Rachel McDermott

Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures

Rachel Fell McDermott is Professor and Chair of the Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department and specializes in South Asia, especially India. She received her B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1981, her M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School in 1984, and her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1993. Her research interests focus on Bengal, in eastern India, and the Hindu-goddess-centered religious traditions from that part of the subcontinent. She is also committed to the study of comparative religion, and teaches comparative courses in which important religious themes are traced across cultures.

Professor McDermott's research focuses on the Hindu-goddess-centered religious traditions of the Bengal region of India. Her forthcoming book Of Fortunes and Festivals: Money, Power, and the Goddesses of Bengal, focuses on the Durga, Kali, and Jagaddhatra Pujas and the relation between economics, politics, and religion as seen through the lens of these 300-year-old public festivals.

Selected Publications


Breaking Boundaries with the Goddess: New Directions in the Study of Saktism. Essays in Honor of Narendra Nath Bhattacharyya, edited with Cynthia Ann Humes (New Delhi: Manohar, 2009).

Encountering Kali: In the Margins, At the Center, In the West, edited with Jeffrey Kripal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

Mother of My Heart, Daughter of My Dreams: Kali and Uma in the Devotional Poetry of Bengal (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Journal Articles

“The Pujas in Historical and Political Controversy: Colonial and Post-Colonial Goddesses,” Religions of South Asia 2, no. 2 (2009).

“Evil, Motherhood, and the Hindu Goddess Kali,” in Deliver Us from Evil, ed. M. David Eckel and Bradley L. Herling (New York: Continuum, 2008), pp. 44-56.

“Bangladesh,” chapter 10 of The Sources of Indian Tradition, edited by Rachel Fell McDermott et al, 2 vols., 3rd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press), under contract.

“From Hinduism to Christianity, from India to New York: Bondage and Exodus Experiences in the Lives of Indian Dalit Christians in the American Diaspora,” in South Asian Christian Diaspora: Invisible Diaspora in Europe and North America, edited by Knut Axel Jacobsen and Selva J. Raj (Hampshire, UK: Ashgate Press, 2009), pp. 223-248.

“Gifts to an Anglican from Krishna’s Council,” in Song Divine: Christian Commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita, edited by Catherine Cornille (Leuven: Peeters Press, and Grand Rapids:W.B. Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 131-144.

“The Vedanta Society,” in Religion and American Cultures: An Encyclopedia of Traditions, Diversity, and Popular Expressions, ed. Gary Laderman & Luis Leon, editors, 3 vols. (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC CLIO, 2003), 1: 120-122.

“Kali's New Frontiers: A Hindu Goddess on the Internet,” in Encountering Kali: At the Margins, At the Center, In the West, ed. Jeffrey Kripal and Rachel Fell McDermott (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), pp. 273-295.

“Raising Snakes in Bengal: The Use of Tantric Imagery in Sakta Poetry Contexts,” in Tantra in Practice, ed. David G. White (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 167-183.

“Popular Attitudes towards Kali and Her Poetry Tradition: Interviewing Saktas in Bengal,” in Wild Goddesses in India and Nepal, Studia Religiosa Helvetica, ed. Axel Michaels, Cornelia Vogelsanger, and Annette Wilke, vol. 2 (1996): 383-415.

“The Western Kali,” in Devi: The Goddess in India, ed. John Stratton Hawley and Donna M. Wulff (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 281-313.

Works in Progress

Of Fortunes and Festivals: Revelry, Rivalry, and Longing for the Goddesses of Bengal. Under contract with Columbia University Press.

The Sources of Indian Traditions, managing editor for the 3rd edition, 2 vols. (first two editions 1958 and 1988). Under contract with Columbia University Press.

Comparative religion
Human rights studies


321B Milbank
(212) 854-5416


Ph.D. - 1993 - Harvard University, Study of Religion

A.M. - 1986 - Harvard University, Study of Religion

M.Div. - 1984 - Harvard Divinity School

A.B. - 1981 - University of Pennsylvania, Religious Studies