Religious Studies Professor Receives Emory Elliott Award

By Laila Rashid, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
March 9, 2015

Amanda LuciaDr. Amanda Lucia, assistant professor of religious studies at UCR, is the 2014 recipient of the Emory Elliott Award for her first book Reflections of Amma.

According to the Center for Ideas and Society (CIS), the award “honors a book published by a College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences faculty member during the previous academic year which, deemed by the selection committee, best exemplifies the values that characterized Professor Emory Elliott and his contributions to life and letters.”  These contributions include “the capacity to recognize complexity together with the passion to clarify, the ability to contribute to a conversation rather than to summarize agreements already established, and the intent to further a tradition of creative and scholarly munificence.”

Professor Emory Elliott, an internationally recognized scholar of American literature and a university professor in the UC system, served UCR for twenty years before his passing in 2009. He is most closely identified at UCR with CIS, his interest in recruiting minority students and faculty, and his efforts to improve race relations in general.

According to UC Press, Reflections of Amma centers on communities of devotees in the U.S. to the global “mother” Mata Amritanandamayi, or Amma, who has developed an enormous transnational humanitarian organization based in hugs.  The book discusses how these followers “endeavor to mirror their guru’s behaviors and transform themselves to emulate the ethos of the movement”, and “argues that ‘inheritors’ and ‘adopters’ of Hindu traditions differently interpret Hindu goddesses, Amma, and her relation to feminism and women’s empowerment because of their inherited religious, cultural, and political dispositions.”

Made possible by gifts from Elliott’s family and friends, CIS hosted a reception and talk on February 3rd, where Lucia was formally recognized for the honor and discussed the arguments within her book.

“Amanda’s book is an outstanding example of the sort of research that goes in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences,” said Dr. Georgia Warnke, director of CIS and interim associate dean of social sciences for CHASS. “Her book explores issues of class, gender, belief and nationality in a refreshingly personal yet eminently clear-headed way.”

Dr. Pashaura Singh, department chair of religious studies, expressed great respect for Lucia and her book. Reflections of Amma crosses all sorts of boundaries in the study of religion, locating the guru Amma in the crosscurrents of Hinduism, transnationalism, new age spirituality, religious charisma, American celebrity, and gender expectations which Amma herself perpetually undoes and reforms,” he said. “This is an outstanding ethnography that is already changing the fields of Hindu Studies as well as the study of the American Religious Experience.”

Lucia’s interest in religious studies began when she interviewed sadhus, or holy people, along the Ganges River from Northern India to the Himalayas about their radically alternative lifestyle during her junior year in college. “I was very honored and humbled to follow in the example of Emory Elliott, who did so much work for UCR and CIS and had a strong interest in diversifying the cannon to include underrepresented works, groups, and authors,” she said.

Lucia is currently working on a book about yoga and cultural and religious representation within the American yoga scene. After four years and with the field work nearly done, she will spend most of next year writing.

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