Anand V. Taneja
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Associate Professor of Asian Studies
My research and teaching focus on the religious and cultural traditions of South Asia, specializing in the anthropological study of contemporary Islam, Indian popular culture, and inter-religious relations between Muslims and Hindus. My work focuses on emergent shrines, ethical formations, and new religious, literary, and cultural expression in the contemporary landscape of urban north India. Through this work, I ask questions which contribute to global debates in the humanities and the social sciences on the relation of religion to public life and politics.
My first book, Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, and Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi , center on Firoz Shah Kotla, a ruined medieval palace that has become a prominent dargah, or Muslim saint shrine, in contemporary Delhi. The saints venerated at this dargah are not human, but Islamic spirits known as jinn. Visitors, both Hindu and Muslim, write letters of petition to these jinn-saints in various niches and alcoves of the ruins. Firoz Shah Kotla is also a place where animal life flourishes, especially cats, snakes, and kites. As the jinn are shape-shifters in Islamic mythology, often taking the form of animals, these animals are also imbued with sacrality in this space. Drawing on ethnography, Urdu literature, and government archives, Jinnealogy casts new light on the relation of theology to post-colonial politics, the ethical potentialities that popular Islam holds open for Muslims and non-Muslims, and the relation of the ecological to urban sacrality. At a time when reformist Islam is dismissive of the jinn and the realm of the unseen, following the familiar script of modernity and disenchantment, here the jinn are sanctified. The book argues that the "enchanted" nature of popular Islam encountered here is not a pre-modern relic, but an ethical, political, and theological stand emerging anew in response to the post-colonial condition.
I am currently working on a second book on Indian Muslim ethical responses to Hindu nationalism and Islamophobia.