Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


CSSA in-person lecture: Moral Interventions: Text and Context from Contemporary Sri Lanka

18 May 2022, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

Neloufer de Mel and Passage North book cover

The UCL Centre for the Study of South Asia and the Indian Ocean World (CSSA) is delighted to welcome Professor Neloufer de Mel (University of Colombo) to give this lecture, and as a Distinguished Visiting Professor throughout May 2022.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Institute of Advanced Studies


IAS Common Ground
G11, Ground Floor, South Wing, Wilkins Building, UCL, Gower St
United Kingdom

As a grave economic and political crisis unfolds in Sri Lanka, a powerful public discourse on morality has emerged to radically shift the country’s political landscape. What constitutes the moral here, how does it intervene, and what are its entanglements and effects? Thinking with, and through Adi Ophir’s (2006) analysis of morality in late modernity as everywhere suspect because of its instrumentalization by a range of actors, I examine, in this talk, text and context from Sri Lanka as a way of answering Ophir’s call to reopen the question of morality itself so that we may “entertain the possibility that we are not always duped by [it]”.

Thinking with/through the Sri Lankan context, I examine morality as a structuring presence in a recent acclaimed literary text: Anuk Arudpragasam’s Booker Prize short listed novel A Passage North. How is morality invoked in the novel and what genealogies does it inherit? How does it drive the narrative’s ontologies of guilt, sacrifice, and violence? How is it gendered, and what does the passage from the Sri Lankan south to the north signify as both a rite/right and a postcolonial impulse to de-provincialize the periphery? How is the Sri Lankan war performatively worlded in the novel? To read Arudpragasam’s novel this way, aligned to and against what is happening in Sri Lanka today, is to acknowledge the author as a new and powerful voice in diasporic creative writing on Sri Lanka, and a writer who compels a critical engagement with the moral for, and of, our times.

Please register to attend at https://cssa-nelouferdemel.eventbrite.co.uk

About the Speaker

Neloufer de Mel

Senior Professor of English at Department of English, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

The author of Militarizing Sri Lanka: Popular Culture, Memory and Narrative in the Armed Conflict (2007), and Women and the Nation’s Narrative: Gender and Nationalism in 20th Century Sri Lanka (2001), her recent journal publications and edited volumes have been on postwar Sri Lanka, offering feminist, postcolonial and cultural studies perspectives on questions of justice, displacement, theatre for peacebuilding and disability performance. She is the chairperson of the Gratiaen Trust, founded by the Canadian-Sri Lankan author Michael Ondaatje, to recognize, foster and advance the cause of Sri Lankan creative writing in English. She has held several research fellowships at international universities and academic institutes including Yale, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and the Universities of Zurich and New York and is an active participant in the arts in Sri Lanka. 

Through May 2022, she is Distinguished Visiting Professor at UCL’s Centre for the Study of South Asia and the Indian Ocean World (CSSA).

More about Neloufer de Mel