New chair in Indian studies to commemorate Hindu spiritual leader

Support from Indian Ministry of Culture will help bring visiting scholars to campus

The University of Chicago will establish a new visiting professorship in Indian studies, supported by a $1.5 million gift from India’s Ministry of Culture.

The new chair, which commemorates the legacy of the Hindu spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda, will enrich the University’s renowned program for the study of the Indian subcontinent and further research and teaching of India’s history and culture.

Indian and University officials will come together on Jan. 28 at 3:45 p.m. in International House to celebrate the new commitment. The ceremony will include remarks from India’s finance minister Pranab Mukherjee; Ambassador Nirupama Rao; Martha Roth, dean of the Humanities and the Chauncey S. Boucher Professor of Assyriology; and Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in History and South Asian Languages and Civilizations.

The event will be webcast on the UChicago Live tab of the University’s Facebook page.

“The Ministry’s generous support will allow us to expand on the University’s tradition of rigorous scholarship in Indian studies,” said University President Robert J. Zimmer. “This pledge, as well as the upcoming visit from Indian leaders, stand as a testament to the importance of the relationship between the University of Chicago and India, and the mutual commitment to scholarship.”

The gift will support the establishment of the Indian Ministry of Culture Vivekananda Visiting Professorship. The one-quarter visiting professorship will be given to distinguished scholars from a variety of disciplines with an interest in the fields of study most relevant to the teachings and philosophies of the Swami, such as Indian philosophy, politics and social movements. The professorship, which the Division of the Humanities will administer, includes a teaching commitment as well as an annual public lecture.

Roth said the holder of the Vivekananda Chair would be welcomed into UChicago’s vibrant South Asian studies community.

“The University of Chicago is proud of our exceptional group of faculty and students with interests in the scholarship of South Asia. The Ministry of Culture’s generous gift will deepen engagement with the history, culture, and people of India here at the University of Chicago,” she said.

Next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Swami Vivekananda, who helped to raise awareness of Hinduism and Indian culture in the United States. He was also a strong advocate of interfaith understanding and cooperation. Vivekananda rose to prominence in the United States during the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, when he delivered an enormously popular lecture on the teachings of Hinduism.

“The Ministry’s generous support for the Vivekananda Chair will allow us to educate new generations of students about India and its traditions,” Chakrabarty said. “I cannot think of a more fitting way to honor the legacy of Swami Vivekananda, who played such a vital role in sharing Indian culture with the world."

The Ministry of Culture’s gift comes as the University of Chicago prepares to further strengthen its ties to India. In 2010, a faculty committee recommended the creation of a center in New Delhi as a focus for the University’s scholarship, teaching and engagement in India.

The University of Chicago is home to a rich array of resources for the study of the Indian subcontinent. Currently, more than 60 faculty members are engaged in the study of South Asian history, culture and language. The University offers instruction in nine modern and two classical Indian languages, including advanced instruction in less commonly taught languages such as Malayalam, Marathi and Telugu.

The University of Chicago Library’s Digital South Asia Library has improved access to research and reference materials on South Asia worldwide, and its celebrated South Asia collection holds more than 720,000 volumes.