I was trained at the University of Milan in Philosophy, Cultural Anthropology and Indian Studies. Up to now my work has explored the production and transformation of sacred places and spatial practices of Hinduism in urban contexts of North India by drawing principally on the anthropology of space and on critical approaches to cultural heritage. In October 2017 I joined UiO as part of the Indian Cosmopolitan Alternatives project and my current research focuses on the multiply shared and contested area around the Kashi Vishvanath temple and Gyan Vapi mosque in Banaras, and particularly the dynamics and impacts of securitisation there.
Some of my other research interests are the representation of space in indigenous visual production (pictorial maps, literary cartography and illuminated manuscripts), the evolution of the concept of tirtha and of water places, oral history and bibliographic methods, as well as the nexus between experience and representation in ethnographic theories and practices.
I write in both English and Italian and my publications include a range of book chapters and articles, as well as a small book about literary representations of Banaras. I am now finalising my first monograph Divinità trasposte, pellegrinaggi sostitutivi e immaginazione geografica in India del nord (in Italian; English transl.: Transposed deities, substitute pilgrimages and geographic imagination in North India).
For my Ph.D. I investigated a crucial phenomenon of (not only) Hindu sacred geography, namely the spatial transposition of deities, and I explored the case of the transposed sites of the pan-Indian jyotirliṅgas in Banaras. The work developed through a multi-disciplinary methodology which comprised the analysis of textual sources (glorification literature) and visual material (pictorial maps and religious cartography), and ethnographic fieldwork in the contemporary shrines. The results of this project illustrate specific modes of sanctification of space and the contribution of locality to the transformation of ‘higher’ traditions.
From 2015 to 2017 I was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Milan, where I carried out research about the evolution of local urban pilgrimages in Banaras. In particular I focused on the history of, and transformations at, a crucial ritual arena for urban pilgrimage — the Vyas Pith of Jnanavapi, at the centre of the city.
In 2016 I spent a year at the South Asia Institute in Heidelberg as a DAAD visiting scholar. My collaboration with the Cluster of Excellence Asia and Europe at the University of Heidelberg began then and continued later with the University of Würzburg on the development of a project aimed at the digital analysis of an 18th century Pilgrimage Scroll from Mewar, displayed in the National Museum in Delhi.
Collaboration with the University of Würzburg and Heidelberg: A Pilgrimage Scroll (tirthapatta) from Rajasthan: Visual Journeys and Confluences of Devotion at the three Cities of Gayā, Kāśī and Prayāg
Grants and appointments
2015-2017 Post-doctoral fellowship from the University of Milan — Project title: Evolution and transformation of local urban pilgrimages in Varanasi.
2015-2016 DAAD visiting scholarship spent at the South Asia Institute, Heidelberg — Project title: The production of heritage and its boundaries. Rethinking space and practices in a controversial religious compound: perspectives from Jnanavapi in Banaras.
2013-2015 Teaching contract at the University of Milan — Course taught: Paths in Indian sacred geography: places and traditions.
2010-2013 Ph.D. scholarship from the University of Turin — Project title: When the copy darkens the model. Studies on spatial transposition and Banaras: the case of jyotirlingas.
2009-2010 Fieldwork research scholarship from the Cariplo Foundation and the University of Milan — Project title: History and mythological transmission in the temple of Gauri Kedareshvar.
Lazzaretti, V. (2016), Varanasi. Le città letterarie, Unicopli, Milano, ISBN:978-88-400-1914-7.
Chapters and scientific articles:
Lazzaretti, V. (in press), ‘Jnanavapi tra etnografia e storia: note di una ricerca su un pozzo sacro al centro dei pellegrinaggi locali di Varanasi’, in Anantaratnaprabhava. Studi in onore di Giuliano Boccali, Vol. II (India tra religione e storia), in Consonanze, Università degli Studi di Milano.
Lazzaretti, V. (2017), ‘Waterscapes in transition: past and present reshape of sacred water places in Banaras’, in Baghel R., Hill J. and Stepan L. eds., Water, Knowledge and the Environment in Asia: Epistemologies, practices and locales, Routledge, New Delhi/New York/London, pp. 230-245, ISBN: 9781138685550, eISBN: 9781315543161.
Lazzaretti, V. (2016), ‘Questioning meaningful layers of locality in a pan-Indian tirtha’, in Bignami, C. and Debicka-Borek, Cosmopolitanism and regionalism in Indian cultural dynamics, in Cracow Indological Studies, vol. XVIII, pp. 119-144, ISSN: 1732-0917, eISSN: 2449-8696.
Lazzaretti, V. (2015), ‘Tradition versus urban public bureaucracy? Reshaping pilgrimage routes and religious heritage around contested places’, in Narayanan Y. ed., Religion and Urbanism: Reconceptualising 'Sustainable Cities' for South Asia, Routledge, New Delhi/New York/London, ISBN: 9780415745208, eISBN:9781315798066.
Lazzaretti, V. (2013), ‘Banaras jyotirlingas: constitution and transformations of a transposed divine group and its pilgrimage’, in Kervan, International Journal of Afro-Asian Studies, edited by the University of Turin and Enna, N. 17, pp.1-20, DOI: 10.13135/1825-263X/722, ISSN: 1825-263X.
Lazzaretti, V. (2013), ‘Considerazioni antropologiche sulla trasposizione spaziale: voci e strategie di Kedar ji, un jyotirlinga di Varanasi’, in Angelillo M., ed., Lo spazio dell’India. Luoghi, collocazioni, orientamenti e trasposizioni. Supplemento monografico di Quaderni Asiatici, n. 104 (December 2013), pp. 99-138, ISBN: 8890694955.
Lazzaretti, V. (2013), ‘Constructing the eternal city of light through history and society: evolution of the image of Kashi in the Eighteenth-Twentieth century picture maps’, in Cracow Indological Studies, vol. 14, Part One, pp. 35-60, ISSN: 1732-0917, eISSN: 2449-8696.
Lazzaretti, V. (2013), ‘Repetition and adaptation: narrative style of the Kashikedaramahatmya’, in Boccali G. and Mucciarelli E., eds., Stylistic devices in Indian literature and art (Gargnano 16-18 September 2010), Quaderni di Acme, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano, pp. 35-60, ISBN: 9788820510565.
Lazzaretti, V. (2012), ‘Review of Michael S. Dodson, (ed.), Banaras. Urban Forms and Cultural Histories, Routledge, New Delhi and Abingdon, 2012, pp. 251, 50 plates, ISBN: 978-0-415-69377-6’, in Kervan, International Journal of Afro-Asian Studies, edited by the University of Turin and Enna, N. 16, pp. 78-83.
Lazzaretti, V. (2010), ‘Transposed sacred places in Varanasi: connecting local sites to pan-Indian places of pilgrimage’, in Picard D. and Amaral C., eds., Proceedings of the TOCOCU 1st Biannual Conference (Lisbon, Portugal, 9-12 September 2010). Sheffield, UK: TOCOCU (ON CD ROM).