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Innovation characterizes Professor Pechilis’s research and publications in the history of religions, including her influential theoretical contributions to the study of bhakti (path of devotional participation); pioneering work on identification and comparative analysis of female gurus; translation and critical discussion of classical Indian devotional texts; reclaiming and restoring female voices from Indian tradition through gender and feminist interpretation; and providing transformative new insights on the development of the now global Nataraja image of Śiva as the Lord of Dance. Recent work includes reflections on the body in Indian traditions, theorizing the relationship between bhakti and Tantra, and ethnographic study of women and their perceptions and experience of work. Over the past twenty-five years she has conducted research in Chennai (Madras), south India through grants from the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Fulbright Program, and the Asian Cultural Council. Her published work, both independent and collaborative, engages many scholarly discussions about the making of religious and cultural traditions, including interpretive history, translation, cultural analysis, and feminist and gender studies.
Professor Pechilis served as a member and Chair of the College of Liberal Arts Comparative Religion department for many years. She designed the REL 101/Introduction to World Religions course to analyze how religion works, including field trips to sacred spaces in our area; taught courses on Asian religions that explored historical processes in the development of religion and culture, including master narratives and alternatives to them; and developed a number of electives that addressed religion and women, history, literature, art and film. She recently participated in redefining the Comparative Religion Major into an interdisciplinary program.
For four years (2004-08), Professor Pechilis served as Director and Distinguished Professor of the Humanities Program at Drew, a dynamic interdisciplinary program designed especially for college students. Her special interest was to foreground global contacts among cultures considered in Humanities Program courses, engaging the historical and present West with Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. She has continued to regularly participate in the program by team-teaching the Asian Humanities course with several Humanities Program directors.
For four years (2016-2020), Professor Pechilis was the Director of Drew’s magnetic graduate Arts & Letters program in the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies. This innovative program awards degrees at the doctorate (D.Litt.) and master’s (M.Litt.) level for interdisciplinary study in the Humanities. She continues to participate in the graduate school by teaching courses in Arts & Letters and in the History and Culture program, by serving as reader on comprehensive exams and advising and serving on dissertation committees.
Currently Professor Pechilis serves as Chair of the College of Liberal Arts History department, where she teaches courses in global history, the history of Asian religions in the U.S., historical research methods and gender and history.
In addition to her multiple service as Chair and Director, Professor Pechilis has been honored with the following awards at Drew:
The Patrice M. and John F. Kelly Fellowship in Arts & Letters – Endowed in 2015 by Patrice M. Kelly G’03, G’16 and John F. Kelly to support the Arts and Letters program at the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies. Provides support for faculty in the Arts and Letters program and their teaching, mentorship, and scholarly activities. This award was in recognition of her scholarship.
The Merrill Skaggs Award for Excellence in Teaching – Recognizes a Drew University professor who is passionately devoted to his or her discipline. This award is especially meaningful because of the beautiful remarks that students made about Professor Pechilis’s teaching in their nomination and selection, and also because Professor Pechilis knew Merrill (Professor Skaggs) and looked up to her as an educator of integrity and voice.