Q & A with Sharleen Mondal

By Lindsay Cameron

The availability of a gender studies minor was just one benefit of hiring full-time English professor Dr. Sharleen Mondal.

Mondal applied at AU because she specializes in post-colonial literature, gender studies and British literature-all of which were needed for the position. When researching AU, she said she identified with the “Accent on the Individual” motto, as it relates to her own teaching philosophies.

In addition to the minor, Mondal is in the proposal stage for her biographical manuscript.

This is Mondal’s first year at AU.

Q: Could you tell me about the minor you are establishing?

A: It will be interdisciplinary, which means that even though we’re starting it from within the English department, I’ll be collaborating with faculty across campus to create courses in a number of departments that students can take to fulfill the minor. And this is, in large part, because gender studies as a discipline is interdisciplinary.

Q: What goals have you set for yourself as a new professor?

A: I think, as a newcomer, sometimes it’s best to speak less and listen more, to get to know the culture of an institution, to be respectful of what it’s about and kind of learn before you go in with ideas blazing. So I’m excited to get to know more about what the students expect, especially from certain literature classes that have

traditionally been taught by other faculty-just to know what they’re expecting when they sign up for a class like that, what they want out of it-and try to tailor what I’m doing to what they want out of their education.

Q: Tell me more about your work on Ramabai.

A: She was a late 19th century Indian feminist. She was Hindu but she converted to Christianity. And her life is really unusual in the sense that she was highly educated, traveled widely. Her life goal was to start a home-a shelter-for high-caste Hindu widows, and also a school for girls. And this was to counteract some of the oppression of high-caste Hindu widows that was going on during the period. I got interested in Ramabai when I was working on my master’s essay in 2004. There is a book manuscript right now. I’m trying to figure out what press to send it to first. In particular, I’m interested in the Pentecostal Revival that happened in the early 20th century in 1905. At this home that Ramabia had set up, Indian women were speaking in tongues, writhing on the floor-all of these things involved with revival-and I’m reading those things that have been discounted by a lot of other scholars, trying to understand through the women’s reasons for why they were engaging in those experiences and what it meant politically, and not just religiously.

Q: Is this the focus of your book?

A: It is. It’s in conversation with other scholars in gender studies and South Asia studies that said, “Oh yeah, Ramabai was really important politically for the work that she did on the behalf of women, until she started this Pentecostal Revival stuff and then she kind of got crazy.” Obviously they didn’t put it like that, but that’s

kind of the trend. My argument is that the fact that the revival is something that: a) couldn’t be translated by British Imperialists-it had its own authority; and b) involved so much bodily desire on the part of these women, who had been stripped of their bodily desire by the society around them, was politically important.

Q: How has your AU experience been so far?

A: One of the things that I have been really delighted with is just the culture of the university, how welcoming faculty, not just from the English department, but the different departments have been, and I’ve also been struck by just how kind the students are. I think moving from a new place (I moved all the way from Seattle), you’re always nervous, even if you’ve done this for a while. I’ve felt nothing but complete support for my research and my teaching, so I feel very, very fortunate to be here.