Lloyd Rudolph, leading scholar and teacher of South Asia, 1927-2016

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

Lloyd Rudolph, professor emeritus of political science, died Jan. 16, in Oakland, Calif. of prostate cancer. He was 88.

He had a long and distinguished career at UChicago, almost entirely in collaboration with his wife, Prof. Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, who died in December 2015. In 2014, the Rudolphs jointly received the Padma Bhushan Award, one of India’s highest civilian honors. The award recognizes distinguished service of a high order to the nation of India in any field.


“When it comes to thinking about contemporary India, one misses political analysts of the caliber of Lloyd and Susanne,” said colleague Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in History and South Asian Languages and Civilizations.

The Rudolphs had the capacity to express academic criticism of Indian politics in a way that communicated their concerns for the country—a trait that Charkabarty said he admired.

“They undertook their scholarly work in a true spirit of generosity,” Chakrabarty said. “They were almost proud of what they saw as the achievements of Indian democracy while being critical of what they saw as its shortcomings. They, unlike many other external observers, did not make Indians feel defensive about their nation, and that was one reason why they were deeply respected by Indian leaders and scholars,” Chakrabarty said.

The Rudolphs also were known for encouraging other South Asian scholars in a variety of disciplines, and sought to integrate into their work the insights provided by social science scholarship from outside political science.

“I was often surprised to find that they had actually read some of my historical essays and wanted to discuss them with me,” Chakrabarty said.

Rudolph’s research and teaching focused on institutional political economy, state formation, South Asian comparative politics, and Gandhian thought and practice. The Rudolphs co-authored or co-edited eight books together, starting with The Modernity of Tradition (1967), a seminal formulation of the problem of tradition and modernity that has shaped the study of India past and present over the last 50 years.

The Modernity of Tradition turned out to be one of the most enduring interpretations of modernization of Indian society,” Chakrabarty said. “At a time when reigning theories of the 1950s blamed the so-called backwardness of India on the tenacity of her ‘traditional’ institutions like caste, the Rudolphs showed how traditional-seeming institutions had actually morphed through the colonial period to take on functions that one could only see as ‘modern.’”

Their later work on Indian capitalism, Gandhi and other topics were similarly informed by a deep sensitivity to India’s specific history and culture, he said.

Their other books include Education and Politics in India (co-editors, 1972), The Regional Imperative: The Administration of U.S. Foreign Policy Towards South Asian States (co-editors and contributing authors, 1980, reissued in 2007); Gandhi: The Traditional Roots of Charisma (1983); Essays on Rajputana (1984); and In Pursuit of Lakshmi: The Political Economy of the Indian State (1987).

More recently they published Reversing the Gaze: The Amar Singh Diary, a Colonial Subject’s Narrative of Imperial India (2000, 2005); and Postmodern Gandhi and Other Essays (2006).

In 2008, the Oxford University Press published a three-volume, career-spanning collection of the Rudolphs’ writings entitled Explaining Indian Democracy: A Fifty-Year Perspective.

Lloyd Rudolph also edited or co-edited and contributed to Cultural Politics in India (1984); The Idea of Rajasthan (1994), and Experiencing the State (2006).

In 2002, the Rudolphs co-delivered the University’s Nora and Edward Ryerson Lecture, during which they reflected on their intellectual lives and work together. The faculty selects each Ryerson Lecturer based on a consensus that a particular scholar has made research contributions of lasting significance.

Lloyd Irving Rudolph was born in Chicago on Nov. 1, 1927, and grew up in Chicago and Elgin. His mother, Bertha M. Rudolph, was co-operator of the Allied Shoe Company and a leading Hyde Park real estate owner and manager. After graduating from Elgin High School, he was appointed a cadet at West Point in 1945, but resigned his commission to attend Harvard University, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1948. From Harvard he also earned a master of public administration degree in 1950, and a PhD in political science in 1956. He married Susanne Hoeber Rudolph in 1952.

In 1956, the Rudolphs drove a Land Rover from Austria to New Delhi, their first trip to India, launching an almost 60-year partnership studying the country. In 2014, they published an account of that journey, Destination India.

Rudolph joined the Harvard faculty with Susanne in 1957, where they remained until their appointment to the UChicago political science faculty in 1964. At the University he served as chair of the Committee on International Relations and the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences and as chair of concentrations in political science, public policy, international studies and South Asian studies in the College. In 1999, Rudolph received UChicago’s Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching. He retired as professor emeritus in 2002 along with Susanne.

The Rudolphs were famous for co-teaching courses, and they often lectured together. “They have been so deeply entwined with each other’s thinking and work that it becomes impossible to separate them, even though they each wrote and thought separately,” said Philip Oldenburg, PhD’74, an adjunct associate professor of political science at Columbia University. Oldenburg said that Lloyd was his mentor but treated him as a junior colleague from his first year in graduate school.

He recalled that the Rudolphs would often invite world-famous scholars, tenured colleagues and selected graduate students to social events at their home. “These were gatherings where conversation flowed across the reputation/experience barriers, and where serious discussions melded with conviviality,” Oldenburg said.

Together, the Rudolphs served on the defense committees of approximately 300 students. “The Rudolphs were generous with their time, ideas and resources,” said Kamal Sadiq, PhD’03, an associate professor of political science at University of California, Irvine, who had both Lloyd and Susanne as his advisors. Sadiq remembers fondly how a 15-minute meeting with Susanne would frequently flow into an extended meeting with Lloyd in the neighboring office.

“Soon both the Rudolphs were in an animated exchange over my dissertation. A multitude of concepts and facts were examined, and I would emerge smiling and enthused about the research ahead,” Sadiq said. 

Lloyd Rudolph’s family had strong UChicago ties. Both of his brothers attended the University. His older brother Robert, X’46, MBA’54, died in 2012. His younger brother Wallace, AB’50, JD’53, was a professor and dean at two law schools. He practices law in Florida.

“As a University of Chicago PhD myself, I always felt inspired by both Lloyd and Susanne,” said nephew Alexander L. Rudolph, PhD’88, professor of physics and astronomy at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. “I saw them as the model of what an academic can be in a very old-school way, meaning that as a compliment. I also feel a certain pride in having received my PhD from their institution, albeit in a different field.”

The Rudolphs were active in the “Perestroika” movement in political science, a movement that challenged the idea that objective truth had to be divorced from time, place and circumstances. The Rudolphs vigorously promoted the value of area studies to scholarship.

In 2003, the Rudolphs’ colleagues convened a three-day UChicago conference in their honor, titled “Area Studies Redux: Situating Knowledge in a Globalizing World.” The conference, coming less than two years after the 9/11 tragedy, focused on the need to better understand other cultures, the role regions play in world politics, and the significance of “local knowledge” and area studies.

Rudolph received grants or fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, National Science Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, the American Institute of Indian Studies, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Fulbright program.

Rudolph published in scholarly journals such as the American Political Science Review, World Politics, Journal of Asian Studies, Modern Asian Studies, and Daedalus. He also wrote opinion pieces for outlets such as Foreign Affairs, New Republic, New York Times Magazine, New York Times Book Review, Christian Science Monitor and The Nation.

Rudolph is survived by his 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; his three grandchildren: Gia (19), Maya (9) and Ry (4); and his younger brother Wallace Rudolph.

Arrangements for a memorial service are pending. Memorials may be made in honor of Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph to the American Institute for Indian Studies.