James Mchugh

Professor of Religion
Email jmchugh@usc.edu Office 825 BLOOM WALK Office Phone (213) 740-7141

Research & Practice Areas

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


James McHugh is Professor of South Asian religions at the University of Southern California.

He received a B.A. Hons. in Philosophy from Cambridge University, an M.Phil. in Classical Indian religions from Oxford University, and a Ph.D. in Sanskrit from Harvard University. He has been awarded several competitive prizes and fellowships: a fellowship at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, an NEH Fellowship, an ACLS Fellowship, and the Jerry Stannard Award for an article on the history of pharmacology.

He is a scholar of pre-modern South Asian texts, history, and religions, working with sources in Sanskrit (also Pali and Prakrit), with a focus on cultural history and material culture. His research covers a long period, from several centuries BCE through the early second millennium CE. He works with sources in many genres, from literature to medicine, and also analyzes and translates texts produced by Hindus, Buddhist, and Jains.

McHugh’s first book, Sandalwood and Carrion (Oxford University Press, 2012) is the first book length study of the sense of smell and the use of aromatics and perfumes in pre-modern Indian culture and religion. In 2017 McHugh was invited to give a lecture on Sandalwood and Carrion at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India.

His second book, An Unholy Brew: Alcohol in Indian History and Religion (Oxford University Press, 2021) is the first comprehensive monograph on the history of alcohol (and some drugs) in pre-modern India. Based on the study of texts in Sanskrit and related languages, along with fieldwork in India and China to study traditional fermentation methods, An Unholy Brew explores a huge range of topics, from the technology of ancient brewing to the theorization of alcohol and intoxication in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain legal texts.

McHugh will continue to research alcohol and drugs in India over the next few years, and he is also currently investigating how the brain was understood in early Indian texts.

Recent journal publications include:

  • “Theorizing Alcoholic Drinks in Ancient India: the Complex Case of Maireya.” The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs 31.1 (2021): 115-136.
  • “The Ancient Indian Alcoholic Drink Called Sura: Vedic Evidence.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 141.1 (2021): 49-72.
  • “Grape Wine in Ancient and Early Medieval India: The View from the Centre.” The Indian Economic and Social History Review 58, no. 1 (2021): 113-44.
  • Sidhu (Sidhu): The Sugar Cane ‘Wine’ of Ancient and Early Medieval India.” History of Science in South Asia 8 (2020): 36-56.
  • “Varieties of Drunk Experience in Early Medieval South Asia.” South Asia (peer reviewed special edition on mazaa, “fun,” in India) 43.2 (2020): 345-354.


  • 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
  • Book

    • Mchugh, J. (2021). An Unholy Brew: Alcohol in Indian History and Religions. (Cynthia Read, Ed.). Oxford University Press. Website
    • 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.
    • 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”, 2015-2016
    • American Council of Learned Societies 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
    • Fellow, Society for the Humanities, Cornell University, 2010-2011