Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Regulations & Requirements

Regulations & Requirements


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses


Asian Languages and Civilizations

Professors Morse, Ringer (Chair), Tawa, and Van Compernolle‡; Associate Professor Maxey; Assistant Professors Rice and Sen; Senior Lecturers Kayama, Li, Miyama, Shen, and Teng; Five College Senior Lecturers F. Brown (Japanese) and Hassan (Arabic), Five College Lecturers Oulbeid (Arabic) and Weinert (Arabic).

Affiliated Faculty: Professors Basu and Heim, Associate Professors C. Dole†Jaffer, and Shandilya*; Assistant Professors Chowdhury and Fong.

*On leave 2017-18.

‡ On leave spring semester 2017-18.

Asian Languages and Civilizations is an interdisciplinary exploration of the histories and cultures of the peoples of Asia. Through a systematic study of the languages, societies, and cultures of the major civilizations that stretch from the Arab World to Japan, we hope to expand knowledge and challenge presuppositions about this large and vital part of the world. The purpose is to encourage in-depth study as well as to provide guidance for a general inquiry into the problem of cultural difference and its social and political implications, both within Asia and between Asia and the West.

Major program. The major in Asian Languages and Civilizations is an individualized course of study. All majors are required to take a minimum of ten courses dealing with Asia. At least six of these, including two content courses, must be taken at Amherst College. A maximum of six language courses may be counted toward the ten courses required for the major. These courses will be chosen in consultation with the advisor and should constitute a coherent program of study subject to departmental approval. The program of study may be thematic, regional, disciplinary, or interdisciplinary in focus. It should include one course with a substantial independent research component. Students counting the language courses towards their major will show a certain minimum level of competence in one language, either by achieving a grade of a B or better in the second semester of the third year of that language at Amherst or by demonstrating equivalent competence in a manner approved by the department. Students taking their required language courses elsewhere, or wishing to meet the language requirement by other means, may be required, at the discretion of the department, to pass a proficiency examination. No pass-fail option is allowed for any courses required for the departmental major.

Comprehensive Exam. Majors must satisfy a comprehensive assessment by participating in the department’s undergraduate student conference in the final semester of the senior year. Students seeking departmental honors will be expected to present on their senior thesis. Students not writing a senior honors thesis will be expected to present research undertaken in one of their courses in the department.

Departmental Honors. Students who wish to be candidates for Departmental Honors must submit a thesis to the Department, and, in addition to the ten required courses and the capstone presentation, enroll in ASLC 498 and 499, the thesis writing courses, in their final two semesters. Thesis students are required to complete a senior thesis on an independently chosen topic, and to participate in an oral defense of the thesis with three faculty members chosen jointly by the student and the department.

Study Abroad. The department encourages study abroad in the language of concentration. A student majoring in the department who studies abroad for one semester may petition to have a maximum of two courses or the equivalent count toward the major. The request is subject to departmental approval.

Asian Languages & Civilization


World War II in Asia

(Offered as HIST 102 [AS] and ASLC 102) Arguably beginning with the Manchurian Incident in 1931 and ending with Japan's surrender to the Allies in 1945, the Second World War lasted longer in Asia than anywhere else.  Yet, histories of the global conflict still tend to focus disproportionately on the European theater.  Countering that tendency, this course surveys the Asian theater, asking and answering a number of questions: How did imperialism and the rise of nationalist movements precipitate total war in Asia?  What was the character of the warfare and how did it transform politics and societies in Asia?  How did the war alter the geopolitical configuration of Asia and give rise to the Cold War?  What are the continuing legacies of the war in the region today? While we will use Japan as a fulcrum to engage these questions, the course will attend to the regional dynamics of World War II in Asia.   Classes will combine lectures, group work, and discussions.  There will be a mid-term, final exam and three topical essays. Three class meetings per week.

Fall semester. Professor Maxey.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017


Russian Empire in Eurasia

(Offered as HIST 112 [AS/EU/p/c], ASLC 112, EUST 112 and RUSS 130.) In the course of five hundred years, the Russian empire in Eurasia evolved as the largest territorial polity in the world. In this course, we will explore the medieval foundations of the imperial state and look at its predecessors and models (Kievan Rus’ and the empire of the Mongols), discuss ways in which cooperation and resistance shaped the imperial state and society, and study cultural and political entanglements among different ethnic, linguistic and confessional groups in Eurasia. Chronologically, we will cover the period from the tenth century to the crisis of the empire in the early twentieth century. Thematically, we will focus on structures of imperial state and society (the imperial house, peasantry, nobility, confessions, intelligentsia, revolutionary movement) and most important regions of the Russian Empire (Ukraine, the Caucasus, the Baltics, Siberia, Central Asia). Two class meetings per week.

Spring semester.  Five College Associate Professor Glebov.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2018, Spring 2022


Race, Empire, and Transnationalism: Chinese Diasporic Communities in the U.S. and the World

(Offered as HIST 114 [AS/c] and ASLC 114.) How does a study of the Chinese diasporic communities in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, the United States, and other parts of the world help us understand the questions of ethnic identity formation, construction, and negotiation? More specifically, how does the study of their history and experiences force us to rethink the concepts of “China” and “Chinese-ness”? How did scholars, officials, and travelers construct the categories of “China” and being “Chinese”?  These are the main questions that we seek to answer in this introductory course to the history of the Chinese diaspora. We will begin by looking into the early history of Chinese migration (circa 1500 to 1800) to particular geographical areas in the world, including the United States. The rest of the course will look into the history of selected diasporic communities from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. All throughout the course we will also examine how these diasporic people and their families manipulated and continue to manipulate attempts by dominant groups to control their identities, bodies, and resources, and how their lives challenge the meanings of “China” and “Chinese-ness.” Other questions to be discussed during the course are:  What caused people from China to move, and to where? What forms of discrimination and control did they experience? How do their experiences and histories deepen our understanding of “race,” “empire,” and “transnationalism”?  Themes to be discussed throughout the course include imperialism, colonialism, race, ethnicity, gender, nationalism, transnationalism, orientalism, hegemony, and globalization. Two class meetings per week.

Spring semester. Five College Associate Professor Chu.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Spring 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2022


Arts of Japan

(Offered as ARHA 148 and ASLC 123)  A survey of the history of Japanese art from neolithic times to the present. Topics will include Buddhist art and its ritual context, the aristocratic arts of the Heian court, monochromatic ink painting and the arts related to the Zen sect, the prints and paintings of the Floating World and contemporary artists and designers such as Ando Tadao and Miyake Issey. The class will focus on the ways Japan adopts and adapts foreign cultural traditions. There will be field trips to look at works in museums and private collections in the region

Fall semester. Professor Morse.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2013, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2021


Middle Eastern History: 500-1600

(Offered as HIST 190 [MEP] and ASLC 126 [WA]) This course surveys the history of the Middle East from the outset of the Islamic period to the beginning of the modern period. It is divided into the following segments: the formative period of Islam, the classical caliphates, the classical courts, the Mongols, and the great empires of the Ottomans and the Safavids. The course is organized chronologically and follows the making and breaking of empires and political centers; however, the focus of the course is on the intellectual, social, cultural and religious developments in these periods. Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester.  Professor Ringer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021


Visual Culture of the Islamic World

(Offered as ARHA 152, ARCH 152 and ASLC 142)  This introductory course explores the architecture, manuscripts, painting, textiles, decorative arts, material culture, and popular art of the Islamic world, from the late seventh century C.E., touching on the present. It follows a basic chronology, but is structured primarily through thematic issues central to the study of Islamic visual culture, including, but not limited to: orality and textuality, geometry and ornament, optics and perception, sacred and royal space, the image and aniconism, modernity and tradition, and artistic exchange with Europe, China, and beyond. The class will focus on the relationships between visual culture, history, and literature, analyzing specific sites or objects, for example the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, carved ivory boxes from Spain, luxury manuscripts from Cairo, gardens of Iran, and contemporary art from Pakistan, alongside primary and secondary texts. Films, audio recordings, and field-trips to local museum collections will supplement assigned readings and lectures. Participation in class discussion, a significant component of the course, is expected. No previous background is presumed, and all readings will be available in English.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Rice.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Fall 2023


Arts of China

(Offered as ARHA 147 and ASLC 143) An introduction to the history of Chinese art from its beginnings in neolithic times until the end of the twentieth century. Topics will include the ritual bronze vessels of the Shang and Zhou dynasties, the Chinese transformation of the Buddha image, imperial patronage of painting during the Song dynasty and the development of the literati tradition of painting and calligraphy. Particular weight will be given to understanding the cultural context of Chinese art.

Spring semester. Professor Morse.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010, Fall 2011, Fall 2013, Spring 2018, Spring 2022


Religion in Ancient India

(Offered as RELI 143 and ASLC 144)  This course explores central ideas and practices in the religious and intellectual traditions of India up until the medieval period. We consider the range of available archeological, art historical, and textual evidence for religion in this period, though the course focuses mostly on texts. We will read the classic religious and philosophical literature of the traditions we now call Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Spring semester.  Professor M. Heim.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2021, Fall 2023


The Modern Middle East: 1800-Present

(Offered as HIST 191 [ME] and ASLC 148 [WA]) This course surveys the history of the Middle East from 1800 to the present. The focus is threefold: following political, social and intellectual trends as they evolve over time, exploring contemporary historical and methodological debates and analysis, and introducing students to important historical literature of the period. The class is divided into modules: “From Subject to Citizen,” “Engineering a Modern Middle East,” “Nationalism and the Quest for Independence,” “Islamist Opposition,” and “Taking Sovereignty: Contemporary Debates and the Post-Modern Era.” The class is discussion-oriented and writing intensive. Two class meetings per week.

Omitted 2017-18. Professor Ringer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2017, Fall 2019, Fall 2021, Fall 2022


Introduction to Buddhist Traditions

(Offered as RELI 152 and ASLC 152 [SA]) This course is an introduction to the diverse ideals, practices, and traditions of Buddhism from its origins in South Asia to its geographical and historical diffusion throughout Asia and, more recently, into the west. We will explore the Three Jewels--the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha--and how they each provide refuge for those suffering in samsara (the endless cycle of rebirth). We will engage in close readings of the literary and philosophical texts central to Buddhism, as well as recent historical and anthropological studies of Buddhist traditions.

Fall semester. Visiting Lecturer Hartmann.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2022, Spring 2023


Art and Architecture of South Asia

(Offered as ARHA 154, ARCH 154, and ASLC 154)  This introductory course surveys the architecture, painting, sculpture, textiles, decorative arts, and photography of South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan), from 2300 B.C., touching on the present. It considers the role of tradition in the broader history of art in India, but does not see India as "traditional" or unchanging. The Indian sub-continent is the source for multi-cultural civilizations that have lasted and evolved for several thousand years. Its art is as rich and complex as that of Europe, and as diverse. This course attempts to introduce the full range of artistic production in India in relation to the multiple strands that have made the cultural fabric of the sub-continent so rich and long lasting. Films, musical recordings, and museum field-trips will supplement assigned readings and lectures. No previous background is presumed, and all readings will be available in English. 

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Rice.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Spring 2022


Modern China

(Offered as HIST 172 [AS] and ASLC 146 [C].) This survey of Chinese History examines the matrix of the internal and external forces and movements that have shaped modern China from the mid nineteenth century to the present. During this period, the Chinese people dispensed with a form of government that had been used for three thousand years to form, despite various complications, a modern nation-state. We will explore major events in Modern China beginning with the Opium War, the Taiping Rebellion, the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of a new Republic, the Republican revolution, the “New Culture” Movement, Communist revolution, War against Japan, the Chinese Civil War, the founding of the People’s Republic of China, China’s role in the Korean War, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, post-Mao economic reform and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, all with comparative references to current events. Readings, which include a wide variety of documents such as religious and revolutionary tracts, eye-witness accounts, memoirs, and letters, are supplemented by interpretive essays and videos.  Two class meetings per week.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Dean's Fellow Presswood.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2023


Between conflict and co-existence: The making of medieval and early modern South Asia, 1200-1800 A.D.

(Offered as HIST 173 [ASP] and ASLC 173 [SA]) This course introduces major themes and developments in medieval and early modern South Asian history with a focus on the emergence and flourishing of Islamicate regimes in the sub-continent. Commencing with the origins of Islamic polities in South Asia, the course explores the Delhi Sultanates, various syncretistic movements and devotional sects, the Vijayanagara Empire, and the Mughal Empire, as well as politics, religion, literature, art, architecture, and trade within these formations. Readings are drawn from a variety of both primary and secondary sources and combine political, social, and cultural histories. Challenging both colonialist and nationalist views of this vast period as one of religious persecution, tyranny, and stagnation, the course seeks to demonstrate the vitality, hybridity, and dynamism characterizing these centuries of the second millennium. We will therefore lay particular emphasis on the processes of transculturation between the Islamic and Indic distinguishing this period. Two class meetings per week."

Spring semester. Professor Sen.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2023


Introduction to Modern South Asian History

(Offered as HIST 174 [AS] and ASLC 174 [SA]) This survey course introduces key themes and events in the making of modern South Asia. The objective is to provide a skeletal historical narrative of the various transformations the subcontinent and its peoples experienced through the colonial and post-colonial eras.  A variety of primary sources and audio and visual materials will be utilized in conjunction with excerpts from panoramic textbooks as well as portions of monographs, combining perspectives from political, social, cultural and economic history.  Commencing with the transitions occurring in the middle to late 18th century, the course explores some of the major historical developments in South Asia until the present moment including the East India Company-state, colonial and imperial rule, social reform, the revolt of 1857, Indian nationalism, caste and communal conflict, and the struggles for post-colonial democracy. Two class meetings per week.

Omitted 2017-18. Professor Sen.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2017


The Home and the World: Women and Gender in South Asia

(Offered as SWAG 207, ASLC 207, and POSC 207 [SC]) This course will study South Asian women and gender through key texts in film, literature, history and politics. How did colonialism and nationalism challenge the distinctions between the “home” and the “world” and bring about partitions which splintered once shared cultural practices? What consequences did this have for postcolonial politics? How do ethnic conflicts, religious nationalisms and state repression challenge conceptions of home? How have migrations, globalization and diasporas complicated relations between the home and the world?

Omitted 2017-18. Professors Shandilya and Basu.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2019


Power and Politics in Contemporary China

(Offered as POSC 208 [SC, IL] and ASLC 208) This course provides an introduction to the major institutions, actors, and ideas that shape contemporary Chinese politics. Through an examination of texts from the social sciences as well as historical narratives and film, we will analyze the development of the current party-state, the relationship between the state and society, policy challenges, and prospects for further reform. First, we examine the political history of the People’s Republic, including the Maoist period and the transition to market reforms. Next, we will interrogate the relations between various social groups and the state, through an analysis of contentious politics in China including the ways in which the party-state seeks to maintain social and political stability. Finally, we will examine the major policy challenges in contemporary China including growing inequality, environmental degradation, waning economic growth, and foreign policy conflicts.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Ratigan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2022, Fall 2022


Japan's Modern Revolutions: 1800-2000s

(Offered as HIST 176 [AS] and ASLC 247 [J].) The transformation of the Japanese archipelago from a relatively secluded agrarian polity in the early-nineteenth century into East Asia’s leading economic power with a global footprint by the end of the twentieth century is one of the most dramatic stories of modern history.  This course introduces the history of this transformation through two “revolutions”: the formation of an imperialist nation-state and post-World War II creation of a pacifist democracy. We will pay close attention to the political debates and social conflicts that accompanied these revolutions. We will begin with the collapse of Tokugawa shogunate, follow the rise of the modern Japanese nation-state through colonial expansion and total war, and conclude with the postwar economic recovery, democratization, and the socio-political challenges facing the Japanese nation-state in the twenty-first century.  Our goal along the way will be to explore in the specific context of Japanese history themes relevant to the history of global modernities: the collapse of a traditional regime, the creation of a nation-state, imperial expansion, industrialization, feminist and socialist critiques, total war, democratization, high economic growth and mass consumer culture. Classes will entail lectures combined with close readings and discussions that engage primary texts, interpretive essays, and film.  This is a writing attentive course with requirements including short writing exercises and topical essays. Three class meetings per week.

Spring semester. Professor Maxey.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Spring 2018, Spring 2020


Buddhist Life Writing

(Offered as RELI 252, ASLC 252, and ENGL 302) From the biographies of Gotama Buddha to the autobiographies of western converts, life writing plays a central role in teaching Buddhist philosophy, practice, history, and myth. This course explores the diverse forms and purposes of Buddhist life writing in the literary and visual cultures of India, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Japan, and America. Reading the lives of eminent saints and laypersons, charismatic teachers, recluses, and political activists, the course aims to broaden understanding of how Buddhists have variously imagined the ideal life. We will pay particular attention to how literary and cultural conventions of genre guide the composition of lives.

Spring semester.  Professor M. Heim.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Spring 2018


Modernity's Media in South Asia

(Offered as ANTH 255 and ASLC 255)  This course on modernity and media starts from the premise that modernity today is a global experience. Most societies possess the means to produce their own versions of the modern, Arjun Appadurai and Carol Breckenridge have argued. In this course, we will collectively study popular culture in South Asia--a staggeringly complex cultural entity--with an eye towards understanding changing forms of subjectivity, enjoyment, agency, and bodily experience. These are all areas that have been shaped by the experience of modernity. While rethinking the predominantly European notion of the modern, we will study how mass media and public culture in South Asia help us reflect on processes of nationalism, globalization, inequality, and economic liberalization. We will discuss film, advertising, public space, and popular art to make sense of the region’s postcolonial public life.

Limited to 25 students.  Omitted 2017-18.  Professor Chowdhury.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2017


Political Economy of the Modern Middle East

(Offered as HIST 258 [ME] and ASLC 258) In 2011, the Middle East was convulsed by revolutions. Some, like Syria's, are still raging; others, as in Egypt, appear to be in remission.  Some states, particularly monarchies, seem to have proved immune. This course will ask why these revolutions erupted, why they did so in 2011, and why some states were transformed and others were not.  It will also explore the development of Israel’s political economy since independence. We will rely on a political economy approach to these questions, exploring the interactions of the state, economy, society and ideology--especially political Islam---that led to the upheavals of 2011 and have shaped the evolution of the region since then.  Along the way, the course will cover the relationship between economic growth and social outcomes; the governance of Middle Eastern states from the end of colonial rule to the present; the role of demographics in shaping both politics and economics; human capital and food security; the role of gas and oil; models of development embraced by regional states or imposed upon them; intra-regional trade; the structure of civil society; dynamics of popular mobilization; and the effects of war. Two class meetings per week.

Spring semester. McCloy Visiting Professor Simon.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2017, Spring 2018


U.S. Security Policy in the Middle East

(Offered as HIST 259 [ME/US] and ASLC 259) U.S. security policy in the Middle East has shaped America’s interaction with the region since World War II. Indeed, U.S. strategic interest has defined this interaction and even dominated it in crucial ways. The substantial overlap between security policy and the broader diplomatic, economic and cultural dimensions of the U.S. relationship with the countries of the region is reflected in the structure of the course and assigned readings. Although the course presupposes a basic understanding of U.S. national security decision-making and some familiarity with modern Middle Eastern history, the readings and class discussion should provide enough of this background for students who have not already been exposed to these topics to participate and complete the course successfully. Two class meetings per week.

Fall semester. McCloy Visiting Professor Simon.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2017


Buddhist Art of Asia

(Offered as ARHA 261 and ASLC 260)  Visual imagery plays a central role in the Buddhist faith.  As the religion developed and spread throughout Asia it took many forms.  This class will first examine the appearance of the earliest aniconic traditions in ancient India, the development of the Buddha image, and early monastic centers.  It will then trace the dissemination and transformation of Buddhist art as the religion reached South-East Asia, Central Asia, and eventually East Asia.  In each region indigenous cultural practices and artistic traditions influenced Buddhist art.  Among the topics the class will address are the nature of the Buddha image, the political uses of Buddhist art, the development of illustrated hagiographies, and the importance of pilgrimage, both in the past and the present.

Fall semester. Professor Morse.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2021, Spring 2023


Arts of the Islamic Book

(Offered as ARHA 267 and ASLC 267)  This course considers the arts of the Islamic book, with a special focus on illustrated manuscripts produced at the royal courts of Greater Iran (including Afghanistan and Uzbekistan) and Islamic South Asia from the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Among the types of manuscripts to be considered are dynastic and world histories, poetic works, horoscopes, genealogies, divinations texts, and albums. The class will explore in depth the nature of the royal book workshop, manuscript patronage and production (from paper, pigments, and brushes to gold leaf illumination and binding), the formation of visual and stylistic idioms, the roles of originality and imitation in artistic practice, the aesthetics of the illustrated page, word and text relationships, and the theorization of painting and calligraphy in technical treatises, poetry, and other primary texts. Emphasis will be placed on the great movement of artists, materials, and ideas across the Islamic world, all of which contributed to the rise of an elite, cosmopolitan culture of manuscript connoisseurs. Examination of objects in the Mead Art Museum, Frost Library, and other local collections will supplement classroom discussion and assigned readings. No previous knowledge of the topic is presumed, and all reading will be available in English.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Rice.



2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2019


Image of Empire: Art and Architecture of Mughal India, 1526-1858

(Offered as ARHA 268, ARCH 268, and ASLC 268)  Founded in 1526 by a Muslim prince from Central Asia, the Mughal dynasty dominated the political landscape of South Asia (including present-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh) until the middle of the nineteenth century. The influence of the Mughal Empire also extended well beyond South Asia, making it one of the most important states in the premodern global arena. This course will examine the great range of art and architecture produced for the Mughal emperors and members of their court, placing special emphasis on how these materials (and their makers) helped create a powerful, multifaceted image of empire. We will explore lavishly illustrated manuscripts and monumental architecture, including the justly famous Taj Mahal, but also expand our purview to consider less studied objects such as carved jade vessels, inscribed gems, inlaid metalwork, and textiles. We will pay particular attention to Mughal encounters with the arts of India's Hindu kings, the Safavid Empire, the Jesuit missionaries, the royal courts of Europe, and the British East India Company. Films and field-trips to local museum collections will supplement assigned readings and lectures. Participation in class discussion, a significant component of the course, is expected. No previous background is presumed, and all readings will be available in English.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Rice.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Fall 2016


Caste and Politics of Inequality in India

(Offered as HIST 271 [AS] and ASLC 271 [SA]) This course explores how caste was politicized over the course of colonial and post-colonial periods in India. It focuses on the emergence and development of various movements opposed to caste-based inequality and injustice, as well as the ongoing search for social justice. The course reviews scholarly debates about understanding this form of identification and social hierarchy, and examines the complex ways in which caste articulates with other social phenomena, like gender, class, religion, and nationality.  It lays emphasis on the writings and work of key anti-caste thinkers and activists, in particular, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the preeminent leader of the Dalits, and a key figure in drafting the Constitution of India. Based on close readings of various kinds of primary sources, as well as an engagement with secondary literature in history, political science, sociology, anthropology and literary studies, the course follows the story of the struggle to “annihilate” caste. Two class meetings per week.

Omitted 2017-18. Professor Sen.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2016, Fall 2018


Gandhi: A Global History of Non-Violence

(Offered as HIST 272 [AS] and ASLC 272 [SA])  Political and social movements in South Africa, the United States of America, Germany, Myanmar, India, and elsewhere, have drawn inspiration from the non-violent political techniques advocated by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi during his leadership of the anti-colonial struggle for Indian freedom from British colonial rule.This course charts a global history of Gandhi’s thought about non-violence and its expression in civil disobedience and resistance movements both in India and the world. Organized in three modules, the first situates Gandhi through consideration of the diverse sources of his own historical and ideological formation; the second examines the historical contexts and practices through which non-violence acquired meaning for him; the third considers the various afterlives of Gandhian politics in movements throughout the world.  We will examine autobiography and biography, Gandhi's collected works, various types of primary source, political, social, and intellectual history, and audio-visual materials. In addition to widely disseminated narratives of Gandhi as a symbol of non-violence, the course will also closely attend to the deep contradictions concerning race, caste, gender, and class that characterized his thought and action. By unsettling conventional accounts of his significance, we will grapple with the problem of how to make sense of his troubled legacy. Prior familiarity with the subject matter is not required.  Two class meetings per week.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Sen.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017


Perspectives on Chinese History

(Offered as HIST 276 [AS] and ASLC 276 [C]) China--the modern nation--was born of revolution. Before the revolution there was China--the civilization--with its long and complex history. Modern historians, Western and Chinese alike, have tended to describe this history as “traditional,” leaving the modern condition to be defined by what happened in the West. In this course we will suspend this modern prejudice while asking a variety of questions on some specific topics. How did ancient laws and rituals come to define the relations between imperial states and local societies? How and to what degree did they continue to do this as societies changed? How did world religions like Buddhism and Christianity come to cohabit with Confucian ethics and ancestral rites? How did complex networks of trade, manufacturing, and credit coexist and interact with global economies and powerful military states? How did cohorts of classically educated, literary and artistic men help to integrate ethnically and linguistically diverse peoples into a culturally consistent foundation against which, and upon which, the modern Chinese nation could be built? How did ordinary working people and especially women participate or react? In each case we will discuss and develop our perspectives on how one thing led to another and then consider how modern views have tended to highlight or obscure the process. Sources include historical narratives and biographies, classical texts, philosophical and religious essays, family instructions, comparative historical analyses, fiction, and film.  Reading and discussion.  Two class meetings per week.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2016


The Arts of Exchange: Cross-Cultural Interaction in the Islamic World, 1400-1800

(Offered as ARHA 281, ARCH 281, and ASLC 281)  This course examines artistic exchanges and encounters in the Islamic world during the early modern period. We will focus on the movement of artists, objects, and systems of knowledge between and beyond the Mamluk, Ottoman, Timurid, Safavid, and Mughal courts, placing special emphasis upon encounters with the arts of Europe and East Asia. Among the topics to be considered are the design, circulation, and trade of textiles; the arts of diplomacy and gift exchange; the nature of curiosity and wonder; and artists’ responses to the “other.” This course aims to challenge conventional, essentialist binaries (e.g., East vs. West, Islamic vs. European), and to re-assess the standard art historical narratives from a more culturally, geographically, and economically interconnected perspective.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester.  Professor Rice.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Fall 2017


Muslim Reformers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

(Offered as REL 281 and HIST 281)  A study of eminent Muslim reformers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, hailing from diverse Islamic cultures and geographical locations including South Asia, West Africa, Egypt, Arabia, Iran, Central Asia, and the Ottoman Empire. We will examine ways in which religion intersected with social and political reform projects, explore thematic conversations among these reformers that transcend time and place, and look at ways in which many of these issues continue to resonate to the present day. 

Limited to 25 students.  Spring semester.  Professors Jaffer and Ringer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018, Spring 2020


The Qur'an and Its Controversies

(Offered as RELI 285, ASLC 285 and ENGL 301)  Islam is a religion with over one billion adherents across the globe. The Qur'an and Prophetic Traditions inform Muslim belief, socio-religious practices and rituals. They are the foundation of Islamic law and ethics; the main inspiration behind Islamic mysticism and arts; and motivations for Islamic piety. The Qur'an has served as a model for theories of the Islamic state, fundamentalism and ideology. As one of the most widely read and recited books in the history of humankind, it has given rise to a tradition of interpretation that spans well over a thousand years and encompasses commentaries composed in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Malay, Javanese, and Swahili. We will study the Qur'an’s thought world, including its major ideas, themes and symbols; the Qur'an’s literary style and structure; the Qur'an’s engagement with Jewish and Christian traditions; the historical process through which the Qur'an became the first Arabic book; the process through which it became a scripture vested with authority; and the divergent ways that Muslims have venerated and interpreted the Qur'an. We will focus on several salient questions: How did Muslims try to explain the seemingly contradictory material within the Qur'an? How did they try to explain the Qur'an’s proclamation that it is of supernatural origin? What methods of reasoning, literary devices, and sources of religious authority did Muslims invoke in order to fulfill the need for scriptural interpretation? How does the Qur'an conceive of itself as a scripture and of revelation? How does it engage with and respond to earlier scriptures such as the Bible?

Spring semester. Professor Jaffer.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2022, Fall 2023


Islamic Intellectual Tradition: The Classics

(Offered as RELI 382 and ASLC 382 [WA])  In this course we will study the foundational texts that were composed within the intellectual traditions of Islam (800–1200) and which have stimulated intellectual discourse in Islamic cultures until today. Our primary goal will be to understand the nature and significance of the debates that took place within pre-modern Islamic societies and to grasp the issues at stake in them.

We will discuss the ways that Muslim intellectuals responded to specific philosophical questions: How did the universe come into being? Does it have a beginning? What is the nature of the soul? Is there an afterlife? Further, we will explore the way that prophecy, dreams, prayer, miracles, magic, and sacred objects—all of which were part of the social reality of Islamic societies—were explained using “reasoned” arguments and concepts. We will discuss the theories of language and revelation that Muslims developed to explain the Qur’an: What does it mean to receive revelation from a supernatural agent? And we will discuss the controversies that surrounded heresy and apostasy: Who counts as a heretic or an unbeliever and why?

In the course of examining the above issues, we will be attentive to the social and political forces that shaped intellectual activity in Islamic culture by considering the cross-cultural migration of ideas. We will study the ways that philosophical and scientific knowledge migrated from ancient Greece to Islamic lands, and the ways that such knowledge was refined, altered, interpreted, and advanced. Further, we will examine the process through which such knowledge was transmitted to western Europe and the ways that it stimulated intellectual activity there, leading to the Renaissance.

Fall semester. Professor Jaffer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2008, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2017, Fall 2018


Researching China

(Offered as ANTH 317 and ASLC 317 [C])  This course teaches students how to design research projects and analyze data about people in China. Students will read about and discuss previous findings from the instructor’s longitudinal project about Chinese only-children and their families, and findings from comparable projects in China and elsewhere. Course assignments will be tailored to the interests, skills, and academic background of each student, so first-year students, sophomores, and students with no Chinese language skills are welcome and just as likely to succeed as juniors, seniors, and students with Chinese language skills. Each student will work only on assignments suitable for his/her current skills and interests, but also read the work of other students with different skills, interests, and disciplinary knowledge and participate in discussions of their work, so all students will learn about the many different kinds of skills and research methods that can help them gain a better understanding of China. Prerequisite: Anth 112, 115, 323, or 332.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Fong.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2021, Fall 2023


Chinese Childrearing

(Offered as ANTH 318 and ASLC 318 [C])  This course examines Chinese childrearing, focusing primarily on childrearing in mainland China. We will look at differences as well as similarities between childrearing in Chinese families of different socioeconomic status within China, as well as between childrearing in mainland China and in childrearing in Chinese and non-Chinese families worldwide.  We will also look at dominant discourses within and outside of China about the nature of Chinese childrearing and ask about relationships between those discourses and the experiences of Chinese families. Students will work together to conduct original research about childrearing in China, drawing on data from the instructor’s research projects. Course assignments will be tailored to the interests, skills, and academic background of each student, so first-years,  sophomores, and students with no Chinese language skills are welcome and just as likely to succeed as juniors, seniors, and students with Chinese language skills. 

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Fong.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2015, Spring 2018, Fall 2020, Spring 2023


The Tea Ceremony and Japanese Culture

(Offered as ARHA 383 and ASLC 319) An examination of the history of chanoyu, the tea ceremony, from its origins in the fifteenth century to the practice of tea today. The class will explore the various elements that comprise the tea environment-the garden setting, the architecture of the tea room, the forms of tea utensils, and the elements of the kaiseki meal. Through a study of the careers of influential tea masters and texts that examine the historical, religious, and cultural background to tea culture, the class will also trace how the tea ceremony has become a metaphor for Japanese culture and Japanese aesthetics both in Japan and in the West. There will be field trips to visit tea ware collections, potters and tea masters. Two class meetings per week.

Limited to 20 students. Spring semester.  Professor Morse.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Fall 2009, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2018, Spring 2020


Religion, Empires, and Secular States in the Nineteenth Century

(Offered as HIST 319 [c], ASLC 320 [WA] and RELI 322) Conceptions of the religious and the secular that continue to resonate today assumed global significance in the course of the nineteenth century as colonial empires and nascent nation-states negotiated how they would govern heterogeneous populations and interact with each other. Drawing on scholarship from a number of disciplines that historicize the categories of religion and secularity, this course will examine the political function of the religious and the secular as conceptual and regulatory categories in the 19th century.  Colonial administrations, for example, employed the conceit of secularism to neutralize religious difference while individuals and communities attempted to reform and modernize local traditions as “religion” in order to navigate global hierarchies.  We will begin with a historiographic and theoretical survey, covering topics that include the academic creation of “World Religions,” the politics of conversion within the British Empire, and the discourse of Orientalist spiritualism.  The second half of the course will apply these historiographic and theoretical concerns to East Asia and Japan in particular. Requirements will include two topical essays and one longer paper entailing modest research. Two  class meetings per week.

Limited to 15 students.  Not open to first-year students. Omitted 2017-18.  Professor Ringer.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2019


The World's Oldest Novel: The Tale of Genji and Its Refractions

Written over one thousand years ago by the court lady, Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji is the supreme masterpiece of Japanese literature and a work whose influence on subsequent arts and letters in the country cannot be overestimated.  As the world’s earliest extant prose narrative by a woman writer, the Genji has received much attention in world literature and women’s studies programs and, with its rich psychological portraits of desire, guilt, and memory, has gained for itself a reputation as “the world’s oldest novel.”  In this course, we will read the entire Tale of Genji in English translation and engage fully with its sophistication and complexity by employing diverse critical perspectives.  We will investigate the tenth-century prose experiments that made the work possible and examine a number of later works in different genres so as to gain awareness of the impact of the Genji on the culture of every historical era since its composition.  We will also have occasion to consider the reception of Murasaki’s masterpiece in the English-speaking world.

Fall semester. Professor Van Compernolle.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Fall 2017


Anthropology and the Middle East

(Offered as ANTH 331 and ASLC 341 [WA])  In an era where “terrorism” has eclipsed the nuclear fears of the Cold War and become associated with a radicalism that is portrayed as at once militant, anti-Western, and bound to a particular region (the Middle East) and religion (Islam), the task of this seminar--to examine the everyday realities of people living throughout the Middle East--has become all the more critical.  Beginning with an historical eye toward the ways that the “West” has discovered, translated, and written about the “Orient,” this seminar will use anthropological readings, documentary film, and literary accounts to consider a range of perspectives on the region commonly referred to as the Middle East.  Rather than attempting a survey of the entire region, the course will take a thematic approach and explore such topics as:  Islam and secularism, colonialism and postcoloniality, gender and political mobilization, media and globalization, and the politics and ethics of nation building.  As an anthropology course, the class will take up these themes through richly contextualized accounts of life within the region.  While it is recognized that the Middle East is incredibly heterogeneous, particular attention will be given to the influence and role of Islam.  By the end of the seminar, students will have gained a broad understanding of some of the most pressing issues faced within the area, while at the same time grappling with advanced theoretical readings.  No previous knowledge of the Middle East is assumed.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor C. Dole.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2019


Early Islam: Construction of an Historical Tradition

(Offered as HIST 393 [MEP] and ASLC 355 [WA])  This course examines in depth the formative period of Islam between c. 500-680. Using predominantly primary material, we will chart the emergence, success, and evolution of Islam, the Islamic community, and the Islamic polity. The focus of this course is on understanding the changing nature over time of peoples’ understanding of and conception of what Islam was and what Islam implied socially, religiously, culturally and politically. We concentrate on exploring the growth of the historical tradition of Islam and its continued contestations amongst scholars today. This course will familiarize students with the events, persons, ideas, texts and historical debates concerning this period. It is not a course on the religion or beliefs of Islam, but a historical deconstruction and analysis of the period. This class is writing intensive. Two class meetings per week.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Ringer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2017, Fall 2019, Spring 2022, Spring 2023


Japan's Empire in Asia, 1868-1945

(Offered as HIST 370 [AS] and ASLC 370 [J]) Japan emerged as the only non-Western multi-ethnic empire in the second half of the nineteenth century.  Comparing that empire to others across the globe, this course will consider how Japanese imperialism facilitated the complex circulation of goods, ideas, people and practices in modern Asia.  We will ask how that complex circulation shaped Japan, as well as the colonial modernities of Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria.  Topics will include the formation of a regional imperial order in Asia, colony and metropole relations, gender and imperialism, regional migration, empire and total war, decolonization, and history and memory. Requirements include short response papers and topical essays.  Two class meetings per week.

Omitted 2017-18.  Professor Maxey.


Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2019, Fall 2020


Subaltern Studies: History from Below

(Offered as HIST 375 [AS], ANTH 375 and ASLC 375 [SA])  This course explores the intervention made by the Subaltern Studies Collective in the discipline of history-writing, particularly in the context of South Asia.  Dissatisfied that previous histories of Indian nationalism were all in some sense “elitist,” this group of historians, anthropologists, and literary theorists sought to investigate how various marginalized communities--women, workers, peasants, adivasis--contributed in their own terms to the making of modern South Asia.  Their project thus engaged broader methodological questions and problems about how to write histories of the marginal.  Combining theoretical statements with selections from the 12-volume series as well as individual monographs, our readings and discussion will chart the overall trajectory of Subaltern Studies from its initial moorings in the works of the Italian Marxian theorist Antonio Gramsci to its later grounding in the critique of colonial discourse.  The objective is to understand how this school of history-writing transformed the understanding of modern South Asian history. Our discussion will engage with the critiques and debates generated in response to the project and the life of the analytical category, “subalternity,” outside South Asia.  Two class meetings per week.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester.  Professor Sen.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Spring 2018


Social Policy in China

(Offered as POSC 403 [IL, SC] and ASLC 403 [C]) After three decades of unprecedented economic growth, China is facing a new phase of development in which social policy issues such as healthcare, social security, and environmental degradation are taking center stage in the national dialogue. This course will provide students with the substantive knowledge and analytical tools to critically examine these issues, evaluate current policies, and propose feasible alternatives within the Chinese context. The semester begins with an overview of state-society relations in contemporary China, including the processes of policy design and implementation. The Chinese government emphasizes an experimentalist approach to policymaking, resulting in an important role for research, think tanks, and policy evaluation tools in the development of policy. Then, the course will examine the major social policy areas in China: health, education, poverty alleviation, social security, and environmental policy. Throughout the semester, students will also learn the tools of policy analysis, which they will employ in an independent research project on a policy problem in China. This course will enable students to think about social policy design and implementation in the context of the challenges inherent to a non-democratic, developing country with pervasive corruption and weak legal institutions. Thus, this course would be of interest to students seeking to study Chinese politics at an advanced level or those who plan to pursue a career in social policy and development more broadly.

Requisite: Previous experience or coursework related to China strongly preferred. Previous coursework in the social sciences will be an asset. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18.  Professor Ratigan.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Fall 2015


South Asian Feminist Cinema

(Offered as SWAG 469, ASLC 452 [SA], and FAMS 322)  How do we define the word “feminism”? Can the term be used to define cinematic texts outside the Euro-American world? In this course we will study a range of issues that have been integral to feminist theory--the body, domesticity, same sex desire, gendered constructions of the nation, feminist utopias and dystopias--through a range of South Asian cinematic texts. Through our viewings and readings we will consider whether the term “feminist” can be applied to these texts, and we will experiment with new theoretical lenses for exploring these films. Films will range from Satyajit Ray’s classic masterpiece Charulata to Gurinder Chadha’s trendy diasporic film, Bend It Like Beckham. Attendance for screenings on Monday is compulsory.

Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Shandilya.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2019


Inside Iran

(Offered as HIST 492 [ME] and ALSC 459 [WA])  This seminar explores contemporary Iran from a historical and interdisciplinary perspective. The aim of the course is both to provide an overall understanding of the history of Iran, as well as those key elements of religion, literature, legend, and politics that together shape Iran's understanding of itself. We will utilize a wide variety of sources, including Islamic and local histories, Persian literature, architecture, painting and ceramics, film, political treatises, Shiite theological writing, foreign travel accounts, and U.S. state department documents, in addition to secondary sources.  Two class meetings per week.

Recommended requisite: a survey course on the modern Middle East. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students.  Not open to first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Ringer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Fall 2013, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Spring 2020, Fall 2021


Anticolonial Nationalism in India

(Offered as HIST 474 [AS] and ASLC 474 [SA]) Anti-colonial nationalism in India was one of the first major movements towards the decolonization of the global south. This reading and writing intensive research seminar examines the story of the Indian nationalist movement and the effort to liberate the subcontinent and its peoples from British colonial rule. Drawing on both primary and secondary sources, the course chronologically explores the rise and development of nationalist ideology and practice, and introduces students to four broadly conceived historiographical schools and their interpretations of this movement--nationalist, Marxist, Cambridge, and Subaltern Studies.  Students will thereby engage with a number of prominent historiographical debates about Indian nationalism and gain an in-depth appreciation of the triumphs, contradictions, and failures that marked the struggle for freedom in India, as well its troubled legacies. Writing assignments are designed to culminate in a substantial research paper. One class meeting per week.

Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Sen.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2017



(Offered as HIST 475 [AS] and ASLC 475) The practice of history has been reshaped over several decades by a series of theoretical turns that cut across the humanities: the cultural turn, the linguistic turn, and transnational turn. Historians now grapple with a number of "posts" (post-structuralism, post-modernism, post-colonialism), "news" (the new imperial history, the new humanities, the new environmental history) and "criticals" (critical regionalism, critical race studies, critical Asian studies) as we read, write, and teach history. This seminar will grapple with a number of these theoretical provocations and examine their application to the writing of history. The syllabus pairs a theoretical reading with a historical monograph applying the same theme--ideology, time, the social, etc.--to modern Japan. Assignments include weekly responses, presentations, an annotated bibliography, and a final paper. Students wishing to fulfill the seminar paper requirement may opt to write a research paper. One class meeting per week.

Not open to first-year students. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Maxey.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016


The History and Memory of the Asia-Pacific War

(Offered as HIST 477 [AS] and ASLC 462 [J].) The fifteen years of war initiated by Japan—variously referred to as the Pacific War, the Great East Asian War, the Fifteen-year War, World War II, and the Asian-Pacific War—continue to shape the politics and diplomacy of Asia. This seminar examines the historiographic challenges that arise from the war in the memory and history of Japan, East Asia, and the United States.  The principal questions guiding the seminar will be: What is the relationship between history and memory in our media-saturated world? How are the memory and history of war intertwined in both national and international politics?  What forms of memory have been included and excluded from dominant historical narratives and commemorative devices? What role can the academic discipline of history play in these controversies? The goal of the seminar will be to immerse ourselves in a critical conversation and to produce archival research projects.  To that end, scholarly monographs, edited volumes, oral history, literature, and film will guide our discussions.  Active class participation, ungraded writing exercises, and one research paper (20~25 pages) will be required. One class meeting per week.

Limited to 18 students. Not open to first-year students. Spring semester. Professor Maxey.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Fall 2010, Fall 2014, Fall 2020


An Era of Translation: The Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Empire

(Offered as HIST 489 [ME] and ASLC 489) The Ottoman Empire underwent a process of intense reform in the nineteenth century. Reformers were determined to strengthen their countries’ sovereignty vis-à-vis increasingly aggressive European imperial powers and embarked on a series of measures designed to improve their economies, political institutions and militaries. European institutions served as one important source of inspiration for Ottoman reformers. This course explores the complex relationship between preservation and change and between admiration and rejection of Ottoman and European ideas, institutions, and cultures that characterized the nineteenth-century reform process. We will move beyond the oversimplification and distortion inherent in the paradigm of “adoption vs. rejection” and instead seek to conceptualize the complex relationship with Europe, and with the Ottomans’ own traditions, as a process of translation. The concept of "translation" allows us to understand the process as multidirectional, entangled and interactive. The course draws on a close reading of a variety of primary and secondary sources. Students will be encouraged to apply theories of "translation" to their own research projects. Two meetings per week.

Limited to 15 students. Not open to first-year students; preference given to upper-level HIST and ASLC majors with prior coursework on the Ottoman Empire and/or Iran. Admission with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Ringer.  

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016


Special Topics

Independent Reading Course.

Fall and spring semesters.  Members of the Department.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023


Turkey: From Ataturk to Erdogan

(Offered as HIST 493 [ME] and ASLC 493) Mustafa Kemal "Ataturk" looms large in Turkish historical memory. As a national hero and Turkey’s first President from 1923 until his death in 1938, Ataturk symbolizes a shift from empire to republic, from subject to citizen. He is remembered for promoting the secularization, democratization and Westernization of Turkey. Turkey’s current President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has now served as head of the Turkish Republic for nearly as long as Ataturk. Supporters point to Erdogan's policies of democratization as the fulfillment of Ataturk’s intentions, while his opponents argue that Erdogan is deliberately dismantling the foundations of Ataturk’s secular and western-oriented republic. This seminar focuses on how these two leaders are variously imagined and claimed, as a window onto contemporary debates surrounding secularism and the place of religion, nationalism and minority rights, the tensions between authoritarianism and democracy, and the ways in which competing visions of the Ottoman past surround alternative constructions of Turkey’s future. Two course meetings per week.

Limited to 18 students. Not open to first-year students. Preference given to students who have taken HIST 191. Omitted 2017-18. Professor Ringer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2021



(Offered as HIST 494 [ME], ANTH 431, and ASLC 494.) At different points in its nearly 2000-year history, the city now known as Istanbul has been the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. Alternately branded as a “global city” and selected as the “Cultural Capital of Europe,” Istanbul continues to thrive as a complex urban landscape of intersecting economies, histories, and ideas. Over its long history, millions of people and multiple communities have called Istanbul their home--each shaping the city with distinct visions of the past and longings for the future. As innumerable identities (communal, religious, national, ethnic) have been both claimed and erased to serve a variety of political, economic, and social ideologies, Istanbul stands today as a city where the meanings of space and place are contested like few others. This seminar explores the connections between contemporary politics and society in Turkey through the contested histories of space and place-making in Istanbul, with special attention to the varied historical legacy of architecture of the city. Two 80 minute class meetings per week.

The seminar will culminate with a 12-day trip to Istanbul, Turkey. All students enrolled in the course are expected to participate in the trip. The trip will begin immediately after the final exam period, departing on May 12 and returning on May 23. The cost of the trip will be covered by the College.

Limited to 12 Amherst College students. Open to sophomores and juniors. Admission with consent of the instructors. Enrollment is by written application only, with an interview process to follow in fall 2017.  Preference given to students who have prior course work in Middle East studies. Spring semester. Professors Dole and Ringer.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Spring 2018

498, 499

Senior Departmental Honors

Spring semester.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023

Non-Language Departmental Courses


Reinventing Tokyo: The Art, Literature, and Politics of Japan's Modern Capital

(Offered as ASLC 220 [J] and ARCH 220)  Tokyo is the political, cultural, and economic center of Japan, the largest urban conglomeration on the planet, holding 35 million people, fully one fifth of Japan’s population.  Since its founding 400 years ago, when a small fishing village became Edo, the castle headquarters of the Tokugawa shoguns, the city has been reinvented multiple times—as the birthplace of Japan’s early modern urban bourgeois culture, imperial capital to a nation-state, center of modern consumer culture, postwar democratic exemplar, and postmodern metropolis. The course will focus on the portrayals of Tokyo and its reinventions in art, literature, and politics from the end of the Edo period to the present day.  It will examine the changes that took place as the city modernized and Westernized in the Meiji era, became the center of modern urban life in Japan before the Second World War, and rebuilt itself as part of the country’s economic miracle in the postwar era.  As the largest human cultural creation in Japan, one that endured political upheavals, fires, earthquakes, fire-bombings and unbridled development, Tokyo has always been a complex subject. The course will use that complexity to consider how to analyze an urban environment that draws upon Japan's long history, yet which is also one of the most modern in Asia.

Preference to majors and students with an interest in urban studies.  Limited to 25 students. Omitted 2017-18. Professors Maxey and Van Compernolle.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2009, Fall 2010, Fall 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2016, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Spring 2022


Words, Self, and Society: Japanese Literature Since 1750

[J] In the past two and a half centuries, Japan has experienced vertiginous transformations, including the rise of a money economy, the encounter with the West, rapid modernization, imperial expansion, war, defeat, democratization, and its postwar reemergence as a technological and economic superpower. This course will examine how literature has both reflected and responded to these disorienting changes. We will focus on how varied social, historical, and aesthetic contexts contribute to the pendulum swings among artistic positions: the belief that literature has an important role to play in the exploration of the relationship between society and the individual; the fascination with the very materials of artistic creation and the concomitant belief that literature can only ever be about itself; and the urgent yet paradoxical attempt, in the writing of traumas such as the atomic bombings, to capture experiences that may be beyond representation. This course assumes no prior knowledge of Japan or Japanese, and all texts are taught using English translations.

Omitted 2017-18.  Professor Van Compernolle.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2008, Spring 2010, Spring 2017, Spring 2021


Japan on Screen

(Offered as ASLC 234 [J] and FAMS 320) Is the concept of national cinema useful in the age of globalization? Given the international nature of cinema at its inception, was it ever a valid concept? In this course, we will consider how the nation is represented on screen as we survey the history of film culture in Japan, from the very first film footage shot in the country in 1897, through the golden age of studio cinema in the 1950s, to important independent filmmakers working today. While testing different theories of national, local, and world cinema, we will investigate the Japanese film as a narrative art, as a formal construct, and as a participant in larger aesthetic and social contexts. This course includes the major genres of Japanese film and influential schools and movements. Students will also learn and get extensive practice using the vocabulary of the discipline of film studies. This course assumes no prior knowledge of Japan or Japanese, and all films have English subtitles.

Omitted 2017-18. Professor Van Compernolle.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2016, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2022

Departmental Courses


Theravada Buddhism

(Offered as RELI 253 and ASLC 253 [SA]) This course introduces the history and civilization of Theravada Buddhism. The Theravada (the “Doctrine of the Elders”) is the dominant form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar (Burma); in recent decades it has also found a following in other regions in Asia and the west. We will trace the Theravada’s origins as one of the earliest sectarian movements in India to its success and prestige as a religious civilization bridging South and Southeast Asia. We will also consider this tradition’s encounter with modernity and its various adaptations and responses to challenges in the contemporary world. No previous background in Buddhism is required.

Omitted 2017-18. Professor M. Heim.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2007, Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Spring 2016, Spring 2021

Non-Language Departmental Courses


Madame Butterfly Lives: Cross-Cultural Exchanges in France and Japan

(Offered as ASLC 338 and FREN 369)  In 1867, in the waning days of the Tokugawa shogunate, the Japanese authorities dispatched several geisha to the Paris World Exposition to represent a country few Europeans knew anything about. Since these inauspicious beginnings, the culture of each country has come to have a decisive hold on the imagination of the other across a wide array of fields. By the time Jean-Paul Sartre arrived in Tokyo almost a century later, the cultural ties were so extensive that the French philosopher was greeted by a media frenzy normally reserved for celebrities. Today, Japanese comic books are widely available in French translation, and French cinema shows regularly on Japanese screens. This interdisciplinary course tracks the circulation of texts, ideas, images, and people between France and Japan from the late nineteenth century to the present, allowing us to address issues of national identity, Orientalism, exoticism, gender, media culture, and artistic modernism, among other themes. Course materials will be drawn from literature, visual art, opera, film, dance, fashion, design, philosophy, and history. The class is taught in English and requires no prior knowledge of either count

Omitted 2017-18. Professors Katsaros and Van Compernolle.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016, Spring 2020

Departmental Courses


Buddhist Ethics

(Offered as RELI 352 and ASLC 352) A systematic exploration of the place of ethics and moral reasoning in Buddhist thought and practice. The scope of the course is wide, with examples drawn from the whole Buddhist world, but emphasis is on the particularity of different Buddhist visions of the ideal human life. Attention is given to the problems of the proper description of Buddhist ethics in a comparative perspective.

Omitted 2017-18.  Professor M. Heim.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

Non-Language Departmental Courses


Apocalypse Japan

(Offered as ASLC 436 and FAMS 422) This course is an introduction to contemporary Japanese popular culture through focused study of a particular theme. This semester we will concentrate on the apocalypse, among the most prominent themes in postwar Japan. Many would trace its origins to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for Japan is the only country in history to have been attacked with nuclear weapons, but we will examine a broader cultural matrix in this course, which will allow us to address questions of technology, human agency, utopia, dystopia, and spectacle, among other topics. Through reading and discussion of theories of mediation, we will also seek connections between works of popular culture and larger issues, such as globalization, politics, and discourses on cultural uniqueness. Finally, because many contemporary works utilize the apocalyptic theme as a way to explore the replacement of older media by newer technologies—such as the replacement of VHS by DVD or the displacement of traditional film by digital technology—we will also pursue issues of media specificity. This will entail learning the disciplinary terminology of film, anime, and manga studies.

Limited to 25 students.  Fall semester.  Professor Van Compernolle.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2017