Meet the Panelists


Omar H. Ali is Professor of Comparative African Diaspora History and Dean of Lloyd International Honors College at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The author of four books, his latest two are Malik Ambar: Power and Slavery Across the Indian Ocean World (Oxford University Press, 2016) and  Islam in the indian Ocean World: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford St. Martin’s, 2016). A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, he studied ethnography at the School of Oriental and African Studies and received his Ph.D. in History from Columbia University. In 2015 he was named the Carnegie Foundation North Carolina Professor of the Year.



Elise Auerbach is the U.S. Director of the American Institute of Indian Studies. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.



Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy is an Adjunct Professor of Ethnomusicology at the University of California Los Angeles, specializing in classical and non-classical musics of South and Southeast Asians and Asian-Americans; field methodology; ethnographic film in ethnomusicology; music and the sacred; applied and public sector ethnomusicology; and Bollywood. She earned a Ph.D. at Brown University; a M. Mus. at Yale University; and a B.A. at Vassar College.

Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy’s research, writing, teaching, curatorial activities, and multi-media publications often have an applied focus, aimed at community development of minority traditions, especially in diasporic settings. She served as curator and presented the first concert and lecture tour outside India with a group of African-Indian Sidi performers from Gujarat, in September 2002, traveling with them in England and Wales. Her recent publications include Sidi Sufis: African Indian Mystics of Gujarat (Apsara Media 2002: 79-minute CD), the volume co-edited with Indian Ocean historian Edward Alpers, Sidis and Scholars: Essays on African Indians (New Delhi: Rainbow Publications and New Jersey: Africa World Press, 2003), the DVD The Sidi Malunga Project (2004), and the DVD From Africa to India: Sidi Music in the Indian Ocean Diaspora (with Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy) (2003). Funding for her research has come from such agencies as NEA, NEH, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the American Philosophical Society, Fulbright, the Indo-US Subcommission, and the American Institute of Indian Studies.

Her most recent publication is the DVD, Music for a Goddess (2008), a continuing applied ethnomusicology project concerning Dalit (formerly known as Untouchable) Devidasis (women musicians dedicated to the Goddess) of the Deccan (India’s central plateau, where the most severe rural poverty reigns in many regions).



Kelsey Evans was recently awarded the 2014-2015 Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship for Bangladesh. Before beginning her teaching assignment, she and her fellow grantees studied Bengali Language and Culture in-country at the Bangla Language Institute at Independent University, Bangladesh. After completing an eight-week intensive language course, she started her teaching assignments in Sylhet, Bangladesh at Blue Bird School & College, Sylhet and Sylhet International University providing private and group lessons on various ESL topics. While in Bangladesh, and some of its neighboring countries, she conducted primary research on Microfinance and International Development and Education and International Development.

In 2012, she studied in Jaipur, India through a generous grant offered by the Mid-Atlantic Consortium – Center for Academic Excellence. She and her cohort of HBCU students studied Intensive Hindi Language and Culture at the American Institute of Indian Studies. In Jaipur, she conducted a group research project on Microfinance and Rural Development with some members of her cohort.

Evans’ research interests include Microfinance, Community-Based Education, Project Management, and Business Development. Currently, she works as Program Manager for the NYC Department of Small Business Services and is the Founder of THE ROEW, an online destination for the latest music, art, and culture topics relevant to progressive communities of color.

Evans holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from The New School and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Virginia State University.



R. Benedito Ferrão is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Asian & Pacific Islander American Studies at the College of William and Mary, Virginia, USA. He completed his Ph.D. at Birkbeck College, University of London, where he was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. As an Endeavour Postdoctoral Fellow at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, he researched literary representations of African slavery in the Indian Ocean world. His other scholarly and teaching interests are in Afro-Asiatic connections between Portuguese and British post/coloniality, as well as diaspora and transnational fiction with a focus on race, gender, and sexuality. In addition to having previously taught at UCLA and the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (Pilani) Goa, he was also a Mellon Faculty Fellow of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at William and Mary. An internationally published writer of fiction, non-fiction, op-eds, and academic works, his writing appears in Outlook India, Media Diversified, India Currents, Mizna, AwaaZ, and The Goan, among other publications. To read more, visit, or @nightchildnexus on Facebook.



Dr. Alaine Hutson is a full professor currently at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, TX. She has also taught at Missouri State University, Michigan State University and Houston Community College. Dr. Hutson specializes in African and Middle East history with an emphasis on slavery and gender in Islamic societies.

Dr. Hutson’s research is currently surrounding the larger question: Is there an African Diaspora in the Middle East? In pursuit of that research she has traveled to seminars and conferences in: Cape Town, South Africa; Amman, Jordan; and Salzburg, Austria. Dr. Hutson recently was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Award and is a scholar-in-residence at New York University through the Faculty Resource Network as well as a research affiliate at University of Texas at Austin. She has been a Henry C. McBay Fellow and a UNCF/Mellon Faculty Fellow resident at the James Weldon Johnson Institute at Emory University. While resident at JWJI, Dr. Hutson built and published the REMAP database website. Dr. Hutson also received grants from the Sam Taylor Fellowship from the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Hutson’s academic publications include: “REMAPping the African Diaspora: Place, Gender, and Negotiation in Arabian Slavery.” In: Olajumoke Yacob-Haliso/Toyin Falola (eds.), Gendering Knowledge in Africa and the African Diaspora, Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, forthcoming; “Enslavement and Manumission of Africans and Yemenis in Saudi Arabia, 1926-1938” in Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies; “African Sufi Women and Ritual Change” in the Journal of Ritual Studies and “Gender, Mobility, and Sharia Law in Northern Nigeria” in International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) Newsletter.  She will be on sabbatical for 2016-17 working on a manuscript entitled I Now Pray for My Freedom on slavery on the Arabian Peninsula in the early twentieth century.

Dr. Hutson was educated at the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and the University of Ibadan, Nigeria as an undergraduate and attended Indiana University (MA, PhD), Oxford University and SOAS for postgraduate study.



Kris Manjapra is the author of M.N. Roy: Marxism and Colonial Cosmopolitanism (Routledge 2010), and Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire (Cambridge 2014).  He is currently writing a book on the global history of plantations, and the trans-continental and inter-imperial entanglements that made industrial agriculture possible.  He has received fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University and the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin.



John McLeod received his Ph.D. in Indian history from the University of Toronto in 1993. In 1995, he joined the University of Louisville, where he is now a full Professor of History. He served as Chair of the Louisville Department of History for five years, and was the founding Director of the Graduate Program in Asian Studies. Professor McLeod’s research specializations include the so-called princely states of India, and two diasporic communities with South Asian connections: Africans in India, and Indians in Britain.  His publications include Sovereignty, Power, Control: Politics in the States of Western India, 1916-1947 (1999; South Asian edition 2007); The History of India (second edition 2015); and African Elites in India, co-edited with Kenneth X. Robbins (2006).  He is currently completing a biography of Sir M.M. Bhownaggree (1851-1933), the second Indian to be elected to the British parliament. Professor McLeod has been awarded research fellowships in India by the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute and the American Institute of Indian Studies, and from 2002 to 2009 he participated in two exchange programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State to bring together American, Afghan, Bangladeshi, Indian, and Pakistani academics, journalists, and clerics.



Anne Naparstek has been the Coordinator for the South Asia Summer Language Institute (SASLI), which is currently hosted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for the past six years. During her time with SASLI, she has also worked with the American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS), the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies (AIBS), the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies (ANHS), Project GO, and the South Asian Flagship Languages Initiative (SAFLI), and has extensive experience working with students and scholars in obtaining funding for both language study and research. Prior to her current position, Anne studied and lived abroad in a variety of settings including Taipei, Taiwan; Cape Town, South Africa; and Kyras Vrisi, Greece.



Pashington Obeng is a Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College specializing in Indian Ocean & Transatlantic African Diaspora studies, Anthropology of religion in continental Africa & New World Afro-Atlantic areas, and cultural communication focusing on Black filmic representations.

He is a graduate of the University of Ghana, Legon where he earned his B.A. (Hons.) in English Literature and at Trinity College, Legon, where he studied comparative religion. He holds a Ph.D from Boston University specializing in religion and cultural communication. He is also a graduate of Princeton Seminary, New Jersey, where he studied for his masters in theological anthropology and communication.

Professor Obeng has also done postdoctoral studies at the Center for the Study of World Religions and the Afro-American Studies Department both at Harvard University and at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, England. Also, Obeng is an adjunct at Harvard University. He is the author of Asante Catholicism: Religions and Cultural Reproduction among the Akan of Ghana (1996); Shaping Membership, Defining Nation: The Cultural Politics of African Indians in South Asia (2007); and Rural Women’s Power in South Asia, Understanding Shakti (2014). He has also published numerous articles on anthropology of religion, culture, and African Diaspora studies. His present and ongoing work involves researching the cosmologies and life ways of African Indians of Karmataka in South India. He is currently working on two books; one is a study of Africana religions in the United States, and the other is about African agency in West African Hinduism and Judaism. Read more about Professor Obeng here.



Rupa Pillai is a PhD candidate in the department of Anthropology at the University of Oregon. She interested in the intersection of religion, ethnicity and movement. Her dissertation, Caribbean Hinduism on the Move, is the culmination of 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork with the growing Indo-Guyanese Hindu community in New York City.  Through this research, she explores how this community adapts and mobilizes Hinduism in this second migration, first from the Indian subcontinent and second from the Caribbean, to carve a space for themselves within the social landscape of New York City.  She also the coordinator and a producer of AnthroPod, the podcast of the Society for Cultural Anthropology.  



Elliott H. Powell is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota. He has been the recipient of numerous fellowships, grants, and other awards from the Social Science Research Council, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. He is currently at work on his book manuscript entitled The Other Side of Things: African American and South Asian Collaborative Sounds in Black Popular Music. The book brings together critical race, feminist, and queer theories to consider the political implications of African American and South Asian collaborative music-making practices in U.S.-based jazz, funk, and hip hop since the 1960s. His work on race, sexuality, popular culture, and politics can be found in publications like philoSOPHIA: A Journal of Continental Feminism, the Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Studies, Musicology Now, and a forthcoming special issue of The Black Scholar on “Black Queer and Trans Aesthetics” (for which he is a co-editor). He is spending the 2016-2017 academic year in the University of Chicago’s Department of Music as a Visiting Scholar in Residence.



Kenneth X. Robbins is a collector-archivist specializing in topics like maharajas and other local and regional Indian rulers as well as Indian minority groups. He has studied African elites in India utilizing coins of the 15th century Habshi Dynasty of Bengal; 17th century Deccani Sultanate paintings of African strongmen, generals, and prime ministers; and 19th-20th century photographs, paintings, and documents of the Nawabs of Janjira and Sachin. Dr. Robbins is co-editor of the book African Elites in India and co-curator of a New York Public Library Schomburg Center traveling exhibition Africans in India, which continues to be shown worldwide at venues like the United Nations and UNESCO.  This exhibit and one he curated about Jews in India are being circulated throughout India by the Indian Government’s Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.  He is currently  working on five books including a volume tentatively entitled Africans in India: The Making of a Black Diaspora in South Asia, which will include studies of African-Americans in South Asia. Dr. Robbins has organized many scholarly conferences and is presently planning his second program on Sufis.



Dr. Bradley Shope’s research addresses popular music in India. He has published two books. His first work, More Than Bollywood: Studies in Indian Popular Music (co-edited with Gregory Booth) was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. His second book, American Popular Music in Britain’s Raj, was published in 2016 by the Eastman Music Series of the University of Rochester Press. His most recent articles have appeared in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, South Asian Popular Culture, and the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. He has also published several book chapters on the history of western popular music in North India. He has recently presented papers at the Conference of the Society for American Music, the Society for Ethnomusicology Conference, the Conference on South Asia, and the American Musicological Society Conference. Dr. Shope has travelled to and lived in North India on numerous occasions, collecting hundreds of personal history narratives from now elderly individuals involved in the production and consumption of popular music in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. His research focuses on the cities of Lucknow, Mumbai, and Kolkata.



Hamid Sidi is a member of the Sidi community of Ratanpur, Gujarat, in Western India.  The community is part of the African diaspora in South Asia, a community of mercenary soldiers, traders, slaves and others who were brought from the African continent going back at least 700 years.  Hamid was born in the city of Vadodhara and spent a lot of time with his grandparents in his native village. His maternal grandfather—Kamar Sidi was a prominent community leader and Sufi qawwal known throughout the region of coastal Gujarat. Hamid learnt about his family history and community heritage from his grandfather.  The Sidis of Ratanpur revere Bav Gor—a Sufi Muslim expert and agate merchant–whose shrine is visited by thousands during the yearly Urs festival.  From 2001 to 2008 Hamid worked as the manager of a music dance troupe under the banner of KAPA Productions (manager Katerina Pavlakis). This group performed the traditional religious rituals of the Sidi Goma throughout Europe, Africa and North America, including at the WOMAX 2003 in Spain.   During this time he also worked as a research assistant with anthropologists conducting fieldwork on the Sidi community.  In 2009 Hamid came to the US and in 2012 he became a US resident.  He continues to work on promoting awareness and advancement of the Sidi community in India and abroad.  Since 2013 Hamid has been working as a supervisor in Dining Services at Grinnell College, Iowa.



Samhita Sunya is an Assistant Professor of Cinema in the Department of Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures at the University of Virginia.  Her research and teaching interests include world film history; Asian cinemas; media archaeology; and sound studies.  Current and planned publications include a book project and essays that build on research conducted at the National Film Archive of India as well as archives in Beirut, exploring transnational circuits and histories of Hindi film/songs.



Rhea Vance-Cheng works on the Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Bangla CLS institutes in India. Prior to joining American Councils, Rhea was the Associate Director of Civic & Global Engagement at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, where she supervised the college’s study abroad and international student programs.

Rhea holds a B.A. from Mary Baldwin College in Theatre, and a M.A. in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University. Her M.A. thesis was a discourse analysis of the Kashmir conflict. She completed a CLS for Hindi in 2011.



Isaiah Weaver, preferring Isa as his name, is an undergraduate junior Electrical Engineering major. He has represented the U.S. State Department through the Critical Language Scholarship and as an Alumni Ambassador. Similarly, he has done this with the Mid-Atlantic Consortium Center for Academic Excellence program, a program that funded his first intensive language study in India. Over the course of his undergraduate career he has traveled throughout the United States and the world to gain cultural awareness. Most recently, he was interning at the startup Ampyou as a software developer in Uberlândia, Brasil. Currently, he is founding the startup Açaí a FinTech company focused on allowing peer to peer payments and investments.