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Aftab Jassal

Aftab Jassal is an anthropologist of religion, with longstanding research experience and interest in the Himalayas, specifically, Uttarakhand, a north Indian state bordering Tibet and Nepal. His research examines varying modes and registers of interaction between person, place, and divinity in South Asia. Drawing on anthropological and performance studies approaches, he is interested in how Hindu communities construct and enliven multiple social, ontological, and aesthetic realities through narrative and ritual performance, including ritual storytelling and possession.

His major research interests are anthropology of religion; ritual and performance studies; human-nonhuman relations; illness and healing; environmental anthropology; theories of space and place; narrative and storytelling; ethnography; caste; Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism; South Asia


PhD in Religion, Emory University (2014)

Postdoctoral Fellow, Duke University (2013-2016)


South Asian Initiative at UCSD


2017 Making God Present: Place-Making and Ritual Healing in North India International Journal of Hindu Studies 21: 141-174.

2016 Divine Politicking: A Rhetorical Approach to Deity Possession in the Himalayas. Religions 7: 117-135. Online access:

Jassal's Publications

My book manuscript [In Progress], Abodes of Presence: Making Place for the Divine in North India, traces how divinities are known, experienced, and made present by their worshippers in a variety of religious settings, such as village temples and domestic healing rituals. I argue that gods are made present in the lives of their devotees—in the body, home, village, temple, and region—through narrative and ritual practices of place-making. Throughout the Indian state of Uttarakhand, where I conducted ethnographic research, Hindus “make place” for divine beings through practices such as temple worship, oral narrative performance, divine embodiment, divination and healing, and translocal pilgrimage, processes which the book examines in detail. Place, I show, is enacted and instrumentalized both materially, in terms of gods entering and occupying homes, temples, and other abodes, and metaphorically, in terms of gods and their worshippers entering into long-term, reciprocal relationships. ‘Place’ is thus central to how humans and divinities in North India understand and relate to each other.