University selects inaugural appointees to Indian Ministry of Culture Vivekananda Visiting Professorship

Two leading scholars from Cambridge University and Hebrew University have been appointed to the Indian Ministry of Culture Vivekananda Visiting Professorship at the University of Chicago.


Sir Christopher Bayly of Cambridge University, an expert on post-18th-century Indian history and British imperial history, will join the faculty of South Asian Languages and Civilizations for Spring Quarter of 2014 and 2015. David Shulman of Hebrew University, who studies the history, religion, poetry and languages of Southern India, will be in residence for Spring Quarter of 2016 and 2017.


“The arrival of these distinguished scholars and teachers will invigorate scholarly dialogue concerning Indian literature, philosophy, politics, and social history. The University looks forward to their contributions and anticipates great accomplishments,” said Martha T. Roth, dean of the Division of the Humanities and the Chauncey S. Boucher Distinguished Service Professor of Assyriology.


The Indian Ministry of Culture Vivekananda Visiting Professorship was established to commemorate the legacy of the Hindu spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda and to enrich the University’s renowned program for the study of the Indian subcontinent. The professorship is supported by a $1.5 million gift to the University from the Indian Ministry of Culture. Current Indian president Pranab Mukherjee and Ambassador Nirupama Rao attended a January 2012 ceremony at the University to celebrate the founding of the program.

During their time on campus, Bayly and Shulman will offer classes in South Asian Languages and Civilizations and participate in the intellectual life of the University through conversations with students and colleagues. Both scholars also will deliver a public lecture that shares their respective research with a wider audience.

An interdisciplinary faculty committee composed of representatives from Anthropology, English Language and Literature, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the Divinity School selected Bayly and Shulman.

“We are delighted to know that the first two incumbents of this distinguished chair will be experts on India who are already internationally renowned for their scholarship and teaching, and who each in his own way works to enhance the world's understanding of the history, culture and people of India,” said Gary Tubb, professor in SALC, who chaired the committee that selected Bayly and Shulman. 

“Sir Christopher Bayly, through his careful attention to the lives of Indian people and the wide-reaching impact of Indians on social and political change, continues to illuminate the role of India in modern history. David Shulman’s work explores the rich interactions of literature, philosophy, religion, and regional cultures in the intellectual and social life of India across the centuries,” Tubb added.

Bayly is the Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History and the Director of the Centre of South Asian Studies at Cambridge. He has held numerous visiting appointments throughout the United States and Europe. In addition to his Knight Bachelor award “for services to history outside Europe,” he also has been honored by academic societies and institutions, including the British Academy, the Royal Historical Society, the Academia Europaea, the Royal Society of Literature, the Royal Asiatic Society, and the British Museum. In 2005 he received the Wolfson Prize for Lifetime Achievement in History.

Bayly’s current project, “The Twentieth Century: Connections and Comparisons 1914–2014,” continues his research into the intellectual history of South Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries. His latest monograph is Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought in the Age of Liberalism and Empire (2011), the 100th volume in Cambridge University Press’s “Ideas in Context” book series.

Shulman is the Renee Lang Professor of Humanistic Studies in the Department of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His PhD is from the University of London. An expert on Indian languages and poetics, as well as South Indian religious history, Shulman’s extensive publications include scholarly works, translations, and original poetry in Hebrew. Most recently he published More than Real: A History of the Imagination in South India (Harvard 2012) and co-authored several books with Telugu scholar Velcheru Narayana Rao.

Shulman’s memoirs, Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine (2007) and Spring, Heat, Rains: A South Indian Diary (2008), were both released by the University of Chicago Press. Shulman has been the recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities research grants as well as fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. Shulman received an honorary degree from the University at the 500th Convocation in 2009.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Swami Vivekananda, who helped to raise awareness of Hinduism and Indian culture in the United States. He also was 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.

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel will host a program at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 6, in celebration of Vivekananda’s birth. The event will feature the lighting of 150 lanterns, traditional Indian song and chant, and Eastern/Western fusion music from Sur Musafir. Elizabeth Davenport, dean of Rockefeller Chapel, Rochona Majumdar, associate professor in South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Swamis Ishatmananda, Shantarupananda and Varadananda will speak at the ceremony, along with Tubb. The celebration is sponsored by the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago, the University’s Office of Spiritual Life, and the Committee on South Asian Studies.

The selection of the inaugural holders of the Vivekananda Chair 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.