AIIS Welcomes New Delegates

AIIS welcomes four new delegates to the institute this spring: Amy L. Allocco (Elon University), John Caldwell (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Bhavya Tiwari (University of Houston), and Saiba Varma (University of California, San Diego). AIIS delegates are the points of contact between AIIS and their institutions, informing colleagues at their institutions about AIIS opportunities. Welcome!


Amy L. Allocco Amy L. Allocco is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University, where she is also the founding director of the Multifaith Scholars program. Elon University is our newest member institution. Dr. Allocco is an ethnographer of South Asian religions whose research focuses on vernacular Hinduism, especially contemporary Hindu ritual traditions and women’s religious practices in Tamil Nadu, where she has been studying and conducting fieldwork for more than 20 years.

Several of Dr. Allocco’s publications concern South India’s snake goddess traditions and the repertoire of ritual therapies performed to mitigate naga dosham, a malignant horoscopic condition that causes delayed marriage and infertility. In 2018 SUNY Press published her co-edited volume, titled Ritual Innovation: Strategic Interventions in South Asian Religion (with Brian K. Pennington). Dr. Allocco’s current project, Domesticating the Dead: Invitation and Installation Rituals in Tamil South India (supported in part by AIIS/NEH), investigates the repertoire of ongoing ritual relationships that some Hindus maintain with their dead. It focuses on ceremonies to honor deceased relatives called puvataikkari (“the woman wearing flowers”), including both those performed annually to seek generalized blessings and occasional, elaborate invitation rituals in which ritual drummers summon the spirit, convince it to possess a human host, and beg it to come home as a protective family deity.

Her work is animated by interests in the forms of religious change inspired by the new social and economic realities that characterize a globalizing South Asia, as well as narrative, everyday religion, and gender in urban India.  At Elon, Dr. Allocco teaches courses on Hindu traditions and Hindu goddesses as well as gender and sexuality in Islam. In addition to leading January abroad courses in South India, Dr. Allocco is a prolific mentor of undergraduate research focused on South Asia and was recognized with Elon’s 2019 Ward Family Excellence in Mentoring Award. Her undergraduate research students are increasingly studying abroad in India, conducting research projects there, and learning Indian languages through AIIS and Critical Language Scholarships. She looks forward to continued relationships with the AIIS Tamil Language program in Madurai (where she studied from 2003-2004) and to developing research and language training opportunities in India with AIIS support.


John CaldwellJohn Caldwell is a sixth-year Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill working on his dissertation entitled “Songs from the Other Side: Listening to Pakistani Voices in India.” In 2017 Caldwell spent seven months in India on a Fulbright Dissertation Research Fellowship.

Caldwell’s other research interests include South Asian film and media culture, comparative musicology, ethnotheory, second language learning, and poetry and poetics. He is fluent in Hindi-Urdu and teaches both languages at the University of North Carolina. Caldwell co-directed the annual UNC Summer in India Study Abroad Program since 1999. In his spare time he directs the UNC Gamelan Ensemble, plays principal bassoon in the Raleigh and Durham Symphonies, and translates the ghazals of Ghalib into English.

Caldwell writes that “the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty and graduate students have certainly benefited from AIIS short- and long-term fellowships, and as an ethnomusicologist, I can testify to the value of the amazing collection housed at AIIS in Gurgaon. We also refer students regularly to AIIS language programs in India.”


Bhavya TiwariBhavya Tiwari is an Assistant Professor at the University of Houston. Her research engages with comparative and world literature, translation studies, global modernisms, postcolonial theory, and South Asian, Anglophone, and Latin American literary traditions. She received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (English, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Spanish) from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014.

Dr. Tiwari’s published work has given her the opportunity to present versions of her scholarship’s and pedagogical arguments on world literature, literatures from the global south, translation studies, postcolonial studies, and film studies. Her recent publication includes an essay titled, “Babri Mosque, Bollywood, and Gender in Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas.” The essay is part of the School of Oriental and African Studies’ research project on world literature. It was published in The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to World Literature, which is an edited volume that participates in contemporary scholarly debates over the meaning of the term “world literature” from antiquity to present. 

Currently, she is working on her book Modern Indian Literature as World Literature. The book is under contract with Bloomsbury Academic Press, and it is part of the Literature as World Literature series. Dr. Tiwari’s book takes a novel approach to theorizing on Indian literature as well as world literature by zooming on the “small” through the means of a case-study approach that focuses on  bhasha literatures, multilingualism, translation theory, and modernism.

Like any comparative literature scholar Dr. Tiwari cares about languages, and inculcates in her students a deep engagement with language study. Dr. Tiwari’s strongly believes that literature and cultural studies are an important contribution to diversity because they never offer a singular message. At the University of Houston, she regularly teaches Hindi language, and exposes students to Hindi-Urdu debate as well as literary works written in Hindi-Urdu. She has developed curricula for online and face-to-face interactions that focus on the development of analytical, critical, and writing skills of students. Dr. Tiwari regularly teaches courses such as “Cultures of India,” “Comparative Modernisms: The Global South,” “World Cultures Through Literature and Arts,” and “Indian Cinema: Bollywood and Beyond,” which introduce students to modern and postcolonial literary and cultural texts in Anglophone and Non-Anglophone literary traditions.


Saiba VarmaSaiba Varma is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego and an affiliate faculty in Ethnic Studies, Science Studies and Critical Gender Studies. She is a medical and cultural anthropologist working on questions of violence, medicine, psychiatry, and politics as they pertain to Indian-controlled Kashmir and South Asia more generally.

Her forthcoming book, The Occupied Clinic: Militarism and Care in Kashmir (Duke U Press, 2020) examines how militarism affects clinical and humanitarian practices and everyday life in the Kashmir valley. She is also a member of the South Asia Initiative (SAI) steering committee at UCSD.  

Dr. Varma writes, “Thanks to AIIS, my graduate students have the opportunity to learn field languages and prepare for dissertation and future scholarly work. Being an institutional member of AIIS also allows me to apply for research grants in India.”