Meena Khandelwal

The University of Iowa

Meena Khandelwal is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies.  Her monograph Women in Ochre Robes (SUNY Press 2004) is an ethnographic study of women in North India who have renounced marriage, family, wealth, security, and status for a life of celibacy and spiritual discipline; they pursue goals intended for men. Professor Khandelwal juxtaposes the common refrain that “in renunciation there is no male and female” with evidence of the continuing importance of gender in the world of renunciation and suggests that these apparent contradictions create tensions for actual people that are at once emotional, social, and philosophical. Professor Khandelwal has also co-edited, with Sondra L. Hausner and Ann Grodzins Gold, a new book entitled Women's Renunciation in South Asia: Nuns, Yoginis, Saints, and Singers (Palgrave Macmillan 2006). It brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars who offer vivid ethnographic portraits of women initiated into Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Baul and Himalayan Bon renunciation.  In doing so, it presents a wider range of possible lives for South Asian women than has ever been documented by scholars of the region. An Indian edition, titled Nuns, Yoginis, Saints, and Singers (Zubaan 2007) is now available as well.

Khandelwal has become increasingly interested in issues of diaspora, migration and transnationalism.  She returned to India in Spring 2005 to explore transnational aspects of Hindu renunciation. Since the late 19th century, Hindu spirituality has gained increasing popularity worldwide as traveling gurus have articulated a modern message of Hindu spirituality. India has also attracted those who come as spiritual tourists, sojourners, or migrants.  Khandelwal has written about Foreign Swamis who have settled permanently in Rishikesh in an essay to appear in the journal Identities in 2007 (Vol. 14: 313-340).