Christian Lee Novetzke

Christian Lee Novetzke

Fellow: Awarded 2018
Field of Study: South Asian Studies

Competition: US & Canada

Christian Lee Novetzke’s career as a scholar of India might never have happened if not for the fall of the Berlin Wall. As an undergraduate at Macalester College, Novetzke learned Russian with the hope of studying abroad in the Soviet Union in the winter of 1989. But as the Wall fell that November, the cost of the program in Russia tripled overnight. Itching to see something new, he found the least expensive study program would take him not to the USSR but to Pune, India, instead. There, Novetzke began to learn Marathi, the language of Maharashtra, and worked to translate the poetry of “Untouchable” or Dalit (“downtrodden”) women, whose writing expressed the double bind of being “Untouchable” and women. His first academic publication, “Twice Dalit,” came from that work and was published in The Journal of South Asian Literature.

Over the last 27 years, Novetzke has continued his studies of India, religion, history, culture, and politics, joined to questions of public ethics. He completed a Masters of Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in Religious Studies at Columbia University. His first book, Religion and Public Memory (Columbia University Press, 2008), won the American Academy of Religion’s prize for “The Best First Book in the History of Religion.” With co-authors, Andy Rotman and William Elison, his second book, Amar Akbar Anthony: Bollywood, Brotherhood, and the Nation (published by Harvard University Press in 2016), analyzes one of India’s most beloved films. Amitabh Bachchan, star of the film and one of India’s biggest cinematic idols, tweeted in praise of the book, calling it “amazing” and enigmatically “a thesis almost”! Novetzke’s latest book, The Quotidian Revolution (Columbia University Press, 2016) argues for the emergence of a public sphere concerned with social justice in India in the thirteenth century.

Novetzke will use his time as a Guggenheim Fellow to advance two new projects. The first takes up the role of “devotionalism” or bhakti in the creation of political ethics in Maharashtra over the last seven hundred years. A second project, with collaborator Dr. Sunila S. Kale, is on yoga as a political idea. Novetzke is Professor of South Asia Studies, Religious Studies, and Global Studies at the Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, Seattle.

Profile photograph by Rana Dasgupta

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