SOAS University of London

SOAS English programme challenges conventional approach to study of language and literature

7 November 2013

SOAS, University of London has introduced a new BA English degree that studies the English language and its literatures from a global perspective. The course draws on SOAS’ unparalleled concentration of expertise in Asian, African and Middle Eastern languages and literatures.

The BA English at SOAS brings the concept of ‘Global English’ to the forefront. It analyses how the English language has been shaped and adapted by different cultures. It questions the notion of ‘English Literature’ that informs the cultural politics of British self-imagining in today’s globalised world. A strong inspiration for the course is the exciting prospect of examining how iconic authors such as Shakespeare have influenced the world through local histories of linguistic and cultural reception.

Richard II Shakespeare Globe
Richard II, performed in Palestinean Arabic by Ashtar Theatre, from Ramallah, Palestine at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Credit: Marc Brenner

The BA English programme raises fascinating questions, for example: How has English become a world language? How many ‘World Englishes’ are there? Can English literature remain a history of representative English writers, examined monolingually? Can English and British histories remain narratives of imperial encounter? The new approach of this unique degree will build on recent advances in Postcolonial Studies, Cultural Studies, Translation Studies, Linguistics and Comparative Literature. It will draw directly on the regional expertise in non-European linguistic, literary and cultural production to be found in such concentration only at SOAS.

The course is the brainchild of Dr Ayman El-Desouky, Senior Lecturer in Arabic and Comparative Literature; Professor Francesca Orsini, Professor in Hindi Literature and North Indian Literary Cultures; Dr Amina Yaqin, Senior Lecturer in Urdu and Postcolonial Studies and Dr Kai Easton, Senior Lecturer in English.

Indian Tempest
Indian Tempest performed in English, Malayalam, French and Sanskritat at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Credit: Footsbarn

Dr El-Desouky said: “A new approach needs to be taken with the study of English. In many parts of the world English Literature has ingrained itself in other cultures to the point of radical transformations, and these are reflected not only in the literatures of these cultures but also in the emergent varieties of World Englishes and in the recent radical works of Anglophone literatures, which cannily remap the literary, cultural and political English and British self-imaginings. Just one example is Shakespeare Wallah, a cinematic recounting of the adventures of a travelling theatre group from the UK performing Shakespeare plays in India. This demonstrates ‘English’ in a new context, creating new meanings, which this degree is designed to explore and to bring to bear systematically on the disciplinary study of English. It took over a century for American literature to be properly admitted into English Departments, even in the US. We must now move on beyond such older histories of institutional formations.”

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Learn more about the BA English programme at SOAS.