Honouring Professor Francis Robinson

On Thursday 18th January, the Society celebrated the release of a special edition of its Journal – a festschrift in honour of Professor Francis Robinson. Professor Robinson has worked within the field of Asian studies for more than 50 years and as the introduction to this journal volume states, the festschrift:

“…celebrates an eminent scholar, teacher, and institution builder, Francis Robinson, whose life’s work has been essential to historicising Islam in South Asia… His career, spanning more than half a century, has marked sea changes in South Asian historiography. His scholarship has established important movements of social and cultural historiography on the nature of religious authority in the colonial and post-colonial periods.”

His academic, teaching and research interests are well-represented in this volume of the Journal with many of his colleagues bearing tribute to him and writing of their own research on allied topics. His interests were also highlighted during the evening’s proceedings. These began with an introduction by our current president, Professor Sarah Ansari, followed by a talk by Dr Eve Tignol (Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Irasia, Marseille), one of the editors of this festschrift, alongside Claudia Liebeskind, Megan Robb and Sudipto Mitra, and a former PhD student of Professor Robinson. She spoke movingly of Professor Robinson’s encouragement of her own scholarship.

Dr Eve Tignol

Then Professor Sarah Ansari took the floor again and to honour Professor Robinson, she and Dr Tignol presented him with a specially bound volume of the Journal.

Professor Robinson receives a bound copy of his festschrift

Another tribute was brought by Dr Gordon Johnson, Vice-President of the Society.

Dr Gordon Johnson

Finally Professor Robinson addressed the audience speaking of his long career and the many people who have played a role within it.

Professor Francis Robinson

Not only were the academic and research interests of Professor Robinson celebrated, but also his long service to the Royal Asiatic Society. As part of the evening he was awarded the Bicentenary Medal for Exceptional Service to the Royal Asiatic Society. The Society is grateful to Dr James J. Busuttil for the funding of this medal

President Sarah Ansari presents the Bicentenary Medal to Professor Francis Robinson

Professor Robinson first became a member in 1984 and was soon keen to serve in a more supportive role. He was first elected as a member of the Council in 1989 and has served, in rotation, since that time. He twice served as President, from 1997-2000 and from 2003-2006. During the latter term he oversaw the moving of the Society from its former premises in Queen’s Gardens, via temporary accommodation, to its current home on Stephenson Way. Professor Robinson’s particular focus within the Society has been on its publications. He has served on the Publications Committee from 1990 and instituted the Editorial Board in 2000. A quote from the Anniversary Report in 1993 suggests something of the recognition of his work in publications:

“We owe much to Professor Francis Robinson, notably for his work with the History Seminars at SOAS, and on the Publications Committee, both of which we trust he will continue. If we could all write as absorbingly… the Society’s books would be best sellers.”

Though the Society has just celebrated our bicentenary, Professor Robinson’s involvement dates to before our 175th anniversary when he was President and oversaw our celebrations on that occasion. In our archives is a copy of the address given by Professor Robinson to welcome guests to the Reception to mark the 175th anniversary, and to provide some history of the Society, dated 14 June 1998.

We would like to thank everyone who contributed to this festschrift and those who attended on the evening.

We also wish to honour Elizabeth H. Moore (1949-2024), Professor Emerita at the Department of Art and Archaeology at SOAS. The Society learnt with sadness of her death on the 13th January 2024 at University College Hospital after a long battle with cancer. She joined SOAS in 1992 where she  served as Head of Department and became Chair of the Centre of Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) in 2014.  Professor Moore published several seminal works on Myanmar and Thailand  including Ancient Capitals of Thailand co-authored with P. Stott (1996), Shwedagon: Golden Pagoda of Myanmar (1999), Early Landscape of Myanmar (2006), and The Pyu Landscape: Collected Articles, (2012). Her final book, Wider Bagan: Ancient and Living Buddhist Traditions (ISEAS, 2023), was a collaborative effort with Myanmar authors. She was a kind and thoughtful teacher and was held in great affection by her students who remained devoted to her throughout her lifetime.

Elizabeth H. Moore

Next Thursday 25 January, 6.30pm, Dr Giles Tillotson will lecture on ‘Ram Raz and William Hodges: Theorizing Indian Architecture’. All are welcome to attend.