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Elaine Fisher

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Elaine Fisher

Elaine M. Fisher is a scholar of South Asian religions and Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University. A specialist in the Śaiva traditions of peninsular India, her research reconstructs notions of religious subjectivity and the religious public in early modern Hinduism.

Professor Fisher’s writings include the book Hindu Pluralism: Religion and the Public Sphere in Early Modern South India, published by the University of California Press in 2017. Hindu Pluralism argues that Hindu sectarianism—Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava community identity— became the defining feature of Hindu public culture in early modern south India and beyond. The polarized relationship between these sectarian communities, in turn, played a major role in the origins of Hinduism as a unified religion.

Professor Fisher’s second book project, Translating Devotion: Language, Community, and Identity in Early Modern India, rethinks the relationship between religious identity and language in premodern south and central India through the lens of translation theory and multilingualism. To that end, Translating Devotion brings a new perspective to our understanding of the origins and history of the south Indian Vīraśaiva/Liṅgāyat tradition, drawing on unpublished and unstudied textual material in Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Marathi. While Vīraśaivism is today often associated strictly with the state of Karnataka, Vīraśaiva communities emerged across regions in early modernity that articulated distinctive religious identities through translation and other multilingual textual practices. Within our chronology of Hinduism, Professor Fisher’s research also reconsiders how we narrate Vīraśaivism as a “revolutionary” and strictly vernacular wing of the Bhakti Movement. Rather, Translating Devotion documents for the first time that early Vīraśaivism was heavily indebted to the textual resources and religious values of the Atimārga and Mantramārga communities of the Śaiva Age.

Professor Fisher received her PhD from Columbia University, her MA from the University of Chicago Divinity School, and her BA from the University of Chicago. Her research has recently been supported by the Hellman Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and by a USIEF Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship.

Selected Publications