Faculty & Staff Directory
Title: Associate Professor
Department: Asian Studies
Areas of Expertise
Islam in South Asia; literature and history of Bengal and Bangladesh; Sufism; Islamic art; translation studies, Middle Bangla Codicology
PhD with distinction, University of Pennsylvania, 2011
Masters in South Asia Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 2004.
Masters in Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India, 1992.
Bachelor of Arts in Sanskrit, with honors, Elphinstone College, University of Mumbai, Mumbai, India, 1990.
Professional Publications & Contributions
Ayesha Irani is a scholar of Islam in South Asia, with a particular interest in the early modern Islamic Bangla literature of Bengal and Arakan.
Her first monograph, The Muhammad Avatāra: Salvation History, Translation, and the Making of Bengali Islam, examines the role of vernacular translation in the Islamization of Bengal, through a close reading of the seventeenth-century Nabīvaṃśa (“The Prophet’s Lineage”), the first major work to translate Islamic doctrine for Bengalis into their mother-tongue. Her next major research project involves recovering the many faces of the Bengali fakir, as portrayed in their own writings and as viewed by multiple early modern and colonial actors. She is also simultaneously working on another project that examines Prabhāta Saṃgīta, the 5019 songs composed by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (1921–1990), an extraordinary spiritual master from West Bengal.
Ayesha Irani received her PhD in South Asia Studies (with distinction) from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011. In 2012–13, she was a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Canada. From 2013–15, she was Assistant Professor of Historical Studies at the University of Toronto, before joining UMass Boston. She has received a number of fellowships, honors, and awards. As a doctoral student, she received the Charlotte W. Newcombe and Briton Martin Dissertation Fellowships, as well as FLAS and Penn awards. Her dissertation was a finalist for the International Convention of Asia Scholars Best PhD in the Humanities Prize in 2013. In 2013-15 she was part of an international team working to preserve manuscripts of the Rāmamālā Library, Comilla, Bangladesh, funded by the Endangered Archives Programme of the British Library. At the University of Toronto, she received the Connaught New Researcher Award in 2014, and the Endowed Faculty Career Development Award at UMass Boston in 2016–17. In 2018-19, she was a recipient of an American Institute of Indian Studies Senior Short-Term Fellowship. In 2021–22, she held the Patricia Crone Membership in Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. From 2019–2021, she served as a Steering Committee Member on Religion in South Asia (RISA), now known as South Asian Religions (SARI) of the American Academy of Religions. She serves as a member of the South Asia Council, Association for Asian Studies, 2021–2023, and serves as UMB’s representative and member of the Board of Trustees of the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies since 2018.