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Photo of Vatuk, Sylvia J.

Sylvia J. Vatuk, PhD

Professor Emerita




My theoretical interests within social anthropology lie in the area of kinship and social organization, with a regional specialization in South Asia. I have conducted field research in India in several urban settings on changing kinship and family structures, marriage and gift exchange, gender roles, aging and intergenerational relations, family history and family law. My earlier research and publications dealt with Hindus in northwestern India, specifically western Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Later I turned to the study of Muslim society in southern India, beginning with a long-term social-historical study of a large extended family of Islamic religious scholars. In that study I examined the family’s adaptation to the economic, political and social transformations of the colonial and post-colonial eras, from the early 19th century to the present. More recently I have been engaged in a study of Muslim Personal Law and its impact on women, in connection with which I have carried out ethnographic and archival research in the cities of Hyderabad and Chennai.

Selected Publications


“Zenana.” In G. Dharampal-Frick, M. Kirloskar-Steinbach, R. Dwyer and J. Phalkey, eds., Key Concepts in Modern Indian Studies, pp.  275-277. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

“A Passion for Reading: The Role of Early Twentieth-Century Urdu Novels in the Construction of an Individual Female Identity in 1920s Hyderabad.”  In A. Malhotra and S. Lambert-Hurley, eds., Speaking of the Self: Gender, Performance and Autobiography in South Asia, pp. 33-55.  Durham: Duke University Press.

“Maintenance for Divorced Muslim Women after the Muslim Women (Protection ofRights on Divorce) Act 1986: A View from the Lower Courts.”  In H. Ahmed-Ghosh, ed., Asian Muslim Women: Globalization and Local Realities, pp. 103-126. Albany: State University of New York Press.

“What Can Divorce Stories Tell Us about Muslim Marriage in India?”  In S. Basu and L. Ramberg, eds., Conjugality Unbound:  Sexual Economies, State Regulation and the Marital Form in India, pp. 190-216.  Delhi:  Women Unlimited.


“The Application of Muslim Personal Law in India:  A System of Legal Pluralism in Action.  In E. Giunchi, ed., Adjudicating Family Law in Muslim Courts, pp. 48-69.   London & New York: Routledge.

“Change and Continuity in Marital Alliance Patterns: Muslims in South India, 1800-2012.” In R. Kaur and R. Palriwala, eds., Marrying in South Asia: Shifting Concepts, Changing Practices in a Globalising World, pp. 28-48New Delhi: Orient Black Swan.


“Islamic Feminism in India: Indian Muslim Women Activists and the Reform of Muslim Personal Law.”  In F. Osella and C. Osella, eds., Islamic Reform in South Asia, pp. 346-382.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (revised and updated version of article inModern Asian Studies 2008).


“Muslim Kinship in the Dravidian Heartland:  Terminology and Cousin Marriage among Urdu-Speaking Nawayats in Madras and Hyderabad.”  In C. Talbot, ed., Knowing India:  Colonial and Modern Constructions of the Past, pp. 108-134. New Delhi: Yoda Publications.


“South Asian Muslims in the American Courts.” In L. Holden, ed., Cultural Expertise and Litigation: Patterns, Conflicts, Narratives, pp. 13-34.  New Delhi: Routledge

“Afterword.”  In K. I. Leonard, G. Reddy and A. Grodzins-Gold, eds.,  Histories of Intimacy and Situated Ethnography (Papers in Honour of Sylvia Vatuk)pp. 299-303. New Delhi: Manohar.


“Islamic Learning at the College of Fort St. George in Nineteenth-century Madras.” In T. Trautmann, ed., The Madras School of Orientalism, pp. 48-73. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

“A Rallying Cry for Muslim Personal Law: The Shah Bano Case and its Aftermath.” In B. D. Metcalf, ed., Islam in India in Practice, p. 352-367. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


“Islamic Feminism in India? Indian Muslim Women Activists and the Reform of Muslim Person Law.” In F. Osella and C. Osella, eds., Islamic Reform in India, Special Issue, Modern Asian Studies 42/2 & 3: 489-518. Download:

“Divorce at the Wife’s Initiative in Muslim Personal Law: What are the Options and What are Their Implications for Women’s Welfare?” In A. Parashar & A. Dhanda, eds., Redefining Family Law in India: Essays in Honour of B. Sivaramayya, pp. 200-235. London and New Delhi: Routledge.


“Bharattee’s Death: Domestic Slave-Women in Nineteenth-Century Madras.” In I. Chatterjee and R. Eaton, eds., Slavery and South Asian History, pp. 210-233. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


“Moving the Courts: Muslim Women and Personal Law.” In Z. Hasan & R. Menon, eds., The Diversity of Muslim Women’s Lives in India, pp. 18-58. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.


“Hamara Daur-i Hayat: An Indian Muslim Woman Writes her Life.” In D. Arnold and S. Blackburn, eds., Telling Lives in India: Biography, Autobiography, and the Life History, pp. 144-174. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


“Older Women, Past and Present, in an Indian Muslim Family.” In S. Patel, J. Bagchi and K. Raj, eds., Thinking Social Science in India: Essays in Honour of Alice Thorner, pp. 247-263. New Delhi: Sage Publications.


“‘Where Will She Go? What Will She Do?’ Paternalism Toward Women in the Administration of Muslim Personal Law in Contemporary India.” In G. J. Larson, ed., Religion and Personal Law in Secular India: A Call to Judgment, pp. 226-238. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.


“Identity and Difference or Equality and Inequality in South Asian Muslim Society.” In C. Fuller, ed., Caste Today, pp. 227-262. Delhi: Oxford University Press.


“Forms of Address in North India: The Family Domain.” In A. Ostor, S. Barnett, and L. Fruzzetti, eds., Concepts of Person, 2nd ed., pp. 56-98. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.


“The Cultural Construction of Shared Identity: A South Indian Family History,” Social Analysis 28: 114-131.


“To Be a Burden on Others’: Dependency Anxiety among the Elderly in India.” In O.M. Lynch, ed., Divine Passions: The Social Construction of Emotion in India, pp. 64-88. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.


PhD Harvard University, 1970