Jessica Vantine Birkenholtz is Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She specializes in women and gender in South Asia, particularly in Hindu societies and cultures. She has been doing research in Nepal since the early 2000s, where her work centers primarily on the construction and intersections of Hindu religious and gender ideology, identity, and practice in and around the Kathmandu Valley. She is interested in the processes through which ancient and medieval texts, practices, and ideology, especially gender ideology, continue to manifest and are challenged in the modern, secularizing Hindu world.
Her book, Reciting the Goddess: Narratives of Place and the Making of Hinduism in Nepal (Oxford University Press, 2018), which earned the 2019 American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Textual Studies category, presents an archival and ethnographic study of Nepal’s local goddess Svasthani, the widely read Svasthanivratakatha, and the role both goddess and text have played in the construction of Nepali Hindu identity and practice. Following the interest generated by Reciting the Goddess, she is working on The Secret Vow to the Goddess, an English translation of the Svasthanivratakatha, a project supported by an NEH Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant and under contract with Oxford University Press. A second new book project draws on her broader interests in gender and religion to present an ethnographic, intersectional study of gender and sexual and gender minorities in Nepal that uses religion as its primary lens and attends to the intersections of religion, secularism, ethnicity, and sexuality in modern Nepal. Her work has also been published in an array of feminist, religious studies, and South Asia journals, and she is co-editor of Religion and Modernity in the Himalaya (Routledge 2016).
"Un/queering Intersections of Religion and Pride in Nepal.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 38.2 (2022), 69-88.
“Printing the Goddess: Intersections of Language, Place, Technology, and Agents of Transmission in Nepali Manuscript and Early Print Culture.” Philological Encounters 6 (2021), 114-153.
“Svasthānī: The Goddess of One’s Own Place.” In Garland of Forgotten Goddesses: An Anthology of Hindu Goddess Tales, edited by Michael Slouber (SUNY Press, 2020).
“Hinduizing Nepal’s Hindus: Making Modern Hinduism in Medieval Nepal.” In Journal of South Asian Intellectual History, November 2020, 2 (2019) (2): 180-200.
Reciting the Goddess: Narratives of Place and the Making of Hinduism in Nepal. Oxford University Press, 2018. Awarded the American Academy of Religion’s 2019 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion.
“Becoming A Woman: Shakti, Storytelling, and Hindu Women’s Roles & Rights in Nepal.” Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Winter 2019, 44 (2): 433-464.
Awards and Services:
American Academy of Religion’s 2019 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Textual Studies for Reciting the Goddess, September 2019
NEH Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant, January 2020-December 2021
Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities Faculty Fellowship, 2019-2020 (Declined)
International Programs and Studies International Research Travel Grant, University of Illinois, Summer 2015
American Council of Learned Societies New Faculty Fellowship, 2011-2013
Global Scholar, Institute for Research on Women, Rutgers University, 2009-2010
Mellon/American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Completion Fellowship, 2007-2008
ASIA/RLST 003 Introduction to Eastern Religions
WMNST 106 Representing Women and Gender in Literature, Art, and Popular Culture
WMSNT/RLST 137 Gender, Sexuality, and Religion