Frederick M. Smith

Professor Emeritus

Dr. Smith joined the University of Iowa faculty in 1989. In addition to his position in the Department of Religious Studies, he holds a joint appointment with the Department of Asian and Slavic Languages and Literatures, a unit of the Division of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

His vigorous research program has included major forays into premodern North Indian devotional philosophy and poetry (of the Pustimarga of Vallabhacarya), deity and spirit possession in South Asia (on this see his important book, The Self Possessed [Columbia University Press, 2006]); Indian medical literature and the practice of Ayurveda, the great Sanskrit epic or Mahabharata, the history and practice of yoga, and continuing investigation into Vedic and other forms of Indian ritual performance.

His training in India (where he lived for sixteen years) and at the University of Pennsylvania was text-critical, in the study of Sanskrit literature. His eye has always been diachronic, considering ritual, practice, or text over centuries or millennia. Example of this are his studies in the performance of Vedic ritual in modern times, which utilize several millennia of texts in addition to his own “Vedic fieldwork,” or in the textual history of deity or spirit possession, supplemented by both modern ethnographic writing and his own forays into the field. He thus falls into the small sub-field of “Ethno-Indology.” His primary interest is the nature of religious and cultural tradition in India, the way specific, religious, cultural, and literary practices constitute and define Indian historical tradition. His primary project at the moment is an annotated translation of the last five (of eighteen) books (parvan) of the Indian national epic the Mahabharata, to be published soon by the University of Chicago Press.

Research interests

  • Sanskrit
  • Classical Indian religions

Selected publications

For a complete list, please see Professor Smith's CV:

  • The Self Possessed: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and CivilizationNew York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
  • Modern and Global Ayurveda: Pluralism and Paradigms. Ed. with Dagmar Wujastyk. Albany NY: State University of New York Press, 2008.
  • "Becoming an Icon: B.K.S. Iyengar as a Yoga Teacher and a Yoga Guru." With Joan White. InGurus of Modern Yoga, ed. by Mark Singleton and Ellen Goldberg. New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2013.
  • "The Self Repossessed." Journal of Hindu Studies 5 (2012): 293-301.
  • "Yogasutras II.25 and the Conundrum of Kaivalya.” In Classical and Contemporary Issues in South Asian Studies: In Felicitation of Prof. T.S. Rukmani. Ed. by Jonathan Duquette and Pratap Penumala. Pp. 66-78. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd, 2012.Â
  • "Predestination and Hierarchy: Vallabhacarya’s Discourse on the Distinctions Between Blessed, Rule-Bound, Worldly, and Wayward Souls (the Pustipravahamaryadabheda).” Journal of Indian Philosophy 39 (2011): 173-227.
  • "A Brief History of Indian Religious Ritual and Resource Consumption: Was there an Environmental Ethic?” Asian Ethnology 70.2 (2011): 163-180.
  • "Sattvavajaya, Psychology, and Ritual Possession in India.” Asian Medicine, Tradition and Modernity 6 (2011): 22-32.

Courses taught

  • 032:166 History of Religion: Yoga in Asia
  • RELS:3580 / 032:180 Religion and Healing
  • 032:182 Enlightenment: Texts on Religious Realization
  • 039:018 Asian Humanities India
  • RELS:1606  Civilizations of Asia: South Asia
  • RELS:3666  Historical Religious Spiritual Practice: Yoga

view curriculum vitae

Frederick M. Smith is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Religious Studies.
PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Contact Information

University of Iowa
319 Gilmore Hall (GILH)
112 N. Capitol Street
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States