Lisa I. Knight

Lisa Knight

Alva and Beatrice Bradley Professor of Anthropology, Asian Studies, and Religion; Chair, Department of Anthropology

swipe to see more

Dr. Knight received her doctorate in anthropology from Syracuse University. Funded by fellowships from Fulbright and the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies, she conducted two years of fieldwork researching Baul women in India and Bangladesh. A small religious group that comes from Hindu and Muslim communities, Bauls are best known as men who are musical mendicants and wander in rural areas and by train. Fieldwork involved a great deal of wandering and traveling to various rural and urban areas to locate women members of this group. Dr. Knight's work addresses the experiences and perspectives of Baul women, previously unexplored in scholarship, and argues that women Bauls negotiate their status and reputation as women and as Bauls. Her work has been published in a book, Contradictory Lives: Baul Women in India and Bangladesh, as well as in articles.

Her current research focuses on exiled secular Bangladeshis, many currently living in Nordic countries where they received asylum or refugee status, who were persecuted by radical Islamists. Her study addresses issues of migration, refugees, the role of religion and secularism in migration, and reception strategies of host countries known for secularism, freedom of religion, and egalitarian principles.

As an extension of this research, Knight is editor and co-director of Shuddhashar FreeVoice, an online magazine, platform, and non-profit organization committed to freedom of expression, social justice, critical thinking about complex contemporary issues, and an amplification of historically marginalized perspectives. Shuddhashar FreeVoice is based in Norway and is funded by grants.

Honors & Awards

  • Fulbright Fellowship
  • American Institute for Bangladesh Studies
  • Furman Standard


  • Ph.D., Anthropology, Syracuse University
  • Certificate of South Asian Studies, Syracuse University
  • M.A., Anthropology, Syracuse University
  • B.A., Religion, Oberlin College

Experience in Asia

Dr. Knight's doctoral research included over two years of fieldwork in rural West Bengal and both urban and rural Bangladesh between 1998 and 2000. She focused her project on women members of a small religious group called the Bauls, popularly known as musical mendicants who are opposed to the caste system and sectarianism. In 2007, she returned to India to collect songs composed by women in order to prepare her book for publication. Her book, Contradictory Lives, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011. Also in 2011, she began her next project on teaching narratives and the intersections of NGOs and Baul performers in West Bengal.


Broadly, her research interests include South Asia, anthropology, religion, gender, Bauls, exiled secular Bangladeshis, trauma, activism, and feminist ethnography.
She is currently researching secular Bangladeshis living in Nordic countries after exile from Bangladesh due to violence and threats to their lives. She is working on a book entitled Migrant Ethics and Ethical Migrants: Exiled Bangladeshis.


  • “Targeted by Militants and Abandoned by the State: The Case of Shuddhashar Publication House.” Co-author with Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury. In Masks of Authoritarianism, edited by Arild Engelsen Ruud and Mubashar Hasan, 195-206. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore, 2022
  • “‘I will not keep her book in my home!’ Representing Religious Meaning among Bauls.” ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts. 23, no. 1 (2016): 30-46
  • Contradictory Lives: Baul Women in India and Bangladesh. New York: Oxford UP, 2014 (2011)
  • "Women and the Baul Tradition." Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. E. J. Brill Publishers, Leiden, 2011
  • "Bauls in Conversation: Cultivating Oppositional Ideology." In International Journal of Hindu Studies 14, no. 1 (2010):71-120
  • "Renouncing Expectations: Single Baul Women and the Value of Being a Wife." In Women's Renunciation in South Asia: Nuns, Yoginis, Saints, and Singers, edited by Meena Khandelwal, Sondra L. Hausner, and Ann Grodzins Gold, 191-222. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006Several articles and editorials in Shuddhashar FreeVoice.

Additional Professional Activities

She is editor and Director of Shuddhashar FreeVoice online magazine, which focuses on freedom of expression; religious diversity, extremism, politics, and secularism; social justice; and literature, with special attention to South Asia.