A native of Pakistan, I received my bachelor’s degree in Third World Studies from Vassar College in 1992, and a Master of Science in cultural geography from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) at the University of London in 1996. I completed a Master of Arts at Yale University in 2001 and a Doctorate of Philosophy in cultural anthropology at Yale in 2005.
My teaching experience includes visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Colgate University, and currently, assistant professor of anthropology at Purchase College at the State University of New York since 2006.
My research interests include globalization, transnationalism and the nation-state; South Asian immigrants in North America; urban anthropology; South Asian media industries in the West; Indian cinema/Bollywood; and gender and sexuality cross-culturally.
For the past one decade, I have been engaged in ethnographic research on South Asian Muslim communities in the United States. I have recently completed a book length manuscript titled ‘God Willing’: Transnational Lives, American Dreams and the South Asian Muslim Experience in Texas, a culmination of a decade-long research in Houston, Texas.
In ‘God Willing’, an ethnographic study of Pakistani Muslim immigrants in Houston, I discuss the varied ways in which American, Islamic and South Asian histories, traditions and symbols acquire meaning in transnational Muslim festive cultures and technologically mediated cultures, and in Muslim American lives in the decade following 9/11. I analyze the annual Pakistan Independence Day Festival, the Houston-based transnational Muslim heritage economy, 15 Pakistani radio programs, and narratives of Pakistani immigrants as multiple and intersecting registers of cultural citizenship and transnational belonging. Narratives discussed at length include: Pakistani entrepreneurs and the working poor; Pakistani community activists; Pakistani and Indian Shia Ismaili Muslims employed in the corporate sector; second-generation Pakistani-Americans; and gay South Asian Muslim men.
Given the heightened state surveillance, objectification and persecution of Muslim Americans during the last one decade, ‘God Willing’ challenges commonly held beliefs and perceptions of Islam as a militant, fanatical and violent religion that is complicit with global terrorism and incapable of accommodation in contemporary western society. Rather, evidence presented in the manuscript highlights the everyday lived experiences of South Asian Muslims, and reveals Islam’s capacity to mediate assimilation into mainstream US society, and also participate in negotiations of citizenship and belonging in the current phase of globalization and religious transnationalism.
While “God Willing” is narrative driven ethnographic study, I am also currently working on a second book-length monograph that focuses on South Asian media flows in the United States. The book-length monograph is tentatively titled Warring on Air: Transnational Lives and the Cultural Politics of Pakistani & Indian Culture Industries in the US.
In spite of the proliferation of literature on globalization and transnationalism, non-English language media production in the US has been explored narrowly in theories of globalization and transnationalism. Analysts of transnationalism focus on the role of media, produced in the homeland, in the creation of “imaginary homelands” for diasporic communities, or the formation of “diasporic public spheres” (Featherstone and Lash 1995; Appadurai 1996). Recent literature also illuminates the role of transnational media, mostly movies and television programs produced in the homeland, in representing the relation between the diaspora and the homeland to people in both sites (Mankekar 1999).
Building on such research in media studies, I examine: a) the production and circulation of 15 Houston-based Pakistani and Indian radio programs; b) the production of a Los Angeles based 24-hour South Asian radio station; and c) the reception of Indian popular cinema in Pakistan and amongst Pakistani immigrants in Texas, New York City and Los Angeles. I conceptualize Pakistani and Indian radio programs and Indian popular cinema as cultural products, communicative practices, social activities, aesthetic forms and historical developments that are central in the often volatile reconfigurations of cultural and religious belonging during the current period of globalization and religious transnationalism.
I have carried out archival and original ethnographic and survey research on non-Muslim heritage conservation in Pakistan. I have carried out archival research on the cultural history of Rawalpindi, a mid-size city in Punjab including quantitative research in non-Muslim localities that house historic buildings. In the research, I argued that Pakistan state agencies and private developers had deployed a purist and exclusionary Islamic history and heritage in urban planning decisions, which has had the effect of ‘erasing’ the complex multi-religious and multi-ethnic history and heritage of the city.
Preliminary findings of my research have been published in Urdu and English language newspapers in Pakistan. I chose to publish this research in mainstream Pakistani newspapers in an effort to participate in creating a public memory and discourse around the loss of multi-religious heritage and histories in contemporary Pakistan.
I intend to develop this research further by collecting oral life histories of Hindu and Sikh Pakistanis who reside in Pakistan, as well as carry out research among Hindu-Pakistanis who have sought asylum in India due to the human rights abuses of religious minority communities in Pakistan during the past two decades.