Bernard Bate, a Yale-NUS professor and former professor in the Anthropology Department, passed away in his sleep earlier this month. He was 55 years old.
Anthropology Department Chair Anne Underhill told members of the department that Bate had died of a heart attack in his sleep during a writing fellowship at Stanford University. Bate, who was a world-renowned expert in the South Asian language Tamil, was also known for his exceptional undergraduate teaching. He taught popular courses on critical, ethnographic and historical approaches to South Asia at both Yale and Yale-NUS.
“He was known around the world for his Tamil skills and he was someone who can take a seemingly arcane subject and make it relevant and exciting to undergraduates, which is the mark of an exceptional teacher,” said anthropology professor William Kelly, who was department chair when Bate was hired.
Bate taught at departments of anthropology at the University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D., the University of Michigan, Columbia University and Yale, where he completed a 10-year term appointment. During his time at Yale, he taught a variety of classes in the anthropology of language and in South Asian Studies, including “Language and the Public Sphere,” “Poetics and Performance” and “Oratory and Rhetoric.”
As a scholar, Bate largely focused on the study of Tamil. His first book, “Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic,” examined the revolution in Tamil that corresponded with India’s democratization following its independence in 1947. Kathleen Morrison, the anthropology department chair at the University of Chicago, described Bate’s work on Tamil political oratory as “breathtakingly original and analytically incisive,” according to Underhill’s email.
Morrison said Bate was “one of the most generous, capacious and decent people” she had met and noted that he used his Tamil skills to make friends across the world.
Kelly said Bate helped revive an undergraduate anthropology society as well as a student anthropology journal while at Yale. He also noted that Bate advised more award-winning theses than any other professors in the department.
Bate was also among the first group of faculty members hired at Yale-NUS and Kelly said he played a large role in designing and putting the school’s curriculum into place.
Correction, March 29: A previous version of this article misspelled Bernard Bate’s surname.