Anna  Bigelow

Anna Bigelow, Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

Anna Bigelow is Associate Professor of Religious Studies specializing in Islamic Studies and the religions of South Asia and the Middle East. Her work focuses on Muslim devotional life, especially sacred spaces and ritual practice. Current research concerns the circulation of devotional objects at Sufi shrines in India and Turkey.

Professor Bigelow’s current book project is a comparative study of shared sacred sites in India and Turkey tentatively titled Sacred Space and the Secular State: Studies in India and Turkey. This work interrogates the shifting nature of secularism as experienced, interpreted, and adjudicated through shared sacred spaces. Her first book, Sharing the Sacred: Practicing Pluralism in Muslim North India (Oxford University Press, 2010) is a study of a Muslim majority town in Indian Punjab and the shared sacred and civic spaces of that community. Bigelow is co-editor (with Kambiz GhaneaBassiri) and contributor to a special issue (6:2) on Material Islam of the Yale journal MAVCOR (Material and Visual Cultures of Religion). She also edited the volume Islam through Objects (Bloomsbury, 2021) representing the state of the field of Islamic material cultural studies with chapters focusing on particular things as entryways into wider Muslim worlds.

Professor Bigelow received her BA from Smith College, MA from Columbia University, and PhD in Religious Studies from UC Santa Barbara. Her research received support from the Carnegie Scholars Program, the Social Science Research Council, and the American Institute of Indian Studies, among others.


To prospective graduate students:

I will be reading applications for the fall 2024 admissions cycle, please check here for the application deadline (typically in the first week of December). Please note, students are not admitted by individual supervisors. All applications are reviewed by the department through the procedures detailed here. I am able to serve as a primary advisor for those students working on areas of direct expertise (see above and below), and will also work with all admitted graduate students in a supportive capacity. Please read the information on this page carefully before inquiring about admission.

Generally, I am able to advise in a range of fields in the contemporary period, especially Islam in South Asia and the Middle East, the study of Muslim minority populations, Muslim relations with non-Muslim communities, Islam and material culture, sacred space, secularism, and critical theory. My work grounds ethnography in history, archival sources, and cultural contexts. Please note – if your interests are philological, legal, or primarily before the modern period, I am not the right advisor for you and I encourage you to seek admittance elsewhere.

In the meantime, please review the materials about our program on our website, which should answer most questions. To ensure I read your application carefully, list me as a potential mentor and explain clearly why you think our areas of interest overlap. But be aware that we are a small program and I will not be the only faculty member you work with should you be admitted. Therefore it is essential to research not only all the faculty in Religious Studies, but those in affiliated programs on campus such as the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies and the Center for South Asia.

In your application, you do not need to identify a potential dissertation topic, although you may suggest potential ideas or areas of focus. Please include in your essay reflections on the intellectual journey that led you to graduate school, referencing specific books, courses, professors, and research experiences. If you were not an undergraduate religious studies major, explain why this is your chosen discipline and the academic experiences that have prepared you for graduate study. A polished writing sample using primary sources, high grades in relevant courses, and supportive letters from instructors who know you well are also important parts of your application. There is no minimum GRE score requirement. Be aware that admissions decisions in our department are made collectively. This means your application must appeal not only to me, but to my colleagues. Avoid submitting overly technical or specialized work that would only speak to a single faculty member’s expertise. In short, your application needs to show that you have considered carefully whether this is the appropriate program for your needs and interests.

Finally, it is important that all prospective applicants familiarize themselves with the realities of the extremely competitive academic job market in religious studies. Some information on the current hiring picture in the field is available here. Stanford specific data, including placement rates for Ph.D graduates over the past 10 years, can be found here.  For a cautionary note on graduate student debt, which can significantly impair your future happiness, click here. Note that the Stanford data do not distinguish between tenure track and adjunct positions.


Research Interests

Islamic Studies, South Asian and Middle Eastern Religions