Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

We are delighted to announce Sensing the Sacred, a new podcast from the Center for Contemporary South Asia at the Watson Institute at Brown University. There’s so much fascinating scholarship about South Asian religions across disciplines—religious studies, South Asian studies, contemplative studies, history, anthropology, critical theory, political science. With Sensing the Sacred, we aim to bridge these boundaries and bring you interdisciplinary conversations on a wide range of topics. I hope you’ll join me, Finnian Gerety, as I talk to colleagues from around the world about Hindu nationalism, street shrines in India, stories of saints in Afghanistan, mantras and astrology in Jainism—just to name a few.  Subscribe now so that you can tune into our debut episodes, launching on all major platforms this spring (SpotifyAppleGoogleBreaker, Anchor).

First Episode: Religion and Hindu Nationalism

In the past decade, India has seen the resurgence of Hindu nationalism, a political ideology of “Hindu-ness,” expressed by the neo-Sanskrit term HindutvaHindutva envisions India—a country where Hindus are the majority in terms of numbers—as a rightfully Hindu nation; Hindu nationalists feel threatened by minority groups, especially India’s Muslims. Riding this momentum is the current prime minister, Narendra Modi, who’s fanned the flames of identity politics throughout his career and now governs with a Hindutva worldview, with policies that critics call anti-Muslim. To learn more, I sat down with Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Brown University, where he also directs the Center for Contemporary South Asia. With Indian elections underway—and in a moment when ethnic nationalisms are on the upswing around the world—I  wanted to talk with Ashu about how religion has contributed to this Hindu nationalist turn. (SpotifyAppleGoogleBreakerAnchor).

Inspiration for the Podcast

As the pandemic hit, I was planning a series of workshops on topics relevant to South Asian religions. The idea was to have incisive and intimate conversations with colleagues focusing on their latest work. When the world went into lockdown, my CCSA colleague Leela Gandhi suggested that I carry on the same project in a medium suited to remote living and learning—and so this podcast was born. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been reaching out to colleagues, sitting down to talk virtually, and preparing our debut episodes. At times there’s been a steep learning curve—it’s one thing to listen to podcasts, but quite another to launch my own! But I’ve been helped along the way by amazing colleagues at CCSA, Watson, Brown, and beyond. Sensing the Sacred has become my intellectual life raft, a way to stay afloat and inspired amidst the constant churning and isolation of the past year. Even as we contemplate a return to normal life in the months to come, my hope is that the podcast offers you a way to connect with new ideas and scholarship on South Asian religions. 

Finnian M.M. Gerety is a historian of Indian religions focusing on sound and mantra. After earning a PhD. in South Asian Studies from Harvard University, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Yale University Institute of Sacred Music. Finnian is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, the Contemplative Studies Program, and the Center for Contemporary South Asia at Brown University, where he teaches courses on mantra, yoga, ritual, and the senses. Integrating the study of premodern texts with insights from fieldwork in contemporary south India, Finnian’s research explores how sound has shaped religious doctrines and practices on the subcontinent from the late Bronze Age up through today. His publications have appeared in Asian EthnologySouth Asian History and CultureBulletin of SOAS, and Journal of the American Oriental Society; a major new article on early Yoga is forthcoming from History of Religions. His current book project for Oxford University Press, This Whole World is OM: The Sacred Syllable in Early India, is the first-ever monograph on OM, the preeminent mantra and ubiquitous sacred syllable of Indian religions.