Welcome to the AHRB Centre for
Asian and African Literatures
**** THIS CENTRE IS NOW CLOSED
THIS WEBSITE NOW ONLY EXISTS
AS AN ARCHIVE TO THE CENTRE'S PAST ACTIVITIES
A new and distinctive initiative in the field
of comparative literature and literary theory
Started in October 2000, the Centre aims to become a world-class locus
for comparative research on the literatures of Asia and Africa. As a
joint SOAS/UCL project, the Centre is ideally positioned to achieve
this goal. SOAS has one of the largest groups of specialists on the
literatures of Asia and Africa in the world, with about forty staff
and more than sixty research students. Literature specialists at UCL,
which includes coverage of Western and Eastern Europe, the Americas,
and the Slavonic world, complement the strengths of SOAS.
The Centre is distinctive in having a structure which demands both
interaction between scholars of Asia and Africa who are trained in the
original languages with those studying Western literature, and interaction
among the specialists of the many literatures of Asia and Africa. The
Centre will also draw together an even broader range of people through
its seminar and public lecture series.
bringing together scholars from around the world
Literature is a discipline in its own right, like History or Anthropology,
but it differs from them in that its various regional specialists tend
to work in language-based units. The relative isolation from other 'literature'
specialists means that it is difficult to cooperate in addressing research
questions of a theoretical or methodological nature to examine non-western
literatures as a group. Without an overarching institutional framework,
interaction between specialists on different national literatures is
haphazard and rare, and as a consequence general questions of methodology
and theory are not often addressed across regions.
The Centre addresses this institutional problem by bringing together
individuals from different departments and universities to foster innovative
research on general questions of theory and methodology for the study
of Asian and African literatures. A crucial function of the Centre is
to integrate UK-based scholars into the Centre's projects. The Centre
also has an important role in bringing scholars from Asian and African
institutions to London to participate in the projects.
The core participants in the Centre's work will come together from
diverse universities across Britain to develop their research through
workshops attached to specific research projects. An important aspect
of the Centre's work is to involve other interested scholars in discussion
through its seminar series.
between individual traditions and comparative perspectives
Innovation in literary theory and methodology has flourished in recent
decades. Some of these developments, such as post-colonial approaches,
have come from responses to literatures outside Europe and North America,
but the fundamental critical innovations have emerged from Western literary
culture. While many scholars may harbour doubts as to the suitability
of applying Western theoretical approaches to the literatures of Asia
and Africa, in practice the seemingly 'cosmopolitan' or 'universal'
Western literary theories have come to dominate literary discourse on
the literatures of Asia and Africa. This is true in Asian and African
institutions, as well as in Western universities.
On the other hand, many researchers approach Asian and African literatures
exclusively from within the individual traditions. One consequence of
this has been that individuals have tended to work in isolation from
other specialists who conduct research on different parts of Asia and
Africa. The aim in such approaches has been to seek to understand the
'essence' of exotic literatures on their own terms. Although such work
is essential to the development of the field, it has tended not to be
comparative or to engage with the broader currents of theories and approaches
The Centre is committed to exploring and negotiating the epistemological
difficulties of valuing both perspectives which ignore the West and
comparative approaches which deploy theories across cultures.
promoting creativity in critical theory by bringing Asian
and African literatures into the centre of theoretical discussion
The Centre facilitates research which questions the assumptions of
western-derived theories from the perspective of Asian and African literary
experience. By this process, the Centre will advance our knowledge of
Asian and African literatures, challenge current Western theories of
literature, and thus expand our knowledge of both the 'universal' and
the 'particular' nature of literary analysis.
The eight questions below define the Centre's intellectual programme.
Each question can be read as a first point of inquiry. They are therefore
not listed in an order of priority, but are set out as fundamental concerns
for the study of literature across cultures. The questions are the direct
impetus for the CentreŐs research projects as well as the seminar and
public lecture series. They also define the overall scope of the Centre's
publication series, individual volumes of which will be grounded in
the more specific questions posed by the particular research projects.
In continually reviewing how the various research projects address these
eight broad questions, the Centre aims to discover and develop new approaches
and methods for research on literature. It is expected that the results
of the research projects, through their distinctive four-workshop format,
will refine the questions and raise new ones that move forward debates
in the field of comparative literary studies.
- How do we determine meaning and significance in literary experience?
- Are there universal elements in the production, appreciation, and
transmission of literature?
- How different is the experience of literature for those belonging
to the artistŐs culture and for those from a different country or
- How is the experience of oral or performed literature different
from the reading of a text alone and silently?
- What is the nature of the interaction, including the role of translation,
between literatures belonging to different cultures and languages?
- How do the roles and conventions of literature alter over time
and in changing contexts, and how is this reflected in discourses
- What are the strengths and limitations of Western theories and methodologies
when they are deployed in the analysis and interpretation of Asian
and African literatures?
- In what ways have and do non-Western literatures and literary theories
contribute to and modify Western literary theory and practice?
the SOAS Literary Review
(established and run by SOAS PhD Students)
The Centre is committed to instituting new approaches to PhD Research
training in the field of Asian and African literatures and to expanding
the Masters programmes in comparative literature offered by SOAS and
Applications for our first round of PhD/MPhil Fieldwork
Funding are now CLOSED. The awards were announced in early December and
can be used after 1 January 2002.
Contact the Centre
Prof Drew Gerstle
University of London
Phone: +44 (0)20 7898 4207
Fax: +44 (0)20 7898 4239