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Urmila Mohan

Urmila Mohan



Year of start: 2011

Year of completion: 2015

Subject: Material Culture

Research Topic/ Provisional Dissertation Title

Clothing as Material of Religious Subjectivity in Iskcon India


Susanne Kuechler
Chris Pinney


The study of “subjectivity-cum-materiality” through the making and use of religious clothing in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon), India helps us explore how religious modalities and persons are generated, transformed and localised. While adherence to Vedic scriptural norms is central to Iskcon there is also the non-discursive use of corporeal, material aesthetics or ‘corpothetics’ within the emotive devotional tradition of bhakti. An emphasis on ‘making’ and ‘doing’ as religious subjectivation can be seen in the clothing of deities, the centrality of darsan, the programs that disseminate worship practices and the concern with work as karma or soteriological action. Unlike clothing in the West that re-surfaces the individual’s body to present a desired identity, garments in Iskcon transform a person’s ‘nature’ within a cosmology of transferable properties and actions. I argue that the agency of deity and devotee clothing mediates ontological categories of interior and exterior to shape the religious subject and act as an entry point into sociality in Iskcon.

Research interests

  • Art, Craft and Design
  • Religion
  • Embodiment
  • Praxeology

Academic Background/Education

  • Ph.D, Anthropology (Material and Visual Culture), University College London, 2015.
  • MFA Studio Art, Penn State University (PSU), State College, Pennsylvania, 2009.
  • BA (Hons) Anthropology, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand, 2000.
  • 5 yr Diploma, Communication Design, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, 1998.

Honours and Awards

  • 2013, Conference Bursary, British Association for the Study of Religions (BASR), Liverpool, UK.
  • 2012-13, India Travel Award, Nehru Trust for the Indian Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
  • 2011, UCL Anthropology Departmental Bursary.
  • 2010, Rotary International District 7510 Ambassadorial Scholarship 2011-12.
  • 2009, Solo Exhibition 2010, Hunterdon Art Museum, Clinton, NJ.
  • 2008, Penn State Graduate Research Show, Penn State University.
  • 2007 – 08, Graduate Scholarship, Penn State University.

Events, Publications and Presentations

  • "Colour, Religion and Modernity", talk at workshop on Material and Sensual Religion, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK, November, 2015.
  • "Ornament as a Technology of Devotional ‘Gaze’ and ‘Glaze’ in Hindu Deity Garments", paper presented at panel titled Efficacious Objects, Conference on Material Religion: Embodiment, Materiality and Technology, Duke University, Durham, US, September 2015.
  • "New Directions in Material Religion: A Discussion with David Morgan", Online workshop organised with Rose Wellman, 11 August 2015.
  • Productive (Dis)orientation: Being Made and Unmade in the Field”, Anthropology News, Society for Humanistic Anthropology, AAA, May 2015.
  • “Dressing God: Clothing as Material of Religious Subjectivity in a Hindu Group”, chapter in Kuchler and Drazin (eds.) The Social Life of Materials: Studies in Materials and Society, Bloomsbury, 2015.
  • "Preformed or Performed? Embroidery as Devotion in Iskcon", paper presented at panel titled Devotion to and with Books, American Academy of Religion-Eastern International Region, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, May 2015.
  • "Devotional Agency and the Technological Enchantment of Deity Garments", The Florida State University Department of Religion 14th Annual Graduate Student Symposium, Tallahassee, FL, U.S., February, 2015.
  • "Hindu Prayer Beads as Efficacious Aids in Devotion", paper presented at conference on Materialites Religieuses, Musee du Quai Branly, Paris, January 2015.
  • "Devotional Agency and the Technological Enchantment of Deity Garments", paper presented at panel titled Material and Sensory Attachment: Intimate Engagement in Religion and Politics, American Anthropological Association, Washington, D.C., U.S., December 2014.
  • Co-founder of Material Religions Blog, Editor Sept 2014-present.
  • Commentaries on Tobert India Collection, Horniman Museum and Gardens, June-August 2014.
  • "Hindu Prayer Beads as Efficacious Aids in Devotion", paper presented at conference on The Bodily AND Material Cultures of Religious Subjectivation, UCL, London, June 2014.
  • "The Bodily AND Material Cultures of Religious Subjectivation", Conference convened with Prof. Jean-Pierre Warnier, UCL, London, U.K., June 2014.
  • “When Krishna Wore a Kimono: A Case of Clothing Failure”, paper presented at panel titled When Things Do Wrong: The Material Culture of Failure, American Anthropological Association, Chicago, U.S., November 2013.
  • “The Mundanity of Transcendence: Materialising Religion in Iskcon India”, paper presented at panel titled Bodies of Veneration, EASR/BASR Conference, Liverpool, U.K., September 2013.
  • ‘Making’ and ‘Doing’ Fieldwork, Presentation, Presidency University, Kolkata, India, April 2013.
  • Workshop on the study of techniques in Communication Design, National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India, March 2013.
  • “Iskcon’s ‘Temple of the Vedic Planetarium’ as a Space for Mission, Monument and Memorialisation”, paper presented at panel for Mediating Modernities, conference organised by Srishti College of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore, India, and School of Arts & Communication, University of Malmo, Sweden, January 25th, 2013.
  • "India: A Veneration Nation?", Conference convened with Jill Reese, UCL, London, U.K., June 2012.
  • “Dressing (for) God: Cloth as Substance of Hindu Consciousness”, paper presented at panel for Anthropology in the World, RAI conference, British Museum, London, U.K., June 2012.
  • “Designing Diaspora: The Culture of Indian Diasporic Clothing”, The Trellis, National Institute of Design, India, 2011.
  • “Moving Home”, Exhibition Catalog, Hunterdon Art Museum, 2010.
  • “The Culture of Ornament and Decoration”, ArtsWord, Penn State University, School of Visual Arts, Fall 2009.
  • “Slonim Revisited”, Ceramics, Art & Perception, June 2008. 
  • “Sculptural Objects Functional Art, NY 2007”, Terracotta Magazine, October 2007.
  • “Aliens in Their Own Land”, Video, 20 min., Ahmedabad: Gurjarvani Productions (Xavier Center for Culture and Communication), 1998.
  • “Yatra (A Journey)”, Video, 10 min., Udaipur: West Zone Cultural Centre, Government of India, 1995.


  • 2011-12, UCL Anthropology Departmental Bursary.
  • 2011-12, Rotary International District 7510 Ambassadorial Scholarship.
  • 2012, UCL Graduate Research Projects Fund.

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