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Profile: Yogic Studies Founder & JSIS Grad Seth Powell

September 10, 2020

Yogic Studies was founded by UW graduate Seth Powell in 2018 to provide continued educational services for the broader yoga community. Yogic Studies aims to bridge the gap between the yoga studio and the academy—seeking to make accessible the highest quality and most cutting-edge research on yoga for teachers and students. Seth is a longtime practitioner of yoga and a scholar of Indian religions, Sanskrit, and yoga traditions. He is currently a PhD Candidate in South Asian Religions at Harvard University. He recently spoke to our graduate assistant Shelby House about his time at the Jackson School, his research at Harvard, and the Yogic Studies project.


Could you tell me a little about your studies and experience at UW? 

I spent two years at UW (2012-14) completing the MA in Comparative Religion with a focus on Sanskrit and South Asian Religions. Looking back, my time at UW was a rich and formative experience for me. I received a fantastic foundation in South Asian and Religious Studies, Sanskrit and Hindi language training, and really was initiated into the culture and practice of academia. I was fortunate to have a fantastic team of faculty in professors Christian Novetzke, Heidi Pauwels, Richard Salomon, Collette Cox, Jim Wellman, and numerous others. There was also a real sense of community and friendship among my MA cohort in Comparative Religion and the broader Jackson School which was vital, especially in the early days of grad school.

Did your experience at the Jackson School have an impact on your current course of study at Harvard?

Absolutely. My two years at UW, plus a summer of Sanskrit at UW-Madison laid the foundation for a competitive PhD application and enabled me to enter the doctoral program in South Asian Religions at Harvard University. I came to Harvard prepared and inspired, with a focused dissertation project on the history and practice of medieval Yoga that has remained incredibly consistent since. In particular the high quality of Sanskrit language training that I began at UW really prepared me for the textual study that I have continued to carry out at Harvard and beyond.

Tell me more about Yogic Studies – how did you start the project, and how has it evolved over time?

In 2018, after I had finished all of my coursework, teaching requirements, general exams, and submitted a successful PhD prospectus at Harvard, my family and I relocated back to northern California. I initially launched Yogic Studies as a way to support my family financially while working on the dissertation, and to begin to bridge the academic and practitioner communities of yoga. The past decade has witnessed a huge surge in critical yoga research and I wanted to make this scholarship more accessible and engaging for the broader yoga public—the tens of millions of yoga teachers and practitioners who engage in some form of a yoga practice today.

Since 2018, Yogic Studies has grown into a robust online educational platform, with a growing curriculum of university-level online courses on yoga’s history, Indian philosophy, Sanskrit language, and more. The courses are taught by myself as well as leading scholars in the burgeoning field of Yoga Studies. We’ve now had over 3,000 students from over 30 countries worldwide! We also just launched the Yogic Studies Podcast, which features in-depth interviews with leading scholars in the field. It’s been a really fun project and further distraction from dissertation writing.