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Headshot of Leela Prasad, who is wearing a long-sleeved blue shirt, red scarf and green framed glasses.

Leela Prasad

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring

Associate Professor of Religious Studies


Leela Prasad is an associate professor of religious studies in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. She has been the primary adviser on eight Ph.D. committees and a committee member on eight others. Additionally, she has been a part of 12 master’s committees. Her mentorship is marked by a dedication to professional development and encouraging students to approach research with an open mind.

Since coming to Duke, she has also been associate professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies, associate professor (graduate faculty) in the Program in Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies, and was the founding faculty director of the Duke Center for Civic Engagement. She has an extensive record of university service, serving for long on the board of the Center for Documentary Studies and most recently on the Executive Committee of the Graduate Faculty from 2016 to 2018.

She has published widely on the anthropology of ethics, colonialism in South Asia, Hinduism, gender, and Gandhi. Her book, Poetics of Conduct: Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town (Columbia University Press, 2007) won the American Academy of Religion’s “Best First Book in the History of Religions” prize. Prasad recently completed her second book The Audacious Raconteur: Sovereignty through Storytelling in Colonial India. Following her interest in prison pedagogy and post-prison life, she has begun ethnographic fieldwork for her third book project on the impact of Gandhi on "ex-prisoners" in the US and in India. She is also co-directing Aftertones: Moved by Gandhi, a film that explores the poetry of ethical resonance.


Critical Empathy and Striking a Balance
Helping Students Navigate Transitions
What She Loves about Mentoring


Excerpts from Prasad's Nomination

“Leela also demonstrates excellent teaching practices to her students at Duke, which has helped prepare me for a career as an educator.The excellent organization of her courses, and the thoughtful pacing of her discussion moderation, are fine examples of how to structure graduate seminars.”

“Dr. Prasad has guided me through every step of the Ph.D. process from the very beginning. Her teaching and advising were of course deeply important in shaping my intellectual formation at the beginning of my graduate training, during coursework and regular meetings with her to discuss my intellectual trajectory. Beyond this, however, her advising was crucial to my dissertation project coming to fruition.”

“Dr. Prasad is loved by her students, no matter if they hold this status for one semester or several years. Her down-to-earth, creative, and open pedagogic style induces a sense of safety in the classroom, allowing students to feel comfortable to voice their thoughts and opinions. With her vast knowledge she captivates her audience through stories and anecdotes.”

“Throughout my time at Duke, Leela’s advice was always apt and never overbearing. She welcomed me as an advisee despite my studying a region outside her direct area of expertise, and she worked in collaboration with other scholars in my field, whom she encouraged me to invite onto my dissertation committee, so I could receive the most comprehensive guidance possible. She advised me to attend academic conferences early in my graduate work, to establish these specialist ties within my sub-discipline. Leela gives her students complete intellectual freedom, while also finding ways to push research in the most productive directions withincisive questions and comments.”