Harshita Mruthinti Kamath

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Harshita Mruthinti Kamath

Assistant Professor

EDUCATION

Ph.D., Emory University
M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School
B.A., Emory University

RESEARCH INTERESTS

  • South Asian Religious Texts and Practices
  • Gender and Feminist Theory
  • Performance and Ethnography
  • Postcolonial Theory

PROFESSIONAL BIOGRAPHY

My research focuses on the textual and performance traditions of Telugu-speaking South India in conversation with theoretical discourses on gender and sexuality in South Asia.  As an interdisciplinary scholar, I incorporate a broad array of methodologies in my research and teaching, including critical gender theory, ethnography, performance studies, and textual analysis.

My book manuscript, Constructing Artifice: An Ethnography of Impersonation in South India, which is based on my dissertation, analyzes gender impersonation in the South Indian village of Kuchipudi and the eponymous upper-caste dance form that arises from it.  Drawing on performance analysis and multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in Telugu South India, the book centers on an exclusive community of hereditary brahmin male dancers from the Kuchipudi village who are expected to don a stri-vesam (woman’s guise) and impersonate female characters from Hindu Puranic narratives.  I argue that impersonation is more than a sartorial performance enacted on the Kuchipudi stage by showing how the lived practice shapes normative ideals of gender and caste authority in everyday village life.  By moving across three distinct performative and lived spaces—village, urban, and transnational—Constructing Artifice analyzes how gender norms are constructed through the practice of impersonation, which is, in turn, integral to shaping South Asian perspectives on gender.

As part of my research in South India, I have completed the first English-language translation of the sixteenth century classical Telugu text Parijatapaharanamu (Theft of a Tree) with Telugu scholar Velcheru Narayana Rao (Emory University).  Theft of a Tree tells the story of Krishna’s theft of the divine parijata tree from the garden of Indra, the king of the gods.  Our translation will be published by Harvard University Press as part of the Murty Classical Library of India.

At UNC, I teach courses on Religions of South Asia, Gender Theory and the Study of Religion, and Asian Religions.

Awards

  • AAUW American Fellowship Publication Grant, 2016 – 2017
  • Faculty Feminist of the Year, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Study Program, Middlebury College, 2014
  • John Fenton Prize in the Comparative Study of Religion (Graduate Division), Emory University, 2012
  • Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship, 2009-2010

PUBLICATION HIGHLIGHTS

Theft of a Tree. Translation of Parijatapaharanamu by Nandi TimmanaWith Velcheru Narayana Rao. Murty Classical Library of India. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, January 2018.

“Constructing Bodied, Embodied, and Disembodied Selves: A Theory of Performative Selfhood in the Context of South Indian Performance.” The Body in South Asian Religions, edited by Barbara Holdrege and Karen Pechilis. Albany: State University of New York Press, December 2016.

“Venus vs. Vedantam: Impersonation, Drag, and Gender Trouble in the Kuchipudi Village.” Thematic Issue: “Re-figuring Bodies That Matter: Sex, Gender, and Alternative Bodily Identities in Hindu ” International Journal of Hindu Studies, edited by Barbara Holdrege, forthcoming.

“Dancing the Divine Female: Diasporic Women’s Encounters with the Hindu Goddess through Indian Classical” Journal of Asian American Studies 9:3 (2006): 271-299.