Hinduism 101: Academic Advisory Council

The Academic Advisory Council works to ensure that HAF’s policy initiatives are grounded in intellectual, historical and evidence-based approaches, while serving as a sounding board for HAF. The council members’ interdisciplinary backgrounds help to broaden HAF’s scope in academia, ensuring that the expanse of Hinduism, including philosophical, theological, anthropological, and lay perspectives, are represented. The council’s approach includes efforts to bridge the scholarly gaps between East and West, helping to provide dharmic understandings and approaches to key social issues such as immigration reform, religious equality, and marriage equality, and articulating the relevance of Hinduism to solving contemporary problems. The council as a body supports HAF’s initiatives, but members bring a variety of unique perspectives that ensures a rich discussion on a range of issues.

Christopher Key Chapple, Loyola Marymount University, is Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology and founding Director of the Master of Arts in Yoga Studies at Loyola Marymount University. He received his PhD in the History of Religions at Fordham University and taught at Stony Brook University, where he also held a research position at the Institute for Advanced Studies of World Religions for five years before joining LMU in 1985. He has published more than a dozen books, including Karma and Creativity (1986), Nonviolence to Animals, Earth, and Self in Asian Traditions (1993), Reconciling Yogas (2003), and Yoga and the Luminous (2008) as well as several edited books on the topic of religion and ecology such as Ecological Prospects (1994), Hinduism and Ecology (1998), Jainism and Ecology (2000), Yoga and Ecology (2009) and In Praise of Mother Earth: The Prthivi Sukta (2011). His latest book project is tentatively titled Living Landscapes in Dharma Traditions. He serves on several advisory boards, including for the Forum on Religion and Ecology (Yale), the Green Yoga Association (Oakland), the Ahimsa Center (Pomona), and the Centre for Jain Studies (SOAS, London).

Jonathan Edelmann is an Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Florida. He was formerly an Assistant Professor of Religion at Mississippi State University in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, and a Shackouls Honors College Faculty Fellow. Edelmann was a 2009-2011 Luce Summer Fellow with the American Academy of Religion, and a winner of a 2011 John Templeton Prize for Theological Promise. He is the author of Hindu Theology and Biology: The Bhāgavata Purāṇa and Contemporary Theory (2012) with Oxford University Press, a book that attempts to lay the groundwork for discussion between Hinduism and the natural sciences. Has written for Zygon, the Journal of Vaishnava Studies, the Journal of Consciousness Studies, and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Edelmann has been a student of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism for nearly twenty years.

Veena Howard, University of Oregon, teaches in the Religious Studies Department and Asian Studies Program at the University of Oregon. Dr. Howard’s research includes the acclaimed book, Gandhi’s Ascetic Activism, which shows how Gandhi’s ascetic disciplines helped him mobilize millions. She explores Gandhi’s creative use of renunciation in challenging established paradigms of confrontational politics, passive asceticism, and oppressive social customs.

Ramdas Lamb, University of Hawaii, was a Hindu sadhu (monk) in north India from 1969 until 1978. He subsequently entered academia and earned a PhD in Asian religions from the University of California at Santa Barbara (1991). Since that time, he has taught at the University of Hawai’i, where his course topics include comparative religion, ethics, religion and society, fieldwork, Dharma traditions, and mysticism. He is the author of Rapt in the Name, a study of low caste religious movements in central India. Other writings focus primarily on various aspects of Hindu monastic traditions and the application of Hindu values to contemporary issues. His current research continues to look at monastic traditions, low castes in central and northern India, and contemporary society.

Jeffery Long, Elizabethtown College, is Professor of Religion and Asian Studies at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, where has taught since receiving his PhD from the University of Chicago in the year 2000. His doctoral dissertation is titled “Plurality and Relativity: Whitehead, Jainism, and the Reconstruction of Religious Pluralism.” He is the author of A Vision for Hinduism: Beyond Hindu Nationalism (IB Tauris, 2007), Jainism: An Introduction (IB Tauris, 2009), and the Historical Dictionary of Hinduism (Scarecrow Press, 2011), as well as the forthcoming Indian Philosophy: An Introduction and the companion volume Indian Philosophy: The Essential Readings (both from IB Tauris). Long has also published over three dozen articles in a variety of academic journals and scholarly volumes, including the Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy, the Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence, the Journal of Vaishnava Studies, and Prabuddha Bharata, the journal of the Ramakrishna Order in India–and has presented in national and international venues. Long is an adherent of the Vedanta tradition of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda and an active member of the Vedanta Society, and currently serves on the board of trustees of his local Hindu temple, the Hindu American Religious Institute, in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. Interfaith dialogue and religious diversity have been central themes of Long’s work as both a scholar and a teacher, and he sees the advancement of inter-religious understanding and of greater awareness and appreciation for the Dharma traditions to be his main life work.

Deven Patel, University of Pennsylvania, is an associate professor in the Department of South Asia Studies. His focus is on the intersection of language, literature, and culture in a south Asia. His research interests include Sanskrit language and literature (belles-lettres, epics, and drama); traditions of South Asian grammar and linguistics; the history, aesthetics, and reception of Indian literatures; Indian philosophy and intellectual history; Pali, Prakrit, Hindi and Gujarati language and literature; translation theory.

Tanisha Ramachandran, Wake Forest University, is an assistant professor of South Asian religions at Wake Forest University. She is currently working on a monograph titled, Idolized Representations: A Genealogy of the Hindu image, which explores the social and cultural history of Hindu imagery in India, Europe and North America from the late 18th century to the present. Prior to joining Wake Forest University, she taught in the Department of Religion and the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University. She has published in various journals including The Journal of Religion and Culture, Canadian Women’s Studies/ les Cahiers de la Femme, and Material Religion and has given numerous talks on issues pertaining to race, sexuality, religion and feminism. Currently, she serves as the faculty adviser for the newly formed South Asian Students Association at Wake Forest University (2014), and is working with students to establish a Hindu Students Association. She is also a member of the steering committee for the North American Hinduism Group affiliated with the American Academy of Religion (AAR).For the past year, she has been a regular reviewer for books on Hinduism for Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries. Her other areas of interest include the racialization and representation of Islam and Hinduism in the media, feminism in South Asia and the diaspora, and colonialism on the subcontinent.

Nalini Rao, Soka University of America, joined the Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo faculty as Professor of World Art in September 2000. Rao came to SUA from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where she taught courses in Survey of Asian Art, Art of India and Southeast Asia. Before that she was an Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Hawaii, Hilo (1998), and she was a Consulting Curator for Asian Art at the Amarillo Museum of Art in Texas (1997). Prior to that she was an instructor of Buddhist Art of India & Southeast Asia at California State University, Long Beach (1996) and Instructor in History of Western Art at California State University, Northridge (1995). Rao holds two Ph.D.'s: one in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles and the other in Ancient History and Archaeology from the University of Mysore, Mysore, India and an M.A. in History from the University of Marathawanda, Aurangabad, India. Currently, Rao is involved in a number of research projects including, South Indian Monasteries: An investigation of the origin and evolution of South Indian Hindu monastic institutions from ninth to the 17th centuries, researching Asian sculpture and paintings in the private collection of Dr. William T. Price and studying a large private collection of Mughal, Rajasthani, Pahari, and Bengal paintings, Tibetan Tankas, Gandhara terracottas and South Indian bronzes for cataloging and eventual publication. Rao is an author of two books, Boundaries and Transformations (1997) and Royal Artistic Imagery at Vijayanagara (forthcoming). She has also written several articles including, ‘Royal Portraits at Vijayanagara: Identification and Meaning' in New Trends in Indian Art and Architecture (1992) and ‘The Buddha and Bodhisattva as Rescuers of Seamen' in Recent Advances in Marine Archaeology (1988).

Graham Schweig, Christopher Newport University, is Professor of Religion and Director of the Asian Studies program at Christopher Newport University. He is a regularly invited lecturer at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC., and was Visiting Associate Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Virginia. He earned his doctorate in Comparative Religion from Harvard University and has contributed articles to numerous journals and books in the field. His book, Dance of Divine Love: India's Classic Sacred Love Story: The Rasa Lila of Krishna (Princeton University Press, 2005) presents an introduction to, comprehensive treatment and translation of the Bhagavata Purana's five chapters on the Rasa Dance of Krishna with the cowherd maidens of Vraja. Another of his works is an introduction to, translation and interpretation of the Bhagavad-gita, entitled Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord's Secret Love Song (Harper One / Harper Collins Publishers, 2007). His most recent work is A Living Theology of Krishna Bhakti: Essential Teachings of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, by Tamal Krishna Goswami, edited with an introduction and conclusion by Graham M. Schweig (Oxford University Press, New York, 2012).

Arvind Sharma, McGill College, is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University. Sharma's works focus on comparative religion, Hinduism, and the role of women in religion. Some of his more famous works include Our Religions and Women in World Religions. Feminism in World Religions was selected as a Choice Outstanding Academic Book (1999). In 1987, Sharma took the position of Associate Professor of Religious Studies at McGill University in Montreal. He is currently the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion there. Sharma was the first Infinity Foundation Visiting professor of Indic Studies at Harvard. He has held fellowships at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Center for the Study of World Religions, the Brookings Institute, the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life, and the Center for Business and Government. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society. Sharma currently writes two blogs entitled "Indological Provocations" and "The Comparative Study of Religion.”

Varun Soni, University of Southern California, is the Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California (USC). He is a University Fellow at USC Annenberg's Center on Public Diplomacy, an Adjunct Professor at USC's School of Religion, and a member of the State Bar of California, the American Academy of Religion, and the Association for College and University Religious Affairs. He serves on the advisory board for the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, the Journal for Interreligious Dialogue, CrossCurrents, Hindu American Seva Charities, Truli Christian Media, and the Parliament of the World's Religions. Prior to joining USC, he spent four years teaching in the Law and Society Program at UC Santa Barbara. He produced the critically acclaimed graphic novel Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary, which is currently being adapted for television. He also produced and hosted his own radio show on KPFK/Pacifica showcasing music from South Asia and its diaspora. He holds degrees in religion from Tufts University, Harvard Divinity School, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Cape Town, as well as a law degree from UCLA School of Law.

Lavanya Vemsani, award winning scholar and professor of History specializing in Indian History and Religions, is Professor of History in the department of Social Sciences at Shawnee State University, Portsmouth, Ohio. She holds two doctorates in the subjects of Religious Studies from McMaster University (Hamilton, Canada) as well as History from University of Hyderabad (Hyderabad, India), respectively. Dr. Vemsani’s research and teaching interests are varied, and multifold. She researches and publishes on subjects of ancient Indian history and religions as well as current history of India. She is the author of Hindu and Jain Mythology of Balarama and a number of articles on early History and Religions of India. Her second book Krishna in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Lord of Many Names is an encyclopedic study on Krishna. She is currently working on two book projects, India: A New History and Ancient Settlement Patterns of South India. She is the editor of International Journal of Dharma and Hindu Studies, and associate editor of Journal of South Asian Religious History.