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South Asian Studies

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 and religion, from history and economics to sociology, anthropology, languages, and literary study, to create a sustained curricular focus on South Asian life, art, 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.

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Requirements & Courses

Minor in South Asian Studies


Six courses (24 credits)

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


SAS 201 Mother-Goddess-Wife-Whore: Female Sexuality and nationalism in South Asian Cinema (4 Credits)

This course examines the relationship between female sexuality and nationalism in South Asian cinema, focusing on the crucial role that gender plays in the formation of postcolonial national identities, both on screen and beyond. The class considers diverse forms of cinematic resistance, especially the work of directors who challenge gender norms. Students look at films from Bollywood and from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan. The class includes guest-lectures by South Asian activists and filmmakers. (E) {A}{H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

SAS 281/ SWG 281 Love, Devotion and Desire in Bollywood and Beyond (4 Credits)

This course examines the dominant gaze in Bollywood romantic genre films and how it constitutes the notion of romantic love and desire. The class explores the concept of love-devotion-desire in Vaishnav and Sufi texts and their influences on Bollywood. By engaging with feminist scholars and considering the female gaze from South Asian directors, especially those who challenge gender norms, the class tries to understand desire and love outside the heteronormative structure. The course also has guest lectures by South Asian activists and filmmakers. (E) {A}

Fall, Variable

Crosslisted Courses

ANT 267 Contemporary South Asia (4 Credits)

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}

Fall, Spring, Annually

ANT 274 The Anthropology of Religion (4 Credits)

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}

Fall, Spring, Annually

BUS 253 Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy and Hermeneutics (4 Credits)

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. No prerequisites. Enrollment limited to 15. Application and H/5CIP permission required. {H}{N}{S}

Interterm, Variable

ECO 211 Economic Development (4 Credits)

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}

Fall, Spring, Annually

ECO 311in Seminar: Topics in Economic Development-India (4 Credits)

This seminar applies and extends microeconomic theory to analyze selected topics related to the India’s economic development. Throughout the course an emphasis is placed on empirically testing economic hypotheses using data from India. In particular, the following topics are explored, with reference to India’s growth and development: education, health, demographics, caste and gender, institutions, credit, insurance, infrastructure, water and climate change. Prerequisites: ECO 220 and 250. Recommended: ECO 211 or 213. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

ENG 241 The Empire Writes Back: Postcolonial Literature (4 Credits)

Introduction to Anglophone fiction, poetry, drama and memoir from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia in the aftermath of the British empire. Concerns include the cultural and political work of literature in response to histories of colonial and racial dominance; writers' ambivalence towards English linguistic, literary and cultural legacies; ways literature can (re)construct national identities and histories and address dominant notions of race, class, gender and sexuality; women writers' distinctiveness and modes of contesting patriarchal and colonial ideologies; and global diasporas, migration, globalization and U.S. imperialism. Readings include Achebe, Adichie, Aidoo, Dangarembga, Walcott, Cliff, Rushdie, Ghosh, Lahiri, Hamid and others. {L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

ENG 333jl Seminar: Topics: A Major Writer in English-Jhumpa Lahiri (4 Credits)

Indian American writer Jhumpa Lahiri became an overnight star in 1999 with her first short story collection, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Interpreter of Maladies. She has since published many novels, story collections and essays. Internationally acclaimed for her beautifully crafted, deeply moving fiction about migration, love, loss, belonging, unbelonging, home and family, this trilingual twenty-first century writer has already generated an astonishing body of scholarship. This course focuses on Lahiri’s fiction and non-fiction, her themes and techniques, and includes her recent work in translation. The intersectionality of race, ethnicity, gender and class is central to the analysis. Supplementary readings include postcolonial, Asian American and feminist theory, history and literary criticism. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

ENG 391 Seminar: Contemporary South Asian Writers in English (4 Credits)

This course will explore the rich diversity of late 20th and 21st century literatures written in English and published internationally by award-winning writers of South Asian descent from the U.S, Canada, Britain, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. These transnational writers include established celebrities (Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amitav Ghosh, Kiran Desai) and newer stars (Monica Ali, Aravind Adiga, Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsie). Among many questions, we will consider how writers craft new idioms and forms to address multiple audiences in global English, how they explore or foreground emergent concerns of postcolonial societies and of diasporic, migrant, or transnational peoples in a rapidly globalizing but by no means equalizing world. Supplementary readings on postcolonial theory and criticism. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

HST 201 The Silk Road and Premodern Eurasia (4 Credits)

An introduction to major developments and interactions among people in Europe and Asia before modernity. The Silk Roads, long distance networks that allowed people, goods, technology, religious beliefs and other ideas to travel between China, India and Rome/Mediterranean, and the many points in between, developed against the backdrop of the rise and fall of steppe nomadic empires in Inner Asia. We examine these as interrelated phenomena that shaped Eurasian encounters to the rise of the world-conquering Mongols and the journey of Marco Polo. Topics include: horses, Silk and Steppe routes, Scythians and Huns, Han China and Rome, Byzantium, Buddhism, Christianity and other universal religions, Arabs and the rise of Islam, Turks, Mongol Empire, and medieval European trade, geography and travel. {H}


IDP 320 Seminar on Global Learning: Women’s Health in India, Including Tibetans Living in Exile (4 Credits)

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. Enrollment limited to 5. Application and instructor permission required.


MUS 101 World Music (4 Credits)

Music may not be a "universal language," but it is a universal phenomenon; every culture has something that we recognize as music. This course introduces you to a number of musical systems traditional, classical and popular--from around the world and uses case studies to explore the complex relationships between music and culture. By engaging with music analytically, as musicologists (paying attention to the sounds you hear) and ethnographically, as anthropologists (paying attention to the cultural context), you learn basic principles that enhance your understanding of music globally speaking. No prerequisites. {A}{S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

MUS 249/ REL 249 Colloquium: Islamic Popular Music (4 Credits)

Offered as MUS 249 and 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. Enrollment limited to 35. {A}{H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

PHI 108/ REL 108 The Meaning of Life (4 Credits)

Offered as REL 108 and 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 consider the ways in which philosophical and religious thinking can be directly relevant to our own lives. {H}{L}

Fall, Spring, Annually

PHI 127 Indian Philosophy (4 Credits)

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? Students 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 students 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}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

PHI 310cs Seminar: Topics in Recent and Contemporary Philosophy-Cosmopolitanism (4 Credits)

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. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {H}{L}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

PHI 330sc Seminar: Topics in the History of Philosophy-Schopenhauer and Indian Philosophy (4 Credits)

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was the first important European philosopher to take Indian philosophy seriously. He follows Kant’s transcendental idealism but places Kantian philosophy in dialogue with the Vedānta and Buddhist philosophy filtering into Europe as German and British orientalism began to flourish, synthesizing Kantian and Indian idealism. We will explore the Indian roots of Schopenhauer’s thought, the 19th century transmission of Indian ideas to Europe in which he participates, and the ways he uses Indian philosophy to advance a post-Kantian philosophical program. Prerequisite: a course in early modern European philosophy or a course in the history of Indian philosophyJuniors and Seniors only. Enrollment limited to 16. {H}{S}

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 171 Introduction to Contemporary Hinduism (4 Credits)

This course is an introduction to the ideas and practices of contemporary Hinduism in India and the diaspora, with an emphasis on how Hindu identities are constructed and contested, and the roles they play in culture and politics. Materials to be considered include philosophical writings, ritual texts, devotional poetry and images, religious comic books, legal treatises, personal memoirs, as well as ethnographic and popular films. {H}{L}

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 275 Religions of Ancient India (4 Credits)

This course is an introduction to the literature, thought and practice of religious traditions in India, from ancient times to the medieval period. Readings include materials from the Vedas, Upanishads and epics, from plays and poetry, as well as Buddhist and Jain literature. Particular consideration is given to the themes of dharma, karma, love and liberation as they are articulated in Classical Hinduism. {H}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

REL 280 South Asian Visual Culture (4 Credits)

How does one make sense of what one sees in South Asia? What is the visual logic behind the production and consumption of images, art, advertising and film? This course considers the visual world of South Asia, focusing on the religious dimensions of visuality. Discussions 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 and commercial films in colonial and contemporary India. Students also work closely with holdings from the Smith College Art Museum.

Fall, Spring, Variable

REL 284 Tantra and Yoga in India (4 Credits)

Tantra and yoga teach techniques to attain magical powers, achieve liberation, and transform the world. These traditions have influenced nearly every aspect of Indian religious life over the last two millennia, and yet they have often been shrouded in secrecy because of their potency. This course explores these complex traditions by considering source materials in translation as well as contemporary theoretical literature on practice, ritual, transgression, and historiography. {H}

Fall, Spring, Variable

SOC 236 Beyond Borders: The New Global Political Economy (4 Credits)

This course introduces students to the basic concepts and theories in global political economy. It covers the history of economic restructuring, global division of labor, development, North-South state relations, and modes of resistance from a transnational and feminist perspective. Issues central to migration, borders and security, health, and the environment are central to the course. Prerequisite: SOC 101. Enrollment limited to 35. {S}

Fall, Spring, Annually

SOC 237 Gender and Globalization (4 Credits)

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 25. {S}

Fall, Spring, Annually

SOC 327 Seminar: Global Migration in the 21st Century (4 Credits)

This course 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. Enrollment limited to 12. Juniors and seniors only. Instructor permission required. {S}

Fall, Spring, Alternate Years

SWG 230 Gender, Land and Food Movements (4 Credits)

The class begins this course by working alongside Gardening the Community, a youth-based and anti-racist food and land movement in Springfield, MA. Students center their studies on both regional and transnational women’s movements across the globe to develop their understanding about current economic trends in globalization processes. Through the insights of transnational feminist analysis, students map the history of land and food to imagine a more equitable present and future. Students develop a community-based research project that spans issues of climate change, environmentalism, critical race analysis and feminism. Prerequisite: SWG 150. {H}{S}



Jay L. Garfield


Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy, Logic and Buddhist Studies

Jay Garfield

Ambreen Hai

English Language & Literature

Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Professor of English Language & Literature; Department Chair of English Language & Literature

Ambreen Hai

Pinky Hota


Associate Professor of Anthropology

Pinky Hota

Efadul Huq

Environmental Science & Policy

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy

Andy Rotman


Sydenham Clark Parsons Professor and Professor of Religion, Buddhist Studies, and South Asian Studies

Andy Rotman


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. Students may submit no more than one paper for consideration in any given year.

Students should complete the information and submit a paper using this form by the deadline of 5 p.m., Wednesday, May 8, 2024. 

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

2023 Recipient

  • Shuzhe Zhang ’23, “The Effect of Temperature on Intimate Partner Violence: Evidence from India”

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 program for approval.

Contact South Asian Studies

Wright Hall 106

Smith College

Northampton, MA 01063

Phone: 413-585-3662

Administrative Assistant:

Phoebe McKinnell