Dr. Sanmugeswaran Pathmanesan

Senior Lecturer Grade (I)

B.A (Hons, Jaffna)
M.A (Madras)
M.A (Kentucky, USA)
Certificate in Applied Anthropology (Rome, Italy)
Graduate Certificate in Social Theory (Kentucky, USA)
PhD (Kentucky, USA)

Social Studies
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

CRC, 2rd floor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences building, Room No : 17

Office: 112881082, Ext: 2400 Mobile: NULL

E-mail: spath@ou.ac.lk ; hdssd@ou.ac.lk


I was born in Inuvil, Jaffna and brought up in Colombo with my family until the riots of July, 1983. After our home was destroyed, we moved permanently to Jaffna where I lived, throughout the civil war and its constant displacements, until I graduated from the University of Jaffna in 2002. During the ceasefire in 2003, I left Jaffna to pursue postgraduate studies in anthropology at the University of Madras. I returned to Sri Lanka in 2005 as an assistant lecturer (2005-2007) at the University of Peradeniya. I oscillated between Colombo, Kandy, and Jaffna, along with a number of international sojourns, until permanently coming to rest in Colombo in 2009 after accepting a faculty position at the Open University of Sri Lanka. In 2016, I returned to Jaffna to do ethnographic research for my Ph.D. dissertation in Anthropology at University of Kentucky, USA, where I spent more than five years, from 2014 to 2020. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I returned to Sri Lanka in June 2020 and resumed duties at the Open University of Sri Lanka. There I currently teach and do research full time, and coordinate MPhil and Ph.D. programs, in the Social Studies Department. My work has been inspired by teachers who balanced interpretive and political economic approaches to anthropology, and by collective conversations at the intersections of cultural geography, phenomenological anthropology, and political economy.


Although my undergraduate training was in Sociology, my research interests soon switched to anthropology. Even my BA dissertation research was related to anthropology in that I wrote my thesis on “Kinship System and Its Changes in Jaffna Society: A Social Anthropological Study based on Inuvil Village”. However, Sri Lankan sociology is not “pure sociology,” because it cannot be disentangled from anthropology and thus both are well interwoven and intersected in teaching and research. My research passion for anthropology sprang directly from my life in Jaffna. While in Jaffna, I was always happy to listen to my grandmother when she told me  village folk tales and religious myths. I was so drawn to these stories that they made me explore more of village and temple life. She also took me for village walks in the evenings during which we would meet many relatives and village people. She took me to the Ganesh temple in Inuvil every Friday evening where I saw middle aged and elderly women coming to light oil lamps for the deities. Later, I heard that the reason for this practice was to pray for prosperity and healthy births. In particular, though, I am in debt to my grandmother for taking me to so many Hindu temples in Jaffna whenever she could. Her wonderful teaching paved the way for me to learn the many ‘sacred-geographies’ of the Jaffna peninsula. Thus, I was socialized by a form of religious life during my childhood and after. Later, I found that my grandmother’s philosophical sense of how to analyze human, non-human, and non-living objects provided a very useful grounding for understanding the “ontological paradigm” in anthropology; a remarkable turning point in anthropology that has revised my anthropological understanding of the world. In this regard, I was also inspired by Geertz’s interpretive anthropology and by the application of Wittgenstein’s philosophy to anthropology, something I learned throughout my Ph.D. training from Professor. Mark P. Whitaker, my dissertation advisor.

As a cultural anthropologist, I always focus on the intersections of caste, ethnicity, religion, consciousness, nationalism, place, and global communication technologies among the Tamils of Northern Sri Lanka. My ethnographic fieldwork has been primarily in Sri Lanka, India and Rome. In India, for example, I obtained ethnographic research experience among the Badagas, Malayalis and Kotas “tribal” people of South India while studying for my MA degree. For my MA dissertation research, I looked at how kinship and social organization worked among the Kotas of the Nilgiri District of Tamil Nadu. Earlier, I was trained in Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music for 12 years in Jaffna, and gained both theoretical and practical knowledge of those performing arts. Later, while I had to limit my practice of the performing arts as such, I turned to the field of ethnomusicology (the anthropology of music) to continue my association with them. Hence, while pursuing my MA in anthropology at the University of Madras, I also studied ethnomusicology with the Late Professor S.A. K. Durga, who urged me to further explore Tamil musicology and dance. As a result, I also eventually conducted an ethnomusicological study of Periya Melam musicians in Jaffna.

For my Ph.D. dissertation research, I conducted long-term ethnographic research in two different war-affected villages in the Jaffna Peninsula of Sri Lanka. To engage in this study of post-war village community reconstruction, I received a Doctoral Research Grant from the National Science Foundation, USA. As someone who lived through the war in the region and has returned as an ethnographer, I looked at how post-war Tamil villages can be recognized as having a heterogenous reality made and remade through the multiple activities and narratives of the villagers themselves. I focused on how their memory of or nostalgia for their Tamil ūr (village) consciousness as it existed in the recent pre-war past, was being used in the present for the reconstruction of communities affected or destroyed by the war. The resulting ethnography of the role of ‘place-making’ in community rebuilding in Jaffna illuminated the more general issue of how communities anywhere after war must reconstitute themselves not just as physical locations but also as places in which people can once again truly feel at home.

While pursuing my Ph.D. studies, I also conducted research on “Contemporary New Religious Movements” with Dr. Mark P. Whitaker or, as we said in a 2015 conference paper, on “New Religious Sites, New Gods, and Choices among the Post-war Tamils in Sri Lanka”. I also administered an international workshop on Innovative Religiosity in Post-war Sri Lanka, funded by National Science Foundations (USA) and Wenner-Gren foundation from grants obtained by my PhD advisor, Mark P. Whitaker. This workshop took place at the Open University of Sri Lanka. Again with Mark P. Whitaker, in 2017, I conducted joint research on Innovative Religiosity in Post-war Sri Lanka. In 2018 I conducted additional research at multi-religious sites through-out Sri Lanka with Mark P. Whitaker and Dr. Darini Rajasingham Senanayake. Subsequently, the three of us edited the papers presented at the 2017 Open University workshop with an eye toward publishing them in an edited volume. After further revisions in light of our discussions then and since, these papers now form chapters of a hybrid volume focusing on every day, innovative, interactive, and multiple religiosity among Sri Lankan Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and devotees of Contemporary New Religious Movements. This edited volume, Multi-religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka: Innovation, Shared Spaces, Contestation, is due out from Routledge this year.


Areas of Specialization:

Anthropology of Religion, Anthropology of Place and Memory, Anthropology of Consciousness, History of Anthropological Theory, Ontology, and Phenomenological Anthropology

Research interests:

South Asian Caste System, Class, and Identity

Hindu Temple Disputes, Temple Ideology, Sacred Landscape

Anthropology of Consciousness, Memory, Place, and Space

Migration, Diaspora, Transnationalism, and Globalization

Anthropology of Religion, Multi-Religiosity, and Cotemporary New Religious Movements

Displacement, Poverty, and Livelihood

Ethnomusicology, Bharatanatyam, Carnatic Music, and Tamil Music Drama

Sri Lanka, India, and South Asia


2017-2020         Central States Anthropological Society Section, AAA

2017- 2020        Society for Linguistic Anthropology Section, AAA

2016-2020        Association for Asian Studies

2015-present     Lambda Alpha National Honor Collegiate Honors Society for Anthropology

2015-2020         Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness Section, AAA

2015-2020        American Anthropological Association

2015-present     Kentucky Academy of Science

2015-present    American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies

2014- 2020      Anthropology Graduate Students Association University of Kentucky

2013-present     International Exchange Alumni, International Visitor Leadership Program  & Alumni of the United States Department of States

2011-present     Colombo Tamil Sangam (Tamil Association) (Life member)

2010-present     Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka (Life member)

2009-2010         Society for International Development

Programme Coordination:

MPhil/Ph.D. Coordinator (2020-Pres)

Academic Coordinator for Level IV of the BA Degree in Social Sciences (2010-2014)

Academic Coordinator for Level V of the BA Degree in Social Sciences (2009-2010)


Course Coordination:

Course Coordinator: DSU3551 Understanding Society and Culture

DSU5661 Social Science Research Methods


2018    Cultural Anthropology Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant, National Science Foundation, USA.

2018    Dean’s Competitive Graduate Fellowship for the Spring 2018 semester, University of Kentucky, USA.

2017   SEMPRE (Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research) Travel Award Faculty of Music and Science, University of Cambridge

2017   Margaret Lantis Award for Excellence in Original Research by a Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky.

2016   Lambda Alpha Graduate Research Grant Award, Department of Anthropology, Ball State University, USA.

2016    SEMPRE (Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research) Travel Award Faculty of Music and Science, University of Cambridge

2016    Teaching Assistantship, Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, USA.

2016    Susan Abbott-Jamieson Pre-Dissertation Research Fund Award, Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, USA.

2015   Student Research Award at the Graduate Research Competition, Kentucky Academy of Science 101st Annual Meeting, Northern Kentucky University, USA.

2015    Teaching Assistantship, Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, USA.

2014    Travel Award from the Center for South Asia, Stanford University, California, USA.

2014    Teaching Assistantship, Department of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, USA.

2013    Honorary Citizen of the City of Pensacola, City of Pensacola, Florida, USA.



Sanmugeswaran, P. (2019) Camūkaviyal Kōṭpāṭṭiyal Mūlaṅkaḷ [Elements of Sociological TheorieColombo: Chemamadu Publishers. (Published in Tamil)

Sanmugeswaran, P. (2019) Camūka Uḷaviyal [Social Psychology], Colombo: Chemamadu Publishers.      (Published in Tamil)

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles (Selected Publications) 

Mark P. Whitaker and Sanmugeswaran, P. 2021. Searching for Cakti (Shakti): New choices in post-war Tamil Sri Lanka. In Multi religiosity in Contemporary Sri Lanka: Innovation, Shared Spaces, and Contestation, eds. Mark P. Whitaker, Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake and Pathmanesan Sanmugeswaran. Oxford: Routledge (Taylor and Francis Group  Publishers)

Sanmugeswaran, P. (2020) Maximizing the Potential of Multidisciplinary Social Sciences in Empowering People through ODL Methodologies. VISTAS- Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, The Open University of Sri Lanka, Volume-13 (2): 47-67.

Sanmugeswaran, P. (2020) A Review of Postcolonial Scholarship: Conducting Research on Culture and Society, Prathimana: Journal of the Department of Sociology, University of Ruhuna, Volume-12: pp.146-184.

Sanmugeswaran, P., Krishantha, F., and Justin, H. (2019) Reclaiming Ravana in Sri Lanka: Ravana’s Sinhala Buddhist Apotheosis and Tamil Responses, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Volume: 42, Issue: 4, pp. 796-812.

Sanmugeswaran, P. (2016). The Role of Communication Strategy in Tribal Development Research: The Case of Malayali Tribal Community in Tamil Nadu, South India, VISTAS- Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Open University of Sri Lanka, Volume-10, December 2016, ISSN 1391-7943

Sanmugeswaran, P. (2016). Cosmopolitanism, Migration, and Transnationalism: An Interview with Nina Glick Schiller (Co-author with Lauren Copeland and Agata Grzelczak), disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory, University of Kentucky, Vol-25, May 2016, Article-17, pp.181-192

Sanmugeswaran, P.(2012).Thavil Master of V.Thadchinãmurthy: An Ethnomusicological Analysis of the Contribution of a Tamil Musician, Under Construction: Trans- and Interdisciplinary  Routes in Music Research, Wewers, Julia and Seifert, Uwe (Ed) epOs-Music, Studies in Cognitive Musicology, Vol-1, pp. 159-176, Universitat Osnabrück 2012, ISBN 978-3-940255-32-7

Sanmugeswaran, P.(2012). Sri Lankan Immigrants in the City of Rome: A Sociological Study on Migration and Livelihood Nexus, The International Journal’s Research Journal of Social Science and Management, Singapore, Volume-1, Number-12, April 2012, pp 32-39 Old ISSN- 2010-257X, New ISSN-2251-1571, Available at http://www.theinternationaljournal.org/

Sanmugeswaran, P. (2010). A Social Anthropological Analysis of a Temple-Centered Community: Jaffna in Northern Sri Lanka”, a volume of the Annual Research Conference, the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, 2010, ISBN: 978-955- 0585-01-04.

Sanmugeswaran, P.. (2010). Migration as a Livelihood Option of the Poor: A Study of the Sri Lankan Immigrants in the City of Rome, Immigrants in Rome:  Case Studies of selected Immigrant communities and Issues prepared by graduates of the 2nd   International Course on Applied Anthropology in Development Processes, Paolo Palmeri (ed), published by Nuova Cultura, Roma, 2010, ISBN: 9788861344402.

Sanmugeswaran, P. (2009) Ethnic Conflict, Displacement, and Poverty in Sri Lanka: A Sociological Investigation VISTAS- Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, The Open University of Sri Lanka, Volume-5, December 2009, ISSN 1391-7943

Ongoing Research:

Multireligious Sites in Post-war Sri Lanka

Innovative Religiosity in Post-War Sri Lanka


Research Supervisions:

Supervising three MA (Development and Public Policy) dissertations as follows:

“Women Empowerment and Challenges through the Micro Credit in Eravurpattu Divisional Secretary’s Division in Batticaloa District, Sri Lanka” (2020-2021- in progress)

“Decline of Students’ Performances in Secondary Education: A Sociological Case Study of Ho/Seethawaka National School in Sri Lanka” (2020-2021- submitted)

“Social Cohesion and Peace Building through the implementation of the Official Languages Policy: A Sociological Study of Selected Divisional Secretariats in North Central Province of Sri Lanka” (in progress)

Supervising (co-supervisor) one MSC (Environmental Science, Faculty of Engineering) dissertation on

““Challenges and Problems in Water Conservation and Management Practices: A Social Ecological Study of The Sinnaparanthan Tank In Vavuniya North, Sri Lanka’’


Pathmanesan, S. (2014). Social Exclusion, Manudam-06, Sociological Society. Jaffna: University of Jaffna (in Tamil)

Pathmanesan, S. (2013) Tamil Diaspora and Rural Development: A Sociological perspective on the Rasiah and Rasama Information Technology Center, Rasiah and Rasama Information Technology Center Building Opening Ceremony Special Issue, August 24. Jaffna: Inuvil Public Library

Pathmanesan, S. (2011) Marriage in the East and Life in the West:  A Social Anthropological Perspective Chenkathir (a Tamil journal), Batticaloa, Issue: 47, November

Pathmanesan, S. (2010) Jaffna Temple Society:  An Introduction and Social Anthropological Discours Chenkathir (a Tamil journal), Batticaloa, Issue: 34, October.

Pathmanesan, S. (2010) The event of VŽ?lveduthal in Tamil Marriage: A Social Anthropological Discourse Chenkathir (a Tamil journal), Batticaloa, Issue: 31, July.

Pathmanesan, S. (2010) Cultural Interpretation of Water: A Social Anthropological Perspective. Chenkathir (a Tamil journal), Batticaloa, Issue: 29, May.

Pathmanesan, S. (2009) An Introduction of New Glossary Terms in Tamil Marriage System: A Social Anthropological Perspective, Chenkathir (a Tamil journal), Batticaloa, Issue: 24, December.

Pathmanesan, S. (2009) An Introduction to Self-Selection System in Tamil Marriage: A Social Anthropological Perspective, Chenkathir (a Tamil journal), Batticaloa, Issue: 18 June.

Pathmanesan, S. (2009) Inuvil Sri Pararajasekara Pillaiyar Temple: A Social Anthropological Perspective Jaffna: Inuvi Sri Pararajasekar Pillaiyar Temple Thiruneriya Tamil Maraikazham.

Pathmanesan, S. (2009) Exiting Thaipongal Festival for a survival of Tamil Culture, in Sunday Thinakkurl Newspaper Dated, 11.01.2009, Colombo: Thinakkural Pvt.Ltd.

Pathmanesan, S. (2006). An Introduction to Sociology of Islam, Muslim Majilis Journal. Kandy: University of Peradeniya (in Tamil).

Pathmanesan, S. (2006) Tree worship: An anthropological perspective, Hindu Dharmam, Hindu Students’ Union. Kamdy: The University of Peradeniya (in Tamil)

Pathmanesan, S. (2006). An Introduction to Sociology of Violence, Ilankathir-37, Tamil society. Kandy: The University of Peradeniya. (in Tamil)

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