Leela Prasad is an anthropologist in the Department of Religious Studies at Duke and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. Her interests are in everyday ethics, Gandhi, gender, prison and post-prison life, decoloniality, and narrative art and culture.
Her first book, Poetics of Conduct: Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town (Columbia University Press, 2007) was awarded the American Academy of Religion’s “Best First Book in the History of Religions” prize in 2007. Her latest book, The Audacious Raconteur: Sovereignty and Storytelling in Colonial India (Cornell University Press, 2020) engages the extraordinary narrations of Indians in late colonial India, and converses with descendants, to highlight the perennial presence of the “audacious raconteur” a sovereign ethical figure in contexts of power and domination.
Her ongoing project is based on her teaching Gandhi in a US federal prison and on her ethnographic research in Indian prison settings. This work was supported by the Carceral Imaginary Working Group at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke, grants from the American Philosophical Society, Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation, the Duke India Initiative, and two Fulbright fellowships. She is co-directing a film called “Aftertones: Moved by Gandhi.”
Leela guest-curated the first exhibition in the US on Indian American life titled Live like the Banyan Tree: Images of the Indian American Experience (The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, 1999), and co-directed the accompanying film “Back and Forth: Two Generations of Indian Americans at Home.”
She was the founding faculty director of the former Duke Center for Civic Engagement and has served on the boards of the American Academy of Religion and Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies. Leela is the co-convener of a “Humanities Unbounded Lab” at Duke called “‘Asia’ in the Making of American Religiosity.”