Nilisha Vashist

Nilisha Vashist
PhD Student
Bsc (Hons), MSc, MPhil
UCL Division of Psychiatry
6th Floor, Wings A and B, Maple House,
149 Tottenham Court Road,
London W1T 7NF



I have been trained in social anthropological methods of research at University of Delhi, India with a specialisation in medical anthropology. My MPhil research focussed on faith healing of spirit-possession in a Hindu temple wherein I studied spirit-possession as understood by sufferers and their care-groups across sociological and mental health domains. Continuing my interests in the field of mental health, my current research aims to explore the role of marginality (caste-identities in the present case) in effecting psychological distress among University students in India. The research is designed to be an ethnographic study of a University campus (University of Pune), Maharashtra, India.

Apart from my academic interest in mental health, I have also briefly explored other research fields, major of which are gender and power relations (fieldwork in Himachal Pradesh), health seeking behaviour and medical pluralism in an urbanizing village of Delhi, revisiting anthropological studies (Rampura, studied by Oscar Lewis) and unorganized labour in global garment supply chains (in association with GoodWeave, India).


Research Interest(s):

  1. Medical anthropology, cultural psychiatry
  2. Mental health and Marginality
  3. Caste, Gender and Power relations
  4. Race, Ethnicity and Identity politics
  5. South-Asia (more specifically India)


Current research project:

  1. Casted minds in Higher Education in India: Caste Identities and their role in shaping Psychological Well-beingCaste continues to flash itself in every aspect of Indian society, despite an otherwise formed consensus of its diminishing importance, especially in urban India. Higher education, in this regard, has become the center stage of caste dynamics with fierce debates on ‘merit’ often serving as pivot to orient caste relations in pedagogy. Caste identities are consolidated, negotiated and contested through everyday interactions among students, faculty and staff, in turn, shaping the psyche of actors involved. This study tries to explore how such constructs affect psychological well-being of students situated both at higher and lower ends of hierarchy. The research tried to understand how caste forges identities among students, teachers and staff; the experience, contestation and resistance to caste based academic discourses by students, and the psychological impact of these discourses on students well-being.The overarching methodology is based on twelve month long ethnographic fieldwork in an Indian University involving data collection through participant observation, interviews, case studies and discourse analysis of everyday interactions and dynamics caste in the campus.


Journal Publications:

Vashist, N. and P.C. Joshi. (2015). Cleanliness: An Anthropological Perspective. “The Eastern Anthropologist”. Vol. 68 (1): 155-162.

Vashist, N. (2013). Gender, Power and Social Space in a Himachal Village, “Journal of Exclusion Studies”, Vol. 3 (1): 23-33.

Vashist, N. (2012). Economic Empowerment and Self Assertion among Women in an Urbanized Village of Delhi, “The Eastern Anthropologist”, Vol. 65 (1): 69- 80.


Workshop, Seminar and teaching:

  • January-May 2016 – Postgraduate Teaching Assistant (PGTA) on module “Culture and the clinic” – Module for MSc students lead by Dr. Sushrut Jadhav, UCL.
  • May 2015 – Workshop on ‘Ethnographic Research’. Organized by Department of Anthropology, Delhi University, Delhi (India).
  • February 2015. Anthropological perspectives on national mental health policy: Arguing for the case of religious healing. National Seminar on Anthropological Perspectives on Environment, Development, Public Policy and Health. University of Delhi (India).
  • January 2015. Out of Place with Hygiene: The symbolism of dirt, sanitation and social order in India. Seminar on Cleanliness: An Anthropological Perspective. Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi (India).

Conference Papers:

  • July 27-30, 2016 (upcoming). Caste in the campus: Discourses on caste-identities and links with psychological distress. Paper accepted for conference by European Association for South Asian Studies (EASAS), University of Warsaw (Poland)
  • July 15-17, 2015. Deconstructing ‘Spirit-Possession’ in Balaji Temple, Rajasthan: Symptomatic and Processual Dimensions vis-à-vis Psychiatric Diagnostic Categories. Inter congress of International Union of Anthropological and ethnological sciences (IUAES), Thammasat University (Thailand).
  • July 31- August 03, 2014. Categorising the Spirits at Balaji Temple: A Study Comparing the Vernacular and Psychiatric Nosology of Spirit-Possession in North India. European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA), University of Tallinn (Estonia).
  • July 23-26, 2014. Spirits and Mental Disorders: Negotiating and Contesting Evidence in Ritual Healing in a North-Indian Temple. European Association for South Asian Studies (EASAS), University of Zurich (Switzerland).
  • October 27- 31, 2012. Medical Pluralism and Ethno-Medical Practices in an Urbanised Village in Delhi. Society of Indian Medical Anthropologists (SIMA). Hassan, Karnataka (India).

Book Chapters:

Joshi, P. C. and N. Vashist. Chapter manuscript in preparation. Illness, Health and Culture: Anthropological Perspectives on Ethno-medicine in India in G. Misra (ed.) Psycho Social Interventions for Health and Well-being. Delhi: Springer.

Other works:

Vashist, N. Forthcoming. Encyclopedia articles, ‘Chiefdom’, ‘Case Study and Extended Case Study’, ‘Review of Literature’, ‘Sampling Methods’ and ‘Human Relation Area Files’. Kannada Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Articles accepted for publication.


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