Dr. Neena Mahadev, 2015-2017

Dr. Neena Mahadev, 2015-2017


Neena Mahadev was a research fellow at MPI-MMG, where she prepared her  book manuscript, Rivalry and Political Cosmology: the Buddhist-Christian Conversion Debates in Millennial Sri Lanka, for publication. This study is based upon twenty-four months of fieldwork in Sri Lanka in 2009-2011, generously supported by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. The ethnography offers a situated look at Christian conversion, and Buddhist anti-conversion measures. Being dually situated among Sri Lankan Christians and Buddhists, the project sheds new light on pressing debates over secularism and religious freedom. The study reflects the profound implications of inter-religious tensions for post-war Sri Lanka, and for a globalizing world more generally.

Through attention to the quotidian theological repertoires and discourses about conversion, the study examines how different communities construct views on the ethics of religious attraction. It accounts for denominational and sectarian logics at work in these conflicts, and tracks debates between a) Buddhists and evangelical Christians, b) Catholics and Pentecostals, c) evangelists and ecumenical leaders of inter-religious dialogue, d) and Buddhist authorities who condemn new Buddhist movements as heretical even as they soar in popularity. At the same time, the ethnography considers conciliatory work carried out through ecumenical institutions, political diplomacy, and through everyday strivings to live alongside religious others despite haunting concerns over difference.

Connected to the areas of scholarly expertise described above, Neena’s interests include religion and its relation to the political economy; minority /majority politics, humanitarianism and human rights discourse; nationalism, postcoloniality and its persistence in anxieties over neo-colonialism; the anthropology of Christianity; anthropology of Buddhism; ritual, prophecy, and oracular mediumship.

Neena received her PhD in Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University in 2013. Her graduate studies were supported by a National Science Foundation fellowship (2004-07), a fellowship from the Johns Hopkins Anthropology Department, and a Dean’s Teaching Fellowship. From 2013-2015 she was employed as a Postdoctoral Fellow on the “the Politics of Secularism and the Emergence of New Religiosities,” initiative of the Trans-regional Research Network (CETREN) at the University of Göttingen.

Neena is currently an Associate Editor of HAU Journal of Ethnographic Theory.

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