AAS Member Spotlight: Sree Padma Holt

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Dr. Sree Padma Holt, Executive Director, ISLE Program and Research Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at Bowdoin College 

Cultural and Political History; India and Sri Lanka.

How long have you been a member of AAS?

Since 1996

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

I joined because it is a great forum to meet scholars working in any part of Asia and to share my own research.

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

In 1997,  in Chicago, I gave a paper with the title, Virginity and Its Power in the Telugu Culture of India.

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

I enjoy listening to papers, meeting scholars and observing the change of the course of research over the years.

Tell us about your current or past research.

My most recent publication is an edited volume: Inventing and Reinventing the Local Goddess. The volume consists of essays written by ten scholars, including myself  as well as other experienced South Asian experts (such as Brenda Beck, Vasudha Narayanan and Tracy Pintchman) in the fields of religion, anthropology, history and politics.  These essays have been developed from the panels that I organized for the Conferences on South Asia in Madison, Wisconsin, and annual conferences of the Association for Asian Studies held in Hawaii and San Diego. 

A project that was thoroughly interdisciplinary in nature that I published in October 2013 with Oxford University Press is Vicissitudes of the Goddess: Reconstructions of the Gramadevata in India’s Religious Traditions. Drawing on scholarship derived from archaeological sources, iconography, inscriptions, literature, and current forms of ritual worship and mythology, I have reconstructed an unbroken history of the traditions of goddesses from ancient agricultural and hunting origins to the twenty-first century. In this book, I have also traced how and with what motivations the symbols and images of goddesses have been appropriated into the brahmanical (Saiva and Vaisnava), Buddhist, and Jaina religious traditions.

Another inter-disciplinary project of a different kind than the above is a collection of essays that I co-edited and published with the State University of New York Press in 2008. I contributed two chapters to this volume, including one coauthored chapter with John Holt.  The essays in this volume, Buddhism in the Krishna River Valley of Andhra focus on specific dimensions of Andhra's long and rich history involving Buddhism, and address it from a variety of disciplinary and methodological angles.

Based on my PhD, I wrote Costume, Coiffure and Ornament in the Temple Sculpture of Northern Andhra, published by Agama Kala Prakashan, New Delhi.  As the title indicates, this book was a study of religious and secular sculptures in twenty-seven Saivite and Vaishnavite temples built by various dynasties (Eastern Gangas, Eastern Chalukyas and Kakatiyas) in the districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam and East Godavari in Andhra Pradesh between the 8th and 14thcenturies. By scrutinizing the details of dress, coiffure and ornamentation that figured in the decoration of sculptured male and female figures carved into the walls of these temples, I assessed the social values that were expressed through material culture.  

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

I assume that those who enter the academic world do so out of a passion for knowledge. Everybody has to find a way to make a living as well, so young scholars have to pay attention to whether the decisions that governments make will effect their chosen study areas.

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

This may not be too much outside of Asian Studies as the undergraduate study abroad program I have been administering since 1998 is located in Sri Lanka. But personally this involves a lot of administering which most of the time is not directly related to my research and teaching.  Even so, I enjoy working with Sri Lankan faculty, helping them in putting together their syllabi and contributing to the academic and culturally immersive quality of the program.

"I joined because it is a great forum to meet scholars working in any part of Asia and to share my own research."

— Sree Padma