South and Central Asian studies at Oxford
The Faculty of Oriental Studies, part of the University’s Humanities division, is home to a broad and varied teaching and research programme in the history, literatures, languages, politics, religions, and cultures of South and Inner Asia. The Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme (CSASP) covers study of the South Asian region and offers a 12-month MSc in Modern South Asian Studies and 21-month MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies (both of which are run in conjunction with the Faculty of Oriental Studies). Students on each of these courses have the opportunity to choose either the Contemporary India stream, or the Modern South Asia stream, and teaching encompasses scholars from both the Humanities and Social Science Divisions alongside the intensive study of one South Asian language from a choice of Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Brajbhasha, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Persian, and Nepali. Graduates can also study for an MPhil in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies.
The Faculty of Oriental Studies works closely with the Asian Studies Centre at St Antony’s College, founded in 1982. The Asian Studies Centre is primarily a co-ordinating organisation which exists to bring together specialists from a wide variety of different disciplines. Geographically, the Centre predominantly covers South, Southeast and East Asia and is home to the weekly South Asian History Seminar Series, which brings together scholars and students working on the region from across the University, many belonging to disciplines such as history, anthropology, politics, sociology and literature. The Asian Studies Centre is keen to support comparative research on Asia, and research on regional themes, to encourage debate and dialogue within the diverse student body of St Antony’s College and across the University more generally.
The University also has a rich set of programmes and resources relating to the Central Asian region. The Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre at St Antony's College provides a hub for research on Central Asia and the Caucasus. The Centre organises seminars, addressed by visiting speakers, which have been weekly in term-time throughout the past fifty years. They have drawn in the most outstanding scholars in the field who come to Oxford both from the countries which are the object of study and from Western Europe, North America, Australia and elsewhere. Between them, the Centre Fellows cover Twentieth Century Russian history, Russian and Soviet politics and foreign policy, Russian literature and culture, and the economics of Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia. Supported by the Centre, graduate students in Russian and Eastern European studies can focus on Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Libraries and museums
The Ashmolean Museum has a distinguished collection of objects from the Indian subcontinent (modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), the most comprehensive of its kind in Britain outside London.
The Bodleian Library houses extensive collections of South Asian material. The Bodleian has one of the most important collections of Mughal paintings in the world and is the repository of some 8,700 Sanskrit manuscripts, the largest known collection outside the Indian sub-continent. The printed book collection covers the history and culture of South Asian regions from prehistory to the present day. The fields of language, literature, religion, history and politics are particularly strongly represented.
The University’s libraries and museums hold extensive collections relating to Central Asia, including the Bodleian library’s collection of books in Iranian languages of Central Asia, Turkish and the Turkic languages of Central Asia, Caucasian languages such as Armenian and Georgian, and other Asiatic languages.
Collaborations with institutions in South and Central Asia
Oxford University's Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, has a dual aim of undertaking new research on Afghanistan's early Islamic history, and in building the capacity of Afghan colleagues in cultural heritage research. Since September 2011, a team of scholars in the UK and abroad has been studying the textual and material culture of Balkh in northern Afghanistan. Historical Balkh (near modern-day Mazar-i Sharif) was one of the oldest, largest and most important cities of Afghanistan until late medieval times. The study opens up exciting new areas of knowledge on Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past, and the way in which Islam was incorporated into historical memory. The project involves a team of experts with specialist knowledge on Afghan archaeology, coins, ceramics, and Persian and Arabic texts. The project partners with several research and cultural heritage organisations in Afghanistan, including the Ministry of Information and Culture, the Kabul National Museum and the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA).
Medical Sciences collaborations
Oxford University Clinical Research Unit-Nepal (OUCRU-NP) aims to build a strong critical mass of young Nepalese clinician scientists who can help build Nepal's scientific and clinical future. It is hosted by, and works within, Patan Hospital and the Patan Academy of Health Sciences in Kathmandu Nepal, and works in close collaboration with the Nepal Health Research Council at the Nepalese Ministry of Health and Population.
The Sealinks Project studies the first maritime connections that linked societies around the Indian Ocean. A large multidisciplinary project, it involves collaboration with individuals and institutions around the Indian Ocean and beyond. The project draws upon the methods of archaeology, genetics, linguistics and palaeoenvironmental studies to try to better understand the first steps towards globalisation in the Indian Ocean world, exploring the interplay between the cultural and biological factors that came to shape societies, species and environments in the region.
The Earthquakes without Frontiers partnership for earthquake resilience brings together earth scientists, social scientists and practitioners in the communication of scientific knowledge to policy makers, including from the Departments of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, the Department of Applied Social Sciences, the Kazakhstan National Data Center and the Kazakh-British Technical University, Kazakhstan, the Institute of Seismology, Kyrgyzstan and in Nepal, the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium, the National Society for Earthquake Technology and the Nepal School of Social Work. Focused on North-East China, Iran and Central Asia, and the Himalayan mountain front, the researchers work closely with local scientists, policy-makers, and both government and non-governmental organisations to achieve the partnership's core aims: to provide increases in knowledge of distribution of earthquake hazards in the continental interiors; to identify pathways to increased resilience in the populations exposed to these hazards; and to secure long term gains by establishing a well-networked, interdisciplinary partnership.
South and Central Asian students at Oxford
There are currently around 570 students from South and Central Asia, just over two-thirds of whom are from India and the majority of whom are graduate students. Just under half are studying subjects in the Social Sciences, whilst a quarter are in the Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences division.
The Oxford Majlis Asian Society is the second oldest student society at the University and the oldest Asian student society in the world. It brings together students from all over Asia, the Middle East, Iran, Central Asia, China and the Far East. Former members and Presidents include Benazir Bhutto, Manmohan Singh, Indira Gandhi, and K.P.S. Menon.
The Oxford Society for the Caspian and Central Asia (TOSCCA) was set up by Oxford academics in 2003 to promote the study of historical and contemporary Central Asia in Oxford and to bring together visiting students and scholars from the region with their colleagues in Oxford University. Sponsored by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the society encompasses the former Soviet Republics of Central Asia, as well as their relations with neighbouring countries and regions like Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Xinjiang in northwest China. Other societies include the Oxford University Hindu Society and the Oxford India Society.
South and Central Asian academics at Oxford
There are over 200 academics from South and Central Asia working at Oxford. Around 80% are from India, with five other countries represented: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Professor Diwakar Acharya (Nepal)
Diwakar Acharya is Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics in the Faculty of Oriental Studies and a Fellow of All Souls College. His research concerns the evolution of Indian religions and philosophical ideas and the early history of South Asia (particularly Nepal). He studies ancient and medieval texts, inscriptions, and other historical documents significant for the cultural history of the Indian sub-continent. He is also interested in the critical examination of rites, rituals, and customs of the Indian religions. He is a keen reader of various genres of Sanskrit literature, starting from the Vedas, and is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Indian Philosophy.
Professor Subir Sarkar (India)
Subir Sarkar is Professor of theoretical physics and head of the Particle Theory Group, Department of Physics. He was educated in India, obtaining his PhD from the University of Bombay. He has held visiting positions at CERN and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and worked in science education at Eklavya, Bhopal. He is also Niels Bohr Professor at the Niels Bohr Institute, Copenhagen. His research interests are at the interface between fundamental physics and astrophysics & cosmology. He was awarded the IUPAP-TIFR Homi Bhabha Medal and Prize 2017 for distinguished contributions in high energy cosmic ray physics and astro-particle physics.
Oxford alumni in South and Central Asia
There are over 3,100 University of Oxford alumni in South and Central Asia. The majority are in India, with Pakistan the second largest source.
Notable South and Central Asian alumni
Notable alumni from the region include:
- Tariq Ali, British-Pakistani writer
- Solomon Bandaranaike, former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
- Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan
- Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, former President and Prime Minister of Pakistan
- Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India
- J B S Haldane, geneticist and Indian citizen
- Lakshman Kadirgamar, former Sri Lankan Foreign Minister
- Imran Khan, Pakistani politician and former international cricketer
- Liaquat Ali Khan, first Prime Minister of Pakistan
- Mansoor Ali Khan ("Tiger") Pataudi, captain of the Indian cricket team
- Sardar Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari, former President of Pakistan
- Chief Justice Mrs Sujata Vasant Manohar, former Judge of the Supreme Court of India
- Vikram Seth, Indian author
- Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India
- Cornelia Sorabji, India’s first female lawyer
- Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, current reigning Druk Gyalpo or "Dragon King" of Bhutan