I am a sociocultural anthropologist interested in contemporary anthropological theories, and in comparative discussions of Indian society, nation-state and culture in relation to the modern Western– and American–culture. My first fieldwork, while teaching anthropology in India, was on the changing rules of ritual purity, pollution, and domestic cleanliness in a North Indian village (1958-61). I pursued this interest further at the University of Chicago during 1963-64, and over the next several years by studying orthodox-yet-modern Kanyakubja Brahmans of the Avadh region for their caste organization and social change. My teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in the late sixties allowed me to organize and lead an interdisciplinary department on “modernization studies.” During the seventies and eighties, I studied structural logic, philosophy and symbolic meanings of food in Indian society and culture, along with Indian food security and hunger issues. With converging interests during the late seventies, Professor Mary Douglas and I collaborated for several years for promoting internationally anthropological research on food, culture and human survival. Simultaneously, the Center for Advanced Study of University of Virginia, supported my initiative for a university committee (1974-1989) on issues in modern individualism to promote interdisciplinary faculty collaboration and communication.
As for my field research, its initial focus changed in mid-seventies from a study of a north Indian village (Gopalpur) and of Kanyakubja Brahmans (regarded socially the highest) to Untouchables or Dalits (the lowest) in the Avadh region. The change exposed me to another face of India, where the socially disenfranchised and faceless Dalit men and women toiled for “survival with honor.” Lately, the same interest has turned toward a study of contemporary social conflicts, injustice, religious violence and human rights issues in India, alongside a critical review of anthropological explanations of India. The focus here is as much on conflict-ridden Indian traditions, fractured modernity, diluted secularism and the wayward nation-state, as on reexamining some longstanding philosophical and historical debates between India and modern Europe. These debates lead us to those distinct reasoning patterns that still shape and separate critical Indian and Western discourses. In such inquiries, field ethnography as well as anthropological analyses of India face new questions and challenges, ranging across the usual modern West and non-West, history and myth, and theory and practice dividers, and demanding that anthropological approach now be both responsive and responsible to local, transnational and global human concerns. Here, if anthropology tries to understand divergent civilizational ideologies, then it must also address human survival issues under hunger, illness, social injustice, violence, and war and peace.
Post-War theories in sociocultural anthropology; anthropological studies on (and in) India; postcolonial ethnography; contemporary India for explicating post-independence changes in caste, religion and politics; Hinduism, Hindutva and Hindu-Muslim violence; Indian Dalits’ ethnopoetics of protest and subaltern power; modernization and Islam; social inequalities in India and America; the post-War Indian Diaspora in America; food ways and dietary cultures in India and America; and medico-legal issues surrounding modern birth and death technologies.
Post-War anthropological theories; Ethnography and ethnographic writing; Research Design and Field Methods; Contemporary Hinduism and Hindutva; Senior Seminar (Social Inequalities, Postcolonial Anthropology); Anthropology of Brith and Death; Cultural Differences and Human Rights; Social Inequality and Injustice Issues in South Asia; and American Dietary and Health Culture.
Selected Recent Publications
(i) Recent books
- 2011— Co-editor (with D. Shyam Babu): Caste in Life: Encounters, Meanings and Challenges. New Delhi: Pearson Education.
- 2009a— Co-editor (with Ralph Cohen): India and the West: Issues in Globalizing History and Culture. A collection of ten original articles and essays: Special Issue New Literary History, Vol. 40, no. 2 (Spring 2009).
- 2009b— Editor: Second Paperback Edition, with an “Afterword,” Caste, Hierarchy and Individualism: Critiques of Louis Dumont’s Contributions. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
- 2009c— Digital Paperback Reprint (Cambridge University Press: The Untouchable as Himself: Ideology, Identity and Pragmatism among Lucknow Chamars; originally published by CUP in1984).
(ii) Selected papers, book chapters and articles
- 2012— “Postscript: Looking Back to Look Ahead,” in Curried Cultures: Globalization, Indian Food and the Urban Middle Class. Eds. Tulasi Srinivas and Krishnendu Ray. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press (in press).
- 2011— “Pica, Motherhood, and Environmental Toxicity in India: Issues in Food, Medical and Globalization Anthropology,” An accepted paper for “The Asian Food Cultural Heritage Forum” meeting in China (August, 2011).
- 2011— “The Unch-nich Challenge in Life: Changing Locations, Forces and Meanings,” in Caste in Life: Experiencing Inequalities. Eds. D. Shyam Babu and R. S. Khare. Delhi: Pearson Education.
- 2009— “Introduction,” in India and the West (a symposium special number), New Literary History. Vol. 40, No. 2.
- 2009— “Changing India-West Cultural Dialectics,” in India and the West (a symposium special number), New Literary History. Vol. 40, No. 2.
- 2009— “Afterword,” in Ed. R. S. Khare. Caste, Hierarchy, and Individualism: Indian Critiques of Louis Dumont’s Contributions. Second Paperback edition, (Oxford in India Readings in Sociology and Social Anthropology) New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
- 2008— “Anthropology, India, and the Academic Self: A Disciplinary Journey Between Two Cultures over Four Decades,” in India Review Vol. 7, No. 4, pp. 349-377. 2008.
- 2005— “Strands in Cultural Imagination: Interpreting Scholarly Itineraries in Indian Anthropology,” (D. N. Majumdar Memorial Lecture), in Eastern Anthropologist, Vol. 58, No. 1, pp. 1-25.
- 2005— “Dalits’ Changing Challenges: Progressive Social Discourses and New Communication Strategies.” RGICS Paper Series 49. Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies. New Delhi. Pp.1-25.
- 2004— “Anna,” in The Hindu World, Eds. Sushil Mittal and Gene Thursby. London and New York: Routledge.
- 2003— “Dalits and the Indian Constitution at Fifty: Issues in Changing Cultural Identity and Public Debates,” in Rights and Privileges: Fifty Years of Indian Constitution. Eds. Ajit Jain, J. S. Palsetia and N. K. Wagle. Toronto: University of Toronto: Center for South Asian Studies.
- 2002— “Two Disengaged Cultures, Two Distant Democracies: Anthropological Notes on Indian and American Political Ethos,” in India and the U. S. in a Changing World. Eds. Ashok Kapoor, Harold A. Gould, and Arthur G. Rubinoff. New Delhi and London: Sage Publications. Pp. 245-296.
- 1999— “The Issue of ‘Right to Food’ among the Hindus; Notes and Comments,” in Tradition, Pluralism and Identity, Eds. Veena Das, Dipankar Gupta and Patricia Uberoi. New Delhi and London: Sage Publications.
- 1996— “Dava. Daktar and Dua: Anthropology of Practiced Medicine in India,” in Social Science and Medicine. Vol. 43, No. 5. Pp. 837-848.