Shefali Chandra

Shefali Chandra

​Associate Professor of History, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Asian American Studies
Co-Director of Graduate Programs in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
PhD, University of Pennsylvania
BA, Mount Holyoke College
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    • Professor Chandra is on sabbatical during 2024.
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    Shefali Chandra writes and teaches on South Asian globalization. Currently, Shefali is completing a book on the way that sex and caste have shaped India's relationship with the United States. 

    Shefali Chandra's first book, The Sexual Life of English: Languages of Caste and Desire in Colonial India (Duke University Press, 2012) argues that caste and sexual difference enabled the domestication of English in colonial India. ‘Indigenous’ regimes of caste and gender made English into an Indian language.

    Chandra has continued to explore the transnational trajectory of caste and has written several articles on the rapid mobility and the growing interdependence of racial regimes under capitalism, particularly the many points of contact between Brahmanism and Whiteness. A current research project contributes to critical studies of whiteness around the world:

    Shefali enjoys working with students on Global South Asia, Indian Exceptionalism, the long history of the desire for "India" and the manipulation of that longing, on the reinforcing relationship between imperialism and sexuality, whiteness, and caste.

    Selected Publications


    The Sexual Life of English: Languages of Caste and Desire in Colonial India (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).

    Reprint for South Asia by Zubaan Books, New Delhi 2014.

    Women Studies Quarterly 42(2) 2014. Special issue on “Solidarities”. Edited and contributed an introduction with Saadia Toor.


    Decolonizing the Orgasm: Caste, Whiteness and Knowledge Production at the “End of Empire” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies (Winter 2020)

    ‘India Will Change You Forever: Hinduism, Islam and Whiteness since 9/11’ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 40.2 (Winter 2015) 487-512.

    ‘The World’s Largest Dynasty: Caste, Sexuality and the Manufacture of Indian “Democracy”’ Dialectical Anthropology 38(2) 2014.

    'Global India and the Divergent Temporalities of South Asia’ in Antoinette Burton ed., The Feedback Loop: Historians Theorize the Links Between Teaching and Research, American Historical Review, 2013 pp. 29-34. 

    ‘Whiteness on the Margins of Native Patriarchy: Race, Caste, Sexuality and the Agenda of Transnational Studies,’ Feminist Studies, 37.1 (Spring 2011), pp. 127-153.

    ‘Re-Orienting South Asia Studies: Sri-Lanka, Gender and World History’ Book Forum Participant on Kumari Jayawardena’s ‘Erasure of the Euro-Asia: Recovering Early Radicalism and Feminism in South Asia,’ Journal of Women’s History, 22.4, (Winter 2010), pp. 248-252.

    ‘Mimicry, Masculinity and the Mystique of Indian English: Western India 1870-1900’ The Journal of Asian Studies 68.1 (February 2009) pp. 199-126.

    ‘Gendering English: Gender, Sexuality and the Language of Desire in Modern India 1850-1940’ Gender & History 19.2. (August 2007) pp. 284-304.

    ‘Vivaham Sadacharaviruddham’ in K.M. Venugopal ed., (translated and reprinted) in Keralam Laingikatha Linganeethi [‘Marriage is unethical’ in Sexuality and gender justice in Kerala] (Thiruvananthapuram: Sign Books, 2006) 163-167.

    ‘The social life of English’ book chapter in Neelam Hussain ed., The politics of language. (Lahore: Simorgh Feminist Publications, 2005) pp. 63-84.



    International Dissertation Research Fellowship, Social Science Research Council and American Council of Learned Societies (1998-1999)

    International Dissertation Research Fellowship, Social Science Research Council and American Council of Learned Societies (1998-1999)

    Junior Long Term Fellow, American Institute of Indian Studies (1999-2000)

    Women’s Studies Dissertation Writing Fellowship, Alice Paul Center, University of Pennsylvania (2001-2002)

    Chimicles Fellowship for the Teaching of Writing, University of Pennsylvania (2002-2003)

    Humanities Release Time, University of Illinois (2005-2006)

    Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, Faculty fellow (2004-2005)

    List of Excellent Teachers, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

    Common Ground Teaching Innovation Award, Washington University in St. Louis (2011)

    Arts & Sciences Summer 2012 Seed Grant, Washington University in St. Louis (2012)

    James McLeod Teaching Recognition Award, ArtSci Council, Washington University 2015

    Center for the Humanities Washington University, Faculty Fellow 2015

    Humanities Summer Research, Center for the Humanities 2016

    Roland Grimm Award for Research in Asia, Washington University 2018

    Faculty Research Grant, Center for the Humanities Washington University 2018

    Center for the Humanities, Reading and Writing Group Grant, "A History of the Present" 2018-present




    Doctors and Terrorists: The Fictions of South Asian America

    Globalization and its Discontents: History, Political Economy and Culture

    The Meaning of Pakistan

    Incredible India: Globalization and Desire

    South Asia in the Wider World: World History, 1300-present 

    Loss, Longing and Absence: Narratives of the Partition of Pakistan and India 

    Survey of South Asia, 1500-present 

    Imperialism and Sexuality:  Writing Intensive

    Postcolonial/ Queer

    Women Write India: Transnational Narratives of Caste, Class and Gender

    The World, according to Gender (survey of world history)

    Feminism and Postcoloniality (postcolonial, feminist and anti-racist theory)

    Invented Traditions, Contested Modernities: Caste, Language and Religion 

    Colonialism and Culture. The British Empire, 1760- the present.



    From Decolonization to Globalization: How to End an Empire

    Universal history and its Discontents : World, Global and Postcolonial histories

    Postcolonial and Transnational Studies 

    Imperialism and Sexuality

    En/gendering history: Postcolonial, Queer, and Transnational Histories

    The Sexual Life of English

    The Sexual Life of English

    In The Sexual Life of English, Shefali Chandra examines how English became an Indian language. She rejects the idea that English was fully formed before its life in India or that it was imposed from without. Rather, by drawing attention to sexuality and power, Chandra argues that the English language was produced through conflicts over caste, religion, and class. Sentiments and experiences of desire, respectability, conjugality, status, consumption, and fashion came together to create the Indian history of English. The language was shaped by the sexual experiences of Indians and by native attempts to discipline the normative sexual subject. Focusing on the years between 1850 and 1930, Chandra scrutinizes the English-education project as Indians gained the power to direct it themselves. She delves into the history of schools, the composition of the student bodies, and disagreements about curricula; the way that English-educated subjects wrote about English; and debates in English and Marathi popular culture. Chandra shows how concerns over linguistic change were popularly voiced in a sexual idiom, how English and the vernacular were separated through the vocabulary of sexual difference, and how the demand for matrimony naturalized the social location of the English language.