Leela Prasad elected VP of American Academy of Religion



Leela Prasad, professor of religious studies, has been elected vice president of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). The leadership role puts Prasad in a position to serve as president-elect next year and as the association’s president the following year.

Prasad is a Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University. Her primary interests are the anthropology of ethics, focusing on South Asia, colonialism and decoloniality, prison pedagogy and Gandhi, and religion and modernity. Her work is at the intersections of religious studies, anthropology, history, and literature.

A key area of Leela’s interest is documentary films and televisual media. She is currently co-directing an ethnographic documentary film, Aftertones: Moved by Gandhi, which explores the poetry of ethical resonance.

Her Ph.D. (1998) is in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania, and two M.A.s are in English from the University of Hyderabad (1988) and also from Kansas State University (1991). She has received fellowships and awards from the American Academy of Religion, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Philosophical Society. In 2020, she held a Fulbright-Nehru senior fellowship and will hold it again in 2021-2022.

Prasad’s research focuses on the intersection of religious studies, anthropology, history, and literature, with particular attention to South Asia. Her first book, “Poetics of Conduct: Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town,” explored how everyday stories, performance, and routine practices reveal ethical imagination and discourse. The book was awarded the “Best First Book in the History of Religions Prize” by the AAR.

Her most recent book, “The Audacious Raconteur: Sovereignty and Storytelling in Colonial India” from Cornell University Press, used the oral narrations and writings of four Indians in colonial India to show how even under the most oppressive rule, storytellers and artists assert cultural independence and ultimately remain sovereign.

The AAR is the flagship global organization of the academic study of religion and allied fields. Founded in 1909, it has more than 8,000 members from across North and South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. Prasad will be the fourth Asian American woman and the third faculty member from Duke’s Department of Religious Studies to lead this organization in its 113-year history.

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