Vinay Lal

Associate Professor


Vinay Lal was born in Delhi and raised in India, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States. He studied literature, history, and philosophy as an undergraduate, and earned his B.A. from the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins University in 1982. He received a M.A. from the same institution, also in 1982, for a thesis on Emerson and Indian Philosophy. He then studied film in Australia and India on a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship before commencing his graduate studies at the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, where he was awarded his Ph.D. with Distinction in 1992. His dissertation, "Committees of Inquiry and Discourses of 'Law and Order' in Twentieth-Century British India", received the Marc Galler Award for the best dissertation in the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago. He was a William R. Kenan Fellow, Society of Fellows in the Humanities, and Lecturer in History, at Columbia University in 1992-93.

Vinay joined the history faculty at UCLA in Fall 1993, and has since held several fellowships, including a Senior Fellowship from the American Institute of Indian Studies, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for University Teachers, and a fellowship from the Society for the Promotion of Science/Japan Area Studies Center at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka. He was elected a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science in February 2000.

Vinay teaches a broad range of courses in Indian history, comparative colonial histories, and subaltern history and Indian historiography, as well as graduate level seminars on the contemporary politics of knowledge, postcolonial theory, and the politics of culture. He has designed and taught a cycle of upper-division undergraduate lecture courses on British India, Contemporary South Asia, the Indian Diaspora, and the Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi. Seminars in Indian history cover such subjects as the Politics of Religion and Ethnicity in South Asia; Hindu-Muslim Encounters in South Asia; "The Woman Question" in Colonial India; The Life of Krishna in Indian Art, History, and Culture; History and the Novel; the Partition of India; Violence in Contemporary Indian Society; and History and Popular Cinema.

Vinay has written regularly on a wide variety of subjects for periodicals in the US, India, and Britain, including the Economic and Political Weekly (Mumbai), The Little Magazine (Delhi), and Social Scientist (Delhi). Lengthier scholarly articles have appeared in such journals as Diaspora, Social Text, South Asia, Genders, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Environmental Ethics, History and Theory, Studies in History, Patterns of Prejudice, Social Epistemology, Radical History Review, and Third Text. Among other subjects, he has written on various aspects of the political and legal history of colonial India, sexuality in modern India, the popular Hindi film, the Indian diaspora, Indian documentaries, the politics and history of history, dissent in the Gandhian mode, contemporary American politics, the politics of culture, genocide, and the global politics of knowledge systems.

Vinay's published books are enumerated below. His book-length works in the domain of Indian history that are now in progress include a study of political trials in colonial India and a study of the the cultural politics of fasting, with particuarly reference to Gandhi. He is also engaged in putting together a scholarly and creative anthology on the Indian city (under contract with Oxford), a historical study of American exceptionalism (for Zed Books), and a short work on the poetics and politics of water (under contract with Penguin).

Vinay was formally associated as a Visiting Fellow in the summers of 1993 and 1994 with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and the Delhi-based Committee for Cultural Choices and Global Futures. The scholars, public intellectuals, and activists who comprise the membership of the Committee describe themselves as motivated by "an intellectual concern for the ecology of plural knowledge, a normative concern with cultural survival, and a potential concern with the search for humane futures for the victims of history." Vinay shares the concerns described in the manifesto of the committee, with whose chairperson, Ashis Nandy, he has published two books (see below).

Publications (Books only):

Empire of Knowledge: Culture and Plurality in the Global Economy. London: Pluto Press, 2002; Indian edition with new material: Delhi: Sage Publications/Vistaar, 2005.

Of Cricket, Guinness and Gandhi: Essays on Indian History and Culture. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2003; paperback, Delhi: Viking Penguin, 2005.

The History of History: Politics and Scholarship in Modern India. Delhi: Oxford UP, 2003; paperback edition with new postscript, Oxford 2005.

Introducing Hinduism (illustrated by Borin van Loon). London: Icon Books, 2005; Spanish translation published as Hinduismo Para Todos (Barcelona, 2006). (Korean translation forthcoming.)

(Edited) Dissenting Knowledges, Open Futures: The Multiple Selves and Strange Destinations of Ashis Nandy. Delhi: Oxford UP, 2000.

South Asian Cultural Studies: A Bibliography. Delhi: Manohar, 1996.

The Future of Knowledge and Culture: A Dictionary for the Twenty-first Century, co-edited with Ashis Nandy, Delhi: Viking Penguin, 2005.

Fingerprinting Popular Culture: The Mythic and the Iconic in Indian Cinema, co-edited with Ashis Nandy. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Visit his scholarly web site on South Asia at


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