Signe Cohen
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
107 Swallow Hall

Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania


My main research interests are Hinduism and South Asian Buddhism. Trained as a Sanskritist, I enjoy working with original Hindu and Buddhist texts, both in Sanskrit and in other ancient Asian languages, such as Pali, Prakrits, Tibetan, and Tocharian.

In my work on the Upanishads, I have tried to establish a relative chronology for these ancient Sanskrit texts, and I have identified later interpolations within each text. I then use this text-critical analysis as a basis for discussing the historical development of important Hindu concepts present in these texts.

I am also deeply fascinated with ancient tales about robots and mechanical beings, and I am particularly interested in how Hindu and Buddhist robot stories express fundamental beliefs about soul and soullessness. My work is situated at the intersection of the larger debate surrounding self, personhood, and humanity in Hinduism and Buddhism and the emerging field of bioethics in South Asian religions. In contrast to the rich scholarly literature on the philosophical and ethical issues surrounding androids and cyborgs, real and imagined, in Western literature, there is very little written to date about comparable robot tales from Asia. In my current book project, Romancing the Robots: Reflections on Self and Soul in Ancient Indian Literature, I attempt to demonstrate that the ideas expressed in ancient Asian texts are still highly relevant to modern ethical debates.


REL 1820: Asian Humanities

REL 2005: Topics: Gods, Dwarves, and Dragons: Introduction to Norse Mythology

REL 2110: Major World Religions

REL 2240: Harry Potter, Magic and Religion

REL 2700: Islam

REL 3005: Topics: Christianity in India

REL 3005: Topics: Tibetan Buddhism

REL 3200: Hinduism

REL 3240: Buddhism of South and Southeast Asia

REL 4630/7630: Sanskrit I

REL 4640/7640: Sanskrit II

REL 4960: Directed Readings in Religion: Introduction to Pali

REL 4960 Readings: Sanskrit III

REL 7990: Topics: Introduction to Old Norse

REL 8210 Texts: Indian Buddhism

REL 8200: Religious Texts and Interpretations: The Veda

Select Publications

The Upanishads: A Complete Guide, ed. by Signe Cohen. Routledge 2018. (Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2018)

"The Two Alchemists in Harry Potter: Voldemort, Harry, and Their Quests for Immortality" Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 30 (2018): 206-218. 

"A Postmodern Wizard: The Religious Bricolage of the Harry Potter Series" Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 2016.

Text and Authority in the Older Upanishads. Brill 2008. 

"Was the Indus Civilization Matrilineal?", Acta Orientalia 67 (2007): 189-202.

Ramayana. Oslo: De norske bokklubbene 2006. (Norwegian verse translation of portions of the Sanskrit epic)

"The Indus 'Seal of Divine Adoration' and the Khasi Myth of Origins" Acta Orientalia 66 (2005): 7-13.

"Romancing the Robot and Other Tales of Mechanical Beings in Indian Literature" Acta Orientalia, 64 (2003): 65-75.

"Ewigkeit im zyklischen Weltbild" in O. Reinke (ed.): Ewigkeit—was ist damit gemeint? Beiträge aus Natur- und Geisteswissenschaften, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2003.

"The Svetasvatara Upanishad Reconsidered" Acta Orientalia 59 (1998) 150-178.

Vediske skrifter. Oslo: De Norske Bokklubbene 2002. (In Norwegian. Introduction to Vedic religion and translations of select Vedic texts).

"On the Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit/Middle Indic Endig '-e' as a 'Magadhism'" Acta Orientalia Vol. 63 (2002).

"The Svetasvatara Upanishad Reconsidered" Acta Orientalia 59 (1998) 150-178.