Davesh Soneji

Associate Professor, South Asia Studies, University of Pennsylvania


B.A. (Manitoba)
Ph.D. (McGill)

Field(s) of specialization

Religion in Modern India; Religion and Colonialism; Gender and Sexuality in South Asia; History of the Performing Arts in South India


Associate Professor Davesh Soneji's research interests lie at the intersections of social and cultural history, religion, and anthropology. For the past two decades, Professor Soneji has produced research that focuses primarily on religion and the performing arts in South India, but also includes work on gender, class, caste, and colonialism. His social history of professional female artists in Tamil and Telugu-speaking South India, Unfinished Gestures: Devadāsīs, Memory, and Modernity in South India (University of Chicago Press, 2012), was awarded the 2013 Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies (AAS). He is also editor of Bharatanatyam: A Reader (Oxford University Press, 2010; 2012) and co-editor, with Indira Viswanathan Peterson, of Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India (Oxford University Press, 2008 ). He is presently co-editing another volume entitled Dance and the Early South Indian Cinema (forthcoming). Professor Soneji is also the co-founder and director of The Mangala Initiative, a non-profit organization centred on social justice issues for hereditary performing artists in South India. Having just completed a project on the eighteenth and nineteenth-century traditions of Marathi kīrtan in Tamilnadu and their influence on the making of Karṇāṭak music, he is currently working on another monograph on the politics of writing feminist biography in South Asia, tentatively titled Afterlives: Eight Women Speak to their Pasts and Futures.

Major publications

  • Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India 
  • Bharatanatyam: A Reader 
  • Performing Pasts: Reinventing the Arts in Modern South India