Department of Anthropology

Balmurli Natrajan


Office: 5018 Science Hall East, 300 Pompton Road
Phone: (973) 720-3869
Office Hours: By appointment

Department: Anthropology
Position: Professor & Chair

Area Specialization
Culture & Cognition (transmission, learning); Group formation & Identity (Caste, India); Development & Policy (Artisans; Sanitation; Domestic workers; India); Nationalism & Fascism (Hinduism, Hindutva)


Ph.D. University of Iowa, USA (Anthropology)

M.S.  Southern Polytechnic State University, Atlanta, USA (Computer Science)

M.A. Iowa State University, USA (Anthropology)

B.E.  Marine Engineering Research Institute, Kolkata, India (Marine Engineering)


  • Global Transformations and the Human Condition (see Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct 21, 2011, )
  • Origins and Diversity of Humanity 
  • Culture, Identity, and Cognition
  • Blood and Belonging
  • Anthropology of Inequality
  • Comparative Social Differentiation and Inequality (course under development)
  • Anthropology of Development
  • Theoretical Dimensions in Cultural Anthropology
  • Peoples and Cultures of South Asia / Popular Culture and Modernity in South Asia
  • Exploring Asia 
  • Introduction to Civilizations of South Asia

Research Areas

My longterm research interests have been caste, race, and political-economy. I currently research within three broadly interlinked domains of fundamental social science inquiry, each of which explores the concept ‘culture’:

  • Group formation & Identity: This domain is part of my interest in status groups and classes in society 
  • Context, Cultural Variation & Development Policy: This domain is part of my interest in postcolonial societies and the state
  • Nationalism & Fascism: This domain is part of my interest in growth of fascism and violence within 'democratic' societies

I have developed empirically-based research agendas in each of these three domains.  

  • Caste and Casteism: This has been my longest continuing project, based out of central India
  • Two collaborative projects are currently underway in the second domain - Sanitation-related Development projects such as toilet construction and its use,  and Domestic Workers in the Informal Economy
  • Hindutva and Hinduism: My most recent project is on the phenomenon of Hindutva in India and its relationship to fascism on the one hand, and ‘Hinduism’ on the other 

Selected Publications & Grants


Peer-Reviewed Papers and Book Chapters

  • Natrajan, Balmurli. "Cultural Identity and Beef Festivals: Towards a 'Multiculturalism against Caste", Contemporary South Asia, v. 26 (3): 287-304 [Link]
  • Rajesh Joseph, Roshni Lobo, and Balmurli Natrajan. “Between ‘Bakshseesh’ and ‘Bonus’: Precarity, Class, and Collective Action among Domestic Workers in Bengaluru," Economic and Political Weekly (forthcoming)
  • Natrajan, Balmurli and Jacob, Suraj. "Provincializing Vegetarianism: Putting Indian Food Habits in Their Place" Economic and Political Weekly (Special Article) vol. LIII no. 9:54-64. March 2018. [Link]
  • Suraj Jacob, Balmurli Natrajan, and Indira Patil. "Explaining Village-Level Development Trajectories Through Schooling in Karnataka," Economic and Political Weekly (Special Issue on Review of Rural Affairs) vol. L, no. 52, December 26, 2015, pp. 54-64 [Link]
  • “Punctuated Solidarities: Caste and Left Politics,” Economic and Political Weekly XLVIII no. 6, 16-19, 2013 [link]
  • “From Jati to Samaj” Seminar (Delhi, India) v. 633: 54-57, 2012 [link]
  • “The Problem of ‘Difference’ in Discourses of Civilization and Culture,” in The Concept of Humanity in the age of Globalization, Zhang, Longxi (ed.). Göttingen: V&R Unipress. Pp. 67-82, 2012 [Link]
  • “‘Practicing Hindus,’ Hindutva and Multiculturalism” in Public Hinduisms, eds. Pralay Kanungo, Deepa Reddy, Maya Warrior, John Zavos and Raymond Williams. New Delhi: Sage. Pp. 160-168, 2012 [link]
  • “Learning Caste: Banal and Brutal” in Caste in Life: Experiencing Inequalities, edited by D.S.Babu and R.S.Khare. Pearson Education. Pp. 33-43, 2010 [Link]
  • “Place and Pathology in Caste” Economic and Political Weekly Vol.XLIV, No. 51,December 19, 2009, pp. 79-82, 2009 [link]
  • “Indian Electoral Democracy: The Only Game in Town” Economic and Political Weekly Vol. XLIV No. 29, July 18, 2009, pp. 14-17, 2009 [link]
  • “Introduction” (with Paul Greenough), in Against Stigma, pp. 1-44, 2009
  • “Essentially Polluted: Untouchability, Caste and Diversity,” in Against Stigma, pp. 298 – 325, 2009
  • “Cultural Values” in Encyclopedia of Social Problems, ed. Vincent Parrillo. Sage Publications. Pp. 193-196, 2008 [Link]
  • “Misrepresenting Caste and Race” Seminar April 2007, no.572:65-66, 2007 [Link]
  • “Castes Cannot Be Annihilated by Dalits Alone: Review Essay on Anand Teltumbde’s Anti-Imperialism and the Annihilation of Castes.” Mainstream Vol. XLIV no. 22, May 20, pp. 31-33, 2006 [Link]
  • “Caste, Class and Community in India: An Ethnographic Approach,” Ethnology 44(3): 227-241, 2005 [link]
  • “Beyond Homogenization versus Heterogenization: Difference and Culture in Globalization,” in Soma Hewa and Darwin Stapleton, eds., Globalization, Philanthropy and Civil Society: Toward a New Political Culture in the 21st Century. Springer: New York. pp. 177-192, 2005 [Link]
  • “Masking and Veiling Protests: Culture and Ideology in Representing Globalization,” Cultural Dynamics 15(2): 213-235, 2003 [Link]
  • “Legitimating Globalization: Culture and Its Uses. Journal of Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems vol.12, no.1: 127-138, 2002
  • with Radhika Parameswaran “Contesting the Politics of Ethnography: Towards an Alternative Knowledge Production. Journal of Communication Inquiry 21(1): 27-59, 1997

Book Reviews

  • Review of Subramanian, Narendra, Nation and Family: Personal Law, Cultural Pluralism, and Gendered Citizenship in India. H-Asia, H-Net Reviews. July, 2016. [Link]
  • Review. Suryakanth Waghmore, "Civility Against Caste: Dalit Politics and Citizenship in Western India," Contributions to Indian Sociology 49(3): 410-413, 2015 [Link]
  • Review of K.S.Singh "Diversity, Identity and Linkages: Explorations in Historical Ethnography," in Contributions to Indian Sociology 47(2):314-317, 2013 [Link]


  • 2014-15 Senior Fellowship Grant (2014-15), American Institute of Indian Studies (Declined): Project: Diverse Harvests: Paddy, Productivity, Profits and Power in Chhattisgarh, India
  • 2006-07 Fulbright-Hays Group Project Abroad grant: “Worlds of Work: Meeting the Challenge of Teaching Asia in the 21st century" for K-12 teachers
  • 1995-96 Junior Fellowship Grant, American Institute of Indian Studies for field research in Chhattisgarh, India 

Popular Publications / Media Engagements

  • BBC Why Factor on 'Status'  
  • Media publications based on "Provincializing Vegetrianism"
  • How Is Vigilante Culture Produced and Durably Installed in Society? RaiotOctober 4, 2017 [Link]
  • From Sir With Love: To his students living in these dark times Sabrang, Feb 29, 2016 [Link]
  • Of Aap and Khap: Eight Myths About Culture and Caste Kafila 2014 [Link]
  • Of Silences, Suffering and Solidarity: Facing South Asia's 'Original Sin' (with Mohamad Junaid) SAMAR 2011 [Link]
  • “Searching for Progressive Hindu/ism: Battling Mussolini’s Hindus, Hindutva and Hubris” Tikkun Sept/Oct 58-61, 2009 [link]
  • “The Liberation Theologists of the Hindu Past” Himal Southasian, Sept, 76-78, 2008 [Link]
  • “Letter to a Progressive Hindu” South Asian Magazine for Action and Reflection No. 28, February 2008 [Link]
  • Recasteing Hinduism: A Review Essay” South Asian Magazine of Action and Reflection no.10: 54-56. New York, 1998