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Professor James Hegarty

Professor James Hegarty

Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Religions, Head of School

Available for postgraduate supervision


I am fascinated by the history of religions in South Asia. I have written on Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh and Christian traditions in the region. In particular, I am interested in how religious texts, and especially religious stories, are used by South Asians to communicate and negotiate their understanding of themselves and the world around them. This includes not just what we ordinarily associate with religion, such as ideas of god or gods, or the nature of the good life, but also other forms of knowledge, such as the way in which the past is understood, or political life, or language itself.

More generally, I am interested in the role of story in the transmission and adaptation of knowledge in societies worldwide. The stories we tell and, in particular, the stories we choose to tell again and again over thousands of years, are a facinating resource for the exploration of what it means, and has meant, to be human.

I specialise in the historical contextualisation and close reading of Sanskrit texts circulating in early South Asia, such as the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa, but work also with medieval and modern vernacular South Asian materials in various media.

My major, funded, research projects have been 'The History of Genealogy, the Genealogy of History: family and the construction of the significant past in early South Asia' and 'The Story of Story in South Asia: character and genre across Hindu, Buddhist and Jain tradition'.


I was educated at Enfield Grammar School and the University of Manchester. I obtained my Ph.D. in Sanskrit Literature having undertaken my B.A. in Comparative Religion and my M.A. in Religions and Theology (with Social Anthropology) at the same institution. The British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council supported my graduate studies. I am the author of Religion, Narrative and Public Imagination in South Asia for Routledge (2012), as well as edited volumes on the Literary Construction of Place in Asia (for Orientalia Vilnensia) and on Genealogy and History in Pre-modern South Asia, with Simon Brodbeck (for Religions of South Asia). I am also the editor, with William Johnson and Laxshmi Greaves, of the new Oxford Handbook of Hindu Literature (forthcoming). In addition to this, I have written numerous scholarly articles on Sanskrit, Pali and vernacular sources, which span ancient, medieval and modern South Asia, as well as Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh tradition. I have also published on Christianity in early South Asia and nineteenth century missionary history. 

Honours and awards

Large Grants (as Principal Investigator)

  • 2013-16: AHRC Research Grant: The Story of Story in South Asia: Character, Genre and Role Across Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Narrative Traditions. K£370 over three years.
  • 2008-11: AHRC Early Career Research Grant: The History of Genealogy, The Genealogy of History: Family and the Narrative Construction of the Significant Past in Early South Asia. K£200 over three years.

Small Grants, Fellowships etc.

  • 2016: Co-convenor, with Simon Brodbeck, of 41st Spalding Symposium. Funded by the Spalding Foundation.
  • 2012: Visiting Fellowship: Lumbini International Research Institute, Nepal..
  • 2007: International Research Collaboration Award from Cardiff University in order to take up Visiting Professorship Invitation from University of British Columbia, Canada.
  • 2002: Visiting doctoral student at the University of Pune and Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, India.

Honours and Distinctions

  • 2000: University of Manchester Brandon Memorial Prize for excellence in first year doctoral research.
  • 1996: University of Manchester award for highest overall graduating mark in department for BA.

Professional memberships

I am a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society.

Academic positions

August 2014 to July 2017:

Reader in Indian Religions, Cardiff University, School of History, Archaeology and Religion (SHARE)

August 2009 to July 2014:

Senior Lecturer in Indian Religions, Cardiff University, School of History, Archaeology and Religion (SHARE)

July 2003 to July 2009:

Lecturer in Indian Religions, Cardiff University, School of Religious and Theological Studies (RELIG)

Speaking engagements

  • 2016: The School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 'Mahābhārata: The Critical Edition and Beyond; Inclusions, Omissions, Translations' (as part of the 'The Sanskrit Reading Room', June 7th)
  • 2016: King's College London: ‘Hagiography, Religious Identity and the Historical Imagination in Eighteenth-Century Punjab: Exploring Sikh Narratives of the Life of Guru Nānak' (Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies Annual Colloquium: Rewriting Holiness: Reconfiguring Vitae, Re-signifying Cults, June 6th)
  • 2015: Indian High Commission and School of Oriental and African Studies, 'Unnoticed rather than attacked: Solomon Caesar Malan and the Bhagavad Gītā', as part of a one day symposium: The Bhagavad Gītā: Its Contemporary Relevance (24-25th September 2015).
  • 2015: Hindu Council of Wales, Keynote Speaker on Life and Legacy of M. K. Gandhi (April 17th 2015).
  • 2014: Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: International Summit on Epic Studies, Beijing (November 14-15th). ‘Epics of Heaven and Hell in Early South Asia'.
  • 2013: Sanskrit Manuscripts Project, Cambridge University (November 27th), 'From the Himalayas to the Deep South: New Directions in the Study and Translation of the Manuscripts of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata'.
  • 2013: The Wright Lecture, Cambridge University (November 26th), 'The Historic Conversations of Gods, Kings and Sages: Literary Dialogues Across South Asian Religious Traditions'.
  • 2011: Heidelberg University,  'Ritual and Narrative in Early South Asia: The Case of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata' Ritual Dynamics: Ritual and Narrative conference (November 17-19th),
  • 2011: The Majewski Lecture, Oxford University (May 16th), 'Telling the World: Exploring the Cultural and Intellectual Agenda of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata'
  • 2009: European Science Foundation/Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation network event ‘‘New Perspectives for Asian Studies in the Humanities’ (28-30th May, 2009, Prague, CZ).

















Areas of Teaching

  • South Asian Religious History
  • South Asian Philosophy
  • The Sanskrit Language
  • Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism
  • Orientalism and the Making of World Religions in Modern South Asia
  • The Origins and Legacies of Religion in the Modern World
  • Themes and Issues in the Study of Religion

History of Genealogy, Genealogy of History: Family and the Narrative Construction of the Significant Past in Early South Asia

This project investigates the role of genealogical narrative in early South Asia; the grounding hypothesis is that it was through the representation of familial descent, problematic or otherwise, that a post-Vedic religious 'history' and 'imaginary' was configured in first-millennium South Asia.

This project aims to enhance our knowledge of the role of genealogy in the formation of consensus understandings of the past in historic south Asia.


£180, 000

3 years

Text Critical, Cultural Historical

Public Lectures, Workshops

The Story of Story in South Asia: Character and Genre across Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Narrative Traditions

Stories are important. It is through story that we communicate who we are, who we are not, what we hope to be and what we fear we may become. Recent developments in the cognitive sciences have shown that, in fundamental ways, human beings need stories in order to organize their memories, to learn, and to relate to one another successfully. Early South Asia, perhaps more than any other place on earth, has lived in and through its stories. South Asia has a vast repository of story traditions, which have been used to express insights into what it is to be human, into how the world works, its past, and what its future might be. These stories are integral to three of the world's most significant religious traditions, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. However, research into these traditions has tended to remain separate and there has been little attempt either to move from one 'ism' to another or to integrate new perspectives on narrative and its role in human societies. This project sets out to do just that. It is our intention to explore the role of narrative across these three traditions in the context of recent perspectives drawn from cognitive and linguistic theory. Such a vast task must be broken down, and so the project focuses on literary characters that are shared by all three traditions. By focusing on these characters(such as Janaka, Sita, Vidura, and Nimi) and exploring the way they are used in different narrative traditions and ideological contexts, we will begin to trace the contours of a shared world of story-telling and story-hearing activities. This shared context, we will argue, was integral to the ways in which religious and political ideologies, identities and histories were transmitted and adapted in early South Asia. We will also suggest that the exploration of the role of story in early South Asian society, in the light of approaches to the study of narrative as integral to human cognitive and social development, opens up new vistas for research into the role of narrative both within and across pre-modern societies more generally. It can also help us to understand that no ideologies, identities, or histories, are fixed. This is an understanding that is of considerable importance if we are, as a society, to encourage inclusive and fluid models of identity and religious 'heritage'.

This project aims to explore the role of narrative and, in particular, shared characters, in the relationship between Hindu, Buddhist and Jain tradition.


£370, 000

3 years

Text Critical, Cultural Historical

Public Lectures, Workshops, Conference attendance.


I am available to supervise dissertations on all aspects of the history of Sanskrit religious literature, as well as projects that explore South Asian narrative traditions. I am particularly interested in projects that work across South Asian religions and those which take up issues of the use of traditional narrative in politics, cultural memory and the negotiation of group identitites (from the earliest times to the present). 

Past projects