Varuni Bhatia is a historian with an abiding interest in all things religious. In her research work, she
examines various religious phenomenon while remaining rooted in her training as a historian. She
likes writing, both for an academic audience as well as the public. Varuni has recently published a
book on the modern-day memory and memorialisation of the 15 th century Krishna devotee from
Bengal, Chaitanya. She has published articles in journals on Bengali Vaishnavism and its revival in
Bengal during the colonial period. More recently, she has been interested in the question of religious
or devotional publics, especially how these publics operate through a variety of social media
Varuni Bhatia has a PhD in Religious Studies from Columbia University, New York. Her MA and MPhil
is in History from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has taught at New York University and
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor before joining Azim Premji University.
Varuni teaches courses in the History pathway within the Humanities curriculum at Azim Premji
University. She also teaches courses in the Common Curriculum. Prior to coming here, Varuni taught
courses on various aspects of South Asian history and religions in universities in the US.
Here is a sample of the typical courses she has taught in the past and would like to continue teaching
in the future:
- Understanding India IV: Religion in India (2018 and 2019)
- Pre-Modern India (2018 and 2019)
- Eat, Pray, Love: Devotional Traditions in South Asia (2012-2016)
- Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion (2008 and 2009)
Cultural, Social and Intellectual histories of South Asia; Religion and Nationalism in colonial and
contemporary India; Bhakti and the Bhakti Movement; Bengali Vaishnavism; Chaitanya and other
bhakti figures from northern and eastern parts of India; History of Bengal; ; Religious Publics; Digital
Media and Religion
Publications and Writings
Invited Journal Articles:
- “Sisir’s Tears: Bhakti and Belonging in Colonial Bengal,” International Journal of Hindu Studies, vol.
21, issue 1 (April 2017):
- “Finding a Birthplace,” in Journal of Vaiṣṇava Studies (Special Issue on Bhaktivinoda Thakur), vol. 23,
no. 1 (Fall 2014): 157-188.
Popular writings, Blogs, etc.
- “The Afterlife of an Avatara in Modern Times,” in Ferdinando Sardella and Lucian Wong, eds.,
Gaudiya Vaishnavism in the Modern Period (New York: Routledge, 2019). Forthcoming.
- “Six Blind Men and the Elephant: The Bhagavata Purana in Colonial Bengal,” in Abhijit Gupta and
Swapan Chakravorty, eds., Founts of Knowledge: Book History in India, volume III (New Delhi: Orient
BlackSwan, 2015): 110-139.
Bhatia is currently working on two research projects. One is tentatively titled “Piety on the Fingertips:
Social Media and Religion in Contemporary India.” This project seeks to study how people’s religious
lives may (or may not) have been transformed as a result of their engagement with social media.
Bhatia is interested in carrying out a multi-year research project in this broad field, covering media
platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Sharechat and dealing with themes such as mediated
religion, religious publics, and everyday piety.
The second project is tentatively titled “Speaking to the Dead.” This project seeks to understand the
different ways in which people from a variety of religious persuasions claim to communicate with the
deceased. It will lie at the cusp of History and Anthropology, and try to bring into conversation the
otherwise discrete spheres of scholarship on Theosophy, Spiritualism, and anti-colonialism on the one
hand and ethnographic fieldwork with those who approach mediums to speak to deceased relatives
and loved ones.