Assistant Professor of Sanskrit Literature
I work broadly on Sanskrit literature and pre-modern India. My research has, for the most part, focused on various aspects of the vast classical Hindu legal tradition known as Dharmaśāstra. Specific topics on which I have written include: the pre-modern custom of sati or widow-burning; the origin and evolution of the institution of widow-asceticism; inheritance law; the practice of judicial ordeals; systems of sin and ritual expiation; theories and rituals of gifting; the early sociolinguistics of Sanskrit; debates concerning kinship and marriageability; and historical processes of canonization. My first book, Brahmanical Theories of the Gift: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of the Dānakāṇḍa of the Kṛtyakalpataru, was published in 2015 as part of the Harvard Oriental Series. It constitutes the first critical edition and complete translation into any modern language of a dānanibandha, a genre of medieval Sanskrit text dedicated to the culturally and religiously important topic of gift-giving. The book also includes a lengthy introduction to the Dānakāṇḍa, part of the encyclopedic Kṛtyakalpataru and the earliest surviving dānanibandha (c. 1110–50 CE). There I discuss Brahmanical Hindu ideas of the gift both in their own right and in light of other major scholarship on the topic, such as that of the early French sociologist Marcel Mauss.
My major project at the moment is finishing my second book, which will be an exhaustive study of widows under Hindu law. The book will include detailed textual and historical analysis of four widow-related topics: widow remarriage and levirate; widows’ rights of inheritance; widow-asceticism; and the custom of sati. My hope is that insights resulting from this project will provide important context for understanding later colonial debates concerning Hindu widows and also influence how scholars view the character and evolution of dominant male views of women in pre-modern South Asia.
My teaching is divided more or less evenly between language courses in Sanskrit and non-language courses with a focus on India, particularly classical India. I teach a yearlong introductory Sanskrit sequence every other year for all interested students. By the end of the year, students can expect to be reading ancient Sanskrit texts in the original language. The following yearlong intermediate Sanskrit sequence will be entirely devoted to reading Sanskrit texts and introduce students to an array of fascinating and influential works written in Sanskrit. For non-language courses, I regularly teach a survey lecture course on Hinduism (“Introduction to Hinduism”), as well as other courses on early Indian literature and religion.