CHiTra Mela Presenter Biographies

Published: March 1st, 2016

Category: News

Presenter Biographies

Gil Ben-Herut is an assistant professor in the Religious Studies Department, University of South Florida, teaching South Asian Religions with a specific concentration on medieval Hinduism. His research interests include pre-modern religious literature in the Kannada language and South Asian devotional traditions. He has published peer-reviewed articles in leading journals and his forthcoming book considers the early Kannada Śivabhakti movement as reflected in early thirteenth-century hagiographies by Hampeya Harihara.

Jonathan Edelmann (D.Phil., Oxford University, 2008) is Assistant Professor, Department of Religion, at the University of Florida, and an affiliated faculty member with the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions. He is an editor for the International Journal of Hindu Studies and author of Hindu Theology and Biology with Oxford University Press, which won a John Templeton Foundation Award, the Dharma Academy of North America Book Prize, and was nominated for the Hindu-Christian Studies Book Award. Edelmann was a fellow with the American Academy of Religion for two years. His research is on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition, and the manner in which Hindu thought might respond constructively to contemporary issues in the philosophy, ecology, and science. He has published in a wide variety of leading academic journals: Journal of the American Academy of ReligionJournal of Consciousness Studies, Zygon: Journal of Science and Religion, Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Kathleen M. Erndl (Ph.D. University of Wisconsin) is Associate Professor of Religion at the Florida State University where she teaches in the field of South Asian religions, especially Hinduism, as well as gender and religion, popular Hindi cinema, and Sanskrit.   Her publications include Victory to the Mother: The Hindu Goddess of Northwest India in Myth, Ritual and Symbol(Oxford), a co-edited collection of essays entitled Is the Goddess a Feminist? The Politics of South Asian Goddesses (New York University Press and Sheffield Academic Press), and articles on Sakta traditions and women. Her most recent publications are on religion in Bollywood film.

Michael Fiden earned both a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Arts in Religious Studies, specializing in South Asian Religions, from the University of South Florida. During his graduate studies at USF, he worked closely with Dr. Carlos Lopez, studying religion in South Asia using primarily historical and philological methods. Michael has also studied Sanskrit under the tutelage of Dr. Lopez, Dr. Michael Witzel, and more recently Dr. Gil Ben-Herut. Currently, Michael is working with Dr. Ben-Herut to read the Siddhānta Śikhāmaṇi, with particular attention to its place within the historical context of Vīraśaivism. Michael is preparing to apply to doctoral programs for the Fall 2018 semester.

Deepa Nair is an Assistant Professor of South Asian History at the University of Central Florida and specializes in modern and contemporary Indian/South Asian history. She was born and raised in India, and holds a PhD from the National University of Singapore. She will be presenting a short version of her article, ‘The Other Side of Silence—Religion and Conflict in Indian textbooks” published in the edited volume ‘Controversial History Education in Asian Contexts’ by Routledge.

Vasudha Narayanan is Distinguished Professor, Department of Religion, and Director, Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions (CHiTra) at the University of Florida. She was educated at the Universities of Madras and Bombay in India, and at Harvard University. She is a past president of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Hindu-Christian Studies. She is the author or editor of seven books and also the associate editor of the six-volume Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. She has written and numerous articles, chapters in books, and encyclopedia entries. Her research has been supported by grants and fellowships from several organizations including the Centre for Khmer Studies; the American Council of Learned Societies; National Endowment for the Humanities; the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Institute of Indian Studies/ Smithsonian, and the Social Science Research Council. She is currently working on Hindu temples and traditions in Cambodia.

Prea Persaud received a B.A. from Rollins College and her M.A. from Syracuse University.  She is currently a PhD candidate and graduate instructor in the Religion Department at the University of Florida.  She is also an intern at the Digital Library of the Caribbean where she is working to expand the collection on the Indo-Caribbean community. She has presented conference papers on the Indo-Caribbean communities in the U.S., the narrative of indentured labor, and the ways in which Hinduism in the Caribbean can be categorized as a “Creole Religion.” She is interested in global Hinduism, religion in the Caribbean, and issues concerning race, identity, transnationalism, and post-colonialism.

Madelyn P. Ramachandran, Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant, Department of Religious Studies, University of South Florida. Received a BA in Anthropology and Religious Studies from the University of South Florida. Interests consist of religions of South Asia, women in ascetic communities and the influence women/marginalized groups have on religious and cultural practice.

Priyanka Ramlakhan is currently a second year PhD student in Religion at the University of Florida specializing in Religions of Asia. Her areas of interest include global Hinduism, Indo-Caribbean religions, identity, gender and post-colonialism. She earned her B.S. in Health Services Administration from the University of Central Florida. She also holds an M.A. in Public Administration from Nova Southeastern University and a M.A. in Religious Studies from Florida International University. Her MA thesis explored the power dynamics of the Hindu guru and disciple relationship in a western context. She has presented papers at the SECSOR Annual Regional Meeting (2013, 2014, 2017) and the Annual Conference of South Asia (2013). She serves as the Southeast Region’s Student Director for the American Academy of Religion. She is also the editor of Speaking of Students newsletter published by the American Academy of Religion.

Steven Vose is the Bhagwan Mahavir Assistant Professor of Jain Studies and Religious Studies at FIU. He examines the history of interactions within and between South Asian traditions to understand the meaning and contexts of community identity formation, religious authority, and the relationships between religious communities and the state in the late medieval and early modern periods. Dr. Vose is interested in the intersections of intellectual, social, and political practices; he is also interested in devotional practices such as pilgrimage and temple ritual, as public religious expressions. He also works on the development of vernacular literary traditions, especially in Old Gujarati, and the interaction of Sanskrit, Prakrit and vernacular languages and literatures. Additionally, his work examines architecture, sculpture and manuscript painting practices, especially in western India. More broadly, he is interested in historiography in the study of religion, literary theory and religious reading practices, modern and premodern religious identity politics, and theories of modernity. He brings a focus on the lived reality of religious life to his study of the medieval and early modern Indian past.

Albert Wuaku is originally from Ghana, but now a naturalized American. Holds a PhD in Religious Studies and Anthropology from the Center for the Study of Religions in the University of Toronto, in Ontario, Canada. His MA is from McMaster University in Canada. He also studied Peace Studies at the University of Oslo in Norway. He came to FIU in 2006 as an assistant professor of Religious Studies. Currently he is associate Professor of Ethnography and Religions of Africa and its Diasporas. His research focus is on African agency in the global dispersal of religions. His initial fieldwork was in southern Ghana. He spent 7 months in the towns and villages of southern Ghana investigating Ghanaian Hindu Temples actively operating in these communities, the participation of Ghanaian worshippers in Hindu rituals and their use of Hindu symbols as magico religious resources in a highly globalized Ghana. He has published a number of articles and a book [Hindu Gods in West Africa, 2013] on this topic. He is currently undertaking ethnographic research among Haitian migrants rooting Vodou on Miami’s religious landscape. This project is part of a bigger project on religious practices of recent migrants from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America in the USA. He teaches a wide-range of postgraduate/undergraduate courses on Religions of Africa and its diaspora [past and present], Religious Ethnography and Sociological and Anthropological approaches to the study of Religions.


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