Join us in welcoming our new Assistant Professor, Jamal Jones to UW-Madison! Here are some highlights from his L&S New Faculty Focus:
Hometown: Camden, NJ
Educational/professional background: I received by BA (2008) in Religious Studies and PhD (2018) in South Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago.
How did you get into your field of research?
I got into South Asian literature through a confluence of interest and accident. As an undergraduate I was drawn to creative writing and the history of religions. This led me through a range of topics, but my interest in India blossomed when I had the opportunity to study abroad there in my 3rd year of college. After that, I started taking more courses. Learning about Sanskrit poetry (especially particularly amazing feats, like poems that tell multiple narrative simultaneously depending on how you interpret the sound patterns!) drove me to study the language itself. When I came back to Chicago for grad school, I began studying Telugu as well, which narrowed my focus to southern India. Everything else escalated from there. Throughout I’ve maintained my interest in literature and questions of how it works and what people are hoping to do by creating and consuming it.
What attracted you to UW-Madison?
A lot of things really. It has a rich history of South Asian studies, which I’m now quite happy to be a part. (My first Telugu professor and mentor, V. Narayana Rao, taught at Madison for most of his career.) Further, I’ve been coming to UW-Madison at least every other year for the last ten years, between studying at SASLI (South Asia Summer Language Institute) and attending the Annual Conference on South Asia. Finally, despite growing up on the East Coast, I now have a lot of personal and family connections in the Midwest. So, all in all, it is wonderful to be here on multiple levels.
What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with?
I try to help them find what I find myself looking for: a more expansive imagination for how people have lived in the world (and might still). Given that my work is centered on premodern south Asia, this can mean different things such as simply thinking about things they might not have encountered before or moving away from a rigid preconception of something (like India, or Hinduism, or Sanskrit) to seeing it as more diverse, variable, and flexible than they originally thought.
Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea?
I like to hope that studying South Asian culture and history offers some benefit, as it expands our understanding of the world and the familiar and unfamiliar ways of living in it.
What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter during video chats (and eventually parties)? (Examples: https://news.wisc.edu/how-to-sound-smarter-at-parties-wisdom-from-uw-madison-experts/) While Sanskrit does have prominent religious and spiritual associations, it was used much more widely as a language of (primarily elite) communication from Central Asia to Southeast Asia. So, you can find a range of things in Sanskrit on top of religious literature: love poetry, elephant training manuals, and jokes (good and bad).
Hobbies/other interests: Music (playing guitar poorly, sing karaoke); role-playing games (Dungeons & Dragons, etc.); hanging out with my kids.