Elizabeth A. Cecil

Timothy Gannon Associate Professor of Religion
Dr. Elizabeth A. Cecil

Contact Information

History and Ethnography of Religions
Office Location
107A Dodd Hall
Resume / CV
Office Hours

By appointment

Elizabeth A. Cecil (Ph.D. 2016, Brown University) is a historian of Hindu religions in early South and Southeast Asia with Sanskrit and Hindi as her primary research languages. Her work integrates the study of text, image, monument, and landscape to better understand religion as a spatial, material, and ecologically grounded practice. She is the primary Research Collaborator in the €2.5 M European Research Council PURANA Project (2022-2027) which examines the role of Sanskrit narrative literature in shaping religious and political landscapes from late antiquity to the close of the medieval.

Since Elizabeth’s research relies on the synthesis of primary sources, both textual and material, her research agenda is philologically and archeologically grounded and defined by a rigorous program of field research. She has conducted fieldwork across South and Southeast Asia (India, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Java) and cultivated multiple sub-specializations in the material cultures of these regions. Her textual scholarship focuses on Sanskrit inscriptions and narrative literature—particularly the genres of purāṇa and māhātmya—concerned with communicating religious identities and mapping sacred geography.

Her current book project, entitled Natural Wonders: Indigenous Ecologies and the Building of Hinduism in Early Southeast Asia, examines the structural remains, Sanskrit inscriptions, and iconographic programs of three monumental temple complexes from Vietnam, Laos, and Java between the fifth and the tenth centuries CE, to show how centuries of accretional building practices produced architectures designed to control powerful places and transform indigenous sacred geographies into political landscapes dedicated to Hindu deities. Elizabeth's research in Southeast Asia has been supported by a Getty/ACLS Fellowship in the History of Art (2019-2020), NEH Senior Research Fellowship (2020-2021) from the Council of American Overseas Research Centers (CAORC), and an NEH Summer Stipend (2022).

Elizabeth's first book—Mapping the Pāśupata Landscape: Narrative, Place, and the Śaiva Imaginary in Early North India (2020)— explores the sacred geography of the earliest community of Śiva devotees called the Pāśupatas. The book brings the narrative cartography of the Skandapurāṇa into conversation with physical landscapes, Sanskrit inscriptions, monuments, and images in order to examine the ways in which Pāśupatas were emplaced in regional landscapes and to emphasize the use of material culture as media through which notions of belonging and identity were expressed. By exploring the ties between the formation of Pāśupata communities and the locales in which they were embedded, this study reflects critically upon the ways in which community building was coincident with place-making in Early Medieval India. The project was funded by national and international organizations including the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), Social Science Research Council (SSRC), Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO), and the European Research Council (ERC).



Elizabeth's publications are available on her academia.edu page.



Dr. Cecil awarded Stephen Risley Fellowship for 2021-2022

The Stephen Risley Family Fellowship was established in 1999 by the late J. Stephen Risley Jr. to support junior faculty in research as they work toward tenure. This fellowship will help support Prof. Cecil's second book project, provisionally entitled Natural Wonders: Political Ecology and the Building of Hinduism in Early Southeast Asia.

Featured on the New Books Network: New Books in Hindu Studies 

Elizabeth A. Cecil, Mapping the Pāśupata Landscape: Narrative, Place, and Śaiva Imaginary in Early Medieval North India. Brill, 2020. Interview by Raj Balkaran on April 22, 2020. The article and podcast are available here.

Dr. Cecil awarded an NEH Senior Research Fellowship from the Council of American Overseas Research Institutes (CAORC)


Dr. Cecil awarded a Getty/ACLS Fellowship (2019)



Fall 2023
Spring 2024