Royal Asiatic Society

Royal Asiatic Society

The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, commonly known as the Royal Asiatic Society (RAS), was established, according to its Royal Charter of 11 August 1824, to further "the investigation of subjects connected with and for the encouragement of science, literature and the arts in relation to Asia." From its incorporation the Society has been a forum, through lectures, its journal, and other publications, for scholarship relating to Asian culture and society of the highest level. It is the United Kingdom's senior learned society in the field of Asian studies. Fellows of the Society are elected regularly. Fellows include highly accomplished and notable scholars of Asian Studies, and are entitled to use the honorific post-nominal letters FRAS.


The Society was founded in London in 1823, and received its Royal Charter from George IV the following year. The RAS was established by a group primarily composed of notable scholars and colonial administrators. It was intended to be the British counterpart to the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, which had been founded in 1784, by the noted Sanskrit scholar and jurist Sir William Jones. The leading figure in the foundation of the RAS was Henry Thomas Colebrooke, who was himself an important Sanskrit scholar, and one time President of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta.

When the Oriental Club of London was formed in 1824, membership of the RAS was stated as one of the four qualifications for membership of the new club.[1]

Due to the nature of the Society's close connection with the British Empire in the east, much of the work originating with the society has been focused on topics concerning the Indian subcontinent. However, the purview of the Society extends far beyond India: all of Asia and into Islamic North Africa, and Ethiopia are included. The Society does have a few limitations on its field on interest, such as recent political history and current affairs. This particular moratorium led to the founding of the Central Asian Society, which later became the Royal Society for Asian Affairs. After World War II, with the gradual end of British political hegemony 'east of Suez', the Society maintained its disinterested academic focus on Asia.

Throughout its history the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland has, while only maintaining a very modestly sized membership, always contained a great deal of very distinguished individuals, from both the academic and political world. A list of the most accomplished would include such notables as Rabindranath Tagore, Sir Aurel Stein, Sir Wilfred Thesiger, and George V. Tsereteli. This membership hails from all over the globe, but primarily the United Kingdom and Asia.


The Society is affiliated to associate societies in India (Calcutta, Bombay, Bangalore, Madras, and Bihar), Sri Lanka, Hong Kong (established in 1847), Japan, Malaysia (established in 1877), and South Korea (established in 1900).[2] The former branch in Bombay, India is now known as the Asiatic Society of Bombay. In 2007, the North China branch was re-established; the first North China branch was founded in 1857 and dissolved in 1952. It is now known as The Royal Asiatic Society China, located in Shangahi with a chapter in Suzhou.


The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (JRAS) is published by Cambridge University Press four times a year, each issue containing a number of scholarly essays, and several book reviews. The present editor of the journal is Dr Sarah Ansari of Royal Holloway, University of London. The Executive Editor is Charlotte de Blois. The society also regularly publishes historical manuscripts, and monographs of the highest academic quality on numerous topics.

Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland

This fund was initially established in 1828;[3] and the results of its initial funding projects were soon forthcoming.[4] The Fund became one of a large number of Victorian subscription printing clubs which published translations, re-issued historical works or commissioned original books which were too specialized for commercial publication; but unlike most of those now defunct organizations, the work of the Royal Asiatic Society Oriental Translation Fund is on-going into the 21st century with a "new series" and "old series" microform catalog available for scholarly research.[5]


Currently, the President of the Society is Dr Gordon Johnson, CBE, MC, TD, and the Patron is His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales.

Past presidents

See also


Some Society publications

  • "Charter of Incorporation of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. pp 25–27, 1957.
  • Beckingham, C.F. Centenary Volume of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1823-1923. Pargiter, F.E. (ed.) Published by the Society, 1923, London.
  • Mashita, Hiroyuki. Theology, Ethics and Metaphysics: Royal Asiatic Society Classics of Islam. Routledge Publishing, 2003.
  • Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. B. W. Robinson. Persian Paintings in the Collection of the Royal Asiatic Society Routledge, 1998.
  • Rost, Reinhold. "Miscellaneous Papers Relating to Indo-China and the Indian Archipelago" Reprinted for the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, from the "Journals" of the Royal Asiatic, Bengal Asiatic, and Royal Geographical Societies; the "Transactions" and "Journal" of the Asiatic Society of Batavia ... Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Malayan Branch Published by Trübner & co., 1887.
  • Tritton, Arthur Stanley. Muslim Theology... Royal Asiatic Society by Luzac, 1947.
  • Winternitz, Moriz (compiled), Frederick William Thomas (appendix). A Catalogue of South Indian Sanskrit Manuscripts: Especially Those of the Whish Collection Belonging to the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Library. Whish Collection, 1902.


  • Catalogue of the library of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1893 (1893)

References relating to the Society and noted Fellows

  • Finn, Elizabeth Anne McCaul. Reminiscences of Mrs. Finn, Member of the Royal Asiatic Society. Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1929.
  • Hunter, William Wilson. Life of Brian Houghton Hodgson: British Resident at the Court of Nepal, Member of the Institute of France; Fellow of the Royal Society; a Vice-president of the Royal Asiatic Society, Etc. J. Murray, 1896.
  • Simmonds, Stuart, Simon Digby. "The Royal Asiatic Society: its history and treasures": In commemoration of the sesquicentenary year of the foundation of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. E. J. Brill, 1979.
  • Skrine, Francis Henry, William Wilson Hunter. Life of Sir William Wilson Hunter, K.C.S.I., M.A., LL.D., a Vice-president of the Royal Asiatic Society. Longmans, Green, and Co., 1901.
  • Taintor, Edward C. "The Aborigines of Northern Formosa: A Paper Read Before the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society." Customs Press: Shanghai, 18 June 1874.

External links

  • Royal Asiatic Society website
  • Charter of Incorporation of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland
  • Hong Kong branch
  • Malaysian branch
  • South Korean branch
  • Shanghai branch
  • Sri Lanka branch