David L. Haberman

David L. Haberman

Professor, Religious Studies


  • Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1984

About David L. Haberman

I am interested in a wide range of South Asian religious traditions and concentrate on the medieval and modern movements of northern India. Much of my work has focused on the culture of Braj, an active pilgrimage site known for its lively temple festivals, performative traditions, and literary creations.

More recently I have shifted my research interests to include the ancient city of Banaras, a pilgrimage center and temple town located on the bank of the Ganges River. My approach combines both textual research and anthropological fieldwork. My Acting as a Way of Salvation (Oxford University Press, 1988) is an investigation of religious reality construction based on a close examination of a meditation technique devised by the theoreticians of Braj. I have published a book on the circular pilgrimage around Braj, entitled Journey Through the Twelve Forests (Oxford, 1994). This book contemplates the complexities of circular wanderings and different strategies for dealing with the tumultuous nature of desire as I take the reader on a spatial and mythological journey.

I completed an annotated translation of a sixteenth-century Sanskrit text, The Bhaktirasamrtasindhu of Rupa Gosvamin (Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 2003), which presents the religious experience of bhakti in terms of classical Indian dramatic theory.

My passion these days is for the field of Religion and Ecology; I am involved in developing this emerging field and am currently on the Advisory Board of the Forum on Religion and Ecology now based at Yale University School for Forestry and Environmental Studies, and a Board member of the International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture. As a student of the religious cultures of India, I am interested in investigating the effects the current environmental degradation is having on the traditional religious culture which views the immanent world of nature as permeated with divine presence; I am also interested in learning how this traditional theology is being employed by Indian environmental activists to resist environmental degradation.

My book, River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India (University of California Press, 2006), is a study of the Yamuna River, which for centuries has been worshiped as a goddess. In this book I explore various conceptions of this aquatic goddess with texts stretching back over a period of three millennia and current ethnographic research at a number of temples located on the banks of the river; I examine how the current pollution of the river is affecting the religious culture associated with it; and I track the manner in which the religious community associated with the river is marshalling its religious resources to fight the pollution of the river.

My most recent publication, People Trees: Worship of Trees in Northern India (Oxford University Press, 2013), explores the conception of trees in the context of the tree shrines of northern India while reexamining such concepts as animism and anthropomorphism. I am also engaged in a project that investigates Western constructions of Hinduism with the aim of opening up the study of those regions of Hindu culture that have been previously denied.

My current book project, titled Loving Stones: Worship of Mount Govardhan: Making the Impossible Possible in the Worship of Mount Govardhan (Oxford University Press, forthcoming), involves a study of Mount Govardhan, the most distinguishing feature of the sacred landscape of Braj. The entire hill, as well as every stone from it, is regarded as a sentient form of divinity that humans can approach for a variety of religious interactions and beneficial relationships. In addition to investigating the religious conceptions and practices associated with Mount Govardhan, my work engages the theoretical difficulties in interpreting something as challenging as rock worship to western readers.

Other interests include the study of ritual theory and practice, and exploration of theoretical approaches to the study of religion, especially as regards to that never-ending question: "What is religion?"

Journal articles & other publications

“Drawing Out the Iconic in the Aniconic: Worship of Neem Trees and Govardhan Stones in Northern India.” Thematic Issue on “Exploring Aniconism,” edited by Mikael Aktor and Milette Gaifman. Religion 47, no. 3 (2017): 483-502.

"Hinduism and Ecology: Devotional Love of the World" In Rutledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology. Edited by Willis Jenkins, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim. London: Taylor and Francis Ltd, 2016.

“Divine Conceptions: The Three Identities of Mount Govardhan.” Journal of Vaishnava Studies 23, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 27-45.

Recent courses

  • Religions of Asia
  • Hinduism
  • Religion, Ecology, and Self
  • Living Through Nature: Permaculture
  • Exploring a Hindu Text: The Bhagavad-gita
  • Worshipful Interaction with Embodied Forms of Divinity

Awards & Honors

  • Journey Through the Twelve Forests received the American Academy Award for Excellence in 1994
  • Guggenheim Fellowship
  • ACLS/SSRC NEH International Postdoctoral Fellowships
  • Fulbright-CIES Research Scholar Fellowships
  • Smithsonian-AIIS Senior Research Grant
  • Fulbright-Hays Fellowship for Research Abroad
  • Trustees Teaching Award (2002)