Religion, Caste & Gender in Contemporary South India

 Term & Dates To Be Offered:

January 2017  (*approx 18-21 days)

MC Contact:

Kirsten Sheppard, Director of International Education
International House 

Faculty Leaders:







Brian K. Pennington, Director  (Dr. Pennington is an adjunct member of our faculty for this course)
Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, & Society
Elon University
 (336) 278-5988

Brian Pennington is currently Director of the Elon University Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society. He studies and teaches about Modern Hinduism and has written several books and articles on. He taught Religion at Maryville College from 1998-2014 and during that time led 6 Jterm courses abroad to South Asia, which remain some of the professional experiences that have been most meaningful for him. He still has a special fondness for Orange and Garnett, and he is thrilled at this opportunity to work with MC students again. 

  • 21 years experience in India
  • Kokata, Garhwal, Himalayas
  • 2 books and  many articles on Hinduism, India, religion and violence in India
  • Writing on "entrepreneurial Hinduism"

Amy Allocco
Assistant Professor & Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies
Elon University

  • 20 years of experience in India
  • South India: speaks Tamil
  • Book project, articles and chapters on snake goddesses, gender and Hindu rituals
  • In India this year researching death and remembrance rituals

Course goals:

  1. To be knowledgeable about Indian religious traditions, with special attention to Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism & Jainism.
  2. To identify and analyze key gender issues and categories relevant to contemporary South Indian societies.
  3. To be conversant with the broad contours of post-Partition India’s social, economic & political systems.

Course description:

Traveling to India will introduce students to the diversity of contemporary South India and address global issues of social structure, class, religious identity and gender. The course will include many opportunities to engage with locals to learn about this rapidly changing society. This J-Term program is in partnership with Elon University.

The program begins and ends in Chennai, where we will engage in lectures, demonstrations, and presentations from local experts and professors, break into small-groups according to student interest for Directed Study opportunities (e.g. yoga, cooking, dance, music), take advantage of live dance and music performances, and explore the city on several walking tours.

Leaving Chennai, we will travel southward along the coast to visit DakshinaChitra (a center for art, crafts, architecture, and performing arts) and tour the eBay India Office before reaching Mahabalipuram, where we will meet with a local artisans and engage in faculty lectures and student presentations in an open-air, beachside classroom.

We will take the Pandiyan Express overnight train to Madurai to visit the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, Jain caves, and Murugan Temple. We will stay to learn about the Muslim community in Madurai, including conversations with Muslim artists and community leaders, visits to a mosque, Islamic school, Vidiyal Children’s Home, and a Hindu temple and healing center that attracts people from other faiths. 

En route to the Periyar Tiger Reserve, we will stop at Blue Mango, an NGO that provides training and work opportunities to  marginalized women (especially widows, survivor’s of domestic violence, and women who are HIV-positive).  . We will spend the next day at Periyar Tiger Reserve with a local guide from one of the area’s indigenous communities. We will observe wildlife from Jeeps, hike, and go on at least one boat ride on the large lake in the center of the Reserve. The following day we will take an overnight houseboat through the Kerala backwaters where we can observe how daily life unfolds along the waterways. 

We will spend the next days in Cochin where we will visit the oldest European church in India as well as the Cochin Synagogue and its surrounding Jewish community. We will attend a lecture with an official from the Communist Party of Kerala who will address why this state has achieved the highest human development indicators in the country.

Next, we travel to a village outside Palakkad where we will spend time with host families, learn about local agricultural practices and industries, and visit the Malampuzha Dam and Snake Park. That evening we will host a Kathakali dance drama performance and spend the night with our village hosts.  our host families.

We return to Chennai with additional opportunities for Directed Study, free time for independent exploration of the city, and closing discussions.

Application for J-Term Programs


Tentative Costs: $3800 - $4000

The price includes:  Roundtrip airfare, local transportation, housing, 2 meals/day, travel visa & travel insurance 

Not included:  Additional spending money, tips, travel vaccinations,  passport (approximately $130 if you don't have one)


·         Visit Hindu temples & healing centers, mosques, synagogues & churches

·         Jeep tour, hike and boat ride in Periyar Tiger Reserve

·         Opportunities for yoga, cooking, dance & musical instruments

·         Visit spice markets and spice garden

·         Kathakali Dance Drama Performance

·         Explore Jain Temple & caves

Tentative Itinerary:

Jan 2                  In transit: USA to Chennai, India

Jan 3                  In transit: USA to Chennai, India   

Jan 4-7      Chennai: Directed Study opportunities such as yoga, cooking, dance, musical instruments; Attend seasonal concerts, recitals, and performances; Walking tours including temples, cathedrals, spice markets and “Bazaar Trails”: Lectures: Languages & Literatures of India; Women and Law

Jan. 8                    Ideal Beach Resort, Mahabalipuram: Visit DakshinaChitra center for arts, crafts, architecture, and folk and performing arts of South India; Lecture and presentations in open-air, beachside classroom

Jan. 9                     Ideal Beach Resort, Mahabalipuram: Visit 7th century rock-cut monuments of Pallava dynasty and lecture from traditional sculptor-artisan; Lecture and presentations in open-air, beachside classroom

Jan. 10                     Pandiyan Express to Madurai: Visit eBay India office; overnight train to Madurai

Jan. 11                    Madurai: Visit Meenakashi Sundareswarar Temple; Optional visit to Jain caves and Murugan Temple

Jan. 12                     Madurai: Discussion with Muslim artist and visit to mosque and Islamic School;

Visit Vidiyal Children’s Home; Visit to Muslim dargah (tomb/shrine) and Pandi Kovil (Hindu temple and healing center); Dinner and presentations at hilltop Taj Garden Retreat

Jan. 13                     Thekkady: Visit Blue Mango (NGO for marginalized women); Travel to Periyar Tiger Reserve

Jan. 14                     Periyar: Jeep tour with indigenous guide, hike, and boat ride in Tiger Reserve

Jan. 15                    Thekkady/Periyar: Boat ride on Periyar Lake; overnight on houseboats through the Kerala backwaters          

Jan. 16                   Cochin: Reading and relaxing on houseboats; visit oldest European church in India  

Jan. 17                   Cochin: Visit Cochin synagogue and explore surrounding area (known as “Jew Town”)

                             Dutch Cemetery and lecture with Communist Party of Kerala official

Jan. 18                  Village near Palakkad: Visit Spice Garden; visit local tourist attractions (Snake Park and Dam); Kathakali Dance Drama Performance; Homestay with host family              

Jan. 19                   Village: Spend time with host families; overnight train to Chennai

Jan. 20-22              Chennai: Directed Study opportunities such as yoga, cooking, dance, musical instruments; Visit the Government Museum; Faculty-led discussions; Free-time for exploration  

Jan. 23-24             In-transit: Chennai to USA 

Optional Activities: Jain caves and Murugan Temple