Cohn Prize

Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize

The Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize honors outstanding and innovative scholarship across discipline and country of specialization for a first single-authored English-language monograph on South Asia, published during the preceding year. Books nominated may address either contemporary or historical topics in any field of the humanities or the social sciences related to any of the countries of South Asia: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal in the spirit of Barney Cohn’s broad and critical scholarship on culture and history in South Asia. The prize aims to acknowledge two books, one in humanities and one in social sciences, for recognition each year.


$1,000 award for the author.

Guidelines for Submission

  • Books must have a 2021 copyright date to be eligible for the 2023 prize.
  • Prior publication of an edited volume, exhibition catalog, or translations without critical apparatus does not necessarily disqualify authors.
  • Publishers must complete the book nomination form. Each press may nominate a maximum of six books for the Cohn Prize.
  • Only publishers may nominate books.
  • Upon receipt of a completed nomination form, publishers will be provided with addresses for prize committee members. A copy of each entry, clearly labeled “Bernard S. Cohn Prize,” must be sent to each member of the committee.


Nominations must be received by June 30, 2022 to be eligible for the 2023 awards.

Cohn Prize Committee

Sohini Kar (Chair)
London School of Economics

Nosheen Ali
New York University

Francesca Orsini
SOAS University of London

A. Sean Pue
Michigan State University

2022 Awards

Winners and Citations

Durba MitraIndian Sex Life: Sexuality and the Colonial Origins of Modern Social Thought (Princeton University Press, 2020)

Durba Mitra’s careful exploration of the discourse on the “prostitute” in colonial South Asia is a methodologically and theoretically impressive account of the way sciences of body and society formed around questions of female sexuality.  Drawing on writing in English and Bengali, Mitra’s brings to light the figure of the prostitute in diverse colonial archives, showing that this benighted yet obsessed-over figure was in fact hiding in plain sight, at the center of social, legal, and medical thinking.  Lingering with different voices and figures, Indian Sex Life reflects on the ways prostitutes, as ciphers of social reform, and, by extension, female sexualities and bodies, are imbricated in the development of social thought. With masterful ability to move across colonial sights, scenes, and sources, Mitra shows that sexuality and gender are central rather than peripheral to the development of modern social sciences.

Maria Rashid, Dying to Serve: Militarism, Affect, and the Politics of Sacrifice in the Pakistan Army (Stanford University Press, 2020)

Maria Rashid’s moving ethnography of commitment, damage, and mourning in Pakistan is a timely engagement with militarization and a brave exploration of the gaps between state demands and the experiences of soldiers and their families. Deftly showing the way militarization works on bodies, kinship, and emotion, Rashid tacks across scales, from the mourning families of dead soldiers to the state’s use of martyrdom. Dying to Serve shows that the affective dimensions of militarization are multi-faceted and complex. Notably, it demonstrates that the concept of martyrdom shifts along with changing notions of the “enemy” under different geopolitical contexts.  In writing that rings with clarity, Rashid’s book unveils the quiet pain of families of young men who have been lost to war and questions the everyday and intimate ways militarization cultivates the forms and feelings of citizenship.

Past Awards

Bernard S. Cohn Book Prize

2012 Farina Mir, The Social Space of Language: Vernacular Culture in British Colonial India

2013 Jacob Dalton, The Taming of the Demons: Violence and Liberation in Tibetan Buddhism

2014 Davesh Soneji, Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India

2015 Cabeiri  deBergh  Robinson, Body of Victim, Body of Warrior: Refugee Families and the Making of Kashmiri Jihadists

2016 Lotte Hoek, Cut-Pieces: Celluloid Obscenity & Popular Cinema in Bangladesh

2017 Sonal Khullar, Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930-1990

2018 Nathaniel Roberts, To Be Cared For: The Power of Conversion and the Foreignness of Belonging in an Indian Slum

2019 Anna Marie Stirr, Singing Across Divides: Music and Intimate Politics in Nepal

2020 Sohini Kar, Financializing Poverty. Labor and Risk in Indian Microfinance

2021 Nosheen Ali, Delusional States: Feeling Rule and Development in Pakistan’s Northern Frontier