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Stanford Humanities Center Mourns the Loss of Fellow Barney Bate


Barney Bate at the Stanford Humanities Center's reception for new fellows in the fall of 2015.
Photo Credit: 
Kent Safford

The Stanford Humanities Center was deeply saddened by the sudden loss of fellow John Bernard (“Barney”) Bate. He died on March 7, 2016 from heart complications. He was a beloved figure at the Center whose presence is keenly missed by his fellow colleagues and the entire staff.

Caroline Winterer, Director of the Stanford Humanities Center, spoke of how deeply Barney’s loss will be felt at the Humanities Center and far beyond.

“Barney brought a wide-ranging curiosity and rare degree of intellectual joy to seemingly every topic he encountered. Within a few short months he had rapidly become a vital figure in the Center’s intellectual and social community. We are still stunned by this loss, and share the grief of a community of Barney’s friends and colleagues that stretches around the globe.”

After earning a PhD in anthropology from the University of Chicago, Bate taught at Yale for ten years before becoming a member of the inaugural faculty of Yale-NUS College, a university in Singapore jointly founded by Yale University and the National University of Singapore. He helped to create a curriculum that drew from Western and Eastern classical traditions. At the time of his death, he was Associate Professor and Head of Studies in the Anthropology department. His loss has been deeply mourned at his institution. Bate’s friend and fellow academic at Yale-NUS, Eduardo Lage-Otero, has also created a facebook page to remember Bate.

Bate was a seminal figure in linguistic anthropology and South Asian studies. He was an expert on the Tamil language, exploring the theory, ethnography, and history of political oratory and rhetoric in south India and Sri Lanka.

While at the Stanford Humanities Center, Bate was working on a book to be called “Protestant Textuality and the Tamil Modern: Political Oratory and the Social Imaginary in South Asia.” 

The book project examined the emergence of vernacular politics in the Tamil-speaking lands of India and Sri Lanka, arguing that the sermonic genres introduced by Protestant missionaries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries fused with culturally and historically local forms to provide a new kind of communicative infrastructure, enabling a new type of political agent, the vernacular politician, to address and mobilize a modern Tamil public in a distinctively new way.

Bate was also the author of Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic, (Columbia, 2009/Oxford India, 2011), which explored the aesthetics of Tamil oratory and its relationship to democracy in India immediately following its independence in 1947.

Bate is survived by his partner, Key Jo Lee, and his three children, Noah, Isabel, and Clio.

Niloofar Haeri, Professor of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University and a current fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, described her friend and colleague as “ebullient and animated about practically everything around him: intellectual projects, the mountains, friends, birds, modernity, bikes, oratory, a good biryani, children, deep dish pizza, Weber. He loved every minute of life even when it was far from perfect.”

There will be a gathering to remember and celebrate Bate on March 31st at the Stanford Humanities Center from 5:00 to 6:30 pm.