-release). In Anthropology News.

(2012) Legends of People, Myths of State: Violence, Intolerance and Political Culture in Sri Lanka and Australia”; by Bruce Kapferer, (new, revised edition). Oxford, New York: Berghahn Books (Smithsonian Inst. Press). In Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Introduction to Anthropology
Religion and the Media Turn