SALC 25321: Time and its discontents: thinking and experiencing time in South Asia through the ages

(HIST 26615/RLST 25321)

Time is fundamental to all ideas about the past and our projections to the future, yet our measures and conceptions of it change constantly. We will explore key concepts and themes around the temporal cultures of medieval and modern South Asia and how ideas and everyday experiences of time and history have taken shape in the intellectual exchange between South Asia and the West. What can a bored monk writing in medieval India teach us about our hurried digital life? What was the relationship between past and present in premodern South Asia? What can we learn about colonialism and capitalism studying work schedules of clerks in colonial India? Was medieval South Asia prior a land without history? From medieval to modern and from Mahābhārata to Marx, we will closely read a wide range of texts and other media hailing from both South Asia and the West. Students will analyze secondary and primary sources (in translation): religious works, manuals for time keeping, as well as texts describing personal experiences of time, like novels, diaries, etc. Students will develop critical tools for comparing and interpreting the life-worlds of non-Western regions. Our goal is to think of South Asia as an important site where our current concepts and propositions about time and history were developed. No prior knowledge of South Asian languages or history is necessary. This online class will offer both synchronous and asynchronous components. See the syllabus at

2022-23 Spring

SALC 25326 Global Connections before Globalization: Sufis and Seafarers across the Indian Ocean

(HIST 25621, RLST 27392)

This course introduces students to the history of the Indian Ocean as a connected space in the centuries preceding widespread colonialism (ca. 1200-1600). In recent years, scholars have highlighted the Indian Ocean as a critical economic region in the 19th and 20th centuries. But before the industrial revolution and the invention of the steam engine, people from a variety of social backgrounds established contact with each other across Indian Ocean spaces. They formed religious communities, introduced new commodities and goods across space, or were forcibly enslaved and brought across the ocean against their will. By focusing on primary sources and first-person accounts—travelogues, letters, memoirs, and histories—we will explore the question of what we can learn about Indian Ocean worlds before globalization through consideration of individual lives. What picture do we get of a world on the brink of major social, political, and technological changes from reading about individuals’ experiences? How can they decenter modern conceptions of space and periodization? In the course, we will pay special attention to the formation of religious networks, religious interactions, and histories of enslavement across the Indian Ocean.

2022-23 Winter

SALC 22710 /32710 Introduction to Rajasthani Literature


This course will introduce students to the language, genres, and history of literature in the region now known as Rajasthan. Students will gain basic philological skills related to the grammar and vocabulary of the literary languages known as diṅgal and piṅgal and the paleography and codicology of written sources in those languages (stone inscriptions and paper manuscripts), as well as receive a general overview of the various literary traditions of the region. We will read excerpts from works representing different genres; this survey will thus be general rather than comprehensive. We will discuss questions such as the following: what constitutes a ‘language’, literary or otherwise, in precolonial South Asia? What distinguishes a ‘region’ as a geographical and cultural entity? What constitutes a literary genre or ‘tradition’?

2022-23 Spring

SALC 40106 Research Themes in South Asian Studies: Textual Transformations - From Manuscript to Print

(HIST 46606)

This course offers an introduction to the theory and practice of book history and print culture studies, a relatively recent and vibrant field of inquiry in South Asian Studies. The course will explore some of the main theoretical approaches, themes, and methodologies of the history of the book in comparative perspective, and discuss the specific conditions and challenges facing scholars of book history in South Asia. Topics include orality and literacy, technologies of scribal and print production, the sociology of texts, authorship and authority, the print “revolution” and knowledge formation under colonial rule, material cultures of the book, the economy of the book trade, popular print, and readership and consumption. We will also engage with texts as material artifacts and look at the changing contexts, techniques, and practices of book production in the transition from manuscript to print. This graduate course is open to advanced undergraduates (instructor consent required).

2022-23 Autumn

SALC 47903 Writing, Reading, and Singing in Bengal, 8th to 19th AD

(BANG 47903, NEHC 47903)

The course offers an introduction to the literary traditions of Bengal (today’s West Bengal in India, and Bangladesh). We will study the making of Bengal as a region of literary production through a selection of secondary and primary sources in translation. We will look at how literature and literacy have been defined in various contexts up to the colonial period and discuss what constituted the literary identity of Bengal’s various linguistic traditions. We will approach the topics of reading practices and genres from the perspective of both material culture (script and scribal practices, manuscript formats, etc.) and the conceptual categories underlying literary genres and the linguistic economy of Bengal (scholastic and non-scholastic, classical and vernacular languages, individual reading and publicly performed texts, hinduyani and musalmani). Even if Bengali language and literature stand at the center of this course, we will also discuss the literary traditions that predate the formation of Bengali literature and were part of the background of the making of Bengali texts (Sanskrit, Apabhramsha, Arabic, Persian, Maithili, and Awadhi literature). The aim of the course is to introduce students to precolonial Bengali literature in its conceptual, aesthetic, and historical dimensions. The course will address topics of interest for students in comparative literature, religious studies, history, linguistics, medieval studies, book history, musicology or performance studies.

2022-23 Autumn

SALC 28701 Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s Contribution in Colonial and Post-colonial India

(SALC 38701)

The course examines the life, work, and career of Acharya Vinoba Bhave (1895-1982) in colonial and postcolonial India. We read Bhave – who was widely touted as M.K. Gandhi’s ‘spiritual’ successor – as developing a significant response to the cardinal questions and concerns of his time: building a national community free from stratification, exploitation, and communal strife while abiding by the values of non-violence (ahiṃsā) and truth (satya). Drawing upon Gandhi’s ingenious mobilisation of the term, Bhave found his answer in the ideal of sarvodaya (universal upliftment) and laboured, throughout his long and illustrious life, to make it into an instrument of thought and action. This course will offer a multi-dimensional view of Vinoba’s ideas and socio-political initiatives – including, but not limited to the well-known Bhoodan Movement (1951). We think about Bhave as a political thinker and actor while also paying due attention to some of his other, equally significant contributions. These would comprise his writings on education/pedagogy, ecological conservation, and India’s religious philosophies and languages. Bhave’s erudite and experimental wisdom in reinterpreting the revered Bhagavadgītā will receive special attention. We end by raising some questions of relevance. Are Vinoba Bhave’s principles pertinent in the twenty-first century? Can they be reshaped according to our more global needs and made to speak to the many predicaments of a deeply destructive present?

2022-23 Autumn

SALC 25325 Setting Sound Standards: Music, Media, and Censorship in South Asia

(MUSI 23322, TAPS 20215, MAAD 10325 )

This course aims to introduce students to various musical and performance traditions in South Asia and their evolution within regimes of institutional, legal and media censorship. The course aims to understand how media environments and cultures of censorship are in some ways fundamental to shaping performance cultures in South Asia in the twentieth century. How do traditions of musical performance entrenched in the politics of caste, communalism, religion, sexuality and gender interact with regimes of censorship and new media? How do the latter remake and unmake said traditions? Be it the mid-century ban on film music by All India Radio to reflect the aspirations of a newly-emerging nation or the appropriation and urbanization of ‘folk’ musical practices within the recording studios in Nepal by upper-caste, upper-class male performers- censorship and media infrastructures have been integral to the current ontologies of diverse musical genres in South Asia. Through the analysis of a variety of primary and secondary texts on performance and musical aesthetics, media and music ethnographies, reception and production histories as well as critical listening/viewing exercises, this course seeks to complicate mainstream Euro-American narratives that tend to posit media-modernities as global and uniform. We will seek to understand how South Asian musical cultures and sound practices enter into a creative interplay with musical discourses and media-materialities emerging in the West.

Cancelled for Aut 22

2022-23 Autumn

SALC 34300 Buddhist Poetry in India

(DVPR 34300, HREL 34300 MDVL 26250 RLST 26250 RLVC 34300)

The substantial Buddhist contribution to Indian poetry is of interest for what it teaches us of both Buddhism and the broad development of Indian literature. The present course will focus upon three phases in this history, with attention to what changes of language and literary genre tell us of the transformations of Indian religious culture from the last centuries B.C.E. to about the year 1000. Readings (all in translation) will include the Therīgāthā, a collection of verses written in Pali and the most ancient Indian example of womens’ literature, selections from the work of the great Sanskrit poets Aśvaghoṣa, Āryaśūra, and Mātṛceta, and the mystical songs, in the Apabhraṃśa language, of the Buddhist tantric saints.

Matthew Kapstein
2021-22 Autumn

SALC 34350 Introduction to Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit

(HREL 34350, DVPR 34350)

Complementing the course on Buddhist Poetry in India, we will be reading a celebrated verse scripture, the Prajñāpāramitā-ratnaguṇa-sañcaya-gāthā (“Verses Gathering the Jewel-like Qualities of the Perfection of Wisdom”) in both its Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit original and its Tibetan translation. (Students are required to have had at least two years of either Sanskrit or Tibetan – it will not be necessary to do both.) Those wishing to take the course for Sanskrit credit should contact Prof. Kapstein ( to determine the appropriate course number.

Matthew Kapstein
2021-22 Autumn

SALC 27904 /43800 Wives, Widows, and Prostitutes: Indian Literature and the "Women's Question"

(GNSE 27902 / GNSE 47900)

From the early 19th century onward, the debate on the status of Indian women was an integral part of the discourse on the state of civilization, Hindu tradition, and social reform in colonial India. This course will explore how Indian authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries engaged with the so-called "women's question." Caught between middle-class conservatism and the urge for social reform, Hindi and Urdu writers addressed controversial issues such as female education, child marriage, widow remarriage, and prostitution in their fictional and discursive writings. We will explore the tensions of a literary and social agenda that advocated the 'uplift' of women as a necessary precondition for the progress of the nation, while also expressing patriarchal fears about women's rights and freedom. The course is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Basic knowledge of Hindi and/or Urdu is preferable, but not required. We will read works by Nazir Ahmad, Premcand, Jainendra Kumar, Mirza Hadi Ruswa, and Mahadevi Varma in English translation, and also look at texts used in Indian female education at the time.

2021-22 Spring
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