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CASI: An Institutional History

 Prof. Francine Frankel, CASI’s Founding Director, greets Indian Ambassador Abid Hussain at Penn, June 25, 1992

“We must remember that the students now passing through our educational machinery will live their effective lives during the second half of the twentieth century, and it takes no gift of prophesy to predict that at that time the world will include a vigorous India, possibly politically free, conceivably a dominant power in the Orient, and certainly intellectually vital and productive. How can Americans who have never met India in their educational experience be expected to live intelligently in such a world? Are we to wait until some cataclysm brought about in large part by our own ignorance and misunderstanding forces India on our attention? Or are we to plan our intellectual life so as to foresee the needs of the future?”

-W. Norman Brown, Founder of the first department of South Asian Studies in the U.S. at Penn, “India and Humanistic Studies in America” in American Council of Learned Societies Bulletin, 1939


The Center for the Advanced Study of India (CASI) was founded in 1992 by Prof. Francine R. Frankel from Penn’s Department of Political Science, as the first academic research center in the United States for the study of contemporary India. Building on Penn’s longstanding commitment to and unmatched resources in South Asia Studies, CASI is a unique research institution of international excellence, linking American and Indian academics, policymakers, civil society representatives and business leaders, with a mission to nurture a new generation of young scholars of contemporary India. Devesh Kapur, the current Director, was appointed to this role in 2006.

CASI was established in a context of complex and wide-ranging transitions. With the end of the Cold War, both India and the United States recognized new potential for cooperation: economic, technological, and political. CASI’s focus on India represented the new realities of the international environment in which Asia would play a significantly greater role in global issues affecting the U.S. CASI’s founding, only a year after India launched its historic economic reforms, also coincided with a moment of extraordinary internal dynamism and flux within India, and a period of unprecedented transformation in the country’s economic, political and social landscape. These transitions and rapidly evolving contexts, shaped by intensifying globalization and interdependence, demanded new intellectual approaches and a reassessment of the role of area studies in international programs, a challenge which CASI both anticipated and was uniquely positioned to address through collaborations with Indian institutions and within the U.S.

UPIASI Established

This foresight was translated further still with the establishment of the University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India (UPIASI), CASI’s counterpart institution in New Delhi in 1997. UPIASI has developed a strong research program and presence of its own under the leadership of Dr. E. Sridharan (GR’89), and plays a key role in facilitating CASI’s deep and distinctive research partnerships and student programs in India.

CASI's Endowed Chair

In 2003, as a result of a successful endowment drive and campaign, championed by CASI’s International Advisory Board, the Madan Lal Sobti Chair for the Study of Contemporary India was established at Penn under terms that ensure the permanence of the Center at the University. This has led to the establishment of additional endowed funds and term gifts for further developing CASI programs, including the Visiting Scholars/Fellows Program and vibrant student programs, including the Annual Summer Travels Funds Competition to send Penn students to India.

CASI has also substantially expanded its sponsored research program and is gaining recognition for generating high-quality empirical research and analyses, building rigorous and innovative data sets, and creating long-term collaborations with Indian academics, policymakers and practitioners working close to the ground on critical and understudied aspects of India’s economic transition, the well-being of socially marginalized groups, migration, human capital, governance and politics, and security and foreign policy.

Expansion of Programs

The rigor and richness of CASI’s diverse engagements with contemporary India are shared widely on the Penn campus through a packed calendar of events throughout the academic year, including a seminar series, the Nand & Jeet Khemka Distinguished Lecture Series, intensive workshops and major academic conferences. CASI also reaches a wider audience through India in Transition (IiT), a bi-weekly online forum that presents analytical perspectives from scholars from all over the world. IiT articles are carried in leading Indian newspapers and translated into Hindi and are aimed at broadening public knowledge on critical issues in contemporary India.

CASI Celebrates 20 Years

In 2012, CASI celebrated its 20th anniversary and commemorated the event on September 27, 2012 with a symposium titled India: Two Decades of Transformation.