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James Mchugh

Associate Professor of Religion

Contact Information
Phone: (213) 740-7141
Office: 825 BLOOM WALK

Curriculum Vitae


Ph.D. Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University, 6/2008
M.Phil. Classical Indian Religion, University of Oxford, 6/1997
B.A. Philosophy, University of Cambridge, 6/1994

Academic Appointment, Affiliation, and Employment History

Fellow, Society for the Humanities, Cornell University, 2010-2011   

Description of Research

Summary Statement of Research Interests

James McHugh studies the cultural and material history of pre-modern India. He works on classical and early medieval Indian materials, mainly working with Sanskrit texts. His first book, "Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture" (Oxford University Press, 2012) is about is the sense of smell and the use of aromatics in South Asian religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. He is currently working on a second book: "An Unholy Brew: Alcohol in Indian Religion and History" (under contract with Oxford University Press), about alcohol in South Asian history and religions. This book will draw on textual, art-historical, and ethnographic research into drinking. He also has an interest in the history of gemstones and magic in South Asia.

Research Specialties

Material culture of South Asian religions. Smell, aromatics and religion. History of perfumery. History of alcohol in India. Sanskrit literary and technical texts. Material culture theory.

Funded Research

USC Funding

Advancing Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in South Asian Culture and Religion: Travel to India to collect Sanskrit manuscripts for my book, and to consult with scholars and perfumers. Photography equipment for manuscripts. Harvard research trip, and two research assistants. , $20,000, 2009-2010   

Conferences and Other Presentations

Conference Presentations

"Impure, Intoxicating, and Arousing: the Ambiguities of Alcohol in Indian Religions", American Academy of Religion Conference, Talk/Oral Presentation, Chicago, 2012-2013   
"Pale or Dark Ale: The Varieties of Sura in Pre-modern India", American Oriental Society Conference, Talk/Oral Presentation, Portland OR, 2012-2013   
"Precious to Polluting: Tracing the History of Camphor in Hinduism", Association for Asian Studies Conference, Talk/Oral Presentation, San Diego, 2012-2013   
"Ink, Leaves and Time: the Material and Social Networks of Religious Manuscripts in Pre-modern Hindu South Asia", American Academy of Religion , Talk/Oral Presentation, San Francisco, USA, 2011-2012   
"The King’s Young Body: Hair Dyes and Going Grey in Medieval India", American Oriental Society Conference, Talk/Oral Presentation, Boston, 2011-2012   
"The Disputed Civets and The Complexion of the God in South India", Annual Conference on South Asia, Talk/Oral Presentation, Abstract, University of Madison, Wisconsin, Center for South Asia, University of Madison, Wisc, 2010-2011   
"The Smell of Religion in South Asia", Perfumery and Ritual Workshop, Talk/Oral Presentation, Paper, Heidelberg University, Germany, Ritualdynamik Research Program, 2010-2011   
"Intoxicated Flirting in the Medieval Royal Drinking Party", Workshop on The History and Culture of Friendship in South Asia, Talk/Oral Presentation, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Spring 2011   
"The Disputed Civets and The Complexion of the God in South India", American Historical Association Conference, Talk/Oral Presentation, Boston, MA, Spring 2011   
"Challenges and Opportunities around South Asian Studies at the University of Southern California", South Asian Studies Association Conference, Roundtable/Panel, University of Southern California, 2009-2010   
"Making a Book in Medieval South Asia", The 38th Annual Conference on South Asia , Lecture/Seminar, Madison WI , Center for South Asia, University of Madison, Wisc, 2009-2010   
"Seeing Scents: Multisensory Adornment in Indian Religions", Sensing the Gods: Materiality, Perception and the Divine, Talk/Oral Presentation, Abstract, University of Southern California, College Commons, 2009-2010   
"The Toilette of the Idols: Reflections on the Study of Smell and Aromatics in Early India", Synesthesia: Classics Beyond the Visual Paradigm, Talk/Oral Presentation, Abstract, UCLA, UCLA, 2009-2010   
"The Emeralds of the Land of Frankincense", The 37th Annual Conference on South Asia, Lecture/Seminar, Paper, Madison, WI, Center for South Asia, University of Madison, Wisc, 2008-2009   
"The Art and Science of Perfumery in The Complete Man About Town (Nagarasarvasva) of Padmasri", World Sanskrit Conference, Lecture/Seminar, Paper, Edinburgh, UK, 2006-2007   

Other Presentations

"New directions in research in smell in the humanities in Asia", Invited presentation, Panel on new directions in social science research on olfaction, Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, 2012-2013   
"Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture", Invited lecture, Bryn Mawr College, PA, 2012-2013   
"The Hindu Love of Writing and the Manuscript as Event", Invited presentation, Workshop on Writing, Culture, and Power in South Asia, Duke University, Durham NC, 2012-2013   
"Fragrant Fame and a Well-ruled Perfume: Odorous Metaphors of Statecraft in Medieval South Asia", Invited talk, South Asia Program Seminar, Cornell University, Cornell University, 2010-2011   
"Musk, Ambergris, Civet and Sweet Hoof: Animal Products in Sanskritic and Indo-Muslim Perfumery", Invited talk, Comparative Muslim Societies Program, Cornell University, Cornell University, 2010-2011   
"Statues Made of Perfume in Indian Religions", Invited talk, Sensory Cultures of Religion group, Yale University, Yale University, 2010-2011   
"The Secretions of Cats and the Body of God", Invited talk, GSARS Colloquium, McMaster University, Canada, Spring 2011   
"Earth, Sandalwood, and Ambergris: Old Ideas and New Smells in Indian Olfactory Culture", Tasty Philosophers, Smelly Scientists: Taste and Smell in the Early Modern Period and Beyond, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA., 2008-2009   
"Producing a Book in Medieval Bengal According to Ballalasena’s Ocean of Giving", Before Gutenberg: Varieties of Text Culture, Workshop on Print in a Global Context , USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute, Los Angeles, 2008-2009   
"Punning Perfumes and Theological Riddles: Religion and Connoisseurship in Medieval India", Harvard University, Humanities Center Medieval Studies Seminar, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2007-2008   
"Sandalwood and Carrion", Joint lecture with perfumer Christophe Laudamiel to the senior perfumers of International Flavors and Fragrances, International Flavors and Fragrances, New York, NY, 2007-2008   



Mchugh, J. (2012). Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in South Asian Religion and Culture. (Cynthia Read, Ed.). New York: Oxford University Press // Reviews: American Historical Review 119.2 (2014), Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82.1 (2014), Bulletin of the History of Medicine 87/2 (2013), Choice 50/7 (2013) //. Link to Oxford University Press page.

Book Chapter

Mchugh, J. (2013). "Alcohol in Pre-modern South Asia". A History of Alcohol and Drugs in South Asia, Routledge. Routledge link

Book Review

Mchugh, J. (2013). Review of The Art of Loving Krishna: Ornamentation and Devotion, by Cynthia Packert (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010). History of Religions.
Mchugh, J. (2012). Ancient India: New Research, ed. Upinder Singh and Nayanjot Lahiri (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009). The Journal of the American Oriental Society.
Mchugh, J. A. (2007). The Pursuit of Pleasure: Drugs and Stimulants in Iranian History 1500-1900, by Rudi Matthee (Princeton: 2005). Bulletin of the History of Medicine/ American Association of the History of Medicine.

Journal Article

Mchugh, J. (2014). "From Precious to Polluting: Tracing the History of Camphor in Hinduism.". Material Religion. Vol. 10 (1), pp. 30-53.
Mchugh, J. (2013). "Blattes de Byzance in India: Mollusk Opercula and the History of Perfumery". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. Vol. 23 (1), pp. 53-67.
Mchugh, J. (2013). "Hiding the Ravages of Time: On Hair Dyes and Going Grey in Medieval India". Journal Asiatique. Vol. 301.1, pp. 185-204.
Mchugh, J. (2012). "The Disputed Civets and the Complexion of the God: Secretions and History in India". Journal of the American Oriental Society. Vol. 132 (2), pp. 245-273.
Mchugh, J. A. (2011). "Seeing Scents: Methodological Reflections on the Perception of Aromatics in South Asian Religions". History of Religions. Vol. 51 (2), pp. 156-177.
Mchugh, J. A. (2011). "The Incense Trees of the Land of Emeralds: the Exotic Material Culture of Kamasastra". The Journal of Indian Philosophy. Vol. 39 (1), pp. 63-100.
Mchugh, J. A. (2007). "The Classification of Smells and the Order of the Senses in Indian Religious Traditions". Numen: International Review for the History of Religions/Brill. Vol. 54 (4), pp. 374-419.


Mchugh, J. A. (2007). "The Art and Science of Perfumery in The Complete Man About Town (Nagarasarvasva) of Padmasri", in The Proceedings of the 13th World Sanskrit Conference. Delhi. Motilal Banarsidass, forthcoming.



Other Advisement or Time Devoted to Students

Director of Undergraduate Studies, Religion, 2013-2014   

Honors and Awards

National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship Recipient, support for a year sabbatical to work on book "An Unholy Brew: Alcohol in Indian History and Religion", 2014-2015   
2013 Jerry Stannard Memorial Award in the history of pharmacology, joint award for article "The Disputed Civets and The Complexion of the God," JAOS 132:2., 2012-2013   

Service to the Profession


Member, Steering Committee for Religion in South Asia (RISA) for the American Academy of Religion, 2012-2013   
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