South Asian Studies in the United Kingdom

Source: An introduction to South Asian Studies in the United Kingdom, by Dr Vibha Arora (Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi) and Dr Lawrence Saez (School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS), United Kingdom (2009).

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South Asian Studies: past to present

Although largely considered to be an interdisciplinary subject, South Asian Studies historically began at universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, London and Edinburgh, in response to a need to train and familiarise missionaries and colonial administrators in the languages, religions, and cultures of South Asia. The richness of their libraries and their archives reflects these historic ties and the trajectory of critical scholarship on South Asia.

The incorporation of the South Asian community in the UK is highlighted by the fact that most universities have student-run societies fostering informal networking, encouraging academic discussions, and providing cultural exposure to South Asian dance, music, food, and the arts. Altogether a composite experience is available to any student and researcher of South Asian Studies in UK.

The historic ties between the universities and the academics of the UK and South Asia are being sustained through several scholarships that are offered to students (for South Asians to study in the UK and for UK students to study at South Asian universities) and through fellowships available to researchers and academics.

Academic networks

Research networks and collaborative research projects between the scholars in the UK and South Asia enable academic exchanges and influence development funding and policy decisions regarding South Asia.

  • The British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS) is one of the world’s leading academic associations devoted to the study of South Asia.  BASAS is the largest UK academic association for the study of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and the South Asian Diaspora.
  • SOAS: School of Asian and African Studies

The school counts 350 researchers or teachers.

There are 3 faculties (Arts and humanities, Language and culture, and Law and social sciences) and 8 regional centres attached to the school.

  • Britain Nepal Academic Council (BNAC)
  • British Association for South Asian Studies (BASAS)
    Centre for Applied South Asian Studies (CASAS), University of Manchester
  • Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of Bristol
  • Centre of South Asian Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
    Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge
    Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh
  • Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Sussex
  • Centre for India and Global Business, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge
  • Contemporary South Asian Studies, University of Oxford
  • Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford
  • Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies, Open University
  • India and South Asia Business Centre, University of Leeds
  • India Observatory, London School of Economics (LSE)
  • Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, University of Oxford
  • Pakistan Security Research Unit (PSRU), University of Bradford
  • Pakistan Study Group (PSG)
  • Scottish Centre for Himalayan Research, University of Aberdeen
  • South Asia Department, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

Teaching and research centres

In response to the growth of interest and to utilise the academic resources available, several UK universities (London, Edinburgh and Manchester) have introduced South Asian Studies at both undergraduate and postgraduate degree levels, and some universities are awaiting formal approval. These courses are enriched by language teaching and research facilities in South Asian languages that enable a deeper and more accurate understanding of South Asia.

Several universities have established Centres for South Asian Studies, while in other universities South Asia is taught as an option in disciplines such as Anthropology, Sociology, Politics, Economics, History, Geography, Theology, Cultural Studies, Education, Literature, Media and Cinema studies.

Academic centres at the Universities of London, Oxford, Cambridge, Sussex, and Edinburgh have seminar series on South Asia enabling academic exchange and networking between researchers and students.

Moreover, many universities (such as Cambridge, Oxford, London, Edinburgh) have language teaching facilities in Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Persian, Nepali, Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, Tibetan, and so on.

Some universities have geared their academic training and research endeavours with a single country or single issue focus.

Nevertheless, current research trends and conference themes on South Asia also indicate the shift towards a Commonwealth approach to development, social policy, and understanding of the South Asian diaspora.

Conclusion

In sum, the efflorescence of South Asian Studies in higher education is evident in the range and number of taught and research degrees, the number of language courses, and the popularity of South Asian options within other courses that are offered by Colleges and Universities in the United Kingdom.



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