Dr Cristiana Zara

Dr Cristiana Zara

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Research Associate

Contact details

University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Cristiana is a cultural geographer currently working with Dr Sophie Hadfield-Hill on the New Urbanisms in India research project funded by the ESRC. The project investigates the everyday life of children, young people and families living in a new urban development in India.

Cristiana has conducted extensive qualitative research in India for her doctoral research, which explored tourist representations and spatial practices, with a focus on sacred landscapes.


  • PhD Human Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK, 2012
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Skills of Teaching to Inspire Learning (InSTIL), Royal Holloway, University of London, UK, 2008
  • MA (Research) Cultural Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK, 2007
  • BA (Laurea Magistrale) Oriental Languages and Literatures, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy, 2006


In 2006 Cristiana graduated in Oriental Languages and Literatures at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (Italy), where she specialised in Indian Religions and Philosophies.

In the same year, she moved to London to undertake postgraduate studies.

In 2007 she obtained an MA (Research) in Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, with a dissertation titled: ‘The Western representation of the journey to India: the “mystical appeal” of Varanasi’, which researched Italian narratives of travel to India.

In 2012 she was awarded a PhD in Human Geography from Royal Holloway, University of London. Her thesis was titled: ‘Sacred journeys and profane travellers: representation and spatial practice in Varanasi (India)’. She continued to be based at Royal Holloway for postdoctoral work throughout 2012.

In 2013 Cristiana was awarded the Cooperint International Academic Mobility Programme’s scholarship from the University of Verona, Italy, where she spent four months as a visiting scholar.

From September 2013 to September 2014 she was a teaching associate in the Department of Geography at The University of Sheffield, where she taught on the BA Geography and MA International Development degree programmes.

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

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


Cristiana’s research interests span across social and cultural geographies of tourism and travel; landscape studies; postcolonial theory; religion and spiritual landscapes. She has been recently expanding her research interests to urban studies; children’s geographies and development geographies. She is particularly interested in questions of representation, practice and cultural negotiations, as well as issues of urban sustainability and everyday geographies, particularly in the context of mobilities. Her main empirical focus is India.

Current research:

New Urbanisms in India: Urban Living, Sustainability and Everyday Life

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)

The project investigates the everyday experiences of children and their families living in new large scale developments in India. Current research into the lives of families in large scale, ‘walkable’, diverse, inclusive, sustainable spaces is lacking, particularly in the emerging market context. The research is predominantly qualitative; however, an innovative mobile ‘app’ is being developed to explore family mobility.

Project aims:

  1. Investigate the everyday lives of children and their families, researching their interactions, issues and experiences in a new urban context;
  2. Develop innovative tools for conducting community based research in rapidly-developing urban environments;
  3. Develop academic and practitioner understanding of how models of urban design are being transferred between contexts and communities.

More information can be found on the project website: http://www.new-urbanism-india.com/aims-and-objectives.php

Other research:

Sacred journeys and profane travellers: representation and spatial practice in Varanasi (India).

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 has adopted an ethnographic approach, combining participant observation, interviews, questionnaires, visual methods, and textual analysis of popular tourist literature.
Cristiana is currently developing publications from her doctoral thesis.

Other activities

Cristiana is an Associate Fellow of The Higher Education Academy.

She is an Honorary Fellow of the Department of Time, Space, Image, Society (TeSIS) at the University of Verona, Italy, where she was awarded the Cooperint International Academic Mobility Programme’s visiting scholarship in 2013.

Cristiana has presented her research in the annual meetings of the Royal Geographical Society, the Association of American Geographers and at several international conferences and symposia, both geography-specific and interdisciplinary. She has given guest lectures and seminars in the Religion and Society seminar series, Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University; in the Indian Sacred Geographies workshop series, Department of Literary Studies, Philology and Linguistics, University of Milan; in the Tourism Geography course, Foreign Languages Faculty, University of Verona , and in in the Primary Education Sciences degree, University of Padua.

She has designed and conducted an experimental collaborative project on cultural geography teaching in a primary school in Italy (2009-2010). Results of the year-long project, Assaggi di Geografia Culturale (Tastes of Cultural Geography), have been illustrated in workshops and seminars as examples of best practice in geography teaching by representatives of the Italian Association of Geography Teachers.

Cristiana has acted as a peer reviewer for Tourism: An International, Interdisciplinary Journal, Institute for Tourism, Zagreb (Croatia).


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).