SOAS – School of Oriental and African Studies

Located in the heart of London, SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) is the world’s leading institution for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It is at the centre of thought leadership on these regions – a place of vibrant debate, where diverse views are heard and new ideas formed. There are over 130 nationalities represented on campus, with over 50% of our 5,000 students coming from outside of the UK.

SOAS’s engagement with South Asia reaches back 100 years, since the School was founded in 1916. Over the last century, it has furthered research and teaching across a range of disciplines concerning the region from politics, law and development studies to religion and culture, via history, anthropology, literature, film, and music.

Language instruction lies at the core of South Asian Studies at SOAS. The study of language gives unique access to the culture of a region, to its contemporary life and its historical civilisation. Starting from this premise, SOAS’s Department of the Languages and Cultures of South Asia is devoted to the research and teaching of the languages and literatures of the Indian subcontinent, with Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit, Punjabi and Nepali all being offered to students either as part of their degree programmes or as stand-alone courses.

Tamil Studies at SOAS

Tamil was an integral part of SOAS’s language offering for many years, particularly during the time of renowned scholars Dr. John Marr and Dr. Stuart Blackburn. Their significant contributions to Tamil Studies – with Dr. Marr’s “An Introduction to colloquial Tamil” still considered as one of the leading resources for the study of the language and Dr. Blackburn’s research and publications adding greatly to the understanding of Tamil oral tradition – have greatly enriched SOAS’s history of engagement with this area of study.

Purvaja Bharathanatiyam Dance. Photo by Baba Luxy.

Unfortunately the development of Tamil Studies at SOAS is suffering due the current lack of Tamil language instruction. As a result of increasing cuts in government funding for specialist language teaching, the School made the difficult decision a few years ago to remove Tamil from its language offering. Whilst several of SOAS academics still focus heavily on other aspects of Tamil culture and society – such as Professor David Mosse’s seminal work on caste and Christianity in South India, Dr. Stephen Hughes’s important work on Tamil performing arts, Dr. Crispin Branfoot’s research on the South Indian temple, art and architecture, and Dr. Suthaharan Nadarajah’s influential research on the Sri Lankan peace process, diaspora, and international relations – currently neither language instruction nor expertise in literature is available.

Unfortunately the development of Tamil Studies at SOAS is suffering due the current lack of Tamil language instruction. As a result of increasing cuts in government funding for specialist language teaching, the School made the difficult decision a few years ago to remove Tamil from its language offering. Whilst several of SOAS academics still focus heavily on other aspects of Tamil culture and society – such as Professor David Mosse’s seminal work on caste and Christianity in South India, Dr. Stephen Hughes’s important work on Tamil performing arts, Dr. Crispin Branfoot’s research on the South Indian temple, art and architecture, and Dr. Suthaharan Nadarajah’s influential research on the Sri Lankan peace process, diaspora, and international relations – currently neither language instruction nor expertise in literature is available.

Why SOAS?

The breadth and depth of SOAS’s expertise on South Asia makes it the perfect home for Tamil Studies initiative. SOAS is home to the South Asia Institute which represents the most extensive and diverse community of scholars working on the region of any university in Europe. With over 65 academics covering a wide range of topics related to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives, the Institute has established itself as an internationally renowned centre for multidisciplinary research and training, offering specialist degree programmes and expert analysis, as well as forging important partnerships with academic institutions in the region.

The SOAS Library boasts over 150,000 resources on the region, in European and South Asian languages. It has amassed one of the most substantial open collections of Tamil published books and manuscripts in the UK, second only to the British Library.

Its location in the heart of London also makes SOAS the ideal home for this initiative. London has one of the most substantial Tamil-diaspora populations globally as well as a wealth of cultural, intellectual and humanitarian institutions such as Asia House, The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, The Nehru Centre and the Tamil branch of the BBC, which would all benefit from the development of the Tamil presence at SOAS. London is also host to many weekend Tamil Schools, with many volunteer teachers offering basic and intermediate instruction to students up to the age of 18. They would also be direct beneficiaries of an advanced Tamil Studies programme within London.

SOAS is also the home of the beloved statue of the famous Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar, whose presence has illuminated the SOAS campus for over 20 years. The SOAS Students Union hosts an active Tamil Society which organises a varied programme of events for anyone interested in Tamil culture and issues.