Profile for Gita Pai

Gita Pai profile photo

Specialty area(s)

regional and transnational history of South Asia; South Asian diaspora in the U.S.; religion and politics; material and visual culture; gender; anglophone South Asian literature

Brief biography

I teach courses which aim to introduce the history of South Asia and the South Asian diaspora to the non-specialist as well as focus on specific thematic topics, such as religion, politics, and gender in the early modern, colonial, and post-colonial contexts related to South Asia. Home to 1/4th of the world’s population, South Asia includes modern-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Over 6 million South Asians are estimated to live in the U.S. today.

In my world history courses, I encourage students to study the past from a variety of perspectives—social, economic, cultural, environmental, and political—and to understand the world they live in as a product of historical processes.

On a personal note, I was born in Texas to parents who migrated from India, and raised in California. During my free time, I like to cook Indian food, read novels, do yoga, ride my bike, and explore new places.

Current courses at UWL

I am on sabbatical from teaching in the History Department and from directing the International Studies (INS) Program until August 31, 2020.

For the INS Program, please contact interim Director:
Fall 2019-Prof. Christine Hippert  Spring 2020-Prof. Alessandro Quartiroli


PhD, South Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley (Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender & Sexuality)  
MA, South Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley
MS, Education, California State University, Hayward
BA, English Language Arts and Education, Hunter College (C.U.N.Y.)

Teaching history

HIS 110: World History
HIS 200: Historiography and Historical Method
HIS 250: Survey of Asia*
HIS 328: History of Hinduism* 
HIS 363: Modern South Asia*
HIS 364: Gandhi and the World*
HIS 383: Women in Modern South Asia*
HIS 415: Religion and Conflict in Modern South Asia*
HIS 490: History Research Seminar*
INS 494: Engaging Global Challenges and Opportunities* 

* Writing Emphasis

Professional history

UW-La Crosse
Assistant/Associate Professor, History, 2010-present
Director, International Studies, 2017-21
Affiliated Faculty, Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, 2011-present

French Institute of Pondicherry
American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) Senior Research Fellow, 2019-20
Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Research Fellow, 2016-17 

Yale University
National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Scholar, 2018      

UC Berkeley
Visiting Assistant Professor of History, 2012-13
Instructor of South Asian Studies, Gender & Women Studies, and History of Art, 2003-09

Research and publishing

My first book project focuses on the life of a religious monument in south India sponsored by people who migrated into the area and left their distinct cultural imprint. It explores the site’s history from the early modern to contemporary period through architecture, notions of sovereignty, visual culture, ritual practices, gender, and cultural tourism.

My second book project examines the history of a popular south Indian religious icon from the medieval period to present day through dynastic politics, art history, ritual innovation, and transnational crime.

My third project centers on aspects of belonging, identity politics, and cultural citizenship among diasporic and immigrant South Asians in the U.S. in terms of religious outlook.

The interdisciplinary approach in my research informs my teaching: in my courses, I teach through the lenses of literary, visual, historical, ethnographic, and cinematic texts.

My work has been supported by the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) Senior Research Fellowship, Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Award (Research), UWL Faculty Research Grants, UWL Provost's Office, UWL Foundation Grants, UWL International Scholarship Grants, UWL International Development Funds, UWL College of Liberal Studies Small Grants, American Association of University Women's American Dissertation Award, Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Abroad Award, Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities Dissertation Fellowship, Foreign Language & Area Studies Fellowships, and grants from UC Berkeley’s Center for South Asian Studies, Tamil Chair, Gender & Women’s Studies Department, and South & Southeast Asian Studies Department.

Architecture of Sovereignty: Stone Bodies, Colonial Gazes, and Living Gods in South India. [ms. under review]

In Pursuit of Dancing Śiva: The History of India’s Iconic Cultural Treasure. [ms. in process]

Diasporic Debates: Religion, Ethnicity, and Politics for Hindus in America. [ms. in preparation]

"Touting Devas: 'Inappropriate' Appropriations of Hindu Gods." [ch. to appear in Rethinking the Body in South Asian Traditions, ed. Diana Dimitrova (London and New York: Routledge, December 2020)] 

“From Warrior Queen to Śiva’s Consort to Political Pawn: The Genesis and Development of a Local Goddess in Madurai,” in eds. D. Dimitrova & T. Oranskaia, Divinizing in South Asian Traditions (New York: Routledge, 2018), 59-70. 

"Two sides of the 'India's daughters' coin," Vidura-A Journal of the Press Institute of India 9:1 (January-March 2017): 11-12.

“An Imperial Japanese Visitor in Colonial India: Exchange, Resistance, and Formations of Asian Modernity,” Prabuddha Bharata (Awakened India) 22:1 (January 2017): 185-96. Issue: Special edition on Sister Nivedita aka Margaret E. Noble. 

“Re-Enchantment in the Museum: Gaṇeśa, Hindu Art and the Living Divine,” Journal of Curatorial Studies 5.2 (October 2016): 162-85.

“Producing Heritage: Culture as Commodity in Madurai,” International Journal of Tourism Anthropology 5:1/2 (June 2016): 47-70. Issue: “Sites of Religion, Sites of Heritage: Exploring the Interface between Religion and Heritage in Tourist Destinations.”

“Orwell’s Reflections on Saint Gandhi,” Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 40:1 (March 2014): 51-77. Issue: “Orienting Orwell: Asian and Global Perspectives on George Orwell.”

Review of Faisal Devji, The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012). History: Review of New Books 42:1 (January 2014): 30-31.

Vikrama Cholan Ulaa by Ottakkuthar. Translated by Kausalya Hart and Gita V. Pai. Chennai: Dhwani Books, 2003.



Gita Pai, History, received the award for a Senior Research Fellowship at the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS) on May 1, 2019 in University of Chicago. While on sabbatical during the 2019-2020 academic year, she will conduct research in India for her new book, "In Pursuit of Dancing Siva: The History of India’s Iconic Cultural Treasure."

Submitted on: May 9, 2019


and Ka Lia Smith, Financial Aid; received the award for 2019 ALANA Phenomenal Womxn's Award at ALANA Phenomenal Womxn's Dinner on April 18 in La Crosse, WI. ALANA honored four outstanding womxn of color Laura Abellera, Aiyana Dettmann, Gita Pai, and Ka Lia Smith for the dedication and hard work they have done in our community. The event also featured performances by UWL students and Nkauj Hmoob Siv Ceeb along with a Student Art Gallery! ALANA (Asian, Latinx, African, and Native American) Womxn organization provides social, academic, educational, and political support to womxn of ALANA descent. ALANA serves as a safe space for womxn of color and their allies, as well as provides awareness to our campus community about issues important to womxn of color.

Submitted on: May 9, 2019


Sara Docan-Morgan and Uttara Manohar, both Communication Studies; and Gita Pai, History; received the award for their grant proposal "Women of Color Collective: Advancing Inclusive Excellence and Fostering Collaboration." at UWL on Jan. 1, 2019 in La Crosse, WI. The grant was awarded by the College of Liberal Studies.

Submitted on: Feb. 7, 2019