William Noboru Elison

William Elison

Dartmouth College

Department of Religion

6063 Thornton Hall

Hanover, NH 03755-3592

  1. (603)646-3748


I study religion and visual culture in India. My principal research method is ethnography in colloquial Hindi. My work centers on an ongoing program of fieldwork research in the streets, slums, and movie studios of Mumbai.

In common with many other scholars of religion, I am interested in “social fictions”—in ideas, images, and stories that mediate the experience of everyday life. My own emphasis has been on visual media that relate the experience of socially and spatially marginalized residents of Mumbai to sources of power and glamor. For example, devotional images or “idols”; government documents; and popular cinema.

I am currently revising a monograph based on my Mumbai research for publication by the University of Chicago Press (South Asia across the Disciplines series). In Neighborhood of Gods: The Sacred and the Visible at the Margins of Mumbai, I look at sites where members of the city’s underclass—some Hindu, some non-Hindu, and some whose identity is under negotiation—have used religious images and symbols to mark space. To say that “folk” or “village religion” is centered on the cults of locally based gods is not exactly news to scholars of religion in India. But what becomes of these territorial deities once they migrate, along with their human subjects, to the metropolis? And what becomes of visual worship, known in Hinduism as darshan, once transplanted from its traditionally studied setting—a Brahmin-run temple in a pilgrimage town—into urban public space?

Future ethnographic work in Mumbai will center on questions of agency and recognition in the context of slum-based religious life. My other research interests include Indian tribal communities (adivasis, STs); the intersection of ritual and modern media technologies; and subaltern alternatives to official narratives of national citizenship and modernity. Along with Andy Rotman of Smith College and Christian Novetzke of the University of Washington, I am the coauthor of a book about one of the great Bombay movies, Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), a landmark of Hindi popular film and a mine of historically resonant tropes of religious, national, and gender identity. “Amar Akbar Anthony”: Bollywood, Brotherhood, and the Nation will be released this fall by Harvard University Press.

My affiliations at Dartmouth are with the Departments of Religion and Anthropology and the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Program.



Curriculum Vitae



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