It's difficult to research South Asian religions without actually talking to and interviewing the people who practice the different faiths. Thanks to the Gibson Term Professorship, Vasudha Narayanan, professor of religion, can continue her studies on Hinduism by traveling to India and finding out firsthand how this religion affects its believers.
She is particularly interested in hearing from segments of the population not typically heard from, including women and those less educated.
"In Hinduism, the history we've received is from the privileged people, and people who had access to education," she said. "I try to portray a balanced view of Hinduism, which includes the male and female versions and voices from different castes in society."
Narayanan is also studying the unusually positive relationship between the Hindu and Moslem believers in South India.
"While in many parts of India there's been an acrimonious relationship between the two religions, there's been over 1,200-1,300 years of harmonious relationship in South India," she said.
Apparently there are many Hindu devotees who actually built shrines for Moslem saints and believed they were truly holy people. Part of Narayanan's research includes visiting these shrines and interviewing the Hindus and Moslems about their shared spirituality.
"I just made a two-week trip to India and England to study one of the major celebrations of the anniversary of the particular saints of South India," she said. "I conducted field interviews with pilgrims and Moslems who manage the shrine to see what motivates Hindus and Moslems to worship together, and especially what motivates men and women to worship at the same place."
The information gained from her travels not only contributes to her research but also has a direct impact on Narayanan's students.
"We're living in an increasingly multicultural world and we need to understand other human beings better," she said. "I think courses that we offer in religion give us this kind of understanding of how human beings have lived, some of their greatest accomplishments and what gives them the faith to go on."