South Asian Studies: Postgraduate Study Options

Are you interested in India and South Asia? Did you know there are numerous exciting opportunities to forge a postgraduate specialisation in the region?

Whether you are an undergraduate exploring your options, a recent graduate figuring out your plans, in the workforce looking to deepen your expertise or somebody simply wanting to try something new, South Asian Studies might be for you!

The interdisciplinary field of ‘Area Studies,’ of which South Asian Studies is a subfield, has gone through a long process of development, involving much critique and re-evaluation. Its roots lie in the 18th Century when colonial powers sought to deepen their understanding of the people and regions they presided over. Such efforts were later consolidated in the United States of the early 20th Century and accelerated during the Cold War when the strategic imperatives of understanding the world outside Europe and North America became more apparent. Scholars sought to blend a range of disciplines such as history, geography, political science, linguistics, sociology and anthropology to provide a fuller picture of such regions.

However, over time, prominent critics highlighted some of the issues inherent within the field, sparking a revaluation. Edward Said posed the most notable of such critiques in his revolutionary 1978 book, Orientalism, ­which argued the field had constructed a problematic and sometimes condescending picture of the ‘Orient,’ playing into colonial narratives. Consequently, the field now seeks to incorporate a broader range of ideas drawn from critical approaches – notably, postcolonial studies – to challenge the role of Western academia in furthering colonial injustices.

However, like any field, South Asian Studies is not stagnant; it will continue to evolve as our understands shift. Perhaps you could play a role in the ongoing process!

So, where can you get involved?

There are many options to fit a wide range of interests and location preferences. Below is a list of some leading programs in the field.


National University of Singapore: MA in South Asian Studies or PhD in South Asian Studies

The South Asian Studies Programme (SASP) at the National University of Singapore provides outstanding opportunities to deepen your interdisciplinary understanding of South Asia and conduct research at the MA and PhD level. The SASP is particularly focused on issues concerning contemporary South Asia. Its faculty has strengths in areas including Political Economy and Development, Religious Studies, Diaspora and Trans-national Studies, Contemporary History and Anthropology and Religious Studies. Additionally, you will have access to an extensive collection of materials on South Asia at the University’s Central Library.

MA candidates must complete all requirements within three years, during which they undertake a minimum of four modules a write a thesis up to 30,000 words. Students pursuing a PhD have five years to finish their degree, which requires six modules, passing a qualifying examination and a thesis up to 80,000 words. 

Additional options in Asia:

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Australian National University: Master of Asian and Pacific Studies or Master of Asian and Pacific Studies (Advanced)

While no Australian university offers a specialised degree program in South Asian studies, the two-year MAPS program at the ANU allows you to take on a specialisation in South and Southeast Asian Studies while also studying Hindi, Sanskrit, Tibetan or Burmese. If you are interested in writing a thesis, apply to the advanced program.

As the program is housed within the world-renowned College of Asia & the Pacific, you will have access to leading scholars in the field and excellent resources. Additionally, the MAPS program provides opportunities to tailor your degree towards your disciplinary interests. You can combine the range South Asian Studies courses with courses on Development, Environment, Gender, History and Culture, Linguistics, Politics and International Affairs, Security, Research Methods or other regions in the Asia Pacific.

Continental Europe:

Leiden University: MA South Asian Studies or PhD in Asian studies

If you are interested in studying in Continental Europe, the South Asian Studies program at Leiden University is an excellent option. Leiden combines a comparative and global approach with specialised and in-depth expertise, offering a diverse range of subjects and a significant degree of flexibility to students to tailor their area of focus. In addition to the wide selection of interdisciplinary courses covering topics from politics, history, culture, art, anthropology and literature, you will have the opportunity to study Hindi, Sanskrit or Tibetan. You will also have access to world-class library and archival resources, in addition to teaching and supervision from some of the leading South Asia scholars in Europe.

The MA is a one-year degree that consists of two core courses: ‘Introduction to Asian Studies’ and ‘Thesis and Methods Class,’ one or two electives of your choice, participation in a research seminar and writing a thesis of up to 15,000 words.

The PhD in Asian Studies is generally expected to take four years and will involve training in academic skills and research methods, relevant specialist coursework, and extensive research, culminating in a dissertation.

Additional options in Continental Europe:

United Kingdom

University of Oxford: MSc in Modern South Asian Studies

The MSc in Modern South Asian Studies at the University of Oxford is an exciting twelve-month degree that allows you to take advantage of Oxford’s wealth of expertise on the states, societies, economies and cultures of South Asia.

During the MSc, you will undertake a core course that introduces modern South Asia from a range of disciplinary perspectives, helping you understand the multitude of forces at play within this complex and diverse region. You will also select two option courses (electives) through which you can tailor your focus towards your interests and take one of three programs in research methods. If you choose, your options can include advanced language study of Hindi, Hindi and Urdu, Brajbhasha and Old Hindi, or, if timetabling permits, Sanskrit, Persian or Tibetan. Finally, you will produce a 12,000-word thesis under expert supervision. The MSc provides an excellent balance of structure and flexibility which will help you forge a professional or academic specialisation in the region.

If you are searching for a more extensive degree, you can undertake the two-year MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies. During the MPhil, you will take the same core course as MSc students, at least two option courses, training in advanced methods and a 30,000-word thesis. Additionally, you will have the opportunity to take either the language track or the non-language track. Language track students will undergo rigorous language training over the two years, while non-language track students will take an additional option course.

Other programs worth considering at Oxford include the MPhil in Global and Area Studies or the DPhil in Area Studies.

Additional options in the UK:

United States

University of Pennsylvania: MA in South Asian Studies  or PhD in South Asian Studies

The Department of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania is the oldest and one of the most distinguished centres to study the region in the US. It provides rigorous training in South Asian languages, literature, culture, and history. The languages on offer include Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu.

The MA is a two-year program that provides the opportunity to take South Asian-focused classes in a range of disciplines while reaching a minimum of intermediate/high level of proficiency in a South Asian language. It is also possible for you to write a thesis.

The PhD builds upon the MA. You will delve deeper into interdisciplinary courses and research methodologies while taking on a second research language. After passing all qualifying and candidacy requirements, you will produce and defend a dissertation based on your research. The entire process usually takes between five to seven years.

Additional options in the US:

Looking for additional tips before applying?

If you would like to apply to any of these programs and are looking for some helpful application tips, check this link. Happy studying!

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Ben Barron

Ben loves India and is endlessly fascinated yet perplexed by its vibrant and diverse society. He has engaged with India through backpacking, hiking, interning, volunteering, and studying Hindi. He has also spent time in the broader South Asia region, including a research internship with the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka. Ben is currently pursuing an MSc in Modern South Asian Studies at St Antony's College, Oxford and holds a Bachelor of International Security Studies from the ANU. Additionally, he completed a summer diplomacy programme at King's College London.