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Rachana Rao Umashankar

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

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Spellman Hall, Second Floor
(914) 633-2644 (914) 633-2644


  • Ph.D., Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2012
  • BA, Anthropology-Sociology, Knox College, 2004

Dr. Rachana Rao Umashankar specializes in courses about the anthropology of religion and Islam in South Asia. Her research interests are in the anthropology of religion, the politics of religious identity, history and memory, and Islam in South Asia. Dr. Umashankar received the Jr. Master Teacher and Lecturer award in 2016, and the Catherine McCabe Award for Innovation & Excellence in Teaching in 2018.

Dr. Umashankar’s research interests are in the anthropology of religion, the politics of religious identity, history and memory, and Islam in South Asia. Her Ph.D. 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.

Papers, Presentations and Workshops

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 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 Member of the Iona College delegation to the “Creative Inquiry in the Arts and Humanities” Institute, Council on Undergraduate Research, Greensboro, NC (Nov 6-8)
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.
2014 Countering Histories: Subversive oral narratives at Indian Sufi shrines. Paper presented as part of the ‘Counter-histories of South Asia: Corpses, Sites, Refugees, and Rebels’ panel at The Annual Conference on South Asia, Center for South Asia, University of Wisconsin-Madison, October 19.
2013 The Divine Beloved: Devotional eroticism in Sufism and the Bhakti Movement in India. Invited talk as part of the ‘The Role of Women in Indian Classical Arts’ panel discussion and seminar, Duke University, Durham, September 14.
2011 The Good, the Bad, and the Highly Problematic: Complicating notions of Muslim engagement in the Indian public sphere. Paper presented in the invited session at the ‘Piety, Poetry, and Politics: Sufi Muslims in South Asia’ Conference at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, April 28-30.
2010 Multiculturalist Secularism in India and the Shared Sacred Space of Sufi Shrines. Invited talk at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Sawyer Seminar: Sacred Spaces, Sacred Sounds, Chapel Hill, April 23-24.