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South Asian Studies

Photo of fishermen in Bangladesh

The minor in South Asian Studies focuses on the interdisciplinary study of South Asia and its diaspora. It brings together the perspectives of various disciplines, from art history to philosophy, from economics to religion, to create a sustained curricular focus on South Asian life and culture.

South Asia comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and reaches out to Afghanistan, Burma and Tibet. It is home to the world’s highest mountains and to enormous ecological diversity. It is also home to more than one-fifth of the world's population and hundreds of languages. South Asia is the birthplace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, and more than one-third of the world’s Muslim population resides there. It has rich traditions of art, music and dance, and is renowned for its fiction and film. As a major contributor to global culture and economics, South Asia occupies an important position for understanding colonialism, postcolonialism and geopolitics.

Requirements & Courses

6 courses (a minimum of 24 credits) are needed to satisfy the requirements of a minor in South Asian studies, and meet the following distribution requirements:  

  1. An introductory course with a focus on South Asia. 
  2. Three courses, distributed over a) the visual, literary or performing arts; b) history, philosophy or religions; c) the social sciences.
  3. One advanced seminar in any discipline that addresses South Asia.
  4. An elective, which could be an additional course or a special studies in any of the above mentioned areas.

Courses offered 2018-19

PHI 108 The Meaning of Life 
Same as REL 108. This course asks the big question, “What is the Meaning of Life?” and explores a range of answers offered by philosophers and religious thinkers from a host of different traditions in different eras of human history. We explore a variety of forms of philosophical and religious thinking and consider the ways in which philosophical and religious thinking can be directly relevant to our own lives. {H} {L} Credits: 4 
Lois C. Dubin, Jay Lazar Garfield 
Normally offered each academic year 

REL 108 The Meaning of Life 
Same as PHI 108. This course asks the big question, “What is the Meaning of Life?” and explores a range of answers offered by philosophers and religious thinkers from a host of different traditions in different eras of human history. We explore a variety of forms of philosophical and religious thinking and the ways that they can be directly relevant to our lives. {H} {L} Credits: 4 
Lois C. Dubin, Jay Lazar Garfield 
Normally offered each academic year 

PHI 127 Indian Philosophy 
An introduction to the six classical schools of Indian philosophy. What are their views on the nature of self, mind and reality? What is knowledge and how is it acquired? What constitutes right action? We will read selections from the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Nyaya and Yoga Sutras, and the Samkhya-Karika, amongst others. At the end of the semester we will briefly consider the relation of these ancient traditions to the views of some influential modern Indian thinkers like Aurobindo, Vivekananda and Krishnamurti. Comparisons with positions in the western philosophical tradition will be an integral part of the course. {H} Credits: 4 
Nalini Bhushan 
Normally offered in alternate years 

REL 171 Introduction to Contemporary Hinduism 
This course is an introduction to the ideas and practices of contemporary Hinduism, with an emphasis on how Hindu identities have been constructed and contested, and how they have been mobilized in culture and politics. Materials to be considered include philosophical writings, ritual texts, devotional poetry, comic books, legal treatises, personal memoirs, as well as ethnographic and popular films.  {H} {L} Credits: 4 
Andy N. Rotman 
Expected to be offered in the next 3 years 

ECO 211 Economic Development 
An overview of economic development theory and practice since the 1950s. Why have global economic inequalities widened? What economic policies have been implemented in the developing countries of Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East in search of economic development, what theories underlie these policies, and what have been the consequences for economic welfare in these regions? Topics include trade policy (protectionism versus free trade), financial policy, industrial development strategies, formal and informal sector employment, women in development, international financial issues (lending, balance of payments deficits, the debt and financial crises), structural adjustment policies and the increasing globalization of production and finance. Prerequisites: ECO 150 and ECO 153. {S} Credits: 4 
Vis Taraz 
Normally offered each academic year 

SOC 237 Gender and Globalization 
This course engages with the various dimensions of globalization through the lens of gender, race and class relations. We study how gender and race intersect in global manufacturing and supply chains as well as in the transnational politics of representation and access in global media, culture, consumption, fashion, food, water, war and dissenting voices. Prerequisite: SOC 101. Enrollment limited to 35. {S} Credits: 4 
Payal Banerjee 
Normally offered each academic year 

MUS 249 Islamic Popular Music 
Same as REL 249. Music is a complex issue in many Islamic societies. There are tensions between those who believe that music has no place in Islam and try to prohibit it, those for whom it is a central component of mystical devotion, and those who tolerate it, albeit within well-defined parameters. The debate intensifies in the case of popular music, a core part of the self-identification of young people everywhere. Despite this, there is an amazing variety of vibrant popular music throughout the Islamic world. This course explores the religious debates over music and the rich musical tradition (including religious music) in Islam. {A} {H} Credits: 4 
Suleiman Ali Mourad, Margaret Sarkissian 
Expected to be offered in the next 3 years 

BUS 253 Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy and Hermeneutics 
This intensive course is taught at the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India, as part of the Hampshire/Five College in India program. Students take daily classes, taught by eminent Tibetan scholars, in Buddhist philosophy, Indo-Tibetan hermeneutics and Tibetan history and culture, and they attend regular discussion sessions as well as incidental lectures on topics including Tibetan art history and iconography, Tibetan astrology and medicine and Tibetan politics. Students also visit important Buddhist historical sites and explore Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Each student is paired with a Tibetan student “buddy” to get an inside view of Tibetan culture. Enrollment limited to 15, and requires application and acceptance by the H/5CIP. Pay attention to calls for early application. Deadlines fall mid-October. No prerequisites. {H} {N} {S} Credits: 4 
Jay Lazar Garfield 
Normally offered each interterm 

ANT 267 Contemporary South Asia 
This course introduces students to the culture, politics and everyday life of South Asia. Topics covered include religion, community, nation, caste, gender and development, as well as some of the key conceptual problems in the study of South Asia, such as the colonial construction of social scientific knowledge, and debates over “tradition” and “modernity.” In this way, we address both the varieties in lived experience in the subcontinent and the key scholarly, popular and political debates that have constituted the terms through which we understand South Asian culture. Along with ethnographies, we study and discuss novels, historical analysis, primary historical texts and popular (Bollywood) and documentary film. {S} Credits: 4 
Members of the department 
Normally offered each academic year 

ANT 274 The Anthropology of Religion 
What can anthropologists teach us about religion as a social phenomenon? This course traces significant anthropological approaches to the study of religion, asking what these approaches contribute to our understanding of religion in the contemporary world. Topics include religious experience and rationality; myth, ritual and magic; rites of passage; function and meaning; power and alienation; religion and politics. Readings are drawn from important texts in the history of anthropology and from contemporary ethnographies of religion. {S} Credits: 4 
Pinky Hota 
Normally offered each academic year 

REL 280 South Asian Visual Culture 
How does one make sense of what one sees in South Asia? What is the visual logic behind the production and consumption of images, advertising and film? This course considers the visual world of South Asia, focusing in particular on the religious dimensions of visuality. Topics include the divine gaze in Hindu and Buddhist contexts, the role of god-posters in religious ritual and political struggle, the printed image as contested site for visualizing the nation, and the social significance of clothing as well as commercial films. Credits: 4 
Andy N. Rotman 
Expected to be offered in the next 3 years 

HST 281 (L) South Asian Pasts and Presents 
This course introduces students to the history, culture, and politics of the region we know as South Asia. We begin when the British East India Company was beginning to assert its influence over parts of the subcontinent. We then work through the transfer of the Company's Indian dominions to the British Crown and the rise of nationalism culminating in independence and partition in 1947. The second half of our course shall be informed by more presentist discussions surrounding economic development trajectories, movements for social justice and self-determination, and the South Asian diaspora in various parts of the world. (E) {H} Credits: 4 
Members of the department 
Normally offered each spring 

PHI 310 Seminar: Recent and Contemporary Philosophy 
Topics course. 

What does it mean to be a cosmopolitan person -- a global citizen? Can one simultaneously construct one's identity in terms of one's nationality, gender, ethnicity and/or other more local forms of community and be truly cosmopolitan? If so, how? If not, which is the better approach? Is there one distinctive way of being cosmopolitan, or might there be varieties of cosmopolitanism arising in different cultural contexts, for instance, under colonial rule or conditions of exile? Is it self-evidently true that being a cosmopolitan person is a good thing, for an individual or a society? What are some of its challenges? We will read essays by Kant, Mill, Nussbaum, Rawls, Rorty, Naipaul, Said, Tagore, Gandhi, Appiah and others with a view to examining and assessing different answers that have been proposed to these and related questions. Credits: 4 
Members of the department 
Normally offered each academic year 

IDP 320 Seminar on Global Learning: Women’s Health in India, Including Tibetans Living in Exile 
This seminar examines women’s health and cultural issues within India, with a focus on Tibetan refugees, and then applies the knowledge experientially. During interterm, the students travel to India, visit NGOs involved with Indian women’s health, and deliver workshops on reproductive health topics to students living at the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath. The seminar is by permission of the instructor; attendance at a seminar info session is required to be eligible to apply. Enrollment limited to 5 students. (E) Credits: 4 
Leslie Richard Jaffe 
Normally offered each fall 

SOC 327 Seminar: Global Migration in the 21st Century 
This 300-level seminar provides an in-depth engagement with global migration. It covers such areas as theories of migration, the significance of global political economy and state policies across the world in shaping migration patterns and immigrant identities. Questions about imperialism, post-colonial conditions, nation-building/national borders, citizenship and the gendered racialization of immigration intersect as critical contexts for our discussions. Prerequisite: SOC 101, a course on global political economy, or permission of the instructor. Enrollment limited to 12. {S} Credits: 4 
Payal Banerjee 
Normally offered in alternate years 

SAS 400 Special Studies in South Asian studies 
Admission by permission of the director of the South Asian studies program. Normally, enrollment limited to South Asian studies minors only. Credits: 1-4 
Members of the department 
Normally offered each academic year


Featured Event

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Study Abroad & Language Programs

Studying abroad in South Asia or studying a South Asian language are not required for the minor, but they are a great way to enrich your knowledge of the region. There are a number of study abroad programs available, as well as South Asian language courses taught at the Five Colleges.


S. Mona Ghosh Sinha Prize


This prize is awarded annually for the best academic paper written by a Smith undergraduate on a subject that concerns South Asia. Papers from any academic discipline are welcome, and one need not be a South Asian Studies minor to be eligible for the prize. You may submit no more than one paper for consideration in any given year.

    Submit a printed copy of your paper using the cover sheet below to Phoebe McKinnell, Wright Hall 106, by noon on the last day of classes in the spring semester.

    Winners are notified in writing by the Dean of the College and announced on Commencement weekend at Last Chapel and at Convocation in the fall.


    2018 Recipients

    • Liza C. Jeswald '18J, "Voices by Midnight, Voices by Sunlight: Questions of National and Personal Narrative in 'Midnight's Children' and 'Sunlight on a Broken Column'"
    • Alina S. Wang 19J, "The Metaphysics of Spiritual Freedom: A Comparison between R. Tagore and RG Ranade"


    Religion Prizes


    The Department of Religion has several prizes for essays in religious studies. See the religion website for more information.

    Special Studies

    Advanced students in the South Asian Studies minor may arrange for special studies with faculty members. Topics and logistics are worked out with the designated faculty member and must be submitted to the department for approval.




    South Asian Studies
    Wright Hall
    Smith College
    Northampton, MA 01063
    Phone: 413-585-3662
    Administrative Assistant:
    Phoebe McKinnell