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

Saxena Center's own Finnian M.M. Gerety, a historian of South Asian religion and culture at Brown, together with his colleagues from the University of Tübingen and the University of Vienna, has been awarded a 9.6 million euro Synergy grant from the European Research Council to research mantras. 

“Mantra” is an ancient Sanskrit word, now common in many Asian and European languages, that denotes a sacred utterance, formula, or powerful syllable. More than 1.5 billion people worldwide use mantras for rituals, healing or meditation. The project will for the first time develop a global history and anthropology of mantras, including extensive sonic, visual and textual archives.  

Finnian Gerety is Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Brown and Interim Director of Saxena’s South Asian Studies concentration. His forthcoming book for Oxford University Press (2025) examines the history of the sacred syllable OM, among the most famous mantras. He developed the MANTRAMS project—“Mantras in religion, media and society in global Southern Asia”—together with Borayin Larios from the University of Vienna, Carola Lorea from the University of Tübingen, Andrea Acri from EPHE Paris and Gudrun Bühnemann from Madison, Wisconsin. Over six years, the project will deliver high-impact publications, teaching resources, a podcast series, a museum exhibition, and nearly a dozen international workshops; through Saxena Center, MANTRAMS will support postdoctoral fellowships and graduate-level research on mantras.  "We have always amired Finn for his immense intellectual abilities and for what he brings to our center" said Ashu Varshney, director of the Saxena Center, adding that "this most prestigious and competitive mega grant, mostly given to STEM projects, confirms our judgement that Finn is a true academic star in the making."  

MANTRAMS is one of 37 projects funded by the European Research Center in this year's Synergy Grants award, totaling €359 million overall. The evaluation process was quite selective, with a success rate of only 9%. The funding scheme helps groups of outstanding researchers to pool different skills, knowledge and resources to push the frontiers of human knowledge.