The Mary Keatinge Das Lectures

The Mary Keating Das Lecture, established in 1948 through the generosity of Dr. Taraknath Das and the Taraknath Das Foundation, has brought leading scholars, writers, and diplomats to speak at Columbia for over seventy years.

Mary Keatinge Das, née Morse, was born in South Carolina (year unknown), descended on her mother’s side from a Quaker family who came to America with William Penn.  She was a founding member of both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Woman’s Party.  She married Taraknath Das in 1924. They lived in Europe for ten years, and together they established the Taraknath Das Foundation in 1930 in Europe.  Upon their return to the US in 1935, the foundation was incorporated in America. The foundation offered grants and loans for Indian students in the US, as well as prizes at several schools for students and individuals working toward a better understanding among nations.

Upon the death of Mary Keatinge Das in 1948, Taraknath established an endowment at Columbia that included a provision for the Mary Keatinge Das Lecture. The early lecturers included Eleanor Roosevelt, and several Ambassadors to the US from India, and from India to the US.  The endowment at Columbia currently funds an annual undergraduate prize for an outstanding student thesis, through the University Committee on Asia and the Middle East (UCAME). The Foundation itself was dissolved in 2021, and funds were transferred to the American Institute of Indian Studies to administer awards to support Indian students studying in the US. 

Taraknath Das was born in Bengal in 1884. While attending college in Calcutta, he was initiated into an anti-British secret society. By 1905, he had given up his studies and was wandering around India spreading a revolutionary message. Wanted by the British, he fled to Japan in 1905, and to the U.S., arriving in Seattle in 1906. Subsequently, Das enrolled at the University of Washington, where he completed a B.A. in political science, and an M.A. and teaching certificate in 1911.

In 1914, after several unsuccessful applications, he became a U.S. citizen. Out of reach of the British government, he traveled to Germany on the eve of World War I and became involved in securing funds for an armed insurrection in India. Das took part in an unsuccessful German-Indian mission to destroy the British-controlled railway along the Suez Canal. In 1917 Das returned to the USA to face the charge of conspiring to violate the Neutrality Act. He and other conspirators were convicted and Das was sentenced to 22 months in the penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.

In 1924, Das was awarded a Ph.D. from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and he began his academic career in Europe. In 1954, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Munich.  After the end of WWII, Das took up teaching positions at NYU and at Columbia, where he taught until his retirement in 1956, two years before his death in 1958.

The Mary Keating Das Lecturers

2022    Prathama Banerjee (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies)

2018    Sumati Ramaswamy (Duke University and Past President, AIIS)

2017    Sumit Guha (University of Texas at Austin)

2016    David Shulman (Hebrew University in Jerusalem)

2014    Muzzafar Alam (University of Chicago)

2013    John Kelly (University of Chicago)

2012    Faisal Devji (Oxford University)

2011    Zoya Hasan (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

2010    Niraja Gopal Jayal (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

2009    Mallika Sarabhai (Director, Darpana Academy of Performing Arts)

2007    Aijaz Ahmad (University of California, Irvine)

2006    Rupert Snell (SOAS, and University of Texas, Austin)

2004    Sudipta Kaviraj (MESAAS)

2001    Ronald J. Herring (Cornell)

2000    Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (University Professor, Columbia)

1999    Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah (Harvard)

1999    Romila Thapar (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

1984    Nayantara Sahgal (author)

1982    R. K. Narayan (author)

1982    Raja Rao (author)

1982    A. K. Ramanujan (Chicago)

1981    Robin J. Lewis (Columbia)

1981    John Masters (author)

1981    Charles Allen (author)

1981    Santha Rama Rau (author)

1973    L. K. Jha (Ambassador of India to the US)

1970    M. C. Chagla (Ambassador of India to the US; Minister of Education and External Affairs, High Commissioner to the United Kingdom)

1967    Arthur S. Lall (Permanent Ambassador of India to the United Nations)

1965    Harrison Salisbury (New York Times)

1959    Senator Sherman Cooper (Ambassador of the US to India)

1957    Surendra Nath Sen (University of Wisconsin, Madison and Delhi University)

1956    Sir Senarat Gunewardene (Ambassador of Ceylon to the US; Permanent Ambassador of Ceylon to the United Nations)

1954    Gaganvihari L. Mehta (Ambassador of India to the US)

1953    Chester Bowles (Ambassador of the US to India; US Under Secretary of State)

1952    Eleanor Roosevelt (First Lady of the US; US Delegate to the United Nations Assembly; Chair, UN Commission on Human Rights)

1951    Ryusaku Tsunoda (Columbia)

1950    John Haynes Holmes (Minister; Co-founder, NAACP and ACLU)

1949    Swami Nihilananda (Founder, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York)