Dr Cristiana Zara

Research Associate, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham

I studied Oriental Languages and Literatures at the University of Venice (Italy), where I specialised in Indian Religions and Philosophies (2006). I subsequently moved to London for my postgraduate studies.

I was awarded an MA (Research) in Cultural Geography (2007), and a PhD in Human Geography from Royal Holloway, University of London (2012); my doctoral thesis was on Sacred journeys and profane travellers: representation and spatial practice in Varanasi (India).

After my PhD, I moved to The University of Sheffield, where I taught on the BA Geography and MA International Development degree programmes in 2013-2014 academic year.

In November 2014 I joined the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham to work as a Research Associate on the New Urbanisms in India ESRC research project led by Dr. Sophie Hadfield-Hill.

I have conducted extensive qualitative research in India, both for my undergraduate and doctoral research, which explored tourist representations and spatial practices, with a focus on sacred landscapes.

Before moving to academia, I worked for several years in child care services and community based projects in Italy.



  1. Urban and children’s geographies

Themes of particular interest:

-          Sustainable urban communities

-          Everyday mobilities

-          Children, young people and urban living


  1. Social and cultural geographies of tourism and travel

Themes of particular interest:

-          Tourism, religion and spiritual landscapes

-          Everyday interfaces between cultures, practices and spaces in the context of mobilities

-          Interplay between representation, practice and identity in travel culture



New Urbanisms in India: Urban Living, Sustainability and Everyday Life (2013-2016)

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

University of Birmingham

Post-doctoral researcher (2014-2015)


Research Team:

Dr. Sophie Hadfield-Hill (PI) (University of Birmingham)

Dr. John Horton (Project Mentor) (University of Northampton)

Dr. Cristiana Zara (Research Associate) (University of Birmingham)

Project strands: i) Sustainable design and mobility - everyday routines, transport and access; ii)Nature and green space in a planned city and iii) internationalising New Urbanism.

Sacred Journeys and Profane Travellers: Representation and Spatial Practice in Varanasi (India) (2007-2011) 

Royal Holloway College Research Grant

Royal Holloway, University of London

Doctoral researcher (2007-2011)

Supervisor: Prof. Claudio Minca

Advisor: Prof Katie Willis


The research investigated Western tourist representations and practices in India. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in the sacred city of Varanasi, in Northern India, the study examined discourses, practices and processes of identity formation and cultural negotiation brought about in the city by tourism. The research adopted an ethnographic approach, combining participant observation, interviews, questionnaires, visual methods, and textual analysis of popular tourist literature.



ZARA, C. (2014) ‘Rethinking the tourist gaze through the Hindu eyes: the Ganga Aarti celebration in Varanasi, India’, Tourist Studies, advance online publication, DOI: 10.1177/1468797614550961.

ZARA, C (FORTHCOMING 2015) ‘Performing the Sacred: Varanasi, the city of “living heritage”’, International Journal of Tourism Anthropology, Special Issue on Religion, Heritage and Tourism, (paper accepted for publication).

ZARA, C. AND MINCA,C. (2012) ‘Luogo’, in Minca, C. and Colombino, A. Breve Manuale di Geografia Umana, Padua, Cedam, pp. 17-37. (English translation: ‘Place’, in: A Short Handbook of Human Geography).

ZARA, C. (2009) book review: Landscape by John Wylie (London, Routledge, 2007, xii, 246 pp.), Rivista Geografica Italiana, 3.

ZARA, C. (2010) ‘The seduction of the sacred: visual experiences and spatial practices in Varanasi (India)’, in Picard, D. and Amaral, C. (eds) Proceedings of the TOCOCU 1st Biannual Conference, Sheffield (UK), TOCOCU – Tourism Contact Culture Research Network,, CD-ROM (ISBN 978-0-9567502-0-4).