A.W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellows

Elaine Fisher

Religious Studies Program

Renaissance Without Reformation: Religion and the Public Sphere in Early Modern India

Elaine Fisher is a scholar of South Asian religions and Indian intellectual history. As a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Religious Studies Program at UW-Madison, she will be pursuing her long-term research interests on the role of religion in Indian early modernity. Her current research aims to question the inherent relationship between secularism and modernity across continents, rethinking in particular the nature of publicity and the “public sphere” in early modern India. Contrary to Western models of publicity, the public in early modern India did not consist of a common dialogical space free from sectarian interests; rather, the Indian public was, more accurately, publics in the plural: spatially overlapping but institutionally distinct networks in which each community generated its own internal conversations. In fact, it is due to the colonial encounter with Western publicity, I argue, that sectarianism gives way to communalism, as formerly discrete public domains are collapsed into a shared public space.

Elaine received her PhD from Columbia University in 2013. Her dissertation, “A New Public Theology: Sanskrit and Society in Seventeenth-century South India,” examines the historical emergence of Hindu sectarianism in the centuries prior to British colonialism, a definitive era for the structure of religious communities in India through the present day. Drawing on unpublished manuscript and archival sources in Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, and Marathi, she documents the origins of the Smārta-Śaiva Hindu tradition—or Smārta Brahminism—in south India, mediated through the writings of leading Śaiva public theologians.