Devotional Visualities: Seeing Bhakti in Indic Material CulturesCo-edited with Amy-Ruth Holt. Illuminates ways in which material visualities construct, change, reimagine, and redirect devotion in Indic traditions past into present. Description, table of contents, and reviews at link on title. Cover image by Siona Benjamin. Oct. 2023, Bloomsbury Academic. Hear a podcast on the book thanks to Dr. Raj Balkaran and New Books Network – click here.


Interpreting Devotion: The Poetry and Legacy of a Female Bhakti Saint of IndiaThe first book to provide a complete English translation of classical Tamil bhakti saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar’s poetry and the canonical biography about her, embedded within a critical academic discussion that theorizes the arc of interpretation of this fascinating woman’s devotional subjectivity through poetry, biography and present-day festival celebrations in her honor. Crucially, the study distinguishes the poet’s voice from that of her biographer, illuminating her poetry and legacy through an exploration of themes such as language and mystical experience, the `non-dual’ nature of translation, the devotional subjectivity created in her poetry, the fiction of femaleness and its relationships to women’s truth-speech in her biography, and the participation of modern festival publics in the creation of memory and experience of her legacy. Published Dec. 2011 at Routledge. A South Asian Edition paperback version of this book was published by Routledge and Manohar (Delhi) in February 2015, and published by Routledge-Taylor & Francis as a worldwide paperback on August 13, 2015.

Refiguring the Body: Embodiment in South Asian Religions. Edited by Karen Pechilis and Barbara A. Holdrege. The body is foundationally shared by all, ensuring both that every culture has its own distinctive ways of understanding and deploying it, and that our globalized world will bring these different modalities into contact. Contributing to our global understanding, Re-Figuring the Body: Embodiment in South Asian Religions introduces readers to the fascinating and distinguished history and present of South Asian religious theorizing of the body that emerges in a diversity of media, including aesthetic, medicinal, devotional and philosophical texts and practices. The richness and diversity of South Asian theories represented in this collection reveal important comparative themes that challenge and enhance knowledge of the body in Western discourses, vitalizing newly globalized inquiries into our shared, yet differently imagined human nature. Far from producing a legacy of disembodied spirituality, prominent traditions such as Buddhism and Hinduism have produced detailed reflections on the nature, meanings and practices of the body by a diversity of interpreters, including philosophers, devotees, ritualists, poets, saints, dancers, healers and storytellers. Through an array of methodologies, including literary analysis and ethnography, the eleven essays in this collection lucidly illuminate these interpreters’ distinctive ways of thinking about the body as they contribute to the broader themes of the relationship between the materiality of the body and spiritual perfection, devotional subjectivities and transformations of the body, and gendered logics that both describe and dispute social bodies. Published 2017 by the State University of New York Press.

South Asian Religions: Tradition & Today. Edited by Karen Pechilis and Selva J. Raj. An accessible introduction to religions in South Asia, including Tribal Religions, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. Each chapter is written by an established academic researcher-teacher, who discusses the identity, practices and current issues of each religion, supplemented by a map, a list of key terms, questions for discussion, and recommended resources. An introductory chapter provides an overview of the distinctive nature of South Asian religions and offers guidelines for the academic study of religion. Primarily designed for students, this book would serve as a handy scholarly reference work for those seeking accurate information on the nature and variety of religion and culture in South Asia today, including curators, diplomats, journalists, researchers, and travelers. Published Nov. 2012 by Routledge. Hear a podcast discussion of this book in Humanities expert Professor Kirk Ott’s interview of Karen Pechilis, March 2014, at New Books in South Asian StudiesThank you to Professor Kirk Ott and New Books Network: South Asian Studies.

The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States. Oxford University Press, 2004.  The first book to comparatively analyze Hindu-inspired female gurus. The Editor and contributors to the volume illuminate the history and present of a diversity of female gurus’ potently authoritative teachings and practices and their local and global significance, through the lens of academic gender theories. Editor and Contributor of Introduction (“Hindu Female Gurus in Historical and Philosophical Context” pp. 3-49) and Article on “Gurumayi: The Play of Shakti and Guru” (pp. 219-243).

The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India. Vidya Dehejia with essays by Richard H. Davis, R. Nagaswamy and Karen Pechilis Prentiss. American Federation of Arts and University of Washington Press, 2002.  Contributor of Article “Joyous Encounters: Tamil Bhakti Poets and Images of the Divine” (pp. 65-79). Produced as a catalogue for the exhibition of the same name held at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum, Nov. 10, 2002 – March 9, 2003.

The Embodiment of Bhakti. Oxford University Press, 1999.  Author (Karen Pechilis Prentiss). Reframed the much-discussed religious path of bhakti in scholarship from its static definition of `devotion’ to a multidimensional characterization of it as `devotional participation’. Pechilis’s humanistic emphasis unlocked bhakti as a history of doing – interpretive thought, literary and musical composition, performance, community – and as an active locus of distinctive constructions of identity.


Online: “Revisiting the Experiential World of Women’s Bhakti Poetry,” Religions 14/6 (June 2023), or

“Karaikkal Ammaiyar,” in: Sauer, M.M., Watt, D., McAvoy, E.H. (eds) The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Medieval Women’s Writing in the Global Middle Ages. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, July 2022.

Special Issue: “Contemporary Images of Hindu Bhakti: Identity and Visuality,” co-convener of the issue and co-author of the introduction with Amy-Ruth Holt in Journal of Hindu Studies 12/2 (August 2019),

Bhakti’s Visualities of Connection in the Arts Today,” Journal of Hindu Studies, special section on “Contemporary Images of Hindu Bhakti: Identity and Visuality,” 12/2 (August 2019),

“Gender and Spirituality in Late Modern Western Society,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, 2019: DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.116

“Affect and Identity in Early Bhakti: Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār as Poet, Servant and Pēy,” for The Power of Bhakti: Social Location and Public Affect in India’s Religion of the Heart, ed. John Stratton Hawley, Christian Novetzke and Swapna Sharma, Washington University Press, 2019. This volume contains selected papers from the Yale University Conference May 2016, “Exploring Bhakti: Is Bhakti a Language of Power or Protest?”

Online: “A Conjectural History of Cultural Ideas on Women and Work in India,” Madras Institute of Development Studies Working Paper 229 (June, 2018). At

“Notes on Female Vaiṣṇava Gurus,” Journal of Vaiṣṇava Studies 25/2 (Spring 2017): 101-117.

Special Issue: “Not Quite Divine – Co-Stars and Supporting Casts in South Asian Religions” in the Journal of Hindu Studies 9/2 (August 2016). Articles from the Conference on the Study of Religions of India, hosted at Drew University in June, 2013.

OnlineProfile of Tamil poet-saint Karaikkal Ammaiyar for the Women in the World’s Religions and Spirituality Project, April 2016

“The Siva Nataraja Image: Poetic Origins,” Kalakshetra Journal Issue 4 (Feb. 2016): 1-16.

Online: “Bhakti and Tantra Intertwined: The Explorations of the Tamil Poetess Kāraikkāl Ammaiyār,”International Journal of Dharma Studies, 9 Feb. 2016. DOI: 10.1186/s40613-016-0024-x

Online: “Women Gurus in Hinduism,” Prabuddha Bharata, June 2015 (120/6): 401-409.

“Ethnography, Women and the History of Religions,” Voice of Intellectual Man 6/1 (2016): 1-10.

“Devotional Subjectivity and the Fiction of Femaleness: Feminist Hermeneutics and the Articulation of Difference,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 30.2 (2014): 99-114. Special section on Comparative Feminist Hermeneutics, introduced by Professor Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Congratulations to JFSR on its 30th year anniversary of feminist publishing!

“Śiva as the Lord of Dance: What the Poetess Saw,” Journal of Hindu Studies 6/2 (2013): 131-153.

“The Female Guru: Guru, Gender and the Path of Personal Experience,” pp. 113-132 in Jacob Copeman and Aya Ikegame, eds., The Guru in South Asia: New Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2012.

“Female Gurus and Ascetics” (5,500 words). Pp. 461-469 in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, ed.-in-chief Knut Jacobsen, Vol. 5. Leiden: Brill, Nov. 2013.

“Feminism” (8,500 words). Pp. 734-749 in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, ed.-in-chief Knut Jacobsen, Vol. 5. Leiden: Brill, Nov. 2013.

“Gender” (10,000 words). Pp. 788-805 in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, ed.-in-chief Knut Jacobsen, Vol. 4. Leiden: Brill, Oct. 2012.

“Bhakti Traditions,” pp. 107-121 in Jessica Frazier, ed., The Bloomsbury  Companion to Hindu Studies. London: Bloomsbury 2014 [2011].

“Spreading Śakti” (article on female gurus), pp. 97-120 in Tracy Pintchman and Rita D. Sherma, eds., Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Speaking Engagements (2015-2019)

School of Oriental and African Studies (2023) – Fierce Goddesses
Argumentative Indians (2022) – Bhakti Movement: Revolution, Reformation or Revival? Access videos here.
Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (2021) – Rethinking Gender
Annual South Asia Conference, Madison – Bhakti Visualities Symposium, sponsored by the Regional Bhakti Scholars Network
Princeton Historical Society – Historical Fiction
Philadelphia Museum of Art – Centenary Celebration of the South Indian Temple Hall
South Asia Research and Information Institute, Dallas & Southern Methodist University – Women in India
Miranda House, University of Delhi – Bhakti, Gender and the Body
Madras Institute of Development Studies – Modern History of Women and Work
University of Erfurt Max Weber Center – Bhakti Conference
Yale University – Bhakti Conference
Wellesley College – University Collaboration and Women’s Leadership
Columbia University South Asia Seminar – History and Display of Shiva Nataraja Image
International Association for the History of Religions, Erfurt – Women, Religion, Ethnography
International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Kandy, Sri Lanka – History of Shiva Nataraja Image
SSEASR (South and SE Asian Assoc for the Study of Culture and Religion), Colombo, Sri Lanka – History of Shiva Nataraja Image

Select Professional Service

National Editorial Board, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, 2009-2021

Advisory Editorial Board, International Journal of Hindu Studies, 2012-Present

International Editorial Board, Religion & Gender, 2013 – 2020

Editor (collaborative), Religion & Gender, 2020-Present

Editorial Board, International Journal of Dharma Studies, now Journal of Dharma Studies, 2013-Present

Advisory Committee, Voice of Intellectual Man, 2015-Present

Steering Committee, Conference on the Study of Religions of India, 2010-2016

Book Review Editor, International Journal of Hindu Studies, June 2006-2012. The current BRE is Dr. Michael Baltutis,

Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession, American Academy of Religion 2003-2008.