Prof. Joseph S. Alter

Joseph S. Alter is the Director of the Asian Studies Center and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh.  He is also the editor of The Journal of Asian Studies (2021 – 2025).  His research is on environmental health, the globalization of Asian medical knowledge and the cultural history of yoga’s development within the institutionalized structure of Nature Cure in contemporary India.  Having published on yoga in relation to sexuality, athleticism and ayurvedic medicine, he is currently studying the way in which yoga and Nature Cure establish an “ecology of the body” within the rubric of Public Health.  His recent publications include, Yoga in Modern India (Princeton, 2004), Moral Materialism (Penguin 2011), Capturing the Ineffable (Toronto 2020, with Dr. Philip Kao) and “Medicine, Alternative Medicine and Political Ecologies of the Body” in A Companion to Environmental Health: Anthropological Perspectives (Merrill Singer, editor. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, pp 121-142, 2016).  Two 2020 publications focus on yoga and nature cure specifically: “From Lebensreform to Swadeshi:  Adolf Just, Vithal Das Modi and the Development of German Nature Cure in India.” (Asian Medicine, Lisa Brooks, Victoria Sheldon, and Shireen Hamza, guest editors; DOI) and “Pahalwan Baba Ramdev: Wrestling with Yoga and Middle-Class Masculinity in India” Modern Asian Studies (First View).

Prof. Alter’s teaching is focused on experiential education.  He is the academic director for Pitt in the Himalayas, a study abroad program based at the Hanifl Center for Outdoor Education in Mussoorie, UK, India.  For the program he has developed a number of courses including Religion and Ecology, Himalayan Biodiversity and Mountains and Medicine.

See also his profiles at and


Books and Edited Volumes:

Moral Materialism: Sex and Masculinity in Modern India. Penguin: New Delhi, 2011.

Asian Medicine and Globalization. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

Yoga in Modern India: The Body Between Philosophy and Science. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Gandhi’s Body: Sex, Diet and the Politics of Nationalism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2000.

Selected and Recent Publications:

‘Yoga in Asia – Mimetic History: Problems in the Location of Secret Knowledge.’ Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. 2009. 29(2):213-229.

“Yoga Sivir: Performativity and the Study of Modern Yoga.” Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary, Transnational Perspectives. 2008. Mark Singleton, ed. London: Routledge.

“Ayurveda and Sexuality: Sex, Sex Therapy, and the ‘Paradox of Virility’” In Modern and Global Ayurveda: Pluralism and Paradigms. 2008. Pp. 177-201. Dagmar Wujastyk and Frederick Smith, editors. Albany: SUNY Press.

“Yoga and Physical Education: Swami Kuvalayananda’s Nationalist Project.” Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity 2007 3: 20 – 36.×207191

“Physical Education, Sport and the Intersection and Articulation of ‘Modernities’: Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal.” The International Journal of the History of Sport 2007 24(9): 1155-1170.

“Yoga and Fetishism: Reflections on Marxist Social Theory.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 2007 12: 763-783.

“Yoga at the Fin de Siècle: Muscular Christianity with a “Hindu” Twist.” International Journal of the History of Sport, 2006 23(5): 759-776.

“Indian Clubs and Colonialism: Hindu Masculinity and Muscular Christianity” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 2004 46 (3): 497-534.

“Body, Text, Nation: Writing the Fit Body in Post Colonial India” in Satadru Sen, editor. Confronting the Body: Essays on Physicality in Colonial and Postcolonial India, pp. 16-38. London and New York: Anthem. 2004.