China: Continuity and Change
(Offered as POSC 108 and ASLC 108) This is an introductory intensive writing course on China. As such, we will focus on the fundamentals of reading and writing to help students develop clear and persuasive writing styles. We will also pay close attention to understanding and critiquing academic sources. Students will be expected to engage in frequent in-class writing and attend regular writing consultations.
Chinese politics is replete with tensions between opposing forces: modernity and tradition, economic growth and societal protections, central government and local government, top-down mandates and bottom-up pressures, ideology and expertise, state control and market forces, continuity and change. This course examines these tensions and their effects on state-society relations and authoritarian governance during communist party rule in China (1949-present). We will learn how to apply different reading strategies to examine a variety of sources that shed light on these tensions, including speeches, films, government documents, news media, and academic sources. Through frequent short papers, students will incorporate different types of evidence to make compelling arguments regarding the strategies that the Chinese party-state has used to maintain stability amid myriad challenges.
Limited to 12 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Fall semester. Assistant Professor Ratigan.2023-24: Not offered
Russian Empire in Eurasia
(Offered as HIST 112 [AS/EUCP], 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. Professor Glebov.2023-24: Not offered
Race, Empire, and Transnationalism: Chinese Diasporic Communities in the U.S. and the World
(Offered as HIST 114 [AS/TR/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.
Omitted 2021-22. Five College Associate Professor Chu.2023-24: Not offered
Atomic Bomb Literature
On August 6, 1945, in the waning days of WWII, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Hiroshima, laying waste to the city and killing some 80,000 people, a death toll that would reach, by some estimates 140,000 from subsequent injuries and radiation poisoning. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki a few days later, on August 9, killing between 45 and 75 thousand people from the blast and subsequent injuries and radiation poisoning. This course will investigate the literary responses to these calamities. Such works are referred to collectively as genbaku bungaku, or Atomic Bomb Literature. As the only country in history to have been attacked with nuclear weapons, this is a genre of literature unique to Japan. The course is structured around three units that move from the writings of actual survivors to those who engage with the existential implications of living in a nuclear age inaugurated by the bombs. In order to help illuminate this body of writing, we will draw on linguistic models, trauma theory, and ideas of public memory.
Omitted 2021-22. Professor Van Compernolle.2023-24: Not offered
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
Middle Eastern History: 500–1700
(Offered as HIST 190 [ME/TC/TEP] and ASLC 126) 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.
The course is designed to have substantial preparation (online readings and occassionally powerpoint lectures) done in preparation for class sessions which will be devoted entirely to discussion. All readings are available online. There are frequent response papers due, but no formal papers. This course is an introduction to Middle Eastern history and anticipates no prior knowledge.
Fall Semester. Professor Ringer.2023-24: Not offered
Visual Culture of the Islamic World
(Offered as ARHA 152, ARCH 152 and ASLC 142) This course, a gateway class for the study of art history and architectural studies, introduces the art, architecture, and urban planning of the Islamic world, from the origins of Islam in the seventh century to the contemporary moment. Among the questions we will pose are: When, how, and why was the Qur’an first copied as a written text? Why does the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, completed in 691–2 A.D., closely resemble Christian churches and shrines from the same period? Why did medieval Europeans judge objects from the Islamic world, especially those bearing Arabic script, to be sacred in nature? How did commercial and diplomatic exchanges with China and Viking Scandinavia impact the arts of Central Asia and the Middle East during the premodern period? What can contemporary comic books tell us about the visual logic of fifteenth-century Iranian manuscript painting? And how have nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists used photography and film to address the legacies of colonialism and Orientalism? We will attempt to answer these questions through close and careful analysis of objects in a range of media, from silver and rock crystal to silk textiles and video; cities and architectural sites in Spain and India, and the many places in between; and primary and secondary texts. Films, museum websites, musical recordings, and visits to the Mead Art Museum and Amherst’s Archives and Special Collections will supplement readings, lectures, and discussions. No previous background is presumed, and all readings will be available in English.
No cap on enrollment.
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
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.
Classes will meet in person on campus. Remote students will either attend class sessions by videochat or will have access to audio recordings of class meetings. All students, local and remote, will have access to pre-recorded video content. Local and remote students may be asked to prepare brief presentations on assigned readings to be delivered either in person or by prerecorded video.
Omitted 2021-22. 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/TC/TE] 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 attentive. Two class meetings per week.
Class time is devoted to discussion. Class discussion will be held in person (if possible) AND online for those who are unable to be on campus. There is substantial preparation for discussion to be done before class, in the form of readings (available online and on the course Moodle site) and occasional power point lectures to watch. Assignments consist of frequent response papers, but no formal papers.
Enrollment limited to 18 students. Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Ringer.2023-24: Not offered
Introduction to Buddhist Traditions
(Offered as RELI 152 and ASLC 152) 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.
Spring Semester. Professor M. Heim.2023-24: Not offered
Art and Architecture of South Asia
(Offered as ARHA 154, ARCH 154, and ASLC 154) This introductory course surveys the architecture, painting, sculpture, textiles, and other arts of South Asia—including India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka—from 2300 B.C. to the present. Among the diverse materials we will examine are the archaeological remains from one of the world’s earliest planned cities; Buddhist monastic complexes carved entirely out of living rock; Hindu temples bearing erotic images; manuscript illustrations made for Muslim emperors; colorful printed and painted textiles produced for domestic, European, Indonesian, and Japanese markets; and twentieth-century works of art that anticipate and respond to India’s independence from British colonial rule. We will consider the important roles that South Asian artists, architects, and other makers have played in depicting and housing the divine, establishing political and religious systems, and fueling the exchange of ideas and goods across the globe. Films, musical recordings, museum websites, visits to the Mead Art Museum and Amherst’s Archives and Special Collections, and cooking and food-tasting sessions will supplement assigned readings, lectures, and discussions. No previous background is presumed, and all readings will be available in English.
Spring semester. Professor Rice.2023-24: Not offered
Chinese Literary Tradition, Antiquity to 1800
A survey of the literary and intellectual traditions of premodern China, the course guides students to appreciate a broad array of textual records and literary genres from antiquity to late Imperial China. We will read monumental works such as Shang dynasty oracle-bone inscriptions, the Analects, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Tang and Song poetry, the folk opera Mulian Rescues his Mother, and the celebrated vernacular novel The Story of the Stone. The course explores the multiple dimensions of the practice of writing and hence reflects on where wen, or “literature,” stood in the premodern Chinese lifeworld. Moreover, the course draws on contemporary writings and films to examine the offshoot of the Chinese literary tradition that thrives in the popular culture of the English-speaking world.
No prior knowledge of Chinese language or culture is assumed. Requirements include in-class quizzes and writing assignments of various lengths throughout the semester. Two class meetings per week.
Professor Ying. Omitted 21-22.2023-24: Not offered
Imagining Modern China
This course surveys the literary and cultural milestones in late 19th-century to 21st-century China. We will explore a wide range of works from mainland China and the Sinophone world, including critically acclaimed films and theatrical productions. The course highlights the capacity of literature as a form of historical engagement and a vehicle for ethical reasoning as modern Chinese intellectuals braved a violent and perplexing age. Furthermore, it unpacks the multivalence of Chinese literary modernity as well as that of the very term “China.” All readings are in English. No prior knowledge of China or the Chinese language is assumed. Requirements include short reflection papers and two medium-length papers. Two class meetings per week.
Fall semester. Professor Ying.Other years: Offered in Fall 2023
History of Dynastic China
(Offered as HIST 171 [AS/TC/TE/P] and ASLC 171) This introductory course provides a broad overview of China’s long history and major cultural traditions from its very beginnings to the eve of modernity. No familiarity with China or previous experience in the study of history is assumed or required. Over the course of the semester, we will investigate long-term economic, social, and cultural transformations as well as the great diversity of this enormous part of the world. We will examine a broad array of issues, such as the important role of geography in shaping Chinese history, the glorified antiquity in traditional Chinese political thought, the rise and fall of unified dynastic empires, China’s troubled relationship with the Inner Asian steppe and nomadic people, continuing state penetration of frontier regions and ethnic statecraft, cycles of peasant rebellions and civil wars, the emergence of major philosophical schools and the canonization of Confucian thought, the establishment of the civil examination system and bureaucratic states, the formation of a literati culture, the rise of Buddhism and Daoism and the transformation of the Chinese religious landscape, the evolution of gender, family, and kinship structures, and China’s engagement with the outside world through trade and diplomacy. In this course, students will study a wide range of primary sources—ancient classics, poems, films, paintings, novels, and memoirs—and learn to develop skills in critical analysis and situating these sources in their historical contexts. At several points in the semester, we will also look at how this history has been used and recycled in contemporary politics and popular culture and reflect upon the continuing legacies of this history for China and the world today. Classes will entail lectures combined with close readings and discussions that engage primary texts, interpretive essays, and film. Two class meetings per week.
Not offered 2021-22. Professor Qiao.Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2022, Fall 2023
Modern China: Traumatic Revolutions and Transformative Reforms
(Offered as HIST 172 [AS/TC/TE] and ASLC 172) 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, and the post-Mao economic reforms and social transformations, 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, will be supplemented by interpretive essays and videos. Two class meetings per week.
Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Qiao.Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2023
South Asia in the World until 1800 CE
(Offered as HIST 173 [AS/TC/TE/TR/TS/P/C] and ASLC 173 [SA])
This course introduces students to the histories and cultures of South Asia until 1800 CE as part of critical world history. There is increasing awareness amongst scholars that in order to understand the languages, histories, religions, and cultures of one of the most diverse regions of the world comprising the modern nation-states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, we need to understand South Asia in the world. This course challenges the notion of a static and singular South Asia to explore how understandings of this region are transformed when studied as part of the world connected through travel, exchange, trade, and movement. We will study the history of South Asia from the earliest times until the arrival of Portuguese traders and travellers to the region and analyze a range of sources including documentaries, paintings, seals, inscriptions, sculptural reliefs, and travelogues. We will place these sources alongside the writings of scholars who have used different approaches to understand the history of South Asia. Throughout the course, we will pay attention to the specific history of South Asia understood through the movement of pilgrims, traders, rulers, and scholars that bound diverse worlds together. Ultimately, we will see how placing the history of South Asia in conversation with histories of different places in the world deepens and widens our understanding of the world at large until 1800 CE.
Two meetings per week.
Spring semester. Professor Gomes.Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Fall 2016, Spring 2018, Fall 2023
Japan from Shamans to Samurai
(Offered as HIST 175 [AS/TCP] and ASLC 225) Contrary to images of a uniform and stable culture, the Japanese archipelago possesses a history marked by fragmentation, violent conflict, and dynamic cultural change. This course traces that history from the beginnings of human history on the archipelago to the establishment of one of the most stable and peaceful regimes in human history, the Tokugawa shogunate. Our survey will be organized around a central riddle: why was it so difficult to produce a stable, unified polity on the Japanese archipelago? Placing Japan within the broader regional context of East Asia, we will answer this riddle by following the rise of successive political authorities, from the sacral rulers of the tomb period to the samurai. Prominent themes include the rise of early polities, contact with the Chinese continent and Korean peninsula, the aristocratic culture of the Heian court and its displacement by medieval samurai rule, the role of Buddhist thought and institutions, the “warring states” period of the sixteenth-century and cosmopolitan contact with Christian Europe, and the Tokugawa peace and its urban cultural forms. Throughout, we will read a variety of sources, including eighth-century mythology, aristocratic literature, war chronicles, religious and philosophical texts, as well as modern fiction and film.
This is a writing attentive survey of Japan’s history from antiquity through the eighteenth century. It traces political, social, and cultural developments in order to provide basic literacy in pre-modern Japanese history and a basis both for comparative history and further course work in Japanese history. Classes will combine lectures with close readings and discussions of the assigned texts. Requirements include short response papers and topical essays. Three class meetings per week.
Fall semester. Professor Maxey.2023-24: Not offered
The Home and the World: Women and Gender in South Asia
(Offered as SWAG 207, ASLC 207, and POSC 207) 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 2021-22. Professor Shandilya.2023-24: Not offered
Power and Politics in Contemporary China
(Offered as POSC 208, ASLC 208, and EDST 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. Spring semester. Assistant Professor Ratigan.2023-24: Not offered
The Writer as Migrant: Sinophone Voices
What does it mean to be “Chinese,” when the term stands at once as a marker of nationality, ethnicity, and language? Through the lens of literature and film, this course looks into the rich histories and cultural diversities of Chinese communities beyond the borders of the People’s Republic of China and in different parts of the world. The stories and films the course features are grouped around three geographical foci: Hong Kong and Taiwan, Southeast Asia (in particular, Singapore and Malaysia), and the United States. This course unpacks the complexity of the Chinese experience in a global world order shaped by colonialism, migration, and transnational exchange. At the same time, we delve into the pains and joys, discoveries and dilemmas of the individual artists who negotiate multiple boundaries—geopolitical, ethnic, cultural, linguistic—in search of a “literary citizenship.”
Omitted 2021-22 Professor Ying.
The Spirit of Words: Survey of Classical Japanese Literature
The preface to an early-tenth-century Japanese poetry anthology makes extraordinary claims for the power of words: they can move heaven and earth, make the gods feel pity, smooth the relations between men and women, and console the hearts of warriors. To this we might add that words could also express political or religious dissent, the sorrow of exile, and the pain of a broken heart. In surveying the entire sweep of the literature written in classical Japanese, beginning with the oldest extant book in Japan, dating to the early eighth century, we will explore the many and varied uses of words. We will examine the love poetry of the court, war tales touched by many hands, Chinese verse composed by Japanese monks, theatrical forms for audiences large and small, and travel journals that overlay a literary topography on the physical landscape, among others. A postscript to the course will take us to the end of classical Japanese as the language of literature around 1900. No previous knowledge of Japan is required, and all texts are taught in English translation.
Spring semester. Professor Van Compernolle.2023-24: Not offered
The Great Indian Epics
(Offered as RELI 245 and ASLC 245) For over two millennia the two great epics of India, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, have filled the lives of Hindus with stories of heroes, war, gender, family, love, and honor. In many ways the epics constitute the cornerstone of literary and religious civilization in India. We read English retellings and translations of these huge Sanskrit epics exploring their ethical ideals and conundrums. We also attend to the literary artistry of these bardic traditions both in their original forms as well as later poetic and vernacular interpretations. The course can serve as an introduction to key values and questions of
Hinduism, as well as an entry into the classics of South Asian civilization.
Professor Heim. Omitted 2021-22.2023-24: Not offered
Japan's Modern Revolutions: 1800–2000s
(Offered as HIST 176 [AS/TC/TE] and ASLC 247) 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 the 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.
Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Maxey.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as RELI 253 and ASLC 253) 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.
Classes will meet in person on campus. Remote students will either attend class sessions by videochat or will have access to audio recordings of class meetings. All students, local and remote, will have access to pre-recorded video content. Local and remote students may be asked to prepare brief presentations on assigned readings to be delivered either in person or by prerecorded video.
Omitted 2021-22. Professor M. Heim.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as RELI 255 and ASLC 256) 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.
Classes will meet in person on campus. Remote students will either attend class sessions by videochat or will have access to audio recordings of class meetings. All students, local and remote, will have access to pre-recorded video content. Local and remote students may be asked to prepare brief presentations on assigned readings to be delivered either in prson or by prerecorded video.
Fall semester. Professor M. Heim.Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2023
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 course 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 course 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
Here is an invitation to the literary world of Lu Xun, the iconic writer of 20th-century China, a relentless critic and a man of spiritual anguish. Besides delving into Lu Xun’s different periods and genres of writing, we will also read a constellation of writers who have been in dialogue with Lu Xun: his younger brother and the humanist essayist Zhou Zuoren, the gifted female writer Xiao Hong, and the storyteller of China’s southwest hinterland Shen Congwen. In taking a close look at select authors, the course familiarizes students with enduring issues in the study of modern Chinese literature.
All readings are in English. Prior knowledge of modern China is preferred but not required. Requirements include short reflection papers, an oral presentation, a character analysis, a book review, and a final exam. Daily meeting throughout the January term. Remote instruction.
January Term. Professor Ying.2023-24: Not offered
The Middle East: Anthropological Perspectives
(Offered as ANTH 265 and ASLC 266) This course draws on ethnographic writings, documentary film, and literary accounts to examine the everyday realities of people living in the region commonly referred to as the Middle East. Rather than attempting a survey of the entire region, the course explores a number of important themes in the anthropology of the Middle East. These themes include, among others: gender and sexuality, religious piety, urban space, migration, and political protest. By the end of the course, students will have gained an understanding of some of the most pressing issues being faced in the region, and the ways that anthropologists have explored these issues. No previous knowledge of the Middle East or anthropology is assumed.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Dole.Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Fall 2021, Fall 2023
Ramayanas in History, Ramayanas as History
(Offered as HIST 273 [AS/TC/TS] and ASLC 273 [SA]) The Ramayana is one of the most famous stories in the world. It is a fascinating narrative of intrigue, exile, love, loss, violence, and redemption and is especially well known by people in or connected to South and Southeast Asia. They would have seen, heard, or read versions of the story of Rāma, Sītā, and the battle with Rāvaṇa at some point in their lives. What is less known is that all these stories refer back to Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa, the first and most prestigious Ramayana story written in Sanskrit around 2500 years ago. We begin this 200-level course by reading Vālmīki’s Sanskrit composition in translation by Arshia Sattar. Once we are familiar with Vālmīki’s Rāmāyaṇa, we move on to explore other Ramayana narratives in Tamil, Hindi, as well as more modern tellings of the Ramayana story including feminist and anti-caste iterations. We will explore how all these versions reformulate Vālmīki’s story in multiple ways to speak to their distinct historical contexts. We will examine Ramayana stories beyond print as well, as performances, songs, and television shows that circulate and influence the world in Bengali, English, Hindi, Tamil, Thai, and Old Javanese. All the while, we will keep in mind the central questions of the course: how do historians interpret literature to write history? How may we think of the relationships between belief, myth and history? We will also critically examine questions of translation, circulation, and adaptation. This course ultimately draws our attention to the global power of stories that animated the distant historical past and continue to enchant the present. Two meetings per week.
Fall semester. Professor Gomes.Other years: Offered in Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023
(Offered as LJST 277 and ASLC 277) Islamic constitutionalism is now a global phenomenon. References to Islam or Islamic law have been incorporated into more than two dozen constitutions. Many states that are constitutionally Islamic also espouse commitments to liberal rights such as religious freedom, freedom of speech, and nondiscrimination. Rather than rehearse common binarisms that assess the compatibility of Islam and liberalism, this course considers the dilemmas that emerge in societies where individuals are subject to multiple normative orders. We will consider how classical Islamic law varies from its modern codification, as well as how colonial inheritances such as British common law and French civil law shape legal systems in post-independence states. Drawing on an array of case studies, we will address issues like religious liberty, criminal sentencing, and personal status. How do judges adjudicate between various and often competing sources of authority? What discursive resources become available to complainants, litigators, and jurists living under these hybrid legal regimes? How does Islamic constitutionalism compare with other varieties of religious establishment?
Limited to 30 students.2023-24: Not offered
Muslim Reformers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
(Offered as HIST 281 [ME/TC/TE], ASLC 282 and RELI 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. Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Ringer.2023-24: Not offered
Orthodoxy, Heresy, and Apostasy in Islam
(Offered as RELI 283 and ASLC 283) What is correct Islamic belief and practice? Is there such a thing? Who has been labeled a heretic, unbeliever, or apostate in the history of Islam, and why? How did Muslim “freethinkers” contest Islamic orthodoxies? We will discuss the ways that a wide variety of Muslim sects or denominations developed in the history of Islam. Our objectives are to examine how groups and individuals established, prescribed, or remade standards of Islamic belief and practice; and to examine how they faced the plurality of Muslim sects and other religions. We will pay special attention to the theme of salvation, which shaped the ways that Muslims classified sects and other religions. As we explore the above issues we will read from a range of Islamic discourses, including scripture, theology, law, and mysticism. All readings are in English. Open to all students.
Fall semester. Associate Professor Jaffer.2023-24: Not offered
Islamic Intellectual Tradition: The Classics
(Offered as RELI 287 and ASLC 287) 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.
Omitted 2021-22. Associate Professor Jaffer.2023-24: Not offered
The Lives of Muslim Saints
(Offered as REL 288 and ASLC 289) A study of the most venerated saints in the history of Islam. We will read from their biographies, poetry (paying special attention to the themes of love), and theoretical and literary works. We will examine how such literature discloses the dimensions of Islamic mysticism: rituals and practices (some of which were considered socially deviant), theories of the self/soul, epistemologies, cosmologies, and ontologies. We will examine the ways that Sufi theories and practices challenged other self-professed Islamic orthodoxies and orthopraxies. We will ask: what made these aspects of Islamic mysticism (often subsumed under “Sufism”) so appealing as articulations of Islam? To answer this question, we will attempt to grasp how Muslim saints understood their expressions of Islam in relation to the disciplines—especially law, theology, and philosophy—and to understand how their ways of being Islamic are meaningful expressions and interpretations of Islamic institutions, concepts, principles and values. In this course we will also engage with the theories that scholars of religion in North America and Europe have used to analyze and interpret the various dimensions of Islamic mysticism. In doing so, we will examine the ways that perceptions of Sufism (and Islam more broadly) have been shaped by European theories, paradigms, and methods of interpretation and discuss their value for understanding Sufism and Islam. No pre-requisites; first-year students welcome.
Omitted 2021-2022.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as ANTH 317 and ASLC 317) 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 not 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.
Requisite: Chinese language skills or ANTH 112, 115, 288, 318, 323, or 332, or a similar course. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Fong.Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Fall 2021, Fall 2023
(Offered as ANTH 318 and ASLC 318) 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.
Chinese language skills or ANTH 112, 115, 288, 318, 323, or 332, or a similar course. Limited to 20 students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2021-22. Professor Fong.2023-24: Not offered
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 of tea culture, the course 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. Omitted 2021-22. Professor Morse.2023-24: Not offered
Images and Icons—Exploring Devotional Art
(Offered as ARHA 325 and ASLC 325) An examination of the construction, use, and interpretation of images and icons. The primary focus will be on images and icons in the Buddhist and Hindu faiths; however, the class will also make comparisons with those in Christianity and the religions of Africa and New Guinea. Some of the topics to be covered will include the relationship between icons and deities, the authentication and animation of images, the connections between icons and political authority, the ritual use of images, and aniconism and iconoclasm. The class is designed to focus on art historical writing.
Limited to 18 students to facilitate class discussion. Omitted 2021-22. Prof. Morse.2023-24: Not offered
Fascism, War, and Freedom: Spain and Japan On Screen
(Offered as ASLC 327, EUST 327, and FAMS 327) The relationships among media, the state, and civil society are complex. This course aims to address these relationships by examining cinema—the art form of the twentieth century—in Japan and Spain during different but overlapping eras of tumult: the 1930s to the 1980s. Putting these two national cinemas in a comparative framework will allow us to address issues such as: the interest in film by authoritarian regimes; the way cinema is harnessed to wartime goals by the state; the nature of censorship and self-censorship in war and peace; the potential of image, sound, and narrative to give expression to propaganda and democratic ideals; the cathartic release following the end of an authoritarian regime or occupation. The course, taught in English, does not assume prior knowledge of either country, nor of film studies. All films have English subtitles.
Spring semester. Professors Brenneis and Van Compernolle.2023-24: Not offered
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 country.
Omitted 2021-22. Professor Van Compernolle and Professor Katsaros.2023-24: Not offered
Anthropology and the Middle East
(Offered as ANTH 331 and ASLC 341) 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. Omitted 2021-22. Professor C. Dole.2023-24: Not offered
Cool Buddhist Texts
(Offered as RELI 350 and ASLC 350) This course explores scripture, commentary, literature, and philosophy from the whole Buddhist world. We will seek the pleasures of encountering brilliant texts that have spoken to human beings across the millennia. The focus is on close analysis of primary texts, but we will also consider the historical and intellectual contexts in which they were produced and subsequently interpreted. All readings are in English translation, but we will also investigate the textual and linguistic worlds of classical Buddhist texts in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Tibetan, and Japanese, and consider questions of translation. No prerequisites are required and the course is open to first-year students.
Fall semester. Professor Heim.2023-24: Not offered
Early Islam: Construction of an Historical Tradition
(Offered as HIST 393 [ME/TC/TEP] and ASLC 355) 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. Two class meetings per week.
Not open to first-year students. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Ringer.2023-24: Not offered
The Persian Book of Kings
(Offered as ASLC 357, ARHA 357, and HIST 357 [TC, TE, ME, P]) The Shahnameh (Book of Kings), completed by Abu’l Qasim Ferdowsi around 1010, is one of the world's greatest epics, and also one of the most enigmatic. The Shahnameh tells the history of pre-Islamic Iran from the beginnings of civilization until the Arab conquest in the seventh century A.D. Its tales of battles, romance, heroism, and betrayal have been appreciated as literature for centuries. At the same time, it’s been deployed for political and cultural ends. Many of the communities who have most enthusiastically embraced its stories and themes have been of non-Iranian origin. Indeed, Ferdowsi’s patron, Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, was himself of Turkic background. Since the nineteenth century, it has been touted as the cultural cornerstone of an emphatically non-Muslim modern Iranian national identity, and yet the author and his patron were Muslim. Some have even interpreted the Shahnameh as encouraging conversion to Islam.
This course will explore the Shahnameh as literature, history, and material culture—including illustrated manuscripts, printed books, ceramics, metalwork, and photography—from its original tenth-century context to the contemporary moment. We will focus in particular on a heavily illustrated mid-nineteenth-century copy of the Shahnameh in Amherst College’s Archives and Special Collections, and consider how this work expressed a non-Islamic cultural foundation of modernity. We will follow this story to explore how the Shahnameh figures in debates over the pre-Islamic past today. No previous background is presumed, and all readings will be available in English.
Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Professors Rice and Ringer.
(Offered as HIST 392 [ME/TC/TE] and ALSC 359) This course explores contemporary Iran from a historical and interdisciplinary perspective. The course provides an overall understanding of the modern history of Iran, with a focus on the way Iranian history has been variously constructed and deployed. We will utilize a wide variety of primary sources, including literature, film, political treatises, Shiite theological writing, foreign travel accounts, and U.S. state department documents, in addition to secondary sources. Course conducted as a seminar. Seminar paper optional. 2 class meetings/week.
Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Ringer.2023-24: Not offered
Buddhist Stories from Modern East Asia
(Offered as ASLC 360 and RELI 360) What does it entail, and feel like, to embrace the modern world from a Buddhist perspective? The course examines key issues that have shaped the development of modern Buddhism across East Asia, while fostering a critical assessment of some fundamental assumptions in the making of the modern age. Threading through the entire course is a provocative dialogue between, on the one hand, modern events and intellectual currents such as scientific rationalism, secularization, imperialism, nationalism, feminism, and environmentalism, and on the other hand, seminal Buddhist teachings that stand profoundly persuasive across time and space. We unpack this dialogue through stories, which are drawn from China, Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, Vietnam, and from Europe and America. The seminar highlights literature as a vehicle for spiritual reflection especially in a global and postsecular world. All readings are in English. No prior knowledge of Buddhism is assumed. Requirements include weekly reflection papers, an oral presentation, and a final paper. Two class meetings per week.
Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Not open to first-year students. Professor Ying.Other years: Offered in Fall 2023
Lu Xun and Modern China
Here is an invitation to the literary world of Lu Xun, the iconic writer of 20th-century China, a relentless critic and a man of spiritual anguish. Besides delving into Lu Xun’s different periods and genres of writing, we will also read a constellation of writers who have been in dialogue with Lu Xun: his younger brother and the humanist essayist Zhou Zuoren, the gifted female writer Xiao Hong, the storyteller of China’s southwest hinterland Shen Congwen, and the Taiwanese Marxist
writer Guo Songfen. In taking a close look at select authors, the course helps students gain methodological awareness in the study of modern China.
All readings are in English. Prior knowledge of modern China is preferred but not required. Requirements include short reflection papers, oral presentations, a character analysis, a book review, and a final paper that involves independent research. Two class meetings per week.
Omitted 2021-22. Professor Ying.Other years: Offered in Spring 2015
Frontier Regions in Chinese History
(Offered as HIST 368 [AS] and ASLC 368) This seminar examines the role of various frontier regions and borderlands in the long span of Chinese history. Ever since the ancient times, the development of agricultural communities, dynastic states, and Sinitic cultures in China was deeply intertwined with the fate of the societies on its borders such as Mongolia, Manchuria, Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, and the mountainous southwestern regions. In this course, we will read both classic and cutting edge scholarship on China’s frontier regions and critically engage a number of major historiographical issues in Chinese history such as empire building, frontier expansion, borderland society, cross-cultural trade, environmental changes, the construction of ethnicity, and Chinese nationalism. At the end of the course, students will not only learn about the history of China’s frontier regions, but also gain deep insights into China’s persistent problems in its borderland areas.
Some knowledge of Chinese history and culture is helpful but not necessary to do well in this course. Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Qiao.2023-24: Not offered
Japan's Empire in Asia, 1868–1945
(Offered as HIST 370 [AS/TE] and ASLC 370) Japan, the only non-Western colonial empire to emerge during the second half of the nineteenth century, shaped itself and East Asia through imperialism. This course engages that history by paying attention to shifts in scholarly approaches to empire. We will consider, for example, how theories of imperialism and post-colonialism apply to Japan and East Asia. Then tracing the chronological rise and collapse of Japan’s empire, we will consider how the complex circulation of people, goods, ideas, and practices shaped Japan, as well as the colonial modernities of Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria.
This is an upper-level history course that explores interpretive approaches to Japanese imperialism. Assignments focus on historiographic analysis and comparison in the form of short papers and discussion presentations, culminating in a researched essay and a digital presentation on a topic of your choosing. Two class meetings per week.
Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Maxey.Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2019, Fall 2020
Sex, Gender, and the Body in South Asian History
(Offered as HIST 376 [AS/TC/TE/TR/TS], ASLC 376 [SA] and SWAG 377) This course explores how categories of sex, gender, and the body have been configured in South Asian history. We will draw upon primary sources including texts, images, films, and documentaries. We will also read scholarly literature that explores South Asian history through the analytics of sex, gender, and body. We will begin by exploring gender in early South Asian history through poetry in translation as well as selections from epic texts, including sections of the Kāmasūtra that may be widely known but are rarely analyzed within their original historical and courtly contexts in South Asia. Through these poetic and literary texts, we will explore notions of pleasure, love, and intimacy, analyze the intersections between imperialism, sexuality, gendered bodies and colonial rule, and critically examine colonial debates and legal regimes around “widow burning” or sati in colonial South Asia. Finally, we will examine connections between masculinity and the operation of exclusionary nationalisms through the policing of bodies, agency, and love in contemporary South Asia. Throughout, we will pay attention to how social, political, and ethical formations have interacted with gendered bodies and selves in South Asian history.
Two meetings per week.
Spring semester. Professor Gomes.Other years: Offered in Spring 2022, Spring 2023
Approaches to Chinese Painting
(Offered as ARHA 388 and ASLC 383) This course will survey the Chinese pictorial and calligraphic traditions from the Neolithic era to the present day. Particular emphasis will be placed on the period from the Northern Song to the Qing dynasties and the development of the landscape idiom, but the course will also address the figure, bird and flower, and narrative traditions as well. It will conclude with an exploration of the ways contemporary artists engage the legacy of China’s cultural heritage. Special attention will be given to the differences between Western methodological approaches to Chinese painting and the theories of painting developed by the Chinese themselves.
Omitted 2021-22. Professor Morse.2023-24: Not offered
The Replicated Image in Japanese Art: Woodblock Prints, Postcards, and Photographs
(Offered as ARHA 384 and ASLC 384) An image that can be replicated serves a very different function from a single unique work of art; it addresses new audiences and elicits a wider range of responses. This course will explore three different types of replicated images in Japan—woodblock prints, lithographs, and photographs. With the unprecedented achievement of literacy among urban populations during the early seventeenth century, Japan developed highly inventive woodblock texts and images. The course will begin with an investigation of the Japanese print in the Edo period (1615–1868) through the works of artists such as Suzuki Harunobu, Kitagawa Utamaro, Katsushika Hokusai, and Utagawa Hiroshige. It will subsequently examine the early history of the photograph in the nineteenth century and then how the postcard replaced the print as the favored format for the dissemination of images during the early twentieth century, becoming the primary visual means for communicating Japan’s modernity before the advent of World War II. The course will conclude with a study of photography from the 1920s to the present day. Photography also documented Japan’s modern era, the social tensions that appeared in the high-grown era after WWII, and today often transcends national boundaries.
Omitted 2021-22. Professor Morse.2023-24: Not offered
The Qur'ān and Its Controversies
(Offered as RELI 385, ASLC 385 and ENGL 301)
An exploration of several salient questions concerning the Qur’ān, the Islamic Revealed Book. How have Muslims explained the Qur’ān’s own proclamation of its supernatural origin and its miraculous quality? How does the Qur’ān engage with and respond to the Hebrew Bible and Christian scriptures? Who has the authority to interpret the Qur’ān and why? These are just a few of the tantalizing questions that will occupy us over the course of the semester. We will also discuss the ways that the Qur’ān has been read as a work of law, theology, and mysticism, and how it has shaped theories of the state. Finally, we will isolate the Qur’ān from the Islamic tradition and explore the many ways that it can be read as a work of literature.
All readings are in English. No prerequisites.
Fall semester. Associate Professor Jaffer.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as HIST-389 [ME/TC/TE] and ASLC 389) 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. Reformers were also concerned to generate a new public, and develop modern citizens imbued with new civic, political, literary and artistic sensibilities. Europe served as one important source of inspiration for Ottoman reformers. Reformers were in conversation with European modernity, even as they were in conversation with their own traditions. This course explores the complex relationship between preservation and change, between admiration and rejection, both 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 of the Ottoman Empire with Europe, and with the Ottomans’ own traditions, as a process of translation from the "traditional" to the "modern." The course focuses on the construction of an Ottoman Modern through an examination of literature, art, ideas and institutions. Conducted as a reading seminar. Two 80-minute class sessions per week.
Class time is devoted to discussion. There is substantial preparation for discussion to be done before class, in the form of readings (available online and on the course Moodle site) and occasional power point lectures to watch. Assignments consist of frequent response papers, as well as more formal papers. Students may choose to fulfill the history department seminar paper requirement with this course.
Enrollment is limited to 18 students. Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Ringer.2023-24: Not offered
Social Policy in China
(Offered as POSC 403 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 2021-22. Assistant Professor Ratigan.2023-24: Not offered
Ozu Crossing Borders
(Offered as ASLC-430 and FAMS-430) Ozu Yasujiro (1903-1963) was almost completely unknown outside Japan until the early 1970s but is now considered among the most important artists in cinema history. He spent his entire career in a major Japanese studio, where he developed a signature style that some have called an “anti-cinema.” Ozu’s career began in 1929 with comedies inspired by Hollywood slapstick and ended in the high-growth era with the contemplative films for which he is best known. This course will use this remarkable body of work to tell an Ozu-centered history of the cinema. Weekly screenings of select films spanning the late silent era to his final film in 1962 will acquaint students with Ozu’s oeuvre. A variety of readings will help us position these films within broad aesthetic, cultural, and historical contexts. Students will work in small groups to help trace the lines of influence that reached Ozu in the beginning of his career and the lines that reach outward after his death, crossing borders to the rest of the world. Coursework includes a final project.
Requisite: A prior course in FAMS or consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2021-22. Professor Van Compernolle.2023-24: Not offered
Health Policy in China
(Offered as POSC 431 and ASLC 431) This intensive course will examine Chinese politics through the lens of health policy, from the founding of the People’s Republic of China through the Covid-19 pandemic. We will examine questions such as: Why has healthcare been a persistent challenge for an ostensibly communist ruling party? How has Chinese health policy changed over time and what has remained the same? How has healthcare been impacted by the vicissitudes of Chinese politics? How have Chinese politics shaped the country’s responses to the covid-19 pandemic? And how is the pandemic likely to impact Chinese politics? The course will include short research assignments that will take varied forms such as papers and presentations. This course will be online.
Recommended requisite: Previous experience or coursework related to China is strongly preferred. Previous coursework in the social sciences will be an asset. Limited to 20 students. January semester. Assistant Professor Ratigan.2023-24: Not offered
A Media History of Anime
(Offered as ASLC 437 and FAMS 437) Japanese animation (popularly known as anime) is ubiquitous in today’s world. This seminar traces the history of animation in Japan, from the earliest known work in 1907, stenciled directly onto a strip of celluloid, to the media convergence of the present. Animation allows us access to a larger history of media in Japan, including cinema, television, and today’s hybrid “contents industry.” Animation is also shaped by these many media forms. Topics include the relationship between animation and the state during wartime, the rise of a commercial industry, the analog revolution of the multi-plane camera, the digital revolution of the computer, and the stream of experimental animation across the twentieth century, among others. Course materials include films, television shows, computer entertainments, technical readings, and theoretical essays. Assignments, centered on a final research paper, are designed to cultivate research skills that can be applied to popular culture texts.
Limited to 25 students. Fall Semester. Professor Van Compernolle.2023-24: Not offered
The Indian Ocean World
(Offered as HIST 472 [AS/TC/TE/TR/P] and ASLC 472 [SA]) This research seminar will explore connections across South and Southeast Asia as part of the Indian Ocean world. In this seminar we explore how our understanding of South Asia and Southeast Asia is transformed when studied as part of the Indian Ocean world rather than as discrete nation-state histories. To do this, we will analyze primary sources including pottery shards, Old Javanese texts, seals, Sanskrit inscriptions, sculptural reliefs, poetry, and paintings. Together with primary sources, we will also critically read the works of scholars who have used different approaches to understand interactions across the Indian Ocean. These approaches include questions of language choice, architectural traditions, networks of exchange, technologies of navigation, and kinship relations. Throughout the module, we will pay attention to the ways in which pilgrims, traders, rulers, and scholars traveled and interacted across the Indian Ocean. We will seek to understand the histories of South and Southeast Asia both in their convergences as well as in their historical specificities as connected by ocean space. Ultimately, we will see how placing the histories of South and Southeast Asia in conversation within the Indian Ocean world deepens and widens our understanding of the world at large until 1800 CE. One meeting per week.
Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Gomes.2023-24: Not offered
The History and Memory of the Asia-Pacific War
(Offered as HIST 477 [AS/TE/TS] and ASLC 477) The fifteen years of war conducted 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 how the experience of war during the 1930s and 40s are captured in the memory and history of Japan, East Asia, and the United States. The principal questions guiding our discussions 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 self-directed research projects.
This is a research seminar that will combine historiographic readings and discussions with assignments designed to help you define and execute your own research project. That project will culminate in a seminar paper that will satisfy the History major requirement.
Limited to 18 students. Not open to first-year students. Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Maxey.2023-24: Not offered
Independent reading course.
Fall and spring semesters. 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/TC/TE/TS] 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. Not offered in 2021-22. Professor Ringer.2023-24: Not offered
(Offered as HIST 494 [ME/TC/TE], 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.
Recommended requisite: Prior course work in Middle East studies. 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. Not offered in 2021-22. Professors Dole and Ringer.2023-24: Not offered
Senior Departmental Honors
Spring semester. The Department.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
Reinventing Tokyo: The Art, Literature, and Politics of Japan's Modern Capital
(Offered as ASLC 220 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 class 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 the center 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. We will use that complexity to engage in interdisciplinary thinking and to consider a culture different than one’s own.
Preference to majors and students with an interest in urban studies. Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professors Maxey and Morse.2023-24: Not offered
Words, Self, and Society: Japanese Literature Since 1750
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 re-emergence 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 2021-22. Professor Van Compernolle.2023-24: Not offered
Japan on Screen
(Offered as ASLC 234 and FAMS 320)
This course places equal emphasis on the two key terms of its title, “Japan” and “screen.” Is the concept of national cinema useful in the age of globalization? What is the place of cinema in a history of screen culture in Japan? This course aspires to rethink the idea of Japanese cinema while surveying the history of cinema in Japan, from early efforts to disentangle it from fairground spectacles and the theater at the turn of the last century, through the golden age of studio cinema in the 1950s, to the place of film in the contemporary media ecology. This course will investigate the Japanese film as a narrative art, as a formal construct, and as a participant in larger aesthetic, social, and even political contexts. This course includes the major genres of Japanese film, influential schools and movements, and major directors. Additionally, students will learn and get extensive practice using the vocabulary of the discipline of film studies.
Omitted 2021-22. Professor Van Compernolle.2023-24: Not offered