Selected Course Descriptions

Courses marked with an asterisk are offered annually.  Courses without an asterisk are not offered every year.

For current term course descriptions, visit the Directory of Classes at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/bulletin/uwb/.

CORE COURSE – MA IN SOUTH ASIA STUDIES

*SASS GU 5000  Introduction to the Study of South Asia. 4 points

As South Asia has moved to the center of the global political and economic stage, anthropologists, historians and other social scientists have raised incisive new questions about the distinctive ways that rapid social and cultural change play out in India, Pakistan, and other South Asian countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal. This course will examine how history, anthropology and ethnographic research have shaped our understanding of South Asia and how South Asia is defining itself as a region and with the world.

The course will focus on historical and contemporary issues and theoretical approaches, contextualizing these approaches by considering how these have evolved from earlier questions posed in the social sciences. We will begin with a taste of British colonial perspectives on Indian society and cultures and ask how early outsiders’ perceptions and concerns played a role in shaping India as an object of study, and how British historical approaches played out in defining and India. We will then explore a range of contemporary studies on South Asia, including topics such as religion, caste, the state, location and lived sites, communalism and violence, gender and the body, and globalization.

ANTHROPOLOGY

*ANME GR6406  The Modern State and the Colonial Subject.  3 points.

On the development of legal thought on the colonial subject. Focus on the American Indian in the New World, post-1857 India, indirect rule in post-Mahdiyya Sudan and South Africa, and Israel/Palestine.

ANTH GR980  Advanced Studies in South Asian History, Culture, and Society.  4 points.

This graduate seminar is intended to introduce graduate students pursuing research concerning some aspect of early modern and modern South Asian history, culture, and society to major debates, beginning with the question of the eighteenth century and pre-colonial India.  It will use a variety of recently published works of scholarship, supplemented by a selection of standard readings on each topic, designed to introduce students to new as well as continuing questions in the historiographical and anthropological literature.  The course assumes prior reading and coursework on modern South Asia. Instructor permission required.

INSTITUTE FOR COMPARATIVE LITERATURE AND SOCIETY

CLEN GU4567 Du Bois, Gramsci, Ambedkar: Three Men on Emancipation. 4 points.

Selected texts of W.E.B. Du Bois, Antonio Gramsci, and B.R. Ambedkar will be read to compare and contrast their points of view on the emancipation of the subaltern.  The issue of gendering will be investigated.

HISTORY DEPARTMENT

HIST GU4801 Gender and Women in Islam: South Asia & Middle East. 4 points.

This course will examine various roles that a religion can play in shaping its believers’ socio-political and religious identities on the basis of their natural/social differences i.e. sex and gender. Further, an attempt will be made to search for historical explanations through the lens of class, rural/urban economies and geo-ethnic diversities which have shaped gender relations and women’s status in various Muslim countries. The main focus of the course will be on Islam and its role in the articulation of gendered identities, the construction of their socio-religious images, and historical explanation of their roles, rights and status in the regions of South Asia and Middle East since 1900. The central argument of the course is that, for historical understanding of a set of beliefs and practices regarding gender relations and women’s status in any religious group, one needs to examine the historical context and socio-economic basis of that particular religion. By using the notion of gender and historical feminist discourses as tools of analysis, this course intends to understand and explain existing perceptions, misperceptions, myths and realities regarding gender relations and Muslim women’s situations in the distant and immediate past. This course begins with a historical materialist explanation of the religion of Islam and examines men & women’s roles, rights and responsibilities as described in the religious texts, interpretations, traditions and historical sources such as the Quran, Hadith, Sunnah and Sharia.  It will further attempt to study these issues by situating them in histories of local and regional diversities (i.e. South Asia, Middle East). A historical perspective will facilitate students’ understanding of male and female Muslim scholars’ ventures to re/read and re/explain the Islamic texts in modern contexts of South Asia and the Middle East.

History GU4811  History of the Environment and Health in South Asia and beyond. 4 points.

This course offers an understanding of the interdisciplinary field of environmental, health and population history and will discuss historical and policy debates with a cross cutting, comparative relevance: such as the making and subjugation of colonized peoples and natural and disease landscapes under British colonial rule; modernizing states and their interest in development and knowledge and technology building, the movement and migration of populations, and changing place of public health and healing in south Asia. The key aim of the course will be to introduce students to reading and analyzing a range of historical scholarship, and interdisciplinary research on environment, health, medicine and populations in South Asia and to introduce them to an exploration of primary sources for research; and also to probe the challenges posed by archives and sources in these fields. Some of the overarching questions that shape this course are as follows: How have environmental pasts and medical histories been interpreted, debated and what is their contemporary resonance? What have been the encounters (political, intellectual, legal, social and cultural) between the environment, its changing landscapes and state? How have citizens, indigenous communities, and vernacular healers mediated and shaped these encounters and inserted their claims for sustainability, subsistence or survival? How have these changing landscapes shaped norms about bodies, care and beliefs? The course focuses on South Asia but also urges students to think and make linkages beyond regional geographies in examining interconnected ideas and practices in histories of the environment, medicine and health. Topics will therefore include (and students are invited to add to these perspectives and suggest additional discussion themes): colonial and globalized circuits of medical knowledge, with comparative case studies from Africa and East Asia; and the travel and translation of environmental ideas and of medical practices through growing global networks.

*HIST G6998 History of South Asia I: al-Hind to Hindustan. 3 points.

This survey lecture course will provide students with a broad overview of the history of South Asia as a region - focusing on key political, cultural and social developments over more than two millennia. The readings include both primary sources (in translation) and secondary works. Our key concerns will be the political, cultural and theological encounters of varied communities, the growth of cities and urban spaces, networks of trade and migrations and the development of both local and cosmopolitan cultures across Southern Asia. The survey will begin with early dynasties of the classical period and then turn to the subsequent formation of various Perso-Turkic polities, including the development and growth of hybrid political cultures such as those of Vijayanagar and the Mughals. The course also touches on Indic spiritual and literary traditions such as Sufi and Bhakti movements. Near the end of our course, we will look forward towards the establishment of European trading companies and accompanying colonial powers.

*HIST G6998 History of South Asia II: Empire and Aftermath. 3 points.

We begin with the rise and fall of the Mughal Empire, and examine why and how the East India Company came to rule India in the eighteenth century. As the term progresses, we will investigate the objectives of British colonial rule in India and we will explore the nature of colonial modernity. The course then turns to a discussion of anti-colonial sentiment, both in the form of outright revolt, and critiques by early nationalists. This is followed by a discussion of Gandhi, his thought and his leadership of the nationalist movement. Finally, the course explores the partition of British India in 1947, examining the long-term consequences of the process of partition for the states of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. We will focus in particular on the flowing themes: non-Western state formation; debates about whether British rule impoverished India; the structure and ideology of anti-colonial thought; identity formation and its connection to political, economic and cultural structures. The class relies extensively on primary texts, and aims to expose students to multiple historiographical perspectives for understanding South Asia's past.

HIST GR8011 Early Modern South Asia.  4 points.

This graduate seminar focuses on subject, objects and agents that catalyzed the material and political orders from 1500-1800 in South Asia. We pair primary, historical texts (in translation) with recent monographs which demonstrate the intersections between text, narrative and polity. Our guiding interests will be in understanding the intimate relationship between power and agency and objects within specific political spaces. Eschewing the center/periphery models, we will focus on specific sites of literary and political imagination- Bengal, Deccan, Punjab—and the turn to the global connections with America and Europe during this period. This seminar will assume broad familiarity with both Indian and European early modern politics and thought.

HIST GR8495 Borderlands History Colloquium.  4 points.

This course will argue for a broader spatial history of empire by looking at sites such as "frontiers" and "borderlands" in a theoretical and comparative perspective. From the works of nineteenth century historians such as Frederick Jackson Turner to formulations of spatial perspectives by Foucault, Bauchelard and Lefebvre we will look at specific sites from the American West to Northeast India. Our effort will be to situate borderlands and frontiers not at the margins but t the center of the relationship between power and narrative, between empire and colony. Formulations of race, gender, class will be central to our comparative units of historical analysis and allow us to create conversations across area-studies boundaries within the discipline.

HIST GR8944 History and Theory.  4 points.

This course is attentive to how social contexts shape the reception of ideas that are assumed to have universal purchase. The seminar adopts a historical mode of presentation, and locates social theory in its global contexts with a specific focus on the global South. We follow the itinerary of two concepts, equality and difference. Can we write a global history of social thought? How are ideas and contexts transformed when they encounter forms of social difference (e.g., race, caste, religion) that must be thought on their own terms? What is the relationship between commitments to equality, on the one hand, and the preservation of difference on the other?  Readings for the seminar will include a mix of classic texts of social theory, and monographs in history and anthropology that seek to engage and redirect the energies of social thought toward questions of translation, commensuration, and alterity.

INTERNATIONAL AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS

*INAF U6775 Indian Economy in Transition.  4 points.

DESCRIPTION: This course will be devoted to an analytic study of the transformation. The bulk of the course will be devoted to understanding the reforms that are under way or must be undertaken to accelerate growth and poverty reduction. On the macroeconomic front, we will discuss the issues related to fiscal deficit, public debt and the likelihood of a macroeconomic crisis. Special attention will be paid to the external sector reforms including trade liberalization, foreign investment liberalization, capital account convertibility, preferential trade arrangements and multilateral trade negotiations. Among domestic reforms, we will discuss the reform of the tax system, subsidies, agriculture, product and factor markets, infrastructure and social sectors. Cautionary Note: This is a new course whose content will evolve as the semester progresses. Therefore, the description should be viewed as tentative. 

ISLAMIC CULTURE STUDIES

*ISCS G5000  Foundation to Islamic Studies.  4 points.

This course provides students with a foundation to the key concepts, theories and debates in the field of Islamic studies. Interdisciplinary in scope, and wide-ranging in substantive coverage, the seminar features weekly visits by faculty from across the university. The course will utilize major approaches in the classic areas of history, law and political economy as well as sociology, anthropology, media studies, and colonial and postcolonial studies. We will critically address theoretical questions and debates about culture and civilization, religion, secularization, law and authority, nation-states, globalization, minority rights and technology. While engaging with archetypal themes in Islamic studies, this course will also concentrate on gender and sexuality, cultural production and articulations, transnational movements, and modes of religious association and ritual in everyday life. We will examine the variety of ways that Islamic norms and practices are developed, reinterpreted, embodied and regulated in contemporary Muslim societies as well as among Muslims minorities in western contexts. This seminar is a core course for the MA in Islamic Studies and will be helpful for graduate students studying the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.

DEPARTMENT OF MIDDLE EASTERN, SOUTH ASIAN, AND AFRICAN STUDIES

MDES GU4057 Subaltern Studies and Problems of South Asian History.  4 points.

The aim of this course will be two-fold: first to initiate a detailed study of the school of Indian  history called Subaltern Studies which achieved immense attention and popularity starting from the 1980s; secondly, to study, through these writings, the epistemological problems of critical historical and social science scholarship. The discussions will be on two levels – every week there will be a reading from the subaltern studies history, but this would be linked to thinking about some specific theoretical issue, and the historiographic difficulties of investigating the history of social groups and actors who were conventionally kept outside mainstream histories. It will track the intellectual trajectory of subaltern studies intellectual work as it expanded , moving  from histories of the peasantry, the working class, tribals, women, lower castes, subordinate nations, to raising larger theoretical and methodological questions about critiques of nationalist history, of European history and social science to the general question of knowledge about the modern world and the languages in which it should be examined. In the last section, we shall discuss if SS contains a promise of similar forms of critical knowledge in other parts of the world, and whether it can be used to examine the conceptual structures of modern social sciences in general.

MDES GU4643 19th Century Indian Muslims.  4 points.

This is an advanced undergraduate/graduate history seminar course designed to introduce upper level students to the study of Muslims in colonial India in the nineteenth century. Although dealing with this period, the main focus of this course will be on social, religious and political developments, inspired by, and affecting, India’s Muslims in the second half of the century.

MDES GU4652 Mughal India. 4 points.

The Mughal period was one of the most dynamic eras in world history, when India was the meeting place of many cultures. Of Timurid ancestry, the earliest Mughal rulers drew upon the heritage of Central Asia in their ruling styles and cultural practices, but they would soon adapt to the complexities of their Indian milieu, which had longstanding traditions that were a blend of Sanskrit and Persian, Hindu and Muslim idioms. European culture, whether filtered through Jesuit sermons, itinerant merchants, or Flemish engravings, was also making inroads into India during this period. This course is a broad cultural history of Mughal India as seen from a range of perspectives and sources. We consider the Mughals’ major achievements in visual culture as manifested in painting and architecture, as well as exploring diverse topics in religion, literature, politics, and historiography. Yet another approach is to listen to the voices of the Mughal rulers as recorded in their memoirs, as well as investigating the signal contributions of the dynasty’s women.

CLME GU4621 Court Cultures of India. 4 points.

This course approaches the phenomenon of princely India from a range of perspectives. Students learn about the political and cultural practices of specific courts that played a major role in Indian history such as the Guptas, Vijayanagarm and the Mughals, while also being exposed to aspects of Indian courtly life more generally. Topics include, among others, literature, art, architecture, intellectual practices, music and the science of erotics (Kamasutra). While the emphasis is on Indian court culture as seen from within India, cross cultural perspectives are also introduced. For instance, why were Sanskrit literature and Indian architecture emulated far afield in Southeast Asia in the first millenium? And how was Indian court culture perceived by Europeans in the early modern and colonial periods? The course concludes with some reflections on the legacy of Mughals and maharajas in postcolonial India.

MDES GU4630 Histories of Translation in Premodern India. 4 points.

This course will provide a survey of the historical practices of textual translation in India as well as some of the ways in which translation has been used to open up analysis of a broad set of cultural practices.  Discussion topics will range from methods of translation to conceptual commensurability, translatability, patronage and vernacularization, as the class rigorously examines how to approach the following questions: What was translation in India?  What were the ways in which it was theorized? What was the relationship between translation and political power?  How does a history of translation challenge nationalist narratives of culture, if at all? 

MDES GU4637 Cinema and Colonialism in South Asia.  4 points. 

What is the relation between cinema and colonialism? This seminar approaches cinema as a dynamic historical agent that aided, negotiated, refracted, and contested the mechanisms and meanings of colonialism in South Asia. We will study cinema as technology, as industry, and as cultural form, paying attention to questions of film finance, on-screen representation, production infrastructures, circuits of distribution, and sites of exhibition. We will watch films made by British ethnographers, Indian expats, Hollywood orientalists, and South Asian nationalists to study how film served as a key weapon of imperial propaganda as well as anticolonial resistance. From orientalist films that constructed the colony as exotic and dangerous, to the spatial uses of Indian films to reinforce race inequalities in the diaspora (eg. East Africa), cinema is deeply imbricated with colonial strategies of racial, gendered, and caste-based othering. This is a history of cinema as a history of empire; where cinema is not just a text to be read but a cultural, industrial, and social network of power relations

MDES W4653 A History of Modern Pakistan. 4 points.

This course is designed as a survey course of modern Pakistani history from 1947 to the present. The course will examine the six "eras" that help define Pakistan's history, and will highlight political, economic and institutional developments. 

MDES GU4601 Politics in India. 4 points.

This course will combine study of long-term historical sociology with more short term understanding of policies and their possible effects. Though its main purpose will be to provide students with an understanding of politics after independence, it will argue, methodologically, that this understanding should be based on a study of historical sociology – plotting long-terms shifts in the structure of social power.  The course will start with analyses of the structures of power and ideas about political legitimacy in pre-modern India, and the transformations brought by colonialism into that order. After a brief study of the nature of political order under the colonial state, the courses will focus primarily on the history of the democratic state after independence.

*MDES GU4610-11  Readings in Hindi Literature I and II.  4 points.

Prerequisites: MDES UN2602 or the instructor's permission. This course introduces students to the riches of the classical Hindi Tradition. We read Bhakti and Sufi Literature in tandem, with a special interest in Tulsidas and the Indo-Islamic Romance.   The class is open to undergraduate and graduate students with two or more years of Hindi- Urdu (or permission of the instructor).

*MDES GU4635-36  Readings in Urdu Literature I and II.  4 points.

Prerequisites: two years of prior coursework in Hindi-Urdu (MDES W1612 & MDES W1613), one year of Urdu for Heritage Speakers (MDES W1614 & MDES W1615), or the instructor's permission. This course is a literary course, with in-depth exposure to some of the finest works of classical and modern Urdu prose and poetry. In the fall semester, our focus will be on some of the most famous Urdu short stories while, in the spring semester, we will focus on various genres of Urdu poetry. The content may change each semester. This course is open to both undergraduates and graduates.

MDES GU4654 Gender, Power and Culture in Early Modern India. 4 points.

Explores gender, culture, power in India, c. 1500-1800 by reading theoretical works on gender and sexuality, historical scholarship relevant to early modern India, and a variety of primary sources. Topics include morality, mysticism, devotion, desire, kingship, heroism, homosocial relations, and homoerotic practices. The focus is largely on Persianate contexts, in conversation with broader South Asian and Islamic studies. This discussion seminar is designed for graduate and advanced undergraduate students, with some previous background in South Asian, Islamic, or gender studies.

*MDES GU4811-4812.  Advanced Sanskrit I and II.  4 points. 

Prerequisites: Two years of Sanskrit or the instructor's permission. Two levels of advanced Sanskrit are given in alternate years. In 2019-2020 court literature (fall) and literary criticism (spring) will be offered; in 2020-2021, philosophy. Close reading of major works, exploring both philological and literary-theoretical aspects of the texts. No P/D/F or R credit is allowed for this class.

POLITICS DEPARTMENT

*POLS GU4454 Comparative Politics of South Asia. 4 points.

This course first compares the post-independence political histories of South Asian countries, particularly India and Pakistan. It then explores selected topics across countries: social and cultural dimensions of politics; structures of power; and political behavior. The underlying theme is to explain the development and durability of the particular political regimes – democratic or authoritarian – in each country.

RELIGION DEPARTMENT

RELI GU4215  Hinduism Here.  4 points.

Historical, theological, social and ritual dimensions of "lived Hinduism" in the greater New York area. Sites selected for in-depth study include worshipping communities, retreat centers, and national organizations with significant local influence. Significant fieldwork component

RELI  GU4228  South Asia and the Secular. 4 points.

This seminar explores different contestations and inflections of the secular in South Asia.We will begin by tracing a genealogy of the secular, which gave rise to a particular discursive grammar. Grounding ourselves in this formative space of the secular, we will study the constitutive nature of imperialism within the secular by examining the disciplining and conscripting role of Orientalism and the colonial state. Though noting these changes produced by colonial rule, this course also explores the arguments scholars of South Asia have made distinguishing between “secularisms” and the production of a tolerant and cosmopolitan South Asian orientation. In conjunction and against these possibilities, rather than consider the religious retrograde or communal, we will consider the continual striving toward political autonomy through disputation in the parameters of a given tradition—which resist incorporation into a broader pluralist or syncretic Indic model.

RELI GU4304  Krishna.  4 points.

Study of a single deity in the Hindu pantheon as illuminated in art, music, dance, drama, theological treatises, patterns of ritual, and texts both classic and modern. Special attention to Krishna's consort Radha, to Krishna's reception in the West, and to his portrayal on Indian television.

RELI GU4630 Indo-Tibetan Religious Philosophy.  4 points.

Examination of topics in the religious philosophy of Tibet.

RELI GR6410 Issues in the Study of South Asian Religion.  4 points.

Consideration of critical themes or major issues in the study of South Asian religions, especially those having major methodological implications. Themes vary from year to year.

RELI GR9631 Buddhist Texts.  4 points.

Prerequisites: the instructor's permission. Knowledge of Tibetan and Sanskrit preferred. Selected readings in Sanskrit and Tibetan texts, original and translations.

MA Program Description

Degree Requirements

List of Recent MA Thesis Topics

Application

Early Admission (BA-MA Program)

Financial Aid

For Current Students