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South Asia Department

Department of the Languages and Cultures of South Asia

The study of language gives unique access to the culture of a region, to its contemporary life and its historical civilization. Starting from this premise, the South Asia Department is devoted to research and teaching in the languages, literatures and cultures of the Indian subcontinent, with the aim of reaching better understanding of one of the most complex and significant areas of the world. The success of the Department in achieving its goals was reflected in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, in which 65% of the work of the Department was rated "world-leading" or "internationally excellent".

This department's work on the languages, literatures and cultures of South Asia complements that of other SOAS South Asianists whose disciplines include History, Religious Studies, Music, Art, Politics, Anthropology, and so forth, and who are based in other departments within the School. Together we constitute one of the largest centres of South Asian studies outside the subcontinent; and being located in a city which itself contains a virtual microcosm of South Asia brings incalculable benefits to us and our students.

The research interests of the Department's staff members include, but are not limited to: Indian cinema and popular culture; diaspora studies; postcolonial literature; literary and linguistic studies associated particularly with Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Nepali, Gujarati, Tamil and Sanskrit; classical Hinduism; feminism; representations of Islam; the politics of Nepal and Bhutan; and literary translation.

Our degree programmes are detailed in the degree programmes and course descriptions pages, but an overview may be helpful here.

At Undergraduate level:

Our undergraduate programmes offer a combination of language and culture courses to give you an in-depth knowledge of the historical and contemporary cultures of one of the world’s most dynamic regions that comprises India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Courses are taught by full-time members of the Department or by South Asia specialists in other Departments at SOAS.

Our BA South Asian Studies degree comes in four options, depending on whether you want to study languages in depth and spend your third year in India, Nepal, or Bangladesh, or you want a broad knowledge of the area:

We have five pathway languages (Bengali, Hindi, Nepali, Sanskrit, and Urdu), which you can study to an advanced level in either of our four-year degree programmes (these replace our former BA Bengali/Hindi/Nepali/Sanskrit joint degrees, which are no longer open to new students but remain listed here for the reference of students already registered for them).

The four-year options involve taking one of our distinctive, intensive and focused ‘Language Pathways’, in which students concentrate on a particular South Asian language (either Bengali, Hindi, Nepali, Sanskrit or Urdu) and its associated regions and culture, while choosing from a wide range of other course offerings within the full degree (BA South Asian Studies (4 years)), or alongside the prescribed courses in the other half of a ‘joint-honours’ degree in disciplines such as Anthropology, Economics, International Management, Music, Politics, Religion, etc. (BA South Asian Studies and… (4 years)).  The 4-year degree options give you the unique opportunity of studying your language of choice in India, Nepal, or Bangladesh in your third year.

In the 3-year degree BA South Asian Studies (3 years), you study a South Asian language alongside other aspects of the region, such as Indian Cinema, the culture and politics of Pakistan and Nepal; and courses in other disciplines taught by South Asianists in other departments. The three-year BA South Asian Studies can also be taken as part of a two-subject degree (see BA South Asian Studies and... (3 years) for a list of possible combinations).

You can study Bengali, Hindi, Nepali, Sanskrit, and Urdu also as part or our three-year degrees. We also offer a more limited range of language courses in Tamil, Sinhala, Gujarati, Punjabi, Pali and Prakrit.  Persian, an important language in the context of pre-modern Islamicate South Asia, is taught in the Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East.

The career paths of our graduates include international development and aid agencies, print journalism and media, local, national, and international government agencies, intelligence, overseas companies, teaching, law, arts administration, and librarianship.

As the economies of South Asia continue to expand and South Asia is more and more at the centre of the world’s attention, a knowledge of its languages and culture will be more and more an asset in the world of commerce, media, and international trade.

At Masters level:

We convene the MA South Asian Area Studies (whose options include subjects taught in many different departments), and MA Languages and Cultures of South Asia (mostly taught within our department). From 2012, we are offering two new MA programmes: MA Anthropological Research Methods and Nepali (with the Anthropology & Sociology department), and MA in the Study of Contemporary Pakistan.

We also contribute a number of language, literature and culture courses that may be taken within such Masters programmes as MA Comparative Literature (Africa / Asia), other MAs offered by the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies, Centre for Media and Film Studies and MA in Gender Studies or as 'minor' options within a wide range of SOAS Masters degrees.

At Doctoral level:

The research topics covered by Department staff and PhD students are very diverse. The Department has a long history of research in the study of ancient, medieval and modern literatures, in philology and lexicography, in the study of religious and social movements, and in many aspects of the cultural life of the subcontinent. Present research projects extend from work on the Sanskrit Puranas, through vernacular poetry of the seventeenth-century courts of North India, to twentieth-century postcolonial literature and twenty-first century cinema. We welcome proposals for new research projects, whether from prospective PhD students or from colleagues in other universities who wish to collaborate on joint projects.