Major Explorations: Asian Languages and Civilizations

Whether through literature, film, art, architecture, political science, anthropology, religion, or history, Asian Languages and Civilizations allows you to engage this vital and significant part of our world. Learn about courses, lines of inquiry, and career paths for majors.

Introduction to Asian Languages and Civilizations

Asian Languages and Civilizations invites students to combine the serious study of language—Arabic, Chinese, or Japanese—with rigorous, interdisciplinary courses that explore East Asia, South Asia, West Asia, and Pan-Asia. Taken together, these courses engage some of the oldest and continuous civilizations as well as the most populous region of the world—by some estimates, Asia comprises nearly 60% of the world’s population today.

Whether through literature, film, art, architecture, political science, anthropology, religion, or history, Asian Languages and Civilizations allows you to engage this vital and significant part of our world. We are particularly interested in cultural difference and its social and political implications, both within Asia and between Asia and the West. 

Our majors acquire a minimum of third-year level competency in their chosen language and combine that with a highly individualized course of study. Students often study abroad in China, Japan, Korea, Egypt, and Jordan, furthering their language development and experiencing directly local societies and cultures.  

What is a major in Asian Languages and Civilizations good for? A few of our graduates pursue graduate degrees in Asian Studies or a related field, but most do not. From Google to law school, education to government service, our majors apply their language, critical-thinking skills, and cross-cultural sensitivities to a wide range of careers in the United States and in Asia.  

If you are interested in exploring any of our languages, but have no prior exposure, we recommend you start with the 100-level introductory courses in Arabic, Chinese, or Japanese. If you have some prior exposure to a language you are interested in, please consult the recommendations under “Language Placement Info” on our department website. Our lecturers will help you identify a suitable course level. Our culture courses are all taught in English and we offer a number of introductory surveys of art history, history, and literature.

If you have any questions about courses in Asian Languages and Civilizations, or about the major, please contact the department chair, Professor Timothy Van Compernolle, at any time.

The Asian Languages & Civilizations Major

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 culture courses, must be taken at Amherst College. A maximum of six language courses may be counted toward the ten courses required for the major. Normally, the program of study includes four or more non-language courses in the cultural area of the chosen language. In exceptional cases, a student may petition the department to approve an alternative course of study with a thematic, disciplinary, or interdisciplinary focus, designed in consultation with a departmental advisor. The program of study 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.

Declaring the Major

  1.  Determine a concentration within the major.
  2. Make an appointment to see the Chair of the Department and discuss your proposed course of study. After meeting with the Chair, submit your major declaration in Workday. The Chair can then approve this and will assign you an advisor in the department.
  3. Instructions on how to declare a major/program of study in Workday can be found at the bottom of this page in the .docx file titled Declare My Major (Program of Study).

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive examination is defined as follows: 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.

The undergraduate student conference is held early in the spring semester each year. All graduating seniors in the department will present on an original research project at this forum. As a crucial component of the major, participation is mandatory. Advisors will let seniors know of the date of the conference well in advance, usually at the beginning of the fall semester.

Students writing a senior honors thesis should present on their thesis at the conference. Thesis writers need not have completed the thesis by the time of the conference, but they should have done enough work on it so as to give a substantive presentation on their research.

Students not writing a senior honors thesis would ideally present on an original research paper undertaken in one of their ASLC courses. Barring that, a student can also take a special topics course that results in a piece of original research. Another possibility is to write a paper that expands on coursework as approved by the student’s advisor. Regardless of how the research requirement is completed, a paper used for the presentation must be from a class above the 100-level.

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.

Double Majoring

Courses counting towards the ASLC major may be counted towards another major.

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