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 specialisations are in the anthropology of religion, politics, and ethno-religious nationalist conflict. She especially focuses on rivalries over conversion and religious freedom, and the question of national belonging, through examination of vernacular theological disputes between Buddhists and Christians in contemporary South Asia. Her ethnographic work attends to the ritual innovations, and “new religious movements” that emerge from inter-religious competition. 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’.

Asst Prof Mahadev’s research and graduate studies have been supported by a fellowship from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (2009-11), a National Science Foundation (United States) Graduate Research Fellowship (2004-2007), and a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship from the Johns Hopkins University (2012). 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.

Asst Prof Mahadev was a Research Fellow (2015-2017) at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (Göttingen, Germany), and during that time she carried out a stint of research in Singapore. She currently serves as a Research Associate of the Asia Research Institute (ARI) at NUS.

Asst Prof 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 persuasion.

Her ethnographic work documents the ritual and theological adaptations, continuities, and change that come out of religious disputes. 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 new inter- and intra-religious relations that are emerging from the new configuration of ethno-religious politics in post-war Sri Lanka. The working title of Asst Prof Mahadev’s in-progress book manuscript is Karma and Grace: Buddhist-Christian Conversion Rivalries in Millennial Sri Lanka.

Articles and Book Chapters
(2019, forthcoming) “Economies of Conversion and Ontologies of Religious Difference: Buddhism, Christianity, and Adversarial Political Perception in Sri Lanka.” Current Anthropology.

(2019) “Secularism and Religious Modernity in Sri Lanka and Singapore: Trans-regional Revivalism Considered.” In The Secular in South, East, and Southeast Asia, Dean and van der Veer (eds). Palgrave McMillan. 287-311. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-89369-3

(2015) “The Maverick Dialogics of Religious Rivalry: Aspiration and Contestation in a New Messianic Buddhist Movement.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 22 (1), 127-147 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. doi: 10.1007/978-981-4451-18-5

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) 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.

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

Introduction to Anthropology
Religion and the Media Turn
The Anthropology of Violence