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CHiTra Mela IV – Names of Participants, Titles of Presentations, and Brief Biographies

Research and Pedagogy on South Asia and Global Hindu Traditions CHiTra Mela IV, February 14-16, 2020

Organizer: Vasudha Narayanan (Distinguished Professor); Co-organizers: Venu Mehta and Carol Rodriguez (Graduate Students), Religion


Chris Ballengee (Anne Arundel Community College, PhD, Ethnomusicology 2013, University of Florida)

Sweet Tassa: A documentary film about music, politics, and belonging in Trinidad & Tobago

Christopher L. Ballengee teaches courses in world music, popular music, music history, music and gender, and anthropology. Ballengee holds a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Florida. Ballengee’s wide-ranging research interests include music of the Caribbean, world music pedagogy, online and hybrid teaching methods, theater sound design, and ethnographic film.  His scholarly work in ethnomusicology has centered on the music of Trinidad and Tobago, especially that of the Indian diaspora. His dissertation, “From Indian to Indo-Creole: Tassa Drumming, Creolization, and Indo-Caribbean Nationalism in Trinidad and Tobago,” is the first large-scale study of tassa drumming that highlights the organology, repertoire and socio-cultural impact of tassa performance. Ballengee’s research has been presented at numerous regional, national and international conferences.


Richard Batchelor (MA, Dec. 2019, University of Florida)

“’You’re Nobody ‘til Samadhi Loves You’: A Comparative Investigation of Swami Vivekananda and Aleister Crowley’s Understanding of Samadhi.”

Richard Batchelor recently received an MA in Religion, with a focus on Method and Theory and Hindu Traditions, from the University of Florida. He previously graduated cum laude from the University of Florida, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Religion. As an undergraduate, he won the Department of Religion’s Russell Lowell Jaberg Award for Academic Excellence for his paper “The Kapalikas: Sect or Style?” The primary area of his graduate research was the historical interaction between Western esotericism and South Asian religion, with a special focus on British occultist Aleister Crowley and his successors’ adaptation of Indian philosophy and technic. In addition to this emphasis, he is interested in Hindu and Buddhist yoga and tantra, Sanskrit studies, and critical theory, particularly deconstruction, post-structuralism, and post-colonialism.


Gil Ben-Herut (Associate Professor, University of South Florida)

Three Moments in the History of Vacanas.

Dr. Gil Ben-Herut is an Associate Professor in the Religious Studies Department, University of South Florida. His research interests include pre-modern religious literature in the Kannada language, South Asian bhakti (devotional) traditions, translation in South Asia, and programming for Digital Humanities. Dr. Ben-Herut’s book Śiva’s Saints: The Origins of Devotion in Kannada according to Harihara’s Ragaḷegaḷu (Oxford University Press) is the first study in English of the earliest Śaiva hagiographies in the Kannada-speaking region and has received the 2019 First Book Award of the Southeastern Medieval Association (SEMA).


Prema Bhat (Performing Artist, Independent Scholar, and Adjunct Instructor, USF)

The challenges of composing music for the Vachana Sahitya of the 12th century Shiva Sharanas

Prema Bhat is an accomplished Indian Carnatic classical vocalist from South India with A Master’s degree in Carnatic singing and Theory.  She is a former faculty member at Dept of Music at Emory University, Atlanta, where she taught Carnatic singing and Indian classical theory ( 1997-2006). She has also taught at the  University of Cagliari, Italy  (2011).  She has performed extensively both in India and US and Italy and has given several lecture -demonstrations in Indian classical music. Apart from being a performer and a teacher, she also composes music for the songs of Haridasa of Karnataka ( 15th C) and also the Vachana Sahitya of Shiva Sharanas(12th C). Currently, she teaches a mindfulness class ( Yoga, Pranayama, meditation) for the medical and art college students at USF and also gives guest lectures in Indian music at the music departments of USF, Tampa University, Eckerd Colleg, St Petersberg.


Vineet Chander (Princeton University)  and Lucinda Mosher (author, Independent Scholar, Florida)  Joint Presentation

Hindu Approaches to Spiritual Care: Chaplaincy in Theory and Practice, An Emerging Field in the Diaspora

Vineet Chander is the Coordinator for Hindu Life and Hindu Chaplain at Princeton University and a Religious Life Leader at the Lawrenceville School. He was the first person in the nation to serve as a full-time Hindu chaplain in a college or university context. Vineet is also the Veera and Sam S. Jain Scholar of Vedanta Studies at New York University, where he is currently a doctoral student in higher education. He is co-author of Hindu Chaplaincy (2017).

Dr. Lucinda Mosher is Faculty Associate in Interfaith Studies at Hartford Seminary (Connecticut) and former director of its Multifaith Chaplaincy Program. She is the author of various books and articles pertaining to spiritual care in multireligious contexts and other interreligious concerns. Lucinda is based in northeast Florida, where she presides over NeighborFaith Consultancy.


Jonathan Edelmann (Assistant Professor, University of Florida)

“The Sanskrit works of Jīva Gosvāmin in the Modern Period of Hinduism”

Jonathan Edelmann is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religion and an Affiliated Faculty in the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions at the University of Florida. Edelmann’s research is on the Bhagavata Purana and its commentaries, and their philosophical and theological context. His book, Hindu Theology and Biology: The Bhagavata Purana and Contemporary Theory (Oxford University Press) won a John Templeton Foundation Award from the Forschungszentrum Internationale und Interdisziplinäre Theologie at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Edelmann has also published in the area of science and religion, and Indology in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Zygon, the Journal of Consciousness Studies, the International Journal of Hindu Studies, the Journal of Hindu Studies, Biology & Philosophy, the Journal of Vaishnava Studies, and others. At the University of Florida Edelmann has taught courses on Sanskrit, Asian Religion, and Science and Religion.


Phillip Green (OhioHealth; PhD University of Florida, 2014)

Examples from the Past: Early Khmer Responses to Caring for the Sick

Dr. Phillip Green is a former professor of religious studies who currently serves as a hospital chaplain for the OhioHealth healthcare system in central Ohio. Dr. Green earned his PhD in religion from the University of Florida where he specialized in Buddhist and Hindu traditions of early South and Southeast Asia. Dr. Green’s previous research on the Buddhist traditions of Khmers has been published in peer-reviewed sources such as the History of Religionsjournal, Udaya: Journal of Khmer Studies, and the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies.



Dustin Hall  (MA, Dec. 2019, University of Florida)

Sanskrit 101: A discussion of best Sanskrit pedagogy practices

Dustin is a recent MA graduate from the University of Florida.  He currently serves as Adjunct Lecturer for the Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication at UF teaching Public Speaking. In his spare time, his MA studies are never far from mind as he tends to think of project after project he could have done while at UF, and this serves as inspiration to pursue a PhD in Hindu or Sanskrit studies in the near future.


Sucheta Kanjilal (Assistant Professor, English, University of Tampa)

Marketing Tradition and Willful Bollywood Women 

Sucheta Kanjilal is Assistant Professor of English and Writing at the University of Tampa. Her research interests include novels and poetry of the British Empire, Modern Hinduism, Gender and Sexuality, Hindi Literature, and Colonialism.


Amy Paris Langenberg (Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Eckerd College, Fl)

Did the Buddha Teach Consent?

Amy Paris Langenberg is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Eckerd College, where she also teaches in the Women’s and Gender Studies, Animal Studies, and Environmental Studies programs. She is a specialist in South Asian Buddhism with a focus on gender, sexuality, the body, and monastic law. She also conducts research on contemporary Buddhist feminism and female Buddhist monasticism. Her monograph, Birth in Buddhism: The Suffering Fetus and Female Freedom was published by Routledge in 2017. In addition, she has published articles in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, History of Religions, Religions, Religion Compass, and the Oxford Handbook of Buddhist Ethics. Dr. Langenberg’s current project is a collaborative book on generative responses to sexual abuse in American Buddhism, to be co-written with Ann Gleig (Universtiy of Central Florida) and published with Yale University Press.


Bhakti Mamtora (Assistant Professor, College of Wooster, Ohio; PhD, University of Florida 2019)

Rethinking Good and Goodness in the Swamini Vato

Bhakti Mamtora is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the College of Wooster. Her research examines the genesis and reception of nineteenth century Gujarati texts of the Swaminarayan Sampraday. More broadly, she is interested in the relationship of orality and textuality, print culture, and digital media in Hindu traditions.


Ali Mian (Assistant Professor, Religion, University of Florida)

​”Muslim Writings on the Hindu Tradition in Colonial India.” 

Ali Altaf Mian is Izzat Hasan Sheikh Fellow in Islamic Studies and Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Florida. His research and teaching interests include Islam in South Asia, Muslim ethics, gender and sexuality in contemporary Islam, and Sufism. He is currently working on two book projects: Surviving Modernity: Ashraf ‘Ali Thanvi and the Genres of Muslim Selfhood in Colonial India and Muslims in South Asia​.


Jason McCombs (Assistant Professor, Santa Fe College, Gainesville)

Words and Wordplay in a Mahayana Buddhist Sutra.

Jason McCombs graduated from UCLA in 2014 with a focus on Indian Buddhist Studies. His research interests include Mahayana Sutra and Shastra literature, Indian epigraphy, and religious gift giving in South Asia.

He currently is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Fe College.


Joshua McKinley (MA, Dec. 2019, UF)

“Naṭātūr Ammāl and the Prapanna Pārijāta: Exploring Connections to the Teṉkalai and Vaṭakalai Schools of Śrīvaiṣṇavism” 

Josh McKinley has recently completed his master’s degree at the University of Florida. He studied Śrīvaiṣṇavism under the supervision of Dr. Vasudha Narayanan. He hopes to pursue a PhD in the near future in the realm of Hindu studies, with a particular focus on Vaiṣṇavism.”


Venu Mehta (PhD student, University of Florida)

Locating Bhakti in the Gujarati Literary Works on the Jaina Tantric Cult of Padmāvatī

Venu Mehta is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religion, University of Florida. Her current research is on the Jain religious diaspora in the USA. She completed her second MA in Religious Studies with a special focus on Jainism at Florida International University. She was a Fulbright Fellow (FLTA) at Indiana University, Bloomington in 2010.


Carol Rodriguez (PhD student, University of Florida)

American Jainism: How Tradition is Understood by a New Generation

Carol Rodriguez is a PhD student of Religion at the University of Florida. Her master thesis explores virtue and gender roles as illustrated in Jinaratna-Suri’s Līlāvatīsāra (The Epitome of Queen Līlāvatī), and previous work focused on Jainism and the ethics systems operative in medieval Jain didactic literature. Her current research interests include: the expression of cultural and religious identity through narrative, Sanskrit studies and gender.


Uma Sarmistha (Adjunct Faculty, College of Design, Construction and Planning, University of Florida)

Balancing territorial Identities  

Uma Sarmistha is an Adjunct Faculty with the College of Design Construction and Planning.  She is also affiliated with the Center for Gender, Sexualities, and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida and a Visiting Faculty at the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna. She is the Principal Investigator of “Are Households Willing to Adopt and Pay for Recycling their Own Waste: A study of Patna city, India,” a project funded by Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation.  Dr. Sarmistha is also a co-PI of a Government of India funded project titled, “Violence against women in Rural India”.  She has just published a book Transnational Immigrants: Redefining Identity and Citizenship (Singapore: Springer Nature Pte Ltd. 2019.)


Rodney Sebastian (Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, Manhattan College; PhD, University of Florida, 2019)

The Bhāgavata Purāṇa’s influence on Manipur from the 18th to 19th century

Rodney Sebastian is an Assistant Professor from the Religious Studies Department at Manhattan College. Besides introductory courses, his teaching focuses on religious traditions in India. He also serves as the coordinator for the Veterans at Ease Program at Manhattan College, which involves assisting student veterans adapt to civilian life and achieve success during their college experience. His current research focuses on the history, religious themes, and structures of Vaishnava performances in the northeast Indian state of Manipur. In his PhD dissertation submitted at the University of Florida, he examined the sociopolitical structures and religious history that produced the Manipuri Rāsalīlā dance dramas.                                                         

Dheepa Sundaram (Assistant Professor, University of Denver (has intellectual connections with some of our work on Global Hindu Traditions and a frequent visitor to Florida)

Globalizing Darśan: Making Virtual, Transnational Hindu Communities

Dr. Dheepa Sundaram is scholar of performance, ritual, and digital culture whose research examines the formation of South Asian virtual religious publics, online platforms, social media, apps, and emerging technologies such as virtual reality. Her monograph project examines how commercial ritual websites fashion a new, digital canon for Hindu religious praxis, effectively “branding” religious identities through a neoliberal “Vedicizing” of virtual spaces. Her recent work explores how WhatsApp and Instagram foster virtual, ethnonationalist, social networks within India, highlighting issues of access/accessibility to religious spaces and the viability and visibility of online counter-narratives, especially those from minoritized/marginalized caste, gender, and class communities.


Steven Vose (Bhagwan Mahavir Assistant Professor of Jain Studies, Florida International University)

The Command of Rituals and the Rituals of Command: Tantra, Mantra and Monastic Hierarchy in a Late Medieval Śvetāmbara Monastic Order

Dr. Vose’s main areas for research and teaching are the religious traditions of South Asia, primarily in Jainism and secondarily in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Islam. He examines the history of interactions within and between these traditions to understand the meaning and contexts of community identity formation, religious authority, and the relationships between religious communities and the state in the medieval and early modern periods. He is the author of several articles and chapters in books.  Dr. Vose’s book, Reimagining Jainism in Islamic India: Jain Intellectual Culture in the Delhi Sultanate will be published by Routledge next year.


Other Participants:

Vasudha Narayanan, Distinguished Professor, Religion (Primary Organizer)

George and Kausalya Hart (Professors Emeriti, University of California, Berkeley; now in South Florida