Mr. James Pierce
Specialization: Theology and Religious Study
Home institution in US: University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Host Institution in India: Jadavpur University, Kolkata, West Bengal  
Start date/Month in India: August 2012
Duration of grant: 9 months

Brief Bio:
Mr. James F. Pierce is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Virginia and an instructor of introductory Hinduism and Hindu epic literature at Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His doctoral research revolves around issues of the feminine divine in Puranic literature, specifically in relation to the philosophy and practice of Tantra as well as the rise of the Shakta cult in Bengal. By investigating Shakta Purana narratives as revealed in both written and oral transmission, he aims to illuminate conceptions of the goddess, both pre-modern and contemporary. Mr. Pierce’s interest in South Asia began as an undergraduate student at the University of Mary Washington where he had the opportunity to study abroad with Antioch’s Buddhist Studies in India program before earning a B.A. in philosophy and religion in 2004. After completing an M.A. at the University of Virginia in 2008 with a thesis entitled, “India’s Tripartite Gender System: Tracing the Pre-modern Developments within the Context of Hindu, Buddhist, and Jaina Doctrines,” he has continued to build on these interests by studying Sanskrit, Hindi and Bengali in India while also focusing on the role of gender in South Asian religious life.

In order to develop an enriched understanding of Shakta Hindu beliefs and practices, both pre-modern and contemporary, Mr. Pierce’s Fulbright research project, “Embracing the Goddess: Narrative Expressions of the Feminine Divine in the Devipurana,” will approach goddess narratives in both written and oral Puranic literature with an inter-textual interpretative frame. By uncovering the dialogues occurring between varied manifestations of a common narrative vocabulary, he intends to clarify the socio-historical context of pre-modern Bengal and examine how region, social status and gender affect contemporary conceptions of the feminine divine. Enriched by the first English translation of the little known Devipurana, this research will grant greater insight into the role of gender in Hindu religious life.