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Varuni Bhatia

Email: [email protected]

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 platforms.

Academic Qualifications

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)
Research Interests

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
Book: Refereed Articles:
  • “Sisir’s Tears: Bhakti and Belonging in Colonial Bengal,” International Journal of Hindu Studies, vol. 21, issue 1 (April 2017):
Invited Journal Articles:
  • “Finding a Birthplace,” in Journal of Vaiṣṇava Studies (Special Issue on Bhaktivinoda Thakur), vol. 23, no. 1 (Fall 2014): 157-188.
  • “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.
Popular writings, Blogs, etc.
On-going Projects

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.

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