Royal Asiatic Society

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"The Common Seal of the Society shall display an elephant surmounted by a howdah and ridden by a mahout wielding an elephant-goad, with the inscription Soc.Reg.As.Britt. below the elephant." Article 90a of the bylaws of the Royal Asiatic Society.

The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (RAS) was, according to its Royal Charter of August 11, 1824, established 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.



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 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 a noted Sanskrit scholar, and one time president of the Asiatic Society of Calcutta. (See the Charter of Incorporation of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (

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 however 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 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, and Sir Wilfred Thesiger. In addition to the 'great and the good' the Society has also always had a strong compliment of interested amateurs, who make up a large portion of the membership. This membership hails from all over the globe, but primarily the United Kingdom, and Asia. Fellows of the Society are elected regularly, and can use the post-nominal letters F.R.A.S.


The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (JRAS) is published by Cambridge University Press three times a year, each issue contains a number of scholarly essays, and several book reviews. In addition to the journal the society also regularly publishes historical manuscripts, and monographs on numerous topics.


Currently, the President of the Society is Professor F.C.R. Robinson, the Patron is His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, and the editor of the Journal is Dr. Sarah Ansari, Royal Holloway.

External links


  • "Charter of Incorporation of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. pp 25-27, 1957.
  • F.E. Pargiter (ed.) Centenary Volume of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1823-1923. Published by the Society, 1923, London.
  • Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Founded March, 1823; Bylaws 1998. Cambridge University Press for the Royal Asiatic Society. 1998.
  • Stuart Simmonds and Simon Digby (ed.) The Royal Asiatic Society, Its History and Treasures. Published for the Society, 1979, London.

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