Columbia’s Gayatri Spivak, Princeton-bound Pratap Bhanu Mehta among British Academy Fellows

Indian American Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (left) and Pratap Bhanu Mehta are among 84 new Fellows elected by the British Academy.
Indian American Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (left) and Pratap Bhanu Mehta are among 84 new Fellows elected by the British Academy.

Prominent Indian American academic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and incoming Princeton professor Pratap Bhanu Mehta are among 84 new Fellows elected by the British Academy.

The fellows were elected “in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the SHAPE subjects – the social sciences, humanities and the arts,” the academy said Friday.

Spikav and Mehta were elected as “Corresponding Fellows” who live outside of the United Kingdom. Twelve of the 29 Corresponding Fellows are affiliated with various U.S. schools.

Spivak, a University Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature, is a renowned literary theorist and feminist critic. She has authored more than a dozen books on subjects ranging from 19th and 20th century literature to, Marxism and feminism, and deconstruction and post-colonialism.

She earned her bachelor’s in English from Presidency College, Calcutta, in 1959 and received a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Cornell University in 1967.

Spivak is a recipient of Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award.

Mehta, one of India’s best-known academics and columnists, is set to join Princeton, his alma mater, as the Laurance S. Rockefeller Distinguished Professor at the Center for Human Values.

Currently, he is associated with the Centre for Policy Research, a think tank based in New Delhi.

Until last March, he was a professor at Ashoka University just outside of New Delhi. From 2017 to 2019, he had served as the vice chancellor of the university.

Mehta, whose columns in the Indian Express newspaper have been highly critical of the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said he quit Ashoka because the private university’s founders told him that he had become a “political liability” for the school.

Some 150 prominent academics from various parts of the world, including the United States, wrote a letter in support of Mehta.

“We write in solidarity with Pratap Bhanu Mehta, and to reaffirm the importance of the values that he has always practiced. In political life, these are free argument, tolerance, and a democratic spirit of equal citizenship,” the letter stated. “In the university, they are free inquiry, candour, and rigorous distinction between the demands of intellectual honesty and the pressure of politicians, funders, or ideological animus. These values come under assault whenever a scholar is punished for the content of public speech. When that speech is in defense of precisely these values, the assault is especially shameful.”

Sukanta Chaudhuri, a professor emeritus at Jadavpur University, has also been elected a Corresponding Fellow. He is an expert on European Renaissance literature, Shakespeare and Rabindranath Tagore.

British Academy president Prof. Julia Black welcomed the Fellows. “As the new President of the British Academy, it gives me great pleasure to welcome this new cohort of Fellows, who are as impressive as ever and remind us of the rich and diverse scholarship and research undertaken within the SHAPE disciplines – the social sciences, humanities and the arts,” she said. “I am very much looking forward to working with them on our shared interests.”

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