Princeton University professor dies while leading summer course in India

Isabelle Clark-Deces with school children in India.

Isabella Clark-Decès, a professor of anthropology at Princeton University and a Princeton resident, died while leading a summer class abroad on Thursday in northern India, school officials said.

Clark-Decès, 61, died after falling in the village of Mussoorie, where she was leading a Princeton Institute of International and Regional Studies seminar  called “At Home (And Abroad) in the Indian Himalayas.”

In an email Friday, Deborah Prentice, dean of the faculty at Princeton University, informed the community of her death.


“We have been in touch with Professor Clark-Decès’ family, extending our deepest sympathies to them and offering our full support at this difficult time,” Prentice wrote. “The university is doing all it can to provide counseling, make travel arrangements, and offer other support to the students who were participating in the seminar.”

Clark-Decès joined the faculty in 1996 and directed the program in South Asian Studies since 2007. She taught courses on India, ritual, kinship, religion, philanthropy and charity.

Her career began in 1987 when she entered the anthropology department of the University of California–Berkeley as a graduate student. In her third year she was accepted into the American Institute of Indian Studies Advanced Language Program in the southern Indian town of Madurai, where she studied Tamil for nine months. Shortly thereafter she carried out 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork in a rural area of Tamil Nadu. This research resulted in her Berkeley dissertation, “Who are you? Spirit Discourse in the Tamil World,” followed by a book based on the dissertation titled “Religion Against the Self: An Ethnography of Tamil Rituals.”

She also published ethnographic research on Tamil funeral dirges, the relation between ethnographic field experience and anthropological knowledge, and South Indian kinship. She was the editor of a textbook titled “A Companion to the Anthropology of India.” In 2016, as a Fulbright Scholar, she explored what well-being means for villagers living in the South Indian state of Karnataka.

“I extend my condolences to all of us who knew, worked with and studied with Professor Clark-Decès,” Prentice wrote. “We will greatly miss her as a teacher, scholar, colleague and friend.”


  1. She was my neighbor, and a kind and intelligent woman. She spent a lot of time in India and I can only take comfort in the fact that she passed away among a community that was a source of so much inspiration for her. RIP.

    1. thank’s for your comment
      I am the brother of isabelle (i live in Paris, Isabelle was born in Paris France)

      1. Dear Philippe, please accept my deepest condolences. Isabelle was a friend and mentor to me in the Princeton South Asian Studies program.

      2. Dear Philippe,

        Your sister, Isabelle, has a devoted group of “swimming friends” from the Princeton University Denunzio pool. We cherished our time with her, and we are grieving her loss. We extend our condolences to you and we will be attending the Princeton University memorial service in September? If you want to write me directly at, I can connect you with our larger group who are eager to share our fond and loving memories with Isabelle’s family.

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