You're logged in as |

South Asian Studies

South Asian Studies is an interdisciplinary concentration in which students work across the humanities and social sciences, geographical locations, and time periods.  The concentration emphasizes both the diversity of South Asia as a region, as well as the long-term historical connections among people and places in Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.  The concentration takes a comparative approach, bringing attention to history, politics, and culture within the region, as well as in the equally vital global South Asian diaspora. 

For additional information, please visit the department's website:

Course usage information

SAST 0034. Dharma: A History of Classical Indian Civilization.

Dharma—a Sanskrit word encompassing duty, ethics, law, and religion—is a common thread running through the cultures of premodern India. This course offers a history of Indian civilization from its origins up through the end of the classical period. Drawing on a rich array of textual, material, and expressive cultures, we trace the arc of human history on the subcontinent, paying special attention to the intersections of religion and politics. The sources at hand reveal the dynamic interplay between tradition and innovation, and attest to human efforts to redefine what it means to live a life according to dharma.

Course usage information

SAST 0037. Sensing the Sacred: Sensory Culture in South Asian Religions.

This course explores South Asian religions through the body, the senses, and aesthetics. Drawing on Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions, and concentrating on embodied practices such meditation, chanting, eating, sex, asceticism, ritual, possession, and performance, we will examine experiences of the sacred in India, past and present. How has sensory culture shaped lives, practices, and doctrines? What place do the senses have in South Asian traditions? Drawing on premodern law codes, erotic handbooks, and medical treatises; and integrating new media from ethnographic films to graphic novels, we will plunge into to the rich sense-worlds of religions in South Asia.

Course usage information

SAST 0067. Divine Drugs: Psychedelics, Religion, and Spirituality.

From LSD to magic mushrooms, mescaline to ayahuasca, psychedelics are drugs that alter consciousness and perceptions of reality. This course investigates the central role that religion and spirituality have played in the long, tangled history of psychedelics, from colonial eradication of psychedelics as indigenous sacraments, to psychedelic modes of expanding consciousness in 1960s counterculture; from the moral panic around these substances as a tool of mind control, to their present scientific investigation as a panacea for mental health, addiction, and self-realization. Interweaving primary sources and scholarly accounts on psychedelics, our inquiry will use an interdisciplinary approach, blending religious studies, philology, anthropology, the history of science, and art history. To explore this varied terrain, we survey the history of divine drugs around the world, even as we ruminate on the wisdom and philosophy they have inspired over the ages.

Fall SAST0067 S01 18834 TTh 1:00-2:20(06) (F. Moore-Gerety)
Course usage information

SAST 0140. Food, Religion and Politics in South Asia.

Why study food? What can food tell us about religion, politics, and culture? Food in South Asia often shapes identity, social status, ritual purity, religious belonging, and political activism—the notion that you are what you eat has wide currency. Whatever form it takes, food embodies histories of migration, trade, empire, colonialism, and ethics. Through reading primary texts and ethnographic articles, watching films, and (of course) eating delicious food, we will explore the rich foodways of South Asia and their social, religious, and political ramifications.

Course usage information

SAST 0145. Karma, Rebirth and Liberation: Life and Death in South Asian Religions.

Karma, Sanskrit for the "action" that makes up a human life, has been a central concern for the religious traditions of South Asia throughout their history. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism share the belief that after death people are reborn, taking on lives according to their actions in lives previous. In these traditions, liberation from the cycle of rebirth becomes the ultimate goal of human existence. This course examines the ideas of karma, rebirth and liberation in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism from historical, cosmological, ritual, narrative, iconographic and theological points of view. We also look at these ideas in Western culture.

Course usage information

SAST 0525. The History and Practice of Yoga in India and Beyond.

From its roots in premodern India to its current popularity worldwide, yoga has a rich a complex history. As a practice of the mind, body, and spirit, yoga has taken many forms—meditation, chanting, breath control, postures—in order to achieve a range of goals: liberation from rebirth, supernatural powers, strength, pleasure, peace, wellness. As its reputation and commodification have increased, yoga has attracted deep interest, debate, and even controversy. In this course we will study yoga from its earliest texts to its status in the modern world, addressing its historical, religious, social, and political ramifications in many different contexts.

Course usage information

SAST 0526. This Whole World is OM: Mantras in Indian Religions.

A mantra is a syllable or formula used in ritual and meditation. Mantras are central to Indian religions—not only Hinduism, but also Jainism, Buddhism, Sufism, and Sikhism. Some mantras are made up of words and language—usually in Sanskrit—while others are sound fragments with no semantic meaning. The sacred syllable OM, now a global symbol of Eastern spirituality, exemplifies the power and authority of mantra. What are mantras? What do they accomplish? How do they shape identities, beliefs, and practices? Engaging with sacred utterance in various media, this course explores the world of mantras in India and beyond.

Fall SAST0526 S02 19020 T 4:00-6:30(07) (F. Moore-Gerety)
Course usage information

SAST 0700. Introduction to Modern South Asia.

This course will explore the making of modern South Asia through a dynamic conception of its peoples as historical actors who contributed to and engaged with the varied facets of the empire, resistance, and modernity. We will ask: How did resisting colonial rule include, exclude, or form creative attempts to adapt, appropriate, question, and reject elements of European modernity? What were the various complementary and competing visions of anti-colonial nationalism? How were these represented and turned into history writing? In other words, what is the relationship between power, culture, and knowledge? Finally, what are the contemporary political stakes in different narratives of the past? This course thus grapples with history as well as post-colonial theory, and provides students with comparative tools to engage with imperial forms, nationalism, and struggles that remade much of the global south by the mid-twentieth century.

Course usage information

SAST 0700A. Introduction to Modern South Asia: The Politics of States, Society, and Development in South Asia.

India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are collectively home to over 1.5 billion people, with rapidly growing economies. Yet, all three states continue to grapple with high levels of poverty, ethnic, religious, gender, and caste-based discrimination, and threats to deepening democracy. Despite a shared history of colonial rule and similar bureaucratic structures, these states have developed important differences in political regimes, systems of governance, and state-citizen linkages. This seminar is an introduction to States, Society, and Development in South Asia, drawing on academic literature primarily from political science, as well as sociology, and history. Over the semester, we will comparatively address themes such as the origins and consolidation of political regimes, the role of the state in economic growth and poverty alleviation, and the evolution of political parties, civil society, and social movements in organizing and making demands for rights.

Course usage information

SAST 0700B. Introduction to Modern South Asia: Public Health From Theory to Practice.

This course introduces students to public health in South Asia (including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka) through a health equity approach. We will examine the history, theories, and interventions that shape health care systems in South Asia in three ways. First, students will learn about fundamental historical shifts in public health from the British Raj before 1947, Nation-building between 1947 and 1971, and the present time in health care and policy in South Asia. Second, students will be introduced to structural and social determinants of health (e.g., race and ethnicity, caste, gender, socioeconomic position, sexual orientation) using an interdisciplinary approach rooted in global health theories. Finally, through case studies, we will examine health policies and initiatives across the South Asian region and critically delve into ethical dimensions, behavioral health, and sustainability.

Course usage information

SAST 0700C. Current Debates in Modern South Asia.

Abbreviated Course Description: This course provides a survey of the debates currently occupying scholarship on South Asia. Topics will include – the impacts of colonial modernity; the divergences as well as traffic between class, caste, and religion; the politics of representation in a democracy; forms of relatedness across intimate and geological scales; the distance or proximity between law and violence; the psychic and social consequences of economic liberalization. Throughout the course, we will examine debates over the pertinence of concepts considered to be from elsewhere to understanding South Asian life. Readings are drawn from the disciplines of anthropology, history, sociology, literary studies, political science, and media studies.

Course usage information

SAST 0725. Political Ecology in South Asia.

This course focuses on the complex issues of intra-(human)-species and interspecies inequality, the history of uneven development as well as ecological vulnerability of diverse South Asian societies, and the resulting environmental movements that intersect concerns for environment with that of social justice. First we explore the underlying theoretical premise of how environments can be understood as both 'natural' and ‘social’, and variations over time and space. Is there one Nature or multiple natures? Is Nature even natural? Is there something distinct about the ecology, political ecology, or the history of environmental movements in South Asia? Are the environmental justice movements emerging from the global south able to capture the intricate relationship that many indigenous people in South Asia have with their environment? And how do such movements respond to ecological challenges that are a result of activities of global magnitude?

Course usage information

SAST 0730. Economic and Human Development in South Asia.

This course takes stock of Economic and Human Development achieved in modern South Asia and discusses pertinent public policy issues across countries in an interdisciplinary framework. Following cross-country comparisons of various development indices, we will question the contribution of neo-liberal reforms in agricultural and industrial sectors in improving people’s lives. We will draw upon the rich histories of struggles for economic rights and dignity, led by women, as well as caste and minority groups. We will also explore inequalities in income, wealth, access to health and education, as well as attempts to remedy these by way of social policy. Finally, we discuss the rapidly changing natural and political environments, as we shift our focus to communal tensions and climate change in this region.

Course usage information

SAST 0735. South Asia in the World and the World in South Asia.

This course gives a broad overview of South Asia’s inextricable role in the making of the world and vice versa from the 13th century to the present. To counter the dangerous nationalisms the region has experienced recently, this course underlines the worldliness and the planetarity of South Asia. Course materials also examine gender, sexuality, caste, race, religion, indigeneity, class, region, et cetera, not just because justice demands that we critically examine inequalities and injustices perpetuated against those who are “different” but because the enormous diversity of lives and experiences in South Asia is a matter of fact. This interdisciplinary course draw on multimedia material, journalistic works and archival pieces to think critically about how the region known today as South Asia has come to be shaped socially, politically, affectively, and materially and how it has contributed to shaping the world.

Course usage information

SAST 0750. Understanding the Indian Economy.

With a view to help understanding the Indian economy, the course will discuss a number of topics. The aim will be to become conversant with a number of contemporary issues such as demonetisation, Goods and Services Tax (GST), the GDP numbers controversy, fiscal federalism and the outlook for the Indian economy post-COVID. But understanding the economy today will also require becoming familiar with the past and how ideas, events, and developments of the past shaped the India of today in terms of the basic Indian development model, structural transformation, India’s economic and financial crises, the state of state capacity, and gender and other outcomes.

Course usage information

SAST 1970. Independent Study.

Section numbers vary by instructor. Please check CAB for the correct section number and CRN to use when registering for this course.

Course usage information

SAST XLIST. Courses of Interest to Concentrators.

South Asian Studies

South Asian Studies is an interdisciplinary concentration in which students work across the humanities and social sciences, geographical locations, and time periods.  The concentration emphasizes both the diversity of South Asia as a region, as well as the long-term historical connections among people and places in Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.  The concentration takes a comparative approach, bringing attention to history, politics, and culture within the region, as well as in the equally vital global South Asian diaspora.

Course Requirements

All South Asian Studies concentrators must take and pass 10 courses as approved by their concentration advisor.  Students who wish to earn honors must take 12 courses total (see Senior-Year Project below).

SAST 0700Introduction to Modern South Asia1
or HIST 1620 Resisting Empire: Gandhi and the Making of Modern South Asia
Two courses in the Humanities with a majority focus in South Asia, such as: 2
India’s Classical Performing Arts
Classical Philosophy of India
Sound, Song and Salvation in South Asia
Dharma: A History of Classical Indian Civilization
Saints and Mystics of India
Love and War in India
Sensing the Sacred: Sensory Culture in South Asian Religions
Food, Religion and Politics in South Asia
Karma, Rebirth and Liberation: Life and Death in South Asian Religions
The History and Practice of Yoga in India and Beyond
This Whole World is OM: Mantras in Indian Religions
Introduction to Indian Art
South Asian Art and Architecture
Innovations in Indian Literature
The Imaginary Lives of Muslims
Islam in South Asia
Love and War in India
Sensing the Sacred: Sensory Culture in South Asian Religions
This Whole World is OM: Mantras in Indian Religions
Two courses in the Social Sciences with a majority focus on South Asia, such as:2
Ruined History: Visual and Material Culture in South Asia
Politics, Economy and Society in India
Politics of Economic Development in Asia
Ethnic Conflict
Politics in India
Understanding the Indian Economy
Political Ecology in South Asia
This Whole World is OM: Mantras in Indian Religions
The History and Practice of Yoga in India and Beyond
Food, Religion and Politics in South Asia
Sensing the Sacred: Sensory Culture in South Asian Religions
Dharma: A History of Classical Indian Civilization
At least five additional elective courses. Students can take additional courses in the humanities or social sciences with a focus on South Asia, such as:5
At least three of the five electives must be drawn from the department pre-approved course listings (or be approved by the DUS/Concentration advisor). The courses on this pre-approved list have significant (at least 25%) South Asia content.
No more than two of the remaining electives can be courses with less empirical South Asia content, but these courses must have theoretical relevance to the study of South Asia (with the approval from the DUS).
Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
Anthropology and Development: Critical Ethnographic Perspectives
Music and Meditation
Introduction to Contemplative Studies
Development and the International Economy
Health, Hunger and the Household in Developing Countries
Economic Development I
Architecture of the House Through Space and Time
Refugees: A Twentieth-Century History
The Ottomans: Faith, Law, Empire
Beginning Hindi or Urdu
Intermediate Hindi-Urdu
Advanced Hindi-Urdu
Does Utopia Still Exist? Media, politics and the hope of something else
Introduction to Comparative Politics
Ethnic Politics and Conflict
Buddhist Thought, Practice, and Society
Independent Study
Elementary Sanskrit II
Classical Sanskrit Story Literature
The Bhāgavata Purāṇa: Text and Reception
Vedic Sanskrit
Total Credits10

Language Requirements

Proficiency in a South Asian language is required for the concentration. Demonstrating proficiency can entail passing a written and oral examination, 4 semesters of formal language study at Brown or another institution, or a high school transcript indicating that the language of instruction for all courses was a South Asian language. Native Hindi/Urdu speakers are encouraged to fulfill the language requirement by taking another South Asian language for four semester, such as Sanskrit at Brown or a relevant language at another institution. Up to two language courses can count toward fulfilling the student's elective requirements.  

Senior-Year Project

Students must complete either a senior capstone project OR an honors thesis.

Capstone projects or honors theses are opportunities for students to creatively synthesize the thinking on South Asia that they have developed during the concentration.  The project should exhibit an empirically and theoretically driven research question or argument about some aspect of South Asian Studies.  the senior-year project should involve some research in at least one South Asian language.

All students are encouraged to start thinking about their capstones in their junior year. 

Capstones can take two primary forms:

  1. A research paper of approximately 30 pages on a topic related to South Asia for an existing concentration-eligible course, undertaken with the permission of the instructor. 
  2. An independent study-based project.  the produce and/or process that constitutes this can be artistic, primary or secondary research-based, internship-related, or something else.  the project must be supervised by at least one South Asian Studies faculty member* for at least one semester under SAST 1970.  This course can count towards the five elective requirement. 

At the end of the junior year, each student should meet with the Director of Undergraduate Study (DUS) to review their plan for completing their capstone.  If pursuing a capstone project, students will be required to submit, by the end of the shopping period of the fall of their senior year,  a short proposal (300 words) that describes how they are going to complete this requirement. 

An Honors Thesis is a two-semester independent study supervised by a thesis advisor (SAST 1970).  These two courses constitute the additional courses needed for honors in the concentration. 

An honors thesis can be textual, or it can take other forms (multi-media, visual, artistic, or musical, for example).  The form and substance of a non-textual honors thesis must conform to the rigorous regulations set out by the relevant department(s) and the Dean of the College. 

Additional Honors Requirements

To be eligible for Honors, students will have earned an “A” in the majority of graded courses for the concentration.

Students may graduate with Honors in South Asian Studies by completing an undergraduate Honors thesis under the supervision of at least one reader drawn from the South Asian Studies faculty* and one additional reader from the Brown (or RISD, in the case of Brown-RISD students) faculty community.

In order to pursue Honors, students must submit the following materials to the South Asian studies Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) by the end of their 6th semester:

  1. A prospectus (3-5 pages, describing the major research questions and methods to be used, complete with bibliography) that has been read and vetted by the student’s intended primary reader.  
  2. An email from the faculty member who will serve as primary reader to the South Asian Studies DUS noting their willingness to advise the thesis.

In addition, students must:

  1. Enroll in a two-semester sequence of independent study [SAST 1970 or under a relevant departmental course code].
  2. Designate a second reader by the end of the first month of their 7th semester.  Second readers should also confirm their willingness to serve as a reader by sending an email to the South Asian Studies DUS.
  3. Be in regular contact with thesis advisor about the progress of the project. 
  4. Present their research to the Saxena Center community during their final semester. 

For mid-year graduating students, the topic and primary reader must be identified and confirmed by mid-November of the junior year, and a second reader must be arranged and confirmed by January 30 of the senior year.

 * This includes all people listed under the Faculty, Postdoctoral Associate, and Visiting Scholars (limited to those in residence at Brown) tabs on the Saxena Center website