SOAS University of London

Department of Music, School of Arts

Dr Richard Williams

BA (Oxford), MPhil (Oxford), PhD (London), FHEA
  • Teaching
  • Research
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Richard Williams
Department of Music

Senior Lecturer in Music and South Asian Studies

SOAS South Asia Institute

Academic Staff

Centre of Yoga Studies


Dr Richard Williams
Email address:
020 7898 4687
SOAS University of London
Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG
Russell Square: College Buildings
Office No:
Academic Support Hours:
Wednesdays, 3-5 (online)


Richard David Williams is a cultural historian of music in South Asia. He is particularly interested in understanding how music and sound is explored in literature, and how colonialism reoriented early modern musical ideas and practices.

Having originally studied Theology and then Modern South Asian Studies at the University of Oxford, his research brings music and sound studies into conversation with the study of religion and Indian cultural history. He received his PhD from the Music Department at King’s College London, with a doctoral thesis on the impact of colonialism on Hindustani music in the nineteenth century. He was then awarded a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship at the University of Oxford (2015-17), where he worked on music and aesthetics in the eighteenth century within his project “Beyond the Local: Vernacular Aesthetics in Late Mughal North India”.

He is currently completing his first monograph, on the circulation of musicians, genres, and musicologists between upper India and Bengal between c.1750-1900. This book examines how musical societies negotiated the changing politics of a colonial landscape. In connection with this project, he has written on Bengali-language musicology, the performance repertoires of courtesans, and sound arts in Shi’ah Islam.

His second book project is a cultural history of Ragamala, the early-modern art of imagining musical sound through poetry and painting.

His wider work has explored musical culture in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century South Asia; the history of emotions; music in the theology and ritual of a Hindu sect, the Radhavallabh Sampraday; and music in Pakistani media and literature. His research languages are Hindi, Brajbhasha, Bengali, and Urdu.


Programmes Convened
Modules Taught
PhD Students supervised
  • Arka Chakraborty, The Reception History of Bob Dylan in Indian Popular Music
  • Helen Anahita Wilson, Indian Rhythm and Life Writing in Cross-Sensory Composition (Practice Research)
  • Ruth Westoby, Gendered constructs in Haṭha Yoga
  • Tom Peterson, Archives of Sri Lanka's Vocal Arts: The Lyrical Genres of the Nevill Collection as Refractions of Sri Lanka, Past and Present


Richard David Williams’ research focuses on Hindustani classical music and popular devotional music in Hinduism. His work is particularly interested in the intersection of music and literature, and how sonic practices and musical repertoires circulate in multilingual settings. His research deploys a variety of approaches to explore a broad range of sources from early modern, colonial and contemporary South Asia.

He is currently completing his first book, The Scattered Court: Hindustani Music in Colonial Bengal, which examines how Hindustani music evolved under colonialism. The book reconstructs an interregional, multilingual conversation about the aesthetics of elite art music, and explores the movement of patrons, theorists, and musicians between Hindustan and Bengal. At its centre, the book provides a study of the court-in-exile of the last Nawab of Awadh, Wajid ‘Ali Shah, and the thirty years he spent in Calcutta (1856-1887) and traces the passage of musicians and musical practices from Lucknow to colonial Bengal.

His second book project focuses on Ragamala, the early modern practice of imagining musical sound through poetry and painting. In particular, the book considers the longer history of writings on music in Classical Hindi (Brajbhasha).

More broadly, he has also written on Bengali musicology and religious rituals, eighteenth-century religious history, scribal and translation practices, courtesan poets, popular music in Pakistan, Bengali migrants in colonial Burma, and the history of emotions.


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Available for
  • TV
  • Radio
  • Press
  • Briefings
  • Short Term Consultancy
Regional Expertise
  • South Asia
Country Expertise
  • Bangladesh
  • India
  • Bengali
  • Hindi
  • Urdu



Williams, Richard David (2022) 'Singing in tune with God: Bengali vaiṣṇava musical scholarship in the eighteenth century'. South Asian History and Culture, (13) 2, pp 180-196.

Williams, Richard David (2021) 'The rāg that Burned down Delhi: Music and Memory between 1857 and 1947'. Cracow Indological Studies, (23) 1, pp 197-217.

O'Hanlon, Rosalind and Venkatkrishnan, Anand and Williams, Richard David (2020) 'Scribal service people in motion: Culture, power and the politics of mobility in India’s long eighteenth century, c. 1680–1820'. Indian Economic and Social History Review, (57) 4, pp 443-460.

Williams, Richard David (2020) 'Dreams, Songs, and Letters: sectarian networks and musical archives in eighteenth-century north India'. Indian Economic and Social History Review, (57) 4, pp 583-604.

Williams, Richard David and Mahmood, Rafay (2019) 'A Soundtrack for Reimagining Pakistan? Coke Studio, memory, and the music video'. BioScope: South Asian Screen Studies, (10) 2, pp 111-128.

Williams, Richard David (2019) 'Playing the Spinal Chord: Tantric Musicology and Bengali Songs in the Nineteenth Century'. Journal of Hindu Studies, (12) 3, pp 319-338.

Williams, Richard David (2019) 'Reflecting in the Vernacular: Translation and Transmission in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century North India'. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, (39) 1, pp 96-110.

Williams, Richard David (2017) 'Songs between cities: Listening to courtesans in colonial north India'. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, (27) 4, pp 591-610.

Williams, Richard David (2017) '穆尔希达巴德的音乐——18世纪孟加拉地区的艺术家和赞助人 [Mu'erxidabade de Yinyue: 18 Shiji Mengjiala Diqu de Yishujia he Zanzhuren]'. 亞非研究 = Yafei Yanjiu: Journal of Asian and African Studies, (11) 1, pp 70-85.

Williams, Richard David (2016) 'Krishna's Neglected Responsibilities: Religious devotion and social critique in eighteenth-century North India'. Modern Asian Studies, (50) 5, pp 1403-1440.

Williams, Richard David (2016) 'Music, Lyrics, and the Bengali Book: Hindustani Musicology in Calcutta, 1818–1905'. Music and Letters, (97) 3, pp 465-495.

Book Chapters

Williams, Richard David (2021) 'Sound, Text, and Image: Picturing Music through Ragamala'. Court, Epic, Spirit: Indian Art 15th-19th Century. London: Francesca Galloway, pp 48-51.

Williams, Richard David (2020) 'Sounding Out the Divine: Musical Practice as Theology in Samāj Gāyan'. In: Flood, Gavin D., (ed.), The Oxford History of Hinduism: Hindu Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 342-361.

Williams, Richard David (2018) 'A Theology of Feeling: The Radhavallabhi Monsoon in the Eighteenth Century"'. In: Rajamani, Imke and Pernau, Margrit and Schofield, Katherine Butler, (eds.), Monsoon Feelings: A History of Emotions in the Rain. New Delhi: Niyogi Books, pp 71-96.

Book Reviews

Williams, Richard David (2018) 'A Storm of Songs: India and the Idea of the Bhakti Movement. By John Stratton Hawley. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2015. Pp.xiv+438.)'. History of Religions, (57) 4, pp 446-449.


Williams, Richard David (2016) 'Review of PhD thesis, “Brahmans Beyond Nationalism, Muslims Beyond Dominance: A Hidden History of North Indian Classical Music’s Hinduization" by Justin Scarimbolo' Dissertation Reviews.


This list was last generated on Sunday, 25th September 2022, 00:29 Europe/London.