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Smriti Srinivas

Smriti Srinivas

Director, Middle East/South Asia Studies Program

Co-Director, Reimagining Indian Oceans Worlds Mellon Research Initiative

Professor (PhD, Delhi University, 1995)

313 Young Hall Department of Anthropology
University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, California 95616, USA

Fax: (530) 752-8885

Office Hours for Winter 2017 :

  • Mondays, 4-5 PM and by appointment via email.
  • For Jan. 30, Feb. 6, and Feb. 27, please contact Prof. Srinivas for alternative timings.


  1. 1995 Ph. D. in Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University, India.
  2. 1989 M. Phil. in Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University, India.
  3. 1988 M.A. in Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University, India.
  4. 1986 B.A. in Economics, Madras Christian College, Madras, India.


Research Interests

My doctoral dissertation (published as The Mouths of People, the Voice of God: Buddhists and Muslims in a Frontier Community of Ladakh, 1998) was a study of two Himalayan villages on the geopolitical boundaries between India, China, and Pakistan. It embeds constructions of cultural identity and cases of spirit possession within the context of borderland political economy.

My next major research project focused on Bangalore City, described as India’s “Silicon Valley”. The outcome of this research, Landscapes of Urban Memory: The Sacred and the Civic in India’s High Tech City (2001), examines the various pathways that memory and the body take in a city inserted within global processes. Its central focus is a festival dedicated to Draupadi, the polyandrous wife of the Pandava brothers, heroes of the pan-Indian Mahabharata epic. This annual performance is Bangalore's largest civic ritual and attracts an audience of over 100,000 people for its key event—the incarnation of Draupadi in the body of a male priest from a community of gardeners. The book as a whole interrogates dominant models of Bangalore as a science city and presents other paradigms of urban space emerging from religious cultures in the city.

In the Presence of Sai Baba (2008) examines a transnational religious movement centered on the Indian guru, Sathya Sai Baba (b. 1926), who attracts a global following from Japan to South Africa. My book examines the movement in three cities---Bangalore, Nairobi, and Atlanta---linking regimes of spatial, somatic, and symbolic production. It presents insights for the understanding of "urban religion" as well as the relationship between a religious imaginary, understandings of citizenship, sites of sociality, and devotional memory. It  is also concerned with somatic and sensory reform as crucial practices for the creation of new cultural subjects, institutions, and forms of urban modernity.

A Place for Utopia: Urban Designs from South Asia (2015)---based on ethnographic and archival research---explores novel designs for utopian place-making from the early twentieth century to the present that link South Asia with Europe and North America. It connects cities such as princely Indore to colonial and postcolonial Madras and global Bangalore and Los Angeles and illuminates ideas and practices of designing “a good place” (Eu-topia) by religious movements such as Theosophy and American Vedanta, urban planners, pilgrims, migrants, and ordinary city-dwellers. The book also shows how a history of transcultural cross-fertilization, in which South Asia plays a critical part, has provided a reservoir of hopes and imaginings for the creation of potential futures.

My research has been supported over the years by a Mellon fellowship, a Rockefeller Humanities fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, a Delhi University National Fellowship, UC Humanities Network Multi-Campus Working Group and Multi-Campus Research Group Awards, the Davis Humanities Institute, and Mellon New Research Initiative. I have also received grants from the the Davis Humanities Institute, American Academy of Religion, the Mershon Center at Ohio State University,  the Atlanta History Center, India Foundation for the Arts (Bangalore), the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (Delhi), Humanistic Institute for Co-operation with Developing Socities (Netherlands), the Institute for Social and Economic Change (Bangalore), Action Aid (Bangalore), Ohio State University, and the University of California, Davis. My most recent grant is from the Mellon Foundation for a three year collaborative project (2015-2018) on "Reimagining Indian Ocean Worlds."

I am co-founder of "Nagara," a site for urban studies, history, and culture, based in Bangalore. I currently serve on the advisory board of the International Journal of Urban and Regional Studies and the editorial board of Contemporary South Asia.




2015         A Place for Utopia: Urban Designs from South Asia. Seattle: University of Washington Press and Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan.

2008        In the Presence of Sai Baba: Body, City, and Memory in a Global Religious Movement. Leiden/Boston: Brill; South Asian paperback edition, Hyderabad: Orient Longman (Reviewed in American Ethnologist, Contemporary South Asia, Material Religion, Practical Matters, The Hindu, Religion, Nova Religio).


2004 Landscapes of Urban Memory: The Sacred and the Civic in India’s High-Tech City. Revised Indian edition, Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan (Reviewed in Economic and Political Weekly, The Hindu, Down to Earth).


2001       Landscapes of Urban Memory: The Sacred and the Civic in India’s High-Tech City. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. (Reviewed in Urban Affairs Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Semiotics, American Ethnologist, Contemporary South Asia, American Anthropologist, Journal of Contemporary Religion and Journal of Asian Studies).


1998       The Mouths of People, the Voice of God: Buddhists and Muslims in a Frontier Community of Ladakh. Delhi: Oxford University Press.  (Reviewed in The Tibet Journal, The Hindu, Ladakh Studies Bulletin).



2014      "Sathya Sai Baba and the Repertoire of Yoga." In Gurus of Modern Yoga, Ellen Goldberg and Mark Singleton, eds. Oxford/NY: Oxford University Press, pp. 261-279.




2012       "Urban Forms of Religious Practice." In Vasudha Dalmia and Rashmi Sadana, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Modern Indian Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 67-79.

2008       “Spaces of modernity: Religion and the urban in Asia and Africa.” (With Mary Hancock). In Mary Hancock and Smriti Srinivas, ed. Symposium on Religion and the Formation of Modern Urban Space in Asia and Africa, pp. 617-709. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Vol. 32 (3): 617-630.


2008    “The Karaga festival: A performative archive of an alternate urban ecology.” In Aditi De, ed. Multiple City: Writings on Bangalore. New Delhi: Penguin Books India: 133-139.


2005       “Warrior goddess versus bipedal cow: Sport, space, performance and planning in an Indian city.” (With James Heitzman).  In James Mills, ed.  Subaltern Sports: Politics and Sport in South Asia. London: Anthem Press: 139-171.


2004a     “Sai Baba movement.” In Lindsay Jones, ed. Encyclopedia of Religion.  2nd ed. Vol. 12. New York: Macmillan Reference USA: 8026-8029.


2004b  “Cities.” (With James Heitzman).  In Lindsay Jones, ed.  Encyclopedia of Religion.  2nd ed.  Vol. 3. New York: Macmillan Reference USA: 1801-1812.


2002a     “Another Mahabharata: Bangalore’s Karaga performance and oral epic.” Parampara, November: 1-3.


2002b     “Bangalore.” (With James Heitzman). In Melvin Ember and Carol R. Ember, eds. Encyclopedia of Urban Cultures. Vol. 1. Bethel, Conn.: Grolier: 285-292.


2002c     “Cities of the past and cities of the future: Theorizing the Indian metropolis of Bangalore.” In John Eade and Christopher Mele, eds. Understanding the City: Contemporary and Future Perspectives. Oxford: Blackwell: 247-277.


2001       “The advent of the avatar: The urban following of Sathya Sai Baba and its construction of tradition.” In Vasudha Dalmia, Angelika Malinar and Martin Christof, eds. Charisma and Canon: Essays on the Religious History of the Indian Subcontinent. Delhi: Oxford University Press: 293-309.


1999a     "The Brahmin and the fakir: Suburban religiosity in the cult of Shirdi Sai Baba." Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 14, No.2, May: 245-261.


1999b     "Hot bodies and cooling substances: Rituals of sport in a science city." Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Vol. 23, No. 1, February: 24-40.


1999c     “Inhabiting the body of the goddess: Urban form within the festival of Draupadi in Bangalore.” In Jackie Assayag, ed. The Resources of History: Tradition, Narration and Nation in South Asia. Paris and Pondichéry: École française d’ Extrême-Orient and Institut français de Pondichéry: 347-359.


1999d     “Remembering the city: The incarnation of the goddess and the boundaries of the metropolis.” .Special issue, Jackie Assayag and Gilles Tarabout, eds. Possession in South Asia: Speech, Body and Territory. Purusartha, no. 21: 357-382.


1999e     “Sai Baba: La double utilisation de l’écriture et de l’oralité dans un mouvement religieux moderne en Asie du Sud.” Diogenes, No. 187, Juillet-Septembre: 114-129.


Translated and reprinted as: “Sai Baba: The double utilization of written and oral traditions in a modern south Asian religious movement.” Diogenes, No. 187, Vol. 47/3: 88-99.


1997a     “The household, integration and exchange: Muslims and Buddhists in the Nubra valley.” In Henry Osmaston and Nawang Tsering, eds. Recent Research on Ladakh 6. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers: 251-280.


1997b    “Witch possession in Nubra valley: The analysis of a case.” In Thierry Dodin and Heinz Räther, eds. Recent Research on Ladakh 7. Universitat Ulm: Ulmer Kulturanthropologische Schriften: 457-478.


1996       “On the religious imagination of the city.” Seminar (445): 43-47.


1995a     “Conjunction, parallelism and cross-cutting ties among the Muslims of Ladakh.” The Tibet Journal, Vol. XX, No.3, Autumn: 71-95.


1995b     “The dialogic mode, role reversal and fieldwork.” In Clive Thomson and Hans Raj Dua, eds. Dialogism and Cultural Criticism. London, Canada: Mestengo Press: 111-148.


1994a     “The kindred and political patriliny: Two styles in extra-local integration in Nubra valley, Ladakh.” Sociological Bulletin, 43(2) September: 193-213.


1994b     “New economic policy, voluntary organizations and rural poor.” (With G.S. Aurora et al.) Economic and Political Weekly, April 2: 787-788.


1993       “Hope on the horizon: A rapprochement.” Frontline, November 19: 52-55.


1991       “The lost horizon? Problems in a strategic spot.” Frontline, October 26 - November 8: 81- 87.

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328 Young Hall
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Fax. 530-752-8885