Michael Willis

South Asia

Department: Asia 


+44 (0)20 7323 8844

Dr Michael Willis has curatorial charge of the early south Asian and Himalayan collections from the late centuries BCE to the circa fourteenth century CE. He conducts research on these collections and makes them available through publication, display and study-access. His special interests include Sanskrit, Tibetan and the history of south Asian religions. Dr Michael Willis is leading the research project entitled Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State.

Michael received his PhD from the University of Chicago and joined the British Museum in 1994. Curator of the Indian collections in the department until 2014, he has been a visiting professor at the Collège de France, the University of Groningen and the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London).

Current projects

  • Beyond Boundaries: Religion, Region, Language and the State.
    Collaboration with the Department of East Asian Religions and Cultures at SOAS, the Department of Asian and African Studies, British Library, and the Faculty of Humanities, Leiden University. The project examines the texts, languages, ritual centres and inscriptions of South Asia, South East Asia and Central Asia between the third and sixth centuries CE.
  • The Indian Temple: Production, Place and Patronage
    Collaboration with the Department of History at SOAS and the Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff, is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for three years. The project examines how Indian temples were built and patronized and what their social and economic role was in medieval India.

Previous projects

External fellowships/ honorary positions/ membership of professional bodies

  • Fellow and Member of Council, Royal Asiatic Society. London

  • Monographs Editor, Society for South Asian Studies, The British Academy, London

Selected publications

M. Willis, ed. with Janice Stargardt, Relics and Relic Worship in Early Buddhism (London, British Museum, 2018).

M. Willis, The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual: Temples and the Establishment of the Gods (Cambridge: University Press, 2009).

M. Willis, ‘Later Gupta History: Inscriptions, Coins and Historical Ideology’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 15 (2005) pp. 131-50

M. Willis, Buddhist Reliquaries from Ancient India (London: British Museum, 2000)

M. Willis, Tibet: Life, Myth and Art (London, DBP, 1999)

M. Willis, Temples of Gopaksetra: A Regional History of Architecture and Sculpture in Central India, circa 600-950 (London: British Museum, 1997)

M. Willis, Inscriptions of Gopaksetra: Materials for the History of Central India (London, British Museum, 1996)