Joint Seminar on South Asian Politics

This seminar is open to the public.

[  Seminar Website  ]

South Asia's economic and strategic relevance has grown significantly in recent years. While scholars often note India's economic resurgence and South Asia's struggle with terror, the region offers much more that is of enormous intellectual and scholarly interest.

Among the important questions of politics, economics, and security in South Asia, the seminar continues to focus on the following questions:

  • Is identity politics declining in India? Is governance becoming a more salient issue in politics?

  • In what ways are the rising cities changing politics in India? Is there greater consciousness of citizenship or citizen rights?

  • Has the equality principle of democracy undermined India's caste system, or have caste inequalities changed the script of Indian democracy, forcing it to differ significantly from the Western democratic experience?

  • Serious regional disparities mark virtually the entire region. In India, the southern and western states have boomed in comparison to the northern and eastern states—in economic as well as human-development terms—though recent evidence indicates they have been catching up. In Pakistan, the Punjab region continues to be far ahead of the other regions. How does one explain such variations? What are the consequences of regional inequalities?

  • What are the patterns of interpersonal and urban-rural inequalities? And why?

  • The shadow of security over politics and economics is now dark and deep. Why has terrorism taken such root in Pakistan? Might it spread to India in a significant way?

  • Is Indian Maoism a form of revolutionary politics or a genre of terrorism, or both? What explains its geographical concentration? What explains the variations in violence in Maoist lands?

  • The security situation in Afghanistan continues to cause concern. How does one understand the problem of instituting political order in Afghanistan?

  • Why do South Asian democracies find it so hard to develop more robust human rights regimes?

  • Why have South Asian societies struggled so hard to establish reliable legal regimes? Do their cultural and sociological norms seriously clash with the rule of law?

  • Some of the world's most respected non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been working in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and India. What kinds of NGOs succeed and what types fail?

  • How has India’s democratic longevity coexisted with (a) party fractionalization, (b) long-lasting inequalities, and (c) low aggregate incomes?

  • Why are human-development indicators (such as education and health) different across countries in the region and different across regions in each country? What might explain changes over time?

The seminar meets at least three times per semester and is supported by Brown University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The conveners of the joint seminar are Patrick Heller, Prerna Singh, and Ashutosh Varshney (Brown University); Emmerich Davies (Harvard University); and Vipin Narang (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

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See also: Open Seminars


Patrick Heller

Professor of Sociology and International Studies, Brown University.


Vipin Narang

Associate Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.