Berkeley English Faculty

Poulomi Saha

Poulomi Saha

Associate Professor

Wheeler Hall, room 455
By appointment

Professional Statement

My research and teaching agenda spans eastward and forward from the late 19th century decline of British colonial rule in the Indian Ocean through to the Pacific and the rise of American global power and domestic race relations in the 20th century. Engaging postcolonial studies, ethnic American literature, and gender and sexuality theory, I hope to map an expansive view of empire and of what constitutes Anglophone literature routed not primarily through Great Britain and Western Europe but rather through circuits of affiliation and encounter between Asia and the Americas.

My first book, An Empire of Touch: Women's Political Labor & The Fabrication of East Bengal (Columbia University Press, 2019) was awarded the Harry Levin Prize for outstanding first book by the American Comparative Literature Association in 2020 and the Helen Tartar First Book Subvention Prize (2017).  A South Asia imprint by Penguin Random House (2019) is available here.

It turns attention to East Bengal, the historical antecedent of Bangladesh, today an international exemplar of development driven by gender-targeted foreign aid. An Empire of Touch recounts a new narrative of female political labor under empire, spanning from anticolonial nationalism to neoliberal globalization, through text and textile. It follows the historical traces of how women have claimed their labor, making what has been customarily seen as “merely” intimate and domestic into appreciable political acts.

I am currently at work on two new projects: one, which looks at conspiracy as a legal, philosophical, and political concept to understand the rise of the surveillance of racial and sexual subjects in WWI America; and the second, which is interested in "Hindu" cults in the popular American imagination. 

I earned my BA in International Relations and English from Mount Holyoke College and my PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania. 


An Empire of Touch
An Empire of Touch

In today’s world of unequal globalization, Bangladesh has drawn international attention for the spate of factory disasters that have taken the lives of numerous garment workers, mostly young women. The contemporary garment industry—and the labor orga....(read more)

Selected Publications and Papers Delivered


“Terrorist Still-Life.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. (21.6: 2019)

"Introduction: Extrajudicial Violence in the New Age of Empire." Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. (21.6: 2019)

Editor, "Extrajudicial Violence in the New Age of Empire," Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies. (21.6: 2019)

“Conspiracy Rises Again: Racial Sympathy and Radical Solidarity Across Empires.” qui parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences. (December 2019)

“Women on Fire: Sati, Consent, and the Revolutionary Subject.” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. (24.3: Summer 2013) 63-100. 

“Unwatched/Unmanned: Drone Strikes & The Aesthetics of the Unseen.” in Unwatchable. Ed. Nicholas Baer, Maggie Hennefeld, Laura Horak, and Gunnar Iversen. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2018)



“On Not Being Born: Experiments in Contraception in the Era of Demopower.” (Signs: Journal of Women & Culture, Winter 2021)

“Queering the Womb: Surrogacy and the Economics of Reproductive Feeling.” (Queer Kinship: Erotic Affinities and the Politics of Belonging, ed. Elizabeth Freeman and Tyler Bradway, Duke University Press)


Current Research

My current book project, Fascination: America's Hindu Cults considers the allure and scandal of so-called “Hindu cults” in America. This book upends the geography of encounter between the United States and India by tracing the transmission and elaboration of figures, ideas, and social forms seemingly imported from India, but in fact homegrown. In America, Hindu cults have long enthralled the public imagination and fundamentally shaped its racial and spiritual self-conception.

Working across material that ranges from correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to the docuseries Wild, Wild Country (2018), Fascination tracks what the oft-pathologized and occasionally criminalized genealogy of particularly Indian spirituality might tell us about changing American concepts of the individual, kinship and family, sexuality, and law. It considers both threats posed by charismatic figures who invite followers to join intentional communities and the language of cultic deprogramming—returning one to oneself—to understand the psychosocial and political work of the category of the individual. Fundamentally, this project engages a central problem of humanistic inquiry: how to think critically about a concept and a set of historical figurations that demand either total self-abnegation or unwavering doubt. That is, how do we take seriously the experiential reality—affective, sensorial, social—expressed by adherents of being moved, of being cured, of being radically seen and loved, without diagnosing misrecognition, deception, or illusion? Or, without ourselves becoming enthralled? This is a matter of reading—distant and close.

Recent English Courses Taught
fall, 2020


Literature of American Cultures: American Hustle: Race, Ethnicity, and Dreams of Getting Ahead


Studies in World Literature in English: Multi-Culty: Cults, Pop Culture, and Globalization

spring, 2020


Freshman Seminar: Cults in Popular Culture


Children's Literature: The Bad Seed: Monstrosity, Horror, and the Inhuman in Children’s Literature


Literature of American Cultures: American Hustle

135AC/101 -- discussion section

Furcall, Dylan

135AC/102 -- discussion section

Furcall, Dylan

fall, 2019


Literature of American Cultures: Growing Up Funny


Special Topics: Getting Global: Literature & Film of an Expanding & Unequal World

summer, 2019


Literature of American Cultures: American Hustle—Immigration, Ethnicity, and the American Dream

spring, 2018


Studies in World Literature in English: Orphans, Feral Children, Runaways—Strange Childhood in World Literature


Literature and Philosophy: Surveillance, Paranoia, and State Power