The Early Years
The Indian Institute of Advanced Study came into existence because of the common vision of President S. Radhakrishnan-the remarkable philosopher-statesman and Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The Indian Institute of Advanced Study Society was registered on 6 October 1964 under the Registration of Societies Act of 1860. Exactly fifty-four weeks later, the Institute was formally inaugurated by President Radhakrishnan himself.
Under the Memorandum of Association, the primary objective of the Institute was 'to provide an environment suitable for academic research' in the humanities, and the social and natural sciences. In his inaugural address, Professor Radhakrishnan emphasized that a crucial question for the Institute to engage with was 'whether what has come down to us as truth is in fact true or requires some kind of modification'. 'We should not', he said, 'be prisoners of the status quo'.
A host of luminaries were closely associated with the Institute at its inception. The President of the Society was Dr. Zakir Husain, Vice-President of India, and Shri M.C. Chagla, Education Minister, was its Vice-President. Professor Niharranjan Ray was chosen as its first Director. In 1968, a review committee appointed by the Governing Body recognized that the country's first institution for multidisciplinary studies had come into existence. By bringing together 'Fellows in Residence', the Institute had begun to promote an 'inter-change of ideas, methodologies and techniques between scholars belonging to different fields of knowledge'. While paying a glowing tribute to Professor Niharranjan Ray, the committee recommended that 'the residential character, the autonomy and the academic freedom of the Institute should be preserved'.
At that time, the academics at the Institute consisted of Professors, Senior Research Fellows, Junior Research Fellows, Guest Fellows and Scholars. The review committee recommended that this hierarchy of academics be replaced by a single category of Fellows. Among the special areas of interest identified by it were: social sciences, historical studies, philosophy and letters, and pure mathematics. Apart from individual research, it was suggested that a group of Fellows from different disciplines could also undertake joint research, and a Fellow may be helped by research assistants for team research. The optimum number of Fellows at the Institute was placed at fifty. In 1969, these recommendations were accepted by the Governing Body. The Institute had, by October 1975, come to be internationally recognized as a centre of 'high creativity and excellence' that had contributed to the 'Indian community's discovery of its own identity'.
The Memorandum of Association of the Institute Society was again amended in 1984, on the basis of the recommendations of the Kripalani Committee. The Institute was to remain a residential centre for 'free and creative inquiry into fundamental themes and problems of life and thought'. Its primary objective was defined as the promotion of 'creative thought in areas which have deep human significance'.
The Institute awards 3 kinds of Fellowships—National Fellowships, Tagore Fellowships and Regular Fellowships. The maximum term of any Fellowship is 2 years. The term of these fellowships can be 6 months, 1 year or a maximum of 2 years.
While Fellows of the Institute are primarily engaged in their own research on themes approved by the Institute, the considerable formal and informal interaction amongst them encourages a healthy interdisciplinary dialogue. From 1st March to 15th December, the Fellows' weekly seminar is the primary forum for formal interaction. During their term, except during winter break from 16th December to 28th February, Fellows remain in residence from March to 15th December. In winter, they may engage in field work, library and archival consultations outside Shimla. Upon the completion of their term, Fellows are required to submit to the Institute their completed research work in the form of a monograph. The monographs submitted by them are considered for publication by the Institute — which also retains the first right of publication.
Apart from Fellows, other scholars also contribute to, and benefit from, the Institute. They may come as Visiting Professors, Visiting Scholars and Guest Scholars. Visiting Professors invited by the Governing Body of the Institute to deliver lectures and give seminars at the Institute. During an in-residence stay of up to four weeks, they also interact informally with Fellows of the Institute. Similarly, Visiting Scholars also come to the Institute on invitation. Like Visiting Professors, they too are distinguished in their respective fields, but their stay is limited to a week and all facilities of the Institute are extended to them. Guest Scholars visit the Institute on their own, subject to the availability of accommodation; they too are welcome to utilize the facilities on a nominal payment.
The academic activities of the Institute include the research being done by its Fellows at any given point of time. Occasionally, the Institute undertakes interdisciplinary research projects on which scholars from different disciplines work as a team. Through the year, the Institute also organizes several national level seminars on themes of contemporary relevance as well as those of fundamental theoretical significance. Often enough, distinguished scholars from abroad are also invited to these seminars. In addition, the Institute also conducts, on selected themes of wider significance, Summer and Winter Schools which may last up to 2 weeks. Themes of these schools may be explored in a series of such meetings over a few years.
Fellowships to the Institute are widely advertised throughout the country and also through the website of the Institute. The selection is made through various committees set up by the Governing Body. These committees consist of experts in different areas of research and they assist the Director in determining the academic merit of scholars and their projects. There is a multiplicity of approaches in the selection of Fellows. The selection is not necessarily confined to those who respond to advertisements. It is open to the Institute to consider the names of eminent scholars suggested by the Director, members of Governing Body and the Society. Talent is also identified through efforts on a regional and sub-regional basis. The final decision for the award of Fellowships is taken by the Governing Body of the Institute. This is done on the recommendation of a selection committee under the Chairmanship of the Director.
Areas of study
The Institute's Memorandum of Association (MoA) has identified the perspectives that should guide research in different areas. The areas of investigation should promote interdisciplinary research, the themes of research should be those for which the initial facilities required are not too expensive and the subject should have deep human significance. Further developing this concept, the principal areas should be those in which scholars of eminence can be attracted in the initial stages, both for the purposes of developing the methodological framework for interdisciplinary research and for ensuring an acceptable quality in output that will encourage extension of such efforts to more areas in future—provided that in selecting the projects, attention be given to areas of national relevance.
The Institute has defined certain areas of study. These fall under the following broad heads: social, political and economic philosophy; comparative Indian literature (including ancient, medieval, modern folk and tribal); comparative studies in philosophy and religion; development of world-views; education, culture, arts including performing arts and crafts; fundamental concepts and problems of logic and mathematics; fundamental concepts and problems of natural and life sciences; studies in environment, both natural and social; Indian civilization in the context of its Asian neighbours; and problems of contemporary India in the context of national integration and nation-building.
Certain areas have also been marked for special attention, such as: Indian unity in diversity, the integrality of Indian consciousness, the philosophy of education in the Indian perspective, advanced concepts in natural sciences and their philosophical implications and, the Indian and Asian contribution to the synthesis of science and spirituality. Spheres that encompass Indian and human unity, provide 'companions' to Indian literature, comparative studies of the Indian epics and human environment also come within this ambit.
In April 1991, on behalf of the University Grants Commission, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study began functioning as the Inter-University Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences. A part of this programme is to select teachers from colleges and universities to stay at the Institute as Associates. They came to the Institute for one month every year for three consecutive years. The Associates of the Centre participate in all the on-going programmes of the Institute. There are two other programmes of the Centre. The first is 'research seminars' on frontline areas of research in the humanities and the social sciences - these are meant primarily for young researchers in universities and colleges. The second programme is of 'study weeks' and is meant for senior teachers - and where others may also be invited to discuss contemporary problems of national and international importance.
On the 150th Birth Anniversary of ‘Gurudev’ Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS) was awarded the Tagore Centre for the Study of Culture and Civilization by the Ministry of Education(Shiksha Mantralaya) of Government of India. As the IIAS was mandated to seek out ‘the first principles and not particular details’ it is the most natural location for an intense conversation between the ‘inner and the outer’, between the ‘home and the world’, about the continuities between yesterday and today, and about the possibilities of both for tomorrow which occupied Tagore throughout his life. Therefore, while focusing on Tagore’s works and thoughts the Centre creates space where the vision of the seer, the sensibility of the poet, the creativity of the artist, the anxieties of the educationist, the questions of the philosopher, the aspirations of the subjugated, and the hopes of the internationalist would find a place.
The Centre does not aim at studying just Tagore’s works and thoughts though such a study is one of its important activities. Since the Centre is dedicated to celebrating the ecumenism of Tagore, it would allow for reflective and creative engagement with the human condition by exploring new idioms of art, poetry, and music. Thus, the Centre provides space to scholars as well as practicing artists to honour Tagore’s deep engagement with culture and civilization founded on his belief in the oneness of our world. That is what enthused him to explore creatively the different sources that have gone into the making of many layers and facets of Indian culture and civilization. Tagore’s intellectual evolution and sensibility enabled him to assert the humanistic, moral, universal, liberal, and progressive tendencies and discard the narrow, obsolete, obscurantist and retrograde from within his own and from other traditions of thought.
Contemporary intellectual life confronts just such a struggle between the open and the narrow, the progressive and the retrograde, and therefore the Tagore Centre would serve as a site for a dialogue between India and the world. It also initiated a South-South intellectual and cultural exchange. The Centre is therefore deliberately constituted as an open space to avoid the parochialism that marks many of the initiatives that are today concerned with the study of culture and civilization. The spirit of Tagore’s creative engagement from the classical to the folk, the traditional to the modern, and humanism to science, is the guiding force for planning the activities of the Centre. The Centre is providing short/long term opportunities to the practitioners of culture and civilization who are engaged with concerns similar to those which preoccupied Tagore such as education, environment, artistic and literary imagination, participatory development, nationalism, cultural influences, reconciliation, philosophy and humanism, science and society. Such engagements may involve the textual study of his work, or a creative engagement with his literary imagination or with his experiments in music, dance, and painting, or practicing innovative ideas in education and environment in the urban and rural context, or simply with larger implications and possibilities of his vision.
Activities of the Centre:
.There are ideally four fellows in residence at the Centre every year. None of the fellows are permanent and their term is for a minimum of six months to a maximum of two years. They enjoy facilities similar to other fellows. One of the fellows may be either a poet, or a writer, or an artist-in-residence as a tribute to Tagore’s multifaceted personality. Another may be a scholar from outside India. The fellows are known as Tagore Fellows.
.An annual International Seminar on some aspect of Tagore’s concerns is proposed to be conducted. This will preferably not be of an exegetical nature but more an engagement with his substantial concerns as stated in the vision document.
.A study week on Tagore’s works would be organized every alternate year.
.An artist camp could perhaps be organized every alternate year.
.An annual Tagore Lecture is also organized.
Library and Publications
The Institute has over 400 publications to its credit. These include monographs submitted by its Fellows, edited proceedings of seminars, symposia, workshops and conferences held at the Institute, lectures given by Visiting Professors and occasional papers presented by Fellows and visitors to the Institute. The Institute also publishes a review journal, Summerhill; IIAS Review, which carries reviews of books published by the Institute and those received from outside - as well as interviews and important information about the various academic activities of the Institute. A biannual journal, Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, is also published under the auspices of the Inter-University Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences.
Not unexpectedly, the library of the Institute is one of the finest in the country. Its collection has been supplemented by acquiring the private collections of eminent scholars like R. C. Majumdar, Abdul Majid Khan, H. C. Ray Chaudhury, Hari Shankar Srivastava and Ajit Ghosh. Developed over a period of about forty years, the library now has a collection of over a hundred and fifty thousand volumes of books, journals, micro-films and other documents. The present subscription list includes 320 journals.
The collection has been mainly developed in the areas of philosophy, religion, fine arts, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, social and cultural anthropology, socio-economic planning and development, Third World economics, ancient and mediaeval Indian history and culture, and modern Indian history - and these sections are considered as outstanding. The collection of 'back volumes' of journals is rated high by its users. The major housekeeping operations of the library have been computerized and its database pertaining to the books can be accessed through the DELNET. Internet facilities are also available to library users.
The Institute continues to be administered by a Society and a Governing Body. These bodies are composed of eminent persons from all walks of life. To advise the Governing Body in financial matters, the Institute has a finance committee. This has statutory standing and has representatives of the Ministries of Education and Finance.
The Institute is headed by a Director who is assisted in financial, administrative and academic matters by a Secretary. Apart from various levels of other staff, the Institute also has a Deputy Secretary (Administration), a Librarian, an Accounts Officer, a Publications Officer and a Public Relations Officer.
The Institute is funded primarily by the Government of India's Ministry of Education(Shiksha Mantralaya). It also generates modest funds by the sale of its publications and the entry fee paid by visitors to its spectacular building.