Berkeley English Faculty

Poulomi Saha

Poulomi Saha

Associate Professor; Affiliate of the Program in Critical Theory

Wheeler Hall, room 455

Professional Statement

I teach and write at the intersections of psychoanalytic critique, feminist and queer theory, postcolonial studies, and ethnic American literature. I am interested in shared histories of racialization, governance and regulation of gender/sexuality, and politics of resistance --  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 in the 20th century.

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.

I am currently at work on two new projects: Fascination: America's "Hindu" Cults,  considers the allure and scandal of so-called “Hindu cults” in America. From the Transcendentalists to the countercultural 1960s, spiritual practices and texts coded as Indic or Vedic have captivated an American imagination.  Fascination enquires into the figures, ideas, and social forms seemingly imported from India, but in fact homegrown, that so enthrall an America public and that continue to shape its racial and spiritual self-conception. Bengal to Berkeley 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. 

In addition to being affiliated faculty in the Program on Critical Theory and in the Departments of Gender and Women's Studies and South and Southeast Studies, I serve on the editorial boards of Representations and the Critical South book series.  

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

An Empire of Touch
An Empire of Touch

Winner of the 2020 Harry Levin Prize for Outstanding First Book from the American Comparative Literature Association   In today’s world of unequal globalization, Bangladesh has drawn international attention for the spate of factory disasters th....(read more)

Selected Publications and Papers Delivered

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

“Uncertainty as Ethics” Journal of American Studies. ( May 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. (2022).

 "Returning the Symptom to Critique: Reading Epidemiologically." Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Inquiry. (Winter 2021)

“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)

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.

English Department Classes
fall, 2022


Literature of American Cultures: The Wild, Wild West-- California and the Politics of Possibility


Literature and Philosophy: Cults in Popular Culture

spring, 2022


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

fall, 2021


Freshman Seminar: Cults in Popular Culture


The Seminar on Criticism: Freud and His Followers


Special Topics: Burn it Down/Build it Up: Protest, Dissent, and the Politics of Resistance

spring, 2021


Freshman Seminar: Cults in Popular Culture


Research Seminars: Freud and His Followers

summer, 2021


Special Topics in American Cultures: American Hustle: Immigration, Ethnicity, and the American Dream; Or, Capitalism Kills