SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Community, Religion, and Conflict in South Asian History

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 2

The course examines the historiographical questions and themes that have been central to the study of modern South Asian history over the last three decades. It is organized thematically as well as chronologically but does not seek to provide a historical survey. We cross the period from the late eighteenth century to the present. The course examines institutions and practices central to colonial power such as the law and land settlement. It also explores the cultural and political innovations of south Asians in the areas of caste, religious reform, urban life and nationalism. We cover the politics and experience of partition and the final part of the course will study some of the particular challenges faced by postcolonial south Asian nation-states around ethnicity and language, caste and gender and religious nationalism. Course material will be largely key secondary material although this will be supplemented with primary material. The course will be run as a seminar discussion. I will introduce the topic each with with a 20-30 min presentation. Students will then introduce the readings and we have a discussion together as a class.  


Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, a student will:

  1.  have an understanding of the nature of British colonialism in India and its legacy for the operation of political, social and cultural authority in contemporary South Asia
  2. be familiar with specific historiographical debates and conceptual problems central to the study of colonial rule and cultures of power in South Asian history
  3. develop critical historical thinking and cultural analysis through close reading and discussions of prescribed texts and essay writing in the course
  4. have an improved ability to conduct systematic archival and library-based research using a combination of primary and secondary sources to answer a specific research question
  5. an improved ability to make clear, persuasive, analytical arguments, written and oral

Scope and syllabus

Week 1: Introduction: The Colonial State in Historical Perspective
Week 2: Land: Settlement, Property and Rural Society
Week 3: Law: Upholding Custom, Rationalizing Authority
Week 4: Caste: Colonial Anthropology and Social Power
Week 5: Religion: Reform Movements
Week 6: Urbanism: Class and Culture in Colonial Cities
Week 7: Nationalism: Bourgeois or Subaltern?
Week 8: Partition: Politics and Experience
Week 9: New Nations: Language and Community
Week 10: Enduring Inequalities: Caste, Gender and Religion  

Method of assessment

Essay of 3,000 words worth 80% of the final mark, Reaction paper/book review of 1,000 words worth 20% of the final mark

Suggested reading

Introductory bibliography:

There are a series of general histories that you should make good use of.

  • Bates, Crispin, Subalterns and Raj: South Asia since 1600 (Abingdon, 2007)
  • Bose, S. and Jalal, A., Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy (London, 1998 and 2003)
  • Ludden, David, India and South Asia, A Short History (Oxford, 2002)
  • Metcalf, Barbara D. and Metcalf, Thomas, A Concise History of India (Cambridge, 2002)
  • Robb, Peter, A History of India (Basingstoke, 2002)
  • Sarkar, Sumit, Modern India 1885-1947 (London, 1989)
  • Stein, Burton, A History of India (Oxford, 1998)

These also have bibliographic essays and thematic guides to readings on modern South Asian history that you should consult.

In addition, you should look in back issues of journals such as:

Modern Asian Studies (MAS); Journal of Asian Studies (JAS); Indian Economic and Social History Review (IESHR); South Asia (SA); Comparative Studies in Society and History (CSSH); Economic and Political Weekly (EPW)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules