Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, renowned scholar of India, 1930-2015

Editor’s note: A memorial service for Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne Hoeber Rudolph will be held Nov. 12 at 1:30 p.m. in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel

Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, the William Benton Distinguished Service Professor Emerita of Political Science at the University of Chicago, died Dec. 23 in Oakland, Calif., after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. Rudolph, 85, was a past president of the American Political Science Association and the Association for Asian Studies, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Along with her husband and close collaborator Lloyd, Rudolph published numerous influential works that earned them the 2014 Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian honor. The Rudolph’s extraordinary teaching and scholarship helped make the University of Chicago a leading institution for the study of India.

Rudolph’s work with her husband relied on careful qualitative analysis that incorporated topics and methods from other fields, including literature and psychology. The range of the Rudolph’s work was unusually broad, encompassing not only Indian politics but also comparative politics as a general field, with special interest in the political economy and political sociology of South Asia, state formation, Max Weber, political psychology, methodology, and the politics of category and culture.

Her major books include The Modernity of Tradition, Transnational Religion and Fading StatesEducation and Politics in IndiaIn Pursuit of Lakshmi: the Political Economy of the Indian State; and Essays on Rajputana.

Born Susanne Hoeber in 1930, she lived in Germany until 1939, when her family fled following her father’s imprisonment for anti-Nazi activities. The Hoebers settled in Philadelphia, where Susanne’s parents, Johannes and Elfriede, were active in public service and social justice causes. Rudolph received her BA from Sarah Lawrence in 1951 and her PhD from Harvard in 1955.

Shortly after her arrival at Harvard, Susanne met fellow graduate student Lloyd Rudolph. Their marriage in 1952 marked the beginning of a 60-year partnership distinguished by its scholarly excellence and its extraordinary respect and affection, both for each other and for their students.

Their collaboration was especially noteworthy at a time when women seldom became professors. Susanne’s student Kristen Monroe, PhD’74, remembers their marriage as a source of “inspiration and hope for many young women, not sure they could successfully combine career with family. The grace with which Susanne did this, and the support Lloyd provided as an equal but liberated male were critical at a time when women lacked role models.”  

In 1956, the couple embarked on their first trip to India, driving from London to New Delhi in a Land Rover. Their journey is documented in the 2014 volume Destination India, which earned praise as a model of travel writing and intellectual commentary.

The Rudolphs spent much of their adult life doing field research in India, and their scholarly work changed the field. Their first book, The Modernity of Tradition, introduced political scientists to the idea that the politics of countries outside Europe could differ from the European model and still be “modern.” It argued that many so-called “traditional” institutions—such as caste—can perform what Westerners think of as “modern” functions. Recognized as a classic in the field, The Modernity of Tradition has remained in print throughout the half-century since its publication.

The Rudolphs would author many more books together, in work noted for its breadth as well as its scholarly depth and attention to detail. Many, like Explaining Indian Democracy (2015), are mainstream analyses of Indian politics; others, like Making U.S. Foreign Policy toward South Asia (2008) address U.S. policy toward India. Their work on Gandhi, such as Postmodern Gandhi and Other Essays and Reversing the Gaze: Amaar Singh’s Diary: A Colonial Subject’s Narrative of Imperial India, revealed Susanne’s concern with political psychology. These works focused attention on identity and suggest how people’s perceptions of others shape their actions toward others.  

A dedicated teacher and winner of the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, Rudolph taught a popular course on the political psychology of identity at UChicago. Several of the Rudolphs’ many distinguished students mention another course taught by Rudolph, “Subjection, Equality and Domination: A Study of the Asymmetrical Relationship,” as their favorite course, precisely because of its ability to reveal new insight into issues such as race, and ethnic and religious prejudice, while forcing students to see the world in a new light.

The Rudolphs were active in the “Perestroika” movement, a loose-knit grassroots effort in the early 2000s that sought to open political science to greater methodological pluralism. The Rudolphs received the 2009 Blade of Grass Award, given by the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods Conference Group of the American Political Science Association, in honor of their contributions to interpretive studies of the political world.

As pre-eminent scholars of the world’s largest democracy, the Rudolphs lived in India every fourth year for nearly 50 years. Their three children were educated in Indian schools so they would grow up bilingual in Hindi and English. Much of this time was in Jaipur, with Rajasthan their home base for studying modern politics and examining India’s princely states both in the British colonial period and post-independence.

Rudolph is survived by her brothers, Thomas Hoeber of Berkeley, Calif., and Francis Hoeber of Philadelphia, Penn., her husband, Lloyd, and her three children: Jenny, who serves on the faculty at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School; Amelia, artistic director of Bandaloop, an Oakland, Calif.-based aerial dance company; and Matthew, a political scientist teaching at San Francisco State University. Susanne also delighted in and is survived by her three grandchildren: Gia (19), Maya (9), and Ry (4).

A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date.