Religion, Region, Language and the State

Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State is a research project funded by the European Research Council and hosted by the British Museum, the British Library, and SOAS, University of London. The principal investigators are Dr. Michael Willis, Dr. Sam van Schaik and Dr. Nathan Hill.[1] The project was one of thirteen synergy grants awarded in 2013 and the only synergy grant in the humanities for that year.[2] The project will run from 2014 to 2020.


The project is focussing on the history and culture of early medieval India, specifically the period of the Gupta dynasty (circa 320-510 CE). Although characterised as a ‘golden age’ in modern scholarship — and marked by developments that shaped South Asia for more than a thousand years — research on this pivotal moment is fragmented and compartmentalised. The purpose of the project is to move beyond these limitations and to recover a more compelling picture of this influential period and its impact on India and her neighbours. The project achieves this aim through the development of online research tools, a series of workshops, and traditional paper-based publications.[3]

Research Aims

The project is interdisciplinary in design and aims to:

  • Investigate the constitution of the Gupta kingdom and its relationship with surrounding states
  • Chart the polities that flourished concurrently in central and southeast Asia
  • Define and analyse specific appropriations inspired by Indian examples and map how Sanskrit, Prakrit and Pali, the media of political and religious discourse, came to be used across Asia beside regional languages such as PyuKannada and Khotanese
  • Examine how key scientific, literary and religious texts were composed, disseminated and translated, processes facilitated by writing systems derived from India
  • Scrutinize how temples and monasteries first emerged as autonomous socio-economic institutions with stable endowments, thereby possessing the resources needed to become long-standing trans-regional nodes of learning, ritual practice and new art styles

Research Themes and Open Sources

Moving research beyond prevailing 'silos of knowledge' emerged as a concern in management studies in the 1990s. This analysis has had little impact beyond the commercial sector, however, especially in cultural and historial studies where modern nation states, regional languages, and established disciplinary protocols have reinforced the status quo. In moving beyond these constraints, three research themes have been developed to cross the disciplines and regions covered by the project. The project design involves making all core data and analysis freely available online.

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Religion, Region, Language and the State

Above: Coin of Kumāragupta (c. 415-55) showing the king's tutelary deity Kumāra seated on a peacock in a mountain landscape (The British Museum, London).


The materials curated here were produced for or are thematically related to "Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State," a project funded by the European Research Council (Identifier: ASIA 609823). The project represents a collaboration between four internationally recognised organisations: the British Museum, the British Library, the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), and Leiden University. Third parties providing resource include Norwegian Technical University (NTNU), the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement with the Institut Français de Pondichéry.


The organisational structure reflects the interdisciplinary ambitions of the project and the new ways it is exploring knowledge systems, cultural formation, and historical change. Crossing the intellectual, geographical, and political boundaries that have emerged in modern times and in the current historiography, the project is examining the complex polities and varied cultural networks of Asia to re-vision the approach to Asian archaeology, linguistics, religious studies, and history. The project will place Central, South and Southeast Asia on the global historical stage, enabling meaningful comparisons to coeval trans-national formations. This innovative research and theorisation will have long-standing applications beyond the project in multiple historiographies and disciplines.

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All work should be thematically related to the project or be a project output.



January 18, 2017
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