SOAS University of London

South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics


The Department offers the widest coverage in Europe of research and teaching related to the languages, literatures and cultures of the principal countries of South Asia: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The Department’s primary commitment is to eight languages (Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Nepali, Pali, Punjabi, Sanskrit, and Urdu) and their literatures and cultures. It also offers language instruction in Sinhala and Tamil.

Research and teaching draw heavily upon the resources of the Library’s extensive South Asia collection, and is closely connected with the work of other SOAS departments.

The research interests of the Department’s members include: Vedic texts and Sanskrit epics; Islam in South Asia; nationalism and linguistic identity; medieval Hindu devotional texts; twentieth century fiction in South Asian languages; postcolonial literatures; Bengali, Hindi, Nepali and Urdu poetry; Indian cinema and popular cultures; the South Asian diaspora; Mughal history; cultural studies; gender studies; comparative literature; and translation.

Recent Publications by members of the Department include:

Rachel Dwyer and Jerry Pinto eds. Beyond the Boundaries of Bollywood: The Many Forms of Hindi Cinema (OUP, 2011)

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Surveying the field since the mid-1990s, this book looks at Hindi cinema which lies beyond Bollywood. While the first part includes seven essays by established scholars and film critics, in the second part we have a series of interviews of individuals connected with the film industry in India. Looking at the many meanings of "Bollywood," the essays bring together themes and ideas which are essential to understanding the history of Indian cinema. They deal with Hindi cinema that predates Bollywood, as well as cinema which is made once Bollywood emerges and the culture which stretches beyond cinema. Interesting light is shed on cinema in Bombay in the 1920s, the transition to sound in Bombay cinema, and horror films Conducted by Jerry Pinto, the interviews bring to life the changing world of the contemporary Hindi cinema that is developing its own niche, ranging from separate production wings of major companies, to its own directors, stars, and distribution circuits. They bring out strategies, ideas, and reflections on the current situation from key figures who lie at the heart of these changes: from the revolution in DVD pricing and the effect on filmmaking to the development of "hatke" cinema and the role of film festivals in the shaping of popular culture.

Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin, Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11 (Harvard, 2011)

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Can Muslims ever fully be citizens of the West? Can the values of Islam ever be brought into accord with the individual freedoms central to the civic identity of Western nations? Not if you believe what you see on TV. Whether the bearded fanatic, the veiled, oppressed female, or the shadowy terrorist plotting our destruction, crude stereotypes permeate public representations of Muslims in the United States and western Europe. But these "Muslims" are caricatures—distorted abstractions, wrought in the most garish colors, that serve to reduce the diversity and complexity of the Muslim world to a set of fixed objects suitable for sound bites and not much else.

In Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11, Peter Morey and Amina Yaqin dissect the ways in which stereotypes depicting Muslims as an inherently problematic presence in the West are constructed, deployed, and circulated in the public imagination, producing an immense gulf between representation and a considerably more complex reality. Crucially, they show that these stereotypes are not solely the province of crude-minded demagogues and their tabloid megaphones, but multiply as well from the lips of supposedly progressive elites, even those who presume to speak "from within," on Muslims' behalf. Based on nuanced analyses of cultural representations in both the United States and the UK, the authors draw our attention to a circulation of stereotypes about Muslims that sometimes globalizes local biases and, at other times, brings national differences into sharper relief.

Times Higher Education review of  Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation after 9/11

Yigal Bronner, Whitney Cox, and Lawrence McCrea eds. South Asian Texts in History: Critical Engagements with Sheldon Pollock (AAS, 2011)

available from The Association for Asian Studies.

South Asian Texts in History charts the contours of a reenvisioned and revitalized field of Indology in the light of the groundbreaking research of Sheldon Pollock. One of the many exciting aspects of Pollock’s work is its unprecedented combination of classical textual study with cutting edge theoretical and social scientific inquiry - a combination which this book sets out to emulate. Pollock has trained and inspired a new generation of scholars, many of whom have contributed to this volume. The essays are organized into five groups that reflect the major domains of Pollock’s immense contributions to the field: the epic Ramayana, Sanskrit literature and literary theory, systematic thought in premodern South Asia, the birth of a new vernacular cultural order in the subcontinent during the second millennium CE, and India’s early modernity. Most of the essays concentrate on materials in Sanskrit, but there are also considerable contributions to the history of Hindi, Tamil, and Persian literatures. The book presents for the first time an overview of the groundbreaking contributions of Sheldon Pollock to South Asia scholarship over the past three decades, while offering a set of critiques of key elements of his theories.

Francesca Orsini ed., Before the Divide: Hindi and Urdu Literary Culture (Orient Blackswan, 2010)

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Based on a workshop on ‘Intermediary Genres in Hindi and Urdu’, Before the Divide: Hindi and Urdu Literary Culture is an attempt to rethink aspects of the literary histories of these two languages. Today, Hindi and Urdu are considered two separate languages, each with is own script, history, literary canon and cultural orientation. Yet, precolonial India was a deeply multilingual society with multiple traditions of knowledge and of literary production. Historically the divisions between Hindi and Urdu were not as sharp as we imagine them today. The essays in this volume reassess the definition and identity of language in the light of this. Various literary traditions have been examined keeping the historical, political and cultural developments in mind. The authors look at familiar and not so familiar Hindi and Urdu literary works and narratives and address logics of exclusion and that have gone into the creation of two separate languages (Hindi and Urdu) and the making of the literary canons of each. Issues of script, religious identity, gender are also considered. This volume is different in that it provides a new body of evidence and new categories that are needed to envisage the literary landscape pf north India before the construction of separate ‘Hindu-Hindu’ and ‘Muslim-Urdu’ literary traditions. This collection of essays looking into the rearticulation of language and its identity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will be useful for students of modern Indian history, language studies and cultural studies.

Michael Hutt, The Life of Bhupi Sherchan: Poetry and Politics in Post-Rana Nepal (OUP, 2010)

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A biography of the Nepali poet Bhupi Sherchan (1935-89) that also examines the relationship between literature and politics in Nepal during the early democratic and Panchayat periods. The book include 40 photographs and English translations of 60 poems.