The core issue animating my research in India and beyond is music’s power to activate profound religious experiences that in turn shape other identities. I thus explore nationalism in Western Indian Hindu temple performance, gendered translation in Indian Jewish song, diasporic longing in Indo-Caribbean American Hinduism, and rural-urban collisions in the devotional songs of an Indian classical singer. More recently, I have begun turning my attention toward issues of race and migration in American popular musics.
My first monograph, Singing a Hindu Nation (Oxford University Press, 2013) charts the nationalist interventions of western Indian devotional performers from the late 19th through early 21st centuries. In temples and streets, performers of rashtriya (nationalist) kirtan (devotional song and storytelling) led masses of Marathi-speaking people during the Indian anti-colonial movement, and they continue to preach and sing nationalism as devotion in the post-colonial era. I argue that rashtriya kirtan has been especially successful in combining the political and the devotional because kirtankars infuse nationalist messages with ritual weight, they speak and sing in regional idioms with rich associations for Maharashtrian congregations, and they engender musical participation to promote embodied experiences of nationalist devotion.
My second book project, Songs of Translation: Bene Israel Performance from India to Israel (under contract with Oxford University Press), explores gender and cultural translation in the devotional songs of the Bene Israel, a Marathi-speaking Jewish people from western India. For the last three centuries, the Bene Israel have been engaging with Indian Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, as well as with Jews from Europe, South India, and the Middle East. Songs of Translation seeks to understand changing relations between the Bene Israel and other social groups in India and Israel, and it outlines a new method for analyzing multilayered translations of text, ritual, cultural practice, gender, and musical sound.
In 2017, Sumanth Gopinath and I were awarded the H. Colin Slim Award by the American Musicological Society for our article, "Sentimental Remembrance and the Amusements of Forgetting in Karl and Harty’s 'Kentucky.'" My research has been supported by fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Hellman Foundation, Fulbright-Hays, the American Association of University Women, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, the University of Illinois, and Stanford University.