This page situates my scholarship and teaching in the context of the everyday experiences that have shaped my academic identity.
I received my first masters in mass communication research, fresh out of theoretical physics, from Mass Communication Research Center in 1991, Delhi, India. My undergraduate degree was in physics (honors) from Miranda House, Delhi University (1989), which helped me connect theoretical physics with the metaphysical framework of Vedic meditation practice. I completed a second masters with a thesis on internet-based social movement communication from UIC in 2004 and my doctoral degree from Purdue, W. Lafayette in communication and technology with my dissertation on behavior change in healthcare settings in 2009.
Agarwal, V. (2020). Medical humanism, chronic illness, and the body in pain: An ecology of wholeness. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books.
Publisher’s URL: Rowman & Littlefield: ISBN, Hardback: 978-1-4985-9645-9 • 2020 •
Agarwal, V. (under contract, Routledge). Health and Social Justice: A Whole-Person Activist Approach. New York: Routledge
How individuals feel whole, not as a binary between disease and health or being in pain or pain-free is central to being healthy. My research focuses on strategic health communication, often in the domain of patient-provider communication in therapeutic and integrative medicine settings. In this area, my interest is in conceptualizing whole-person-centered care that integrates the therapeutic relationship and healing communication approach of distinct but synergistic traditional global medical systems like Ayurveda and biomedical knowledge systems in chronic illness and chronic pain self-management, health promotion, and disease prevention.
*All my research (research-related travel-national and international, data gathering, transcriptions) conducted 2010 onward has been funded via internal grants from the Office of Graduate Studies and Research, Fulton School of Liberal Arts, and the Salisbury University Foundation at Salisbury University.*
By taking an interpretive methodological approach, my research seeks a patient-centered, narrative, and experiential mode to help individuals construct and achieve their health and healing outcomes.
[A recent methods article [SAGE Research Methods & Cases: Medicine and Health]
Through my own embodied training and practice, I am interested in contributing to enhancing pragmatic and theoretical knowledge of how we achieve healing alongside health outcomes for CAM providers and patients addressing challenges in chronic care and long-term therapeutic pain management. In these and related contexts, I examine individual empowerment, provider understanding and communication, and the provider-patient relationship and in defining the patient’s quality of life [e.g., a talk at a care coordinators team workshop] My research (selected; below), seeks to contribute to provider-patient & health communication contexts:
- PCC and chronic pain self-management in Ayurvedic protocol (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health)
- provider use of their body in providing care (Health Communication)
- provider communication preventive medicine (Frontiers in Communication-Health Communication)
- CAM provider therapeutic relationship (Qualitative Health Research)
- pain management for CAM patients (Journal of Advanced Nursing) or, here
- understanding lower income women’s maternal approaches in developing world contexts (Health Communication)
- breast cancer preventive behaviors (Communication Research Reports)
- vaccine behaviors for infectious diseases (Journal of American College Health)
My early research was on women’s conceptualization of maternal health practices at the intersection of traditional Indian Ayurvedic approaches and the biomedical system in their practices as migrants in a temporary settlement community in New Delhi (basti/slum).
Taking care, bringing life: A poststructuralist feminist analysis of maternal health discourses of mothers and dai‘s in India. Health Communication, 33, 423-432. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10410236.2016.1278492
My first graduate school scholarly manuscript started as a class paper at UIC, with my examination of how migrant girls in New Delhi employed online journaling about the urban spaces as a means of constructing empowered identities. It was published with the support and mentorship of my co-author, Dr. Patrice Buzzanell, in Purdue.
2008. Trialectics of migrant and global representation: Real, imaginary, and online spaces of empowerment in Cybermohalla, Western Journal of Communication, 72, doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/10570310802445975
My dissertation stemmed from my advisor and dissertation committee’s research interests and focused on trust in healthcare settings and nurse infection control behaviors.
2013. I have a paper investigating the cross-validation of trust and behavior change research (2014, vaccination behaviors in young adults, Journal of American College Health) that illustrates this line of work.
As a part of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy), Ayurveda is one of India’s five recognized systems of medicine. Ayurveda is a 5000-year old whole-person system of medicine that originated in India and comprises eight branches (e.g., kaya chikitsa–internal medicine, shalya chikitsa-surgery, damstra chikitsa–toxicology, graha chikitsa–psychology). It is premised on the connections between the environment, food and nutrition, sustainable lifestyle, and mindfulness of the balance and circularity of all manifestation as centering our existence. In my research on traditional medicine approaches as they intersect with our present-day health, healing, and wellness models, most recently, I completed data gathering for a study to understand the Ayurvedic physician’s mind-body approach in chronic pain management and an Advanced Course in Ayurvedic Diet and Nutrition from India.
A recent article from this project:
Agarwal, V. (2020). Patient assessment and chronic pain self-management in ethnomedicine: Seasonal and ecosystemic embodiment in Ayurvedic patient-centered care. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(8), 2842. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17082842. Published in the special issue: Beyond Conventional Medicine: Ethnomedical Approaches for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
An Upcoming Encyclopedia Entry from this project:
Agarwal, V. (in press, 2021). Complementary and Integrative Healthcare: Ayurveda and yoga. In Evelyn Ho and Christopher Koenig (section eds.; Mohan Dutta, Ed.), International Communication Association, International Encyclopedia of Health Communication.
During my research visit to India in 2019, I gained theoretical and practical knowledge of Ayurveda’s philosophical basis of evaluating and tailoring diet and nutrition as it informs the three physiological (panchbautic), energy (doshas, agni), and cognitive (chitta) aspects of the human body and mind through universal principles (e.g., rasa, dhatus, veerya, vipaka, prabhav) as they operate in each individual (prakriti). My Ayurveda Wellness Education Training certificate helps me better understand and communicate the potential and challenges underlying the integration of the philosophy and treatment approach of traditional healing systems (including provider-patient knowledge of and communication of preventive medicine). Likewise, my Ayurveda for Health Professionals training (70 hours) certificate provides me with a unique insight into the integrative potential of Ayurvedic protocols in the biomedical model for treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes, headaches, digestive concerns, and other lifestyle-based conditions.
International Academy of Ayurveda, Pune, India: Album
Ayurveda training, Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, IA: album
I am interested in understanding the mind-body relationship in healing at multiple levels, including patient-centered care in domains such as cancer survivorship and chronic pain management. My research examines the aspect of healing constituted through communication–whether this is in therapeutic relationships or in mind-body self-reflexive communication.
I practice Vipassana meditation, every morning between 4 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. and early evenings. It is India’s most ancient and purist form of meditation, as taught in the present-day by S.N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin following the Buddha’s teachings. I completed the 10-day meditation course at the Dhamma Giri center, one of the world’s largest Vipassana meditation centers located in Igatpuri, Nasik, Maharashtra, India.
My teaching centers strategic communication with a specific interest in health, technology, and the digital realm.
My pedagogical approach emphasizes reflection, civic engagement, and experiential learning.
Sample of student comments from Health Communication class semester-long civic engagement project.
Student comments from end-of-semester spring 2021 Health Comm. course
Sample student comments from Digital PR end-of-semester Fall 2021 course
Sample student comments from International PR end-of-semester Spring 2021 course
My course offerings center around courses I have proposed and developed and offer each fall and spring as part of our department’s offerings in SU’s catalog. These courses are: International PR (COMM 447), Digital PR (COMM 445), and Health Communication (COMM 341).
Both International PR and Digital PR have their own course websites that I use to support the course learning engagements. The fourth course I offer every spring is Communication and Technology (COMM 465). I also use its website that I developed to support my students’ engagement in different experiential contexts during the course.
Catalog description: International PR (COMM 447) is one of the fastest growing sectors of public relations as corporations, institutions, and nongovernmental organizations globalize. COMM 447 provides the knowledge frameworks and critical thinking and analytic skills necessary to prepare the advanced PR student in the successful research, design, implementation, and evaluation of international PR projects. [Offered every spring]
Course website: International PR course
Spring syllabus: Policies and Schedule
Catalog description: [COMM 465] Examines innovations in communication techniques and applications. Topics include satellite and terrestrial based technology, conferencing, decision support systems, computer mediated communication and the impact of technology on the communication process and communicators.
Spring syllabus: Policies & Schedule
Course website: Communication & technology course
Catalog Description: COMM 445—Digital Public Relations. Designed for the advanced student, the course will teach principles of digital communications management and their application to develop strategy, conduct analytic audience research, design messages and drive behavior, and select from a multitude of digital platforms in achieving their goals and objectives as a digital communications consultant. Students who successfully complete the course will demonstrate a fundamental understanding of leveraging digital communication principles and data-driven audience insight to achieve selected digital engagement goals. COMM 445 is an enhanced elective course in the Fulton curriculum, requiring intensive study in any one area of speech or communication studies, ideally in the student’s track. All enhanced courses are offered as a 4-credit class to engage students more fully in the courses they take and provide students with a deeper and more active encounter with the subject at hand.
Fall syllabus: Policies & Schedule
Offered in Spring 2021 as a special topics course. I am currently working on a proposal for a new course in this domain that I plan to complete in the coming year.
Learning objectives: COMM 394/390-701 seeks to guide the student’s gaze toward the foundational relationship between the myriad complex and intersecting issues that comprise social justice concerns and their relationship with health. In current contexts, these range from race, to environment, to our lived neighborhoods, workplaces, media, gender and sexuality, brand activism, and food insecurity. In our semester, we will take an in-depth look at these issues in our local, national, and global community to understand the relationship of social justice principles of comprising equity, access, participation, diversity, and human rights with our health. Grounded in real-life, current, and enduring social justice concerns, in the course, students will identify and explore the persistence of inequalities and the presence of social, economic, and cultural structures that are responsible for the U.S. having one of the best heath care systems and treatments medical science can offer yet one of the worst health outcomes in the world among the developed nations. [see syllabus for objectives]
Course syllabus: Policies & Schedule
Fall 2020: with COAT (Salisbury Homeless Care organization):
Team Paper (COAT–Opioid Awareness)
RCM and Wicomico Goes Purple campaign organizers
Digital Public Relations Student Portfolio WordPress Websites:
Student digital portfolio website-2 (project report)
My students apply their work in the classroom to issues they care about in their lived communities. We explore our lived contexts, understanding the relationship of different forms of disparities, organizations, groups, and neighborhoods with us and vice versa. They work with local community stakeholders to propose initiatives, design communication artifacts, and articulate or increase awareness of issues, needs, and gaps, and generate resources to meet them. Each semester, the hope is to make a difference, however tiny, to the lived challenges of many in the communities around us, and support, in some small and humble way, the efforts of local organizations and individuals who devote their time and attention to the care of their community groups. Their portfolios are a testimony of their passion and motivation to employ their learning with their efforts to give back to the community in their job and graduate school applications.
In turn, classroom discussions, community-based field work, and my students’ unique vision for their semester projects inform my ongoing pedagogical and institutional efforts and contributions toward furthering course content, new courses, and \work with colleagues on institutional initiatives (e.g., Health Humanities minor). It is a cycle of gratitude: as my students go on (hopefully) to make a difference in the world, their feedback and our classroom discussions in coursework inform my work with my present and future students, courses, university contributions, and in my national and disciplinary service engagements (e.g., on the Teaching & Learning Council). For example, my health communication and social justice course (COMM 394-390, S21) shaped my perspective on my Health and Social Justice textbook. Likewise, when I sought to understand what motivated disaster-relief volunteers (in 2011), in an organization my students examined for a class project, to engage in personally risky contexts in their work, this effort brought together the classroom, student engagement in a field project, a local community organization, and a scholarly contribution with a mentor.
I currently serve our discipline’s flagship academic association, National Communication Association (NCA) in several capacities: as part of the leadership and governance team in my role as chair of the Teaching and Learning Council (TLC), as chair of the Feminist and Gender Studies Division (FGSD) interest group (and therefore member of Legislative Assembly), and as an executive committee (EC) member. My service to my discipline includes my role as an associate editor at Frontiers in Communication (Health Communication).
At SU, I serve as chair of the university-level Membership and Elections Committee for 2021–2022 AY. I am a member of the Health Humanities Faculty Learning Community (FLC) and a passionate advocate for the health humanities in promoting health and wellness understandings. I believe in whole-health paradigms as essential for health approaches that make a difference in individual lives, particularly of the ethnic and racial minorities and disadvantaged populations, in our communities. Toward this cause, in my capacity as a professor in the academy, I contribute through my efforts in our FLC’s grant submissions, our FLC’s programmatic development of the Health Humanities minor @ Fulton, and through course offerings. I hope my efforts will positively shape our students’ lives.
A few selected photographs from past service engagements and events I’ve organized at the departmental and university level:
Founding Director of OURCA participant in: Council of Undergraduate Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada (2016) (album)
Currently member of the Fulton School Student Research Grants committee. In the past, served as a member of the Fulton Sustainability Committee for a few semesters, including one semester as chair. The Health Humanities FLC works with the dean’s mission toward promoting meta-minors.
LPE conference photographs 2018, served as co-faculty advisor for the Lambda Pi Eta honors society from 2011–2018. | member of several committees each year (currently, chair PRSC search committee and member, promotion and tenure committee).
I love to run trails (my Strava ID:6020199) as a form of blurring boundaries between nature and the self and meditating on being in the moment with nature. Our local nature trails comprise a few miles at Pemberton. Many of the trails have lost their tree cover. I am occasionally accompanied by and jump over the black garter snake and turtle mothers and babies, besides being in the presence of the many tree roots, birds, insects, and butterflies, the soft earth, and the swish and shadows of the tree canopy, branches, and leaves. I hope my co-creatures and I will continue to find some privacy in the remaining green in the coming years.
The Brihadranyaka Upanishad text that I have carried with me since my India college years has informed my philosophical knowledge of advaita vedic and secular Hindu philosophy and its meditative practices summarized by Swami Vivekananda. My undergraduate physics education continues to inform my casual interest in quantum physics. I retain some curiosity in the field’s present-day coverage mostly for the sake of seeing how the advaita vedic knowledge predates and validates current scientific grapplings. My enduring topics of interest remain the same as when I originally pursued my physics degree: understanding the nature of space, time, and gravity and its manifestations in embodiment and transience.
I choose to spend my time with a very few close people, most especially my naughty and playful English-American chocolate lab baby (May 6, 2009–May 30, 2021). My husband and my close friend of more than 27 years writes software in the healthcare sector (currently remoting for NCQA, National Commission on Quality Assurance) in DC, plays tennis, and runs. My 23-year-old son (Bachelors in Aerospace Engineering, UMD, 2020) is a robotics engineer at ProtoInnovations, where he is working on the VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) for NASA’s 2023 moon mission on his first job, started in February 2021, and one that takes him away from our home to Pittsburgh to begin the next chapter of his life.
***(Update: On May 30, 2021, Memorial Day weekend, even as we moved into our new 3.5 acre house in Nithsdale Highlands with a six stable barn and close to Pemberton Park trails bought especially with a view to enjoying with our beloved lab, Scout passed away unexpectedly, at 12 years and 24 days of age, playing and being naughty to his last hour, on just the second night of our move. I share my pain along with so many others who have experienced loss and bereavement in the context of COVID-19 or other environmental and personal events)***
Long nature walks, writing poetry, and reading literary works (German, Czech, Indian) introduced to me by my father (from the Air Force base libraries at our postings) have been my memorable early childhood pastimes. My cherished memories are those of many long summer nights at my nani‘s, where she made my dinner of sambar rice (whose very special taste I have been on an unsuccessful quest to duplicate since then) on the rooftop to be had with one of her infinitely magical good night story tales and my nana put up a doorway rope swing for me to swing on during hot summer afternoons, and took me with him for his nightly after-dinner paan walks.
My personal life shifted with my father’s passing away in 1994 after a lifetime with chronic illness and rheumatoid arthritis pain and ultimately, leukemia, in my early twenties. I embarked on my academic identity in the US in May 1999 after my husband and I planned, implemented, and funded through our savings our own marriage ceremony in September 1996. It was graced by family and friends and we were formally blessed by my tauji-taiji in an Arya Samaj temple in South Delhi.
I moved from Dallas, where my husband was studying, after applying for my own F1 visa and setting out to start my education with my then 2-year old son from Dallas to University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Crossing up from Dallas to Chicago in the midwest in the summer of 2002 was my first long interstate drive in the US, made all the more memorable with the little kid strapped in child carseat in the back. I worked through my degree with my TA/RA at UIC, and later, at Purdue in West Lafayette. My husband joined us in W. Lafayette after completing his own degree and starting a job commuting long distances on an H1B to be with us over the weekends while I finished my PhD and sought a tenure-track position in the academy.
Today, I am grateful for the many fortuitous intersections, rough patches, and serendipitous turns that offered strength and guidance to follow my inner light through some challenging moments. In this journey, my identity shifted from an immigrant new mother to someone with a more global, planetary identity. As a new immigrant mother, I started in the US with my little 11-month old infant, on a non-working H4 visa, hosting my own proposed and run radio talk show in a Dallas S. Asian AM radio station as a volunteer. In my desire to be a student and grow professionally, I applied to UIC and drove up to Chicago on a move that took me to being a working mother on an F1 visa. At Purdue for my Ph.D., the work of meaningfully co-partnering as a wife and mother became a meaningful anchor to building my own voice as a professional and individual in a new space geographically and culturally. At my first tenure-track job, which is where I am today, I learned my roles as a professor, educator, and researcher, and seeking to nurture and balance them with my identity as a seeker and tapasvi in my own long inner path from my childhood.
Our quest to build our home, family, and life, together, was anchored for me in a free world ethos of exploration, an invitation to define who I wanted to be, and to craft it into reality guided by my own ever-evolving boundaries of imagination at each new turn. Ultimately, looking back, in this process over the years, my husband and I created for ourselves, for each other, and for our little family, what we’d both dreamed of when we made the decision to join our lives together in our twenties.
My current research agenda is a testimony to the unique promise of academic freedom cherished by the US tenure-track system of higher education. With tenure and with the support of the innovative agenda of research funding through institutional research grants at my current academic institution, I have been able to draw upon my yoga practice first taught me by my father and the Swami Vivekananda book he gave me on raja yoga to create my own research pathway that spoke my own meditative, experiential, and lived truths. I feel privileged and blessed to have the space to carve my own humble home as an academic in the communication discipline that is both a creation of, and reflective of, my own authentic identity, journey, and self.
All our stories, journeys, and accomplishments are co-created every moment, every day. At the sunset of our lives, they are as consequential and beautiful as the puffs of clouds vanishing in the summer night sky.
Be well. Namaste.
**All Rights Reserved. (c) Vinita Agarwal. All content, photographs, and ideas expressed on this site and each of my sites linked from here belong to the author.