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Vasudha Narayanan, Professor of Religion

Head of the CLAS

Vasudha NarayananVasudha Narayanan

Religion Professor Vasudha Narayanan is a world recognized scholar in the field of Hindu studies. The former president of the American Academy of Religion has used her expertise to create the nation’s first Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions (CHiTra) right here at the University of Florida.

Housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, CHiTra’s mission is to encourage the research, teaching and public understanding of the Hindu culture by offering interdisciplinary courses focusing on Hindu traditions and the arts, environmental concerns and health-related issues. It will also offer regular instruction in Sanskrit, an official language of India, and will eventually offer an undergraduate certificate and minor. The only other university in the world to offer such a program is England’s Oxford University. Narayanan will serve as CHiTra’s first director.

“Oxford has been encouraging us to do this for a while and is very supportive of our venture,” Narayanan says. “Many universities in this country are just opening up to the idea of Hindu studies and, since our program is interdisciplinary and we are not just looking at it through one set of lenses, I believe we will create new interest.”

The new center will have active collaborations with Oxford’s Centre for Hindu Studies, as well as the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi, co-hosting lecture series, pursuing joint research and possibly exchanging visiting scholars. CHiTra will also bring together faculty from across campus, including the Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures, the Asian Studies Program, the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, and the College of Fine Arts’ School of Theatre and Dance.

Of Narayanan, Assistant Director of the School of Theatre and Dance, Joan Frosch, has the following to say about her long-time colleague. “I can't remember precisely when I met Vasu, but I do that know life has been far sweeter since. She is clearly a major goddess of the University of Florida pantheon and I sincerely enjoy working with her, which doesn't feel like work at all but rather the flow of pure creativity.”

Narayanan first came to UF 1982. She was educated at the Universities of Madras and Bombay in India, and at Harvard University. Her fields of interest are the Sri Vaishnava tradition; Hindu traditions in India, Cambodia, and America; Hinduism and the environment; and gender issues. She is currently working on Hindu temples and Vaishnava traditions in Cambodia.

Narayanan was the president of the Society for the Hindu-Christian Studies from 1996 to 1998 and is the author and editor of six books and over 90 articles, chapters in books, and encyclopedia entries. Her research has been supported by grants and fellowships from several organizations including the American Council of Learned Societies, National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Institute of Indian Studies/Smithsonian, and the Social Science Research Council.

For more information on CHiTra, visit www.clas.ufl.edu/chitra

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