John Freeman

Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History

External Address: 
112 Carr Building, Box_ 90719, Durham, NC 27708
Internal Office Address: 
Dept. of History, 226 Carr Bldg. (e. Campus) Box 90719, Durham, NC 27708-0719
(919) 684-5078


My interdisciplinary training both as a field anthropologist and scholar of the vernacular and classical languages and literatures of India is reflected in my writings and research projects as a historical anthropologist of South Asian religions. In my principal ethnographic research, I have worked for many years on the lower-caste, spirit-possession cult of Teyyam in the state of Kerala. As a complement to this, and drawing more centrally on my textual training, I have developed a corresponding program of research into both the Brahmanical culture of Sanskrit learning and regimes of worship in the region’s high temple culture, and into the local, vernacular cultures of the martial and yeoman caste-strata. The goal has been to explore how these distinctive systems of knowledge and worship articulate in the wider region’s social and political history over long stretches of historical development. My broadest research agendum is thus to bring together the rich literary sources of South Asia with the perspectives and methods of social anthropology and history to develop an overview of south India’s religious culture that is ethnological in substance and historical in sweep.

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania 1991

  • M.A., University of Pennsylvania 1984

  • B.A. (hons), University of Pennsylvania 1979

Freeman, R. "Caught in Translation: Ideologies of Literary Language in Kerala’s Maṇipravāḷam." Bilingual Discourse and Cross-Cultural Fertilisation: Sanskrit and Tamil in Medieval India. Ed. W Cox and V Vergiani. École Française d’Etrême Orient, 2013. (Essay)

Freeman, J. "Arresting Possession: Spirit Mediums in the Media." South Asian Festivals on the Move. Ed. U Husken and A Michaels. Wiesbaden, 2013. (Essay)

Freeman, R. "Untouchable Bodies of Knowledge in the Spirit Possession of Malabar." Images of the Body in India. Ed. A Michaels and C Wulf. New Delhi & London: Routledge, 2010. 125-155.

Freeman, R. "The Performative Context of Nala in Late Medieval Kerala." Damayanti and Nala: The Many Lives of a Story. Ed. S Wadley. New Delhi: Chronicle Books, 2010. 187-241.

Freeman, R. "Pedagogy and Practice: The Meta-pragmatics of Tantric Rites in Kerala." Ritual Dynamics and the Science of Ritual. Vol. 1. Ed. A Michaels and A Mishra. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010.

Freeman, J. "Mappila Ramayana of Hassankutty ("The Mad")." Ed. P Richman. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2008.

Freeman, J. "Shifting Forms of the Wandering Yogi." Masked Ritual and Performance in South India. Ed. D Shulman and D Thiagarajan. Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006. (Essay)

Freeman, J. "Literature and the Development of Regional Consciousness in Medieval Kerala." Ed. R Vora and A Feldhaus. New Delhi: Manohar, 2006. (Essay)

Freeman, J. "Kerala; Onam; Tottam." South Asian Folklore: an Encyclopedia. Ed. M Mills. Garland Science, November 11, 2004. (Essay)

Freeman, J. "The Teyyam Tradition of Kerala." A Companion to Hinduism. Ed. G Flood. Oxford: Basil Blackwood, 2003. (Essay)


Freeman, R. "Taste." Material Religion 7.1 (March 2011).

Freeman, R. "Review of Kerala Brahmins in Transition: A Study of a Nampūtiri Family by Marjatta Parpola." Journal of the American Oriental Society 124 (April 2004): 385-387. (Academic Article) Full Text

Freeman, J. "Gods, Groves, and and Culture of Nature in Northern Kerala." Modern Asian Studies 33.2 (1999).

Freeman, R. "Rubies and Coral: The Lapidary Crafting of Language in Kerala." The Journal of Asian Studies 57.1 (February 1998): 38-38. Full Text

Freeman, R. "Cultural Ideologies of Language in Precolonial India: A Symposium." The Journal of Asian Studies 57.1 (February 1998): 2-2. Full Text

Freeman, J. "Cultural Ideologies of Language in Pre-Colonial India: A Symposium." Journal of Asian Studies 57.1 (1998). (Introduction)

Freeman, J. "Formalized Possession among the Tantris and Teyyams of Malabar." South Asia Research 18.1 (1998).

Freeman, J. "Formalized Possession: The Tantric-Folk Continuum in the Hindu Worship of Northern Kerala." Diskus: The On-Disk Journal of International Religious Studies 2.2 (1994).