I studied religion at the Universities of Oxford and Lancaster where I developed a particular interest in the religions of South Asia and Japan from the nineteenth century to the present. My doctoral thesis examined continuity within the Ramakrishna Math and Mission with reference to the practice of seva, service to humanity. Much of this subsequently appeared in The Ramakrishna Mission: The Making of a Modern Hindu Movement (2000) and Swami Vivekananda's Legacy of Service: A Study of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission (2006). I have been a member of the Discipline of Religious Studies at The Open University since 1993 and was head of discipline from 2002 to 2004. In 2006/07 I held the post of Professor of the Study of Religions at University College Cork, and in 2010 was Visting Professor at the Centre d'études de l'Inde et de l'Asie du Sud, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociale, Paris.
Department of Religious Studies
The Open University
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA
i) The Hindu religious tradition from the nineteenth century to the present, with reference to the relationship between religion and social development and the practice of seva (service to humanity) as performed and understood by the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and Hindu nationalist organisations, in particular, the Vivekananda Kendra.
ii) Popular Hindu iconography
iii) Representations of Vivekananda in Hindutva (Hindu nationalist)-inspired organisations
2015 ‘Sevā: the focus of a fragmented but gradually coalescing field of study’ in Religions of South Asia Vol. 9, No.2, pp.208-239. ISSN 1751-2689 (Print) ISSN 1751-2697 (Online) 2015
2013 'Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) 150 years on: critical studies of an influential Hindu guru' in Religion Compass, Vol. 7, No.10, pp.444-453
2014 ‘Eknath Ranade, gurus and jīvanvratīs (life-workers): Vivekananda Kendra’s promotion of the ‘Yoga Way of Life’’ in M.Singleton and E.Goldberg (eds.) Gurus of Modern Yoga. New York: Oxford University Press, pp.327-350
See Open Research Online for further details of my research publications.
While continuing my work on the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, much of my recent research has centred on the Vivekananda Kendra, based at Kanniyakumari. The outcome of my presence as a participant observer at its 2010 annual Yoga Shiksha Shibir (Yoga Training Camp) appeared in Singleton and Goldberg (2104) (see above). I have contributed the entry on Vivekananda Kendra, as well as that on the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, to the Brill Encyclopaedia of Hinduism.
My forthcoming study of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanniyakumari, ‘Celebrating heritage, promoting tourism, and relocating Svāmī Vivekānanda: a study of the Svāmī Vivekānanda Rock Memorial’ in the International Journal of Hindu Studies, 24.2, August 2020, explores the interrelationship between the popularisation of this monument in the context of promotion of its location, Kanniyakumari, as a tourist resort, and representations of Vivekananda associated with the Rock Memorial.
I was involved during 2012-14 in scholarly events related to the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, with contributions in the Indian media (see ‘Legacy of service’ in Frontline (The Hindu Newspaper Group, Chennai) Vol.30, no.2, January 26, 2013; available under 'Legacy of Service' http://www.frontlineonnet.com/fl3002/fl300200.htm), and invitations to contribute to conferences during 2013/14 in Delhi (organised by Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and Indian Council of Historical Research), Kolkata (organised by the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture), Los Angeles (organised by University of Southern California, Cork (organised by University College Cork), and Haora (West Bengal) (organised by the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira.
I am currently editor of Volume 5 of the Bloomsbury Cultural History of Hinduism series. I have forthcoming book chapters (2020) on Margaret Noble/Sister Nivedita in P Bornet (ed.) Translocal Lives and Religion: Connections between Asia and Europe in the Late Modern World (The Study of Religion in a Global Context series). Sheffield: Equinox, ISBN 13: 9781781795828, and on the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in Europe in F.Sardella and K.Jacobsen (eds.) Hinduism in Europe Leiden: Brill.
2018 ‘Arousing Krishna Consciousness: a study of ISKCON's “transcendent art” and the work of ISKCON's artists’ (‘Mediated religion and ritual’ panel) at the British Association for the Study of Religions annual conference, University of Leeds Trinity
2017 'Unravelling biographies of Margaret Noble/Sister Nivedita' at the British Association for the Study of Religions annual conference, University of Chester
2015 'Swami Vivekananda, the ‘nation-builder’: relocating Vivekananda to Kanniyakumari’, invited plenary lecture’ at conference on Impact and Internationalism: The Life and Thoughts of Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda, organised by the Scottish centre for Tagore Studies and the Edinburgh International Centre for Spirituality and Peace
2014 'Renunciation and service: the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, the Vivekananda Kendra, and Swami Vivekananda's Legacy' (The Majewski Lecture at the invitation of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies), The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford (recording available at http://www.ochs.org.uk/lectures/downloads )
2014 'Swami Vivekananda: A "prophet of globalization?' at Swami Vivekananda's Ideas and Our Times: A Retrospect on His 150th Birth Anniversary (an international seminar sponsoed by the UGC of India) at the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira (affiliated to the University of Kolkata)
Recent examples of my teaching materials include
A227 Exploring Religion
2017 'Approaching Hindu Scripture, Temples, and Devotional Art as "Texts" ' (Block 3 Texts), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp.113-183
2017 'The Temple as a Site of Hindu Practice' (Block 2 Practices), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp.149-201
2017 ‘Mapping Hinduism: Creating the Punya Bhumi (the ‘blessed land’)’ (Block 1 Places), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp 113-160
2017 Academic consultant for creation of interactive map of India with embedded video clips, and film sequences of the Swaminarayan mandir, Preston, Lancashire, and Bhaktivedanta Manor, British HQ of ISKCON, near Watford
A332 Why is Religion Controversial?
2013 ‘Unifying Consciousness, Unifying the Nation: Competing Visions of the Future of India and the Yoga Tradition’ (Block 4 Controversial Futures), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 97-140
2013 ‘No Face More Familiar: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – Mahatma Gandhi’ (Block 1 Controversial Figures – Jesus, Jonas, Gandhi, Al-Bana), Milton Keynes: The Open University, pp. 99-154
2013 Academic consultant (devised film and conducted major interviews) for ‘Vivekananda Kendra’s “Yoga Way of Life” ‘ (25 mins.)
2013 Academic consultant (selected material and one of two interviewees) for ‘Representations of Gandhi in Film’ (21 mins.)
British Association for the Study of Religion/ European Association for the Study of Religion
Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society
I act as a reviewer for the AHRC, the Marsden Fund Council/Royal Society of New Zealand, and other funding bodies, in addition to various publishers and journals
I have been an external examiner for a number universities