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Prof. Dr. Ursula Rao

Senior Research Fellow


Areas of interest

  • Urban anthropology, urban religion
  • Role of media and material culture for social change
  • Governance and technologies

Religious territory and secular terrain. The boundary work of temple building in urban India

This project follows the making and unmaking of sacred terrain within secular urban space through “insurgent architecture” and contested religious rituals in the central Indian state capital of Bhopal. The case studies describe the processes by which Hindus sanctify space and anchor divine powers in urban environments in order to establish a space for the cohabitation of humans and gods. Gods and goddesses manifest themselves and they must be evoked and welcomed. Worshippers, priests or ascetics need to recognise and nurture divine agents in order to secure their benevolent presence on earth and among the community. However, the question of what is necessary and appropriate is highly contested among Hindus, and clashes with notions of secular space invoked by the city administration or heritage committees. Boundary conflicts concern the encroachment of temples on main roads, the making of religious spaces in public parks, or notions of necessary distance between religious buildings belonging to different religious communities, e.g. mosques and temples. There are also conflicts about how to organise the respectful treatment of religious statues in museums and which ritual activities may be permitted in heritage protected sacred buildings. By analysing these conflicts the project conceptualises the processes by with religious and secular spaces are interlaced and disentangled, creating concrete yet flexible religious boundaries.


2012- present

Professor of Anthropology, Institute of Anthropology, Leipzig University (Germany)

2010 - 2012

Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney (Australia)

2007 - 2010

Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney


Habilitation, venia legendi in Anthropology, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg (Germany)

2002 - 2006

Assistant professor, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg

1999 - 2002

Research Associate, Heidelberg University


PhD (Dr. phil.), Anthropology, Heidelberg University

Relevant Publications