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Rachana Rao Umashankar

Iona College Department of Religious Studies
715 North Ave.
New Rochelle, NY 10801
Phone: (914) 633-2644
Fax: (914) 633-2248
Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday, 12:30 p.m. - 2 p.m.

Ph.D. Anthropology: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2012.
BA Anthropology-Sociology: Knox College (Galesburg, IL), 2004.

Rachana Rao Umashankar joined the faculty of the Religious Studies Department in the Fall of 2014, specializing in the Anthropology of Religion and Islam in South Asia. Dr. Umashankar received the Jr. Master Teacher and Lecturer award in 2016.

Professional Interests

Dr. Umashankar’s research interests are in the anthropology of religion, the politics of religious identity, history and memory, and Islam in South Asia. She completed her Ph.D. with the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2012. Her dissertation, titled, Defending Sufism, Defining Islam: Asserting Islamic identity in India, is based on more than a year of intensive ethnographic fieldwork in India. It examines how adherents of shrine-based Sufism assert their identity as Indian Muslims in the contexts of public debates over religious identity and national belonging in India, and vis-à-vis reformist Muslim critiques of their Islamic beliefs and practices.


2016 Sufi Sound, Sufi Space: Indian cinema and the mise-en-scène of pluralism. Sufism in India and Pakistan: Rethinking Islam, Democracy, and Identity. (edited volume through Columbia University. Under review)

2015 Metropolitan Microcosms: The dynamic sacred spaces of contemporary Sufi Shrines in India. South Asian Studies, 31(1), 131-148.

2015 Delhi. Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, 2nd edition. Richard C. Martin, ed. New York: Macmillan Reference. (Under publication)

2013 Review: Kelly, Pemberton, “Women Mystics and Sufi Shrines in India”. Asian Ethnology, 72(1), 158-160.

Invited Presentations

2016 The Qur'an in the Classroom: Demystifying an ancient text. Lecture as part of the Jr. Master Teacher and Lecturer Award, Iona College, New Rochelle, Oct 20.

2016 Horseshoes to in the fire: Journey, struggle, and movement in the poetry of Sufi Islam. Keynote address at ‘Sufism: Path of the Heart. A Day of Contemplative Inquiry’. The Iona Spirituality Institute & Council on the Arts, Iona College, New Rochelle, Sept 17.

2015 Secularism, Pluralism, and the Creation of India. Presentation for Learning in Retirement at Iona College (LIRIC). Iona College, New Rochelle, Oct 16.

2015 Qawwali—The Soundtrack to Indian Pluralism. Presentation at ‘Sufism in India and Pakistan: Rethinking Islam, Democracy, and Identity’. Columbia University, New York City, September 24-26.

2015 If God Wills It: Human and Divine Agency in the Qur’an. Presentation for the ‘Honors Program Lecture Series’, Iona College, New Rochelle, February 26.