Our faculty is comprised of world-renowned scholars and educators in the fields of Yoga Studies, Indology, Religious Studies, Sanskrit and South Asian Studies.
PhD Candidate, Harvard University
Founder and Director, Yogic Studies
Seth Powell is a longtime practitioner of yoga and a scholar of Indian religions, Sanskrit, and yoga traditions. He is currently a PhD Candidate in South Asian Religions at Harvard University. His research focuses on the history, theory, and practice of medieval and early modern Sanskrit yoga texts and traditions, as well as their intersections with the culture and practice of modern transnational yoga. Seth also holds degrees in the study of religion from the University of Washington (MA) and Humboldt State University (BA).
Seth founded Yogic Studies in 2018 and serves as the Director and Head Faculty.
PhD Candidate, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
Ian Baker is the author of several books on Himalayan and Tibetan religion and culture, including Tibetan Yoga: Principles and Practices, The Dalai Lamas Secret Temple: Tantric Wall Paintings from Tibet, and The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet’s Lost Paradise.
He received a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Oxford, pursued further graduate studies in Buddhism and Medical Anthropology at Columbia University and University College London, and completed doctoral work in Medical Humanities at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland. He was lead curator for the 2015-16 London exhibition, ‘Tibet’s Secret Temple: Body, Mind and Meditation in Tantric Buddhism’ and was recognized by National Geographic Society as one of seven ‘Explorers for the Millennium’ for his fieldwork illuminating the Tibetan tradition of ‘hidden lands’ (beyul), idealized sites of yogic practice. His current research focuses on the contemporary interface of Indo-Tibetan yoga with art and science.
With Hinduism degrees from the University of Toronto and University of Calgary, Dr. Raj Balkaran is a scholar of Hindu mythology and author of The Goddess and the King in Indian Myth (2018) and The Goddess and the Sun in Indian Myth (2020), both published as part of Routledge’s Hindu Studies Series.
Alongside his academic training, Raj apprenticed with an Indian master for twelve years as part of a living oral tradition dedicated to the preservation and application of Hindu philosophy. He therefore brings hundreds of hours of traditional transmissions on yoga philosophy to the table, which he dovetails with academic rigor and captivating storytelling to deliver impactful instruction at Yogic Studies.
A seasoned online educator, Raj also teaches online courses privately and at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. Beyond teaching and research, Raj enjoys a thriving consulting practice and hosts the New Books in Hindu Studies podcast.
Post-Doc Research Fellow, SOAS, Haṭha Yoga Project
Daniela Bevilacqua is a South-Asianist who received her PhD in Civilizations of Africa and Asia from Sapienza University of Rome and in Anthropology from the University of Paris Nanterre. Her PhD research was published by Routledge under the title, Modern Hindu Traditionalism in Contemporary India: The Śrī Maṭh and the Jagadguru Rāmānandācārya in the Evolution of the Rāmānandī Sampradāya. She is now a Post-Doc Research Fellow at SOAS, working for the ERC-funded Hatha Yoga Project (2015-2020).
Through her groundbreaking fieldwork in India, she looks at the present practices of Haṭha Yoga among sādhus belonging to “traditional” samprādayas connected with the physical practice of yoga and with austerities. The purpose of this research is to confront ethnographic material with textual and historical evidences to reconstruct the development of these practices.
Senior Research Fellow, SOAS and University of Marburg
Jason Birch (DPhil, Oxon) is a senior research fellow for the ‘Light on Hatha Yoga’ project, hosted at SOAS University of London and the University of Marburg. He is also a visiting researcher on the Suśruta Project at the University of Alberta. He is well known for his important paper on the meaning of haṭha in early Haṭhayoga, which has reshaped our understanding of the origins of this term by locating it within Buddhist literature. His dissertation focused on a seminal Rājayoga text called the Amanaska. Through extensive fieldwork in India and the reconstruction of primary sources, Birch has identified the earliest text to teach a system of Haṭhayoga and Rājayoga, namely the twelfth-century Amaraugha. His most recent publication has defined a corpus of Sanskrit and vernacular texts that emerged during Haṭhayoga's floruit, the period in which it thrived on the eve of colonialism.
Jason has published articles in academic journals and critically edited and translated six texts on Haṭhayoga for the Haṭha Yoga Project 2015–2020; taught Masters courses and Sanskrit reading classes at SOAS and given seminars on the history of yoga for MA programs at the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice, Won Kwang University in South Korea and Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. He is a founding member of the Centre of Yoga Studies SOAS and the Journal of Yoga Studies, and combines his practical experience of yoga with academic knowledge of its history to teach online courses with Jacqueline Hargreaves on The Luminescent.
Lecturer, University of Houston and University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
Sravana Borkataky-Varma is a historian of Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals and gender especially in Hinduism (Śākta Tantra). After earning a PhD in Religions from Rice University, she is currently working as Lecturer at the University of Houston and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. She teaches introductory courses on World Religions and higher-level courses on Hinduism, Buddhism, Religion and Film, and History of Yoga.
Her dissertation project was a study of Kuṇḍalinī rising in women’s bodies. Since then, she has published papers such as “Red: An Ethnographic Study of Cross-Pollination Between the Vedic and the Tantric” (2019), and “The Dead Speak: A Case Study from the Tiwa Tribe Highlighting the Hybrid World of Śākta Tantra in Assam” (2018); book chapters such as “Taming Hindu Śākta Tantra on the Internet: Online Pūjās for the Goddess Tripurasundarī,” in Digital Hinduism (forthcoming, 2019) and “The Yogic Body in Global Transmission,” in The Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies (forthcoming, 2020).
Assistant Professor, College of William & Mary
Patton Burchett is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He earned his PhD in South Asian Religions from Columbia University in 2012 and then spent three years as an Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow in Religious Studies at New York University (NYU). Patton's research focuses on early modern devotional (bhakti) traditions and tantric and yogic religiosity in North India and on the interrelations of magic, science, and religion in the rise of Indian and Western modernities. He is the author of numerous articles and book chapters on bhakti literature and Mughal-era Indian religious history (among other topics), and his first book, A Genealogy of Devotion: Bhakti, Tantra, Yoga, and Sufism in North India (Columbia University Press) was published in 2019.
PhD Candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara
Philip Deslippe is a historian of American religion with a background in American Studies and literature. He is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he is writing a dissertation on the early history of yoga in the United States from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Philip has published articles on the history of modern yoga in academic journals such as the Journal of Yoga Studies, Amerasia, and Sikh Formations, and in popular venues including Yoga Journal, Air and Space Smithsonian, and the Indian news site Scroll.
He has presented his work at several dozen academic conferences, given guest lectures for courses at Stanford, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara, and has been a lecturer for the teacher training program at Avalon Yoga in Palo Alto, California for the last five years. His writing has been translated into Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, and Turkish.
PhD, Harvard University
Finnian M.M. Gerety is a historian of Indian religions focusing on sound and mantra. After earning a PhD. in South Asian Studies from Harvard University, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Yale University Institute of Sacred Music. Finn is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, the Contemplative Studies Program, and the Center for Contemporary South Asia at Brown University, where he teaches courses on mantra, yoga, ritual, and the senses.
Integrating the study of premodern texts with insights from fieldwork in contemporary south India, Finn’s research explores how sound has shaped religious doctrines and practices on the subcontinent from the late Bronze Age up through today. His current book project for Oxford University Press, This Whole World is OM: A History of the Sacred Syllable in India, is the first-ever monograph on OM, the preeminent mantra and ubiquitous sacred syllable of Indian religions.
Independent Researcher, The Luminescent
Jacqueline Hargreaves is an Engineer, senior Yoga Teacher, and independent researcher who examines the contemporary meeting place between historical Yoga practices and their application in the modern world. She is a founding member of the Journal of Yoga Studies, a peer-reviewed academic journal, and the co-founder of The Luminescent, an independent open-access educational platform for publishing cutting-edge, original research from primary sources. She has traveled throughout India for fieldwork into the origins of Haṭhayoga and studied meditation extensively, including mindfulness-based meditation (MBCT and MBSR) and intensive Zen practice in a remote part of Japan.
Hargreaves collaborates with scholars, artists, and scientists to communicate research on both premodern and modern facets of Yoga. Most recently, she curated the exhibition Embodied Liberation I and II at the Brunei Gallery in London for the Hatha Yoga Project (SOAS University of London). In collaboration with the AyurYog Project (University of Vienna), Jacqueline curated the Untangling Traditions series and designed a web-based visual and interactive timeline for premodern yoga and Āyurveda.
Hargreaves is currently producing a documentary film, which aims to bring to life the unique content of the postural practice preserved in an eighteenth-century Sanskrit yoga text, Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati, through a visual reconstruction of its extraordinary section on āsana.
Research Associate, Universität Leipzig
Dr. Philipp Maas is currently a research associate at the Institute for Indology and Central Asian Studies, University of Leipzig in Germany, where he works on a digital critical edition of the Nyāyabhāṣya, a Sanskrit work on spiritual liberation through proper reasoning. Previously he had served as an assistant professor and postdoc researcher at the Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Vienna, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the University of Bonn Germany.
He received his M.A. (1997) and Dr. phil. (2004) degrees from the University of Bonn, where he had completed studies in Indology, Comparative Religious Studies, Tibetology and Philosophy. His first book (originally his PhD thesis) is the first critical edition of the first chapter (Samādhipāda) of the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra, i.e. the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali together with the commentary called Yoga Bhāṣya. He has published extensively on classical Yoga and Sāṅkhya philosophy and meditation, Āyurveda, the relationship of Pātañjalayoga to Buddhism as well as on the textual tradition of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra. He is a member of the “Historical Sourcebooks on Classical Indian Thought” project, convened by Prof. Sheldon Pollock, to which he contributes with a monograph on the development of Yoga-related ideas in pre-modern South Asian intellectual history.
SOAS, University of London
James Mallinson is Reader in Indology and Yoga Studies at SOAS University of London. His research focuses on the history and current traditional practice of yoga and his primary methods are philology, ethnography and art history. Dr. Mallinson is currently leading the Haṭha Yoga Project, a five-year six-person research project on the history of physical yoga funded by the European Research Council. The project’s core outputs will be ten critical editions of Sanskrit texts on physical yoga and four monographs on its history and current practice. Dr. Mallinson’s publications include Roots of Yoga (Penguin Classics, 2017, co-authored with Mark Singleton) and The Khecarīvidyā of Ādinātha, a Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of an Early Text on Haṭhayoga (Routledge, 2007). The latter is a revision of his doctoral thesis, which was supervised by Professor Alexis Sanderson at the University of Oxford, where Dr. Mallinson also read Sanskrit as an undergraduate. Dr. Mallinson has spent more than ten years living in India with traditional ascetics and practitioners of yoga, and at the 2013 Kumbh Mela was awarded the title of Mahant by the Rāmānandī Saṃpradāya.
Lecturer in Asian Religions and Ethics at the University of Roehampton, London, UK
Karen O’Brien-Kop is Lecturer in Asian Religions and Ethics in the Department of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Roehampton, London, UK. She received her PhD from SOAS University of London, is a specialist in the historical study of meditation and yoga within Asian religious traditions, and analyses early Hindu and Buddhist meditation manuals in Sanskrit.
She has taught on the MA Traditions of Yoga and Meditation at SOAS University of London, and at the University of Roehampton she has designed a new BA module 'Yoga, Meditation and Health'. Since 2018, she has served on the committee for the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies, an academic research and teaching centre focused on public engagement. In the American Academy of Religion, Karen is a committee member for the Yoga in Theory and Practice Unit and co-chair of the Indian and Chinese Religions Compared Unit. She has published peer-reviewed articles in Religions of South Asia and Journal of Indian Philosophy and is co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies (2020), an interdisciplinary volume of 34 chapters from global contributors. Karen is currently working on a book project on rethinking classical yoga in relation to Buddhism.
Lecturer in Sanskrit, Institute of Indology and Tibetology, LMU, Munich, Germany
Antonia Ruppel is a Classicist by training who came to Sanskrit through a series of fortunate accidents. She learnt the language as an autodidact, and one of her reasons for writing her textbook, The Cambridge Introduction to Sanskrit (2017), was to make the experience of studying Sanskrit easier and more pleasant for others. She has been teaching Sanskrit for 15 years at universities such as Cornell, Oxford and now the LMU in Munich, Germany, as well as offering courses in variety of formats online.
Language pedagogy is at the heart of her life, and she is currently working on an Intermediate Sanskrit Reader. It is designed to help students gain reading fluency in an enjoyable and straightforward way, and will come out in late 2021.
SOAS, University of London
Mark Singleton specializes in the history of yoga in tradition and modernity. He is Senior Research Fellow at SOAS University of London, where he works on the Hatha Yoga Project, a five-year research project mapping a thousand years of yoga history through texts and ethnography. He is the author of Yoga Body, The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (2010), and co-author (with James Mallinson) of Roots of Yoga (2017). He has authored many articles and book chapters on yoga history, and has edited four volumes of yoga scholarship. He is currently working on a book project on the relationship between Yoga and Technology.
PhD Candidate, SOAS, University of London
Ruth Westoby is a doctoral candidate at SOAS, University of London, researching for a doctoral thesis on the yogic body in premodern Sanskrit texts on haṭhayoga, and is also a longtime Ashtanga practitioner.
As well as offering workshops and lectures at studios and conferences, Ruth teaches on some of the principal teacher training programmes in the UK and beyond. Ruth facilitates Yogacampus’s online History of Yoga course and serves on the steering committee for the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies.
Ruth began to explore yoga practices in 1996 and started teaching postural yoga in 2004. In 2010 she received an MA in Indian Religions from SOAS with Distinction. In 2016-17 Ruth collaborated with the Haṭha Yoga Project’s ‘embodied philology’, interpreting postures from the 18th-century Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati, an important textual precursor of modern yoga. The film has been showed as part of the Haṭha Yoga Project’s Embodied Liberation exhibition in 2020.
Assistant Professor, Naropa University
Ben Williams is an intellectual historian focused on Indian religions and the history of Śaiva tantra. He has received extensive training in Indian philosophy, literature, and aesthetics in Sanskrit sources. Ben received a BA in Religious Studies from the University of Vermont, a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and completed his PhD in the Department of South Asian Studies at Harvard University. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Hinduism at Naropa University, where he has recently co-created a low-residency MA program in Yoga Studies that will launch in fall 2020. Ben also serves on the academic advisory council of the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute, which is dedicated to the preservation of scriptural and philosophical texts of classical India.
Ben’s doctoral thesis is on revelation and the figure of the tantric guru in the writings of Abhinavagupta, an eminent intellectual figure of medieval Kashmir. Building upon this study, one of his current research projects is charting the transmission of tantric traditions to South India that are indebted to non-dual Śaiva teachings and lineages that originally flourished in Kashmir.