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Harvard offers a wide array of courses on South Asia, ranging from language to history, politics, economics, religion, and much more. Check out the what’s on offer for Fall 2022. Please refer to the Course Catalogue for the most up-to-date information. We will continue to add to this list as we hear about more courses.


Courses on South Asia

Contemporary Developing Countries: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Problems

Tarun Khanna, Satchit Balsari, Rahul Mehrotra, Doris Sommer, Krzysztof Gajos Gen Ed 1011

How do you successfully design and implement solutions to intractable social and economic problems in the developing world? What problems do developing countries face, and how can individuals contribute to solutions rather than awaiting the largesse of the state or other actors? Intractable problems – such as lack of access to education and healthcare, forced reliance on contaminated food, deep-seated corruption – are part of the quotidian existence of the vast majority of five of the world’s seven billion people. The course demonstrates that reflecting upon the nature of the developing world’s intractable problems through different lenses helps characterize candidate interventions to address them.

Modern South Asia

Sugata Bose, HIST 1036

This course provides the historical depth in which to understand modern and contemporary South Asia in broad Indian Ocean and global contexts. It explores the history, culture, and political economy of the subcontinent which provides a fascinating laboratory to study such themes as colonialism, nationalism, partition, the modern state, democracy development, religious identities, and relations between Asia and the West. Significant use of primary written sources (in English) and multi-media presentations.

Introduction to Islamic Mystical Traditions

Constructions of Gender, Sexuality, and the Family in South Asian Cultures 

Martha Selby, South Asian Studies 171

Hindu Queenship

Caley Smith, South Asian Studies 181

This course looks at the rich and complex traditions surrounding queenship in South Asia (the cultural area we will call jambudvīpa). We will look at the ways that queens have appeared in literature, inscriptions, and historical narratives, and at the ways the idea of queenship intersects with the categories of woman, wife, sovereign, and goddess. We will look at three millennia of queens, asking how South Asian queens have been thought about and written about, and how that changed over time. We will primarily look at Hindu traditions of queenship, but also engage Buddhist, Jain, and Muslim sources as well. We will gain insight into the ways political realities shape religious traditions, and the ways religious traditions shape political realities.

The Global South Asian Diaspora

Vikrant Dadawala, HIST-LIT 90EZ

Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth century, people of South Asian heritage emigrated out of their ancestral homelands in vast numbers: Hindus and Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists, farm workers and computer engineers. An estimates thirty million people of South Asian heritage live outside the India subcontinent today, with significant communities in the United Kingdom, the United States, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and the Middle East. Why did South Asians choose to settle in new countries? How did the act of emigration transform their sense of religious, ethnic, and racial identity?

The Rise of Authoritarian Populism

Pippa Norris, DPI 418

The rise of authoritarian populism in recent years has generated new challenges in many affluent societies and long-established democracies, such as the US, UK, Germany, Italy, Greece, and France, as well as in states worldwide, such as in Venezuela, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, the Philippines, Thailand, and India. The course addresses three questions: What explains the rise of these forces? What are the consequences? And what can be done to mitigate the risks?

Addressing the Global Climate Crisis: Challenges for Both Developed and Developing Economies

Michael McElroy, ESPP 90N

The seminar will discuss the nature of the climate challenge and the implications it poses for different communities and different parts of the world. Mitigating negative impacts of human induced climate change will require an urgent transition from the current global fossil fuel-based energy economy to one based on renewable alternatives. Possibilities include wind, solar, hydro, biomass and potentially nuclear. The seminar will review options with specific attention to differences in the challenges faced by developed economies such as the US and Europe and large developing economies such as China, India and parts of Africa. Can we chart a feasible path to net zero global carbon emissions by 2050?

Language and Prehistory

Jay Jasanoff, FRSEMR 34X

It was discovered around 1800 that the major languages of Europe, along with the ancient languages of India and Iran, were descended from an unattested parent, formerly known as “Aryan” or “Indo-Germanic,” but today usually called Proto-Indo-European. The identification of the Indo-European family raised many questions, some purely linguistic (e.g., what was Proto-Indo-European like; was it grammatically complex or “primitive”?), and some more far-reaching (e.g., who were the speakers of Proto-Indo-European; why did Indo-European languages spread so widely?). Questions of the first type eventually led to the birth of the academic field of historical linguistics.

Migration, Refugees, and Human Rights

Jacqueline Bhabha, HLS2424

Migration is a central political and moral issue of our time and its impacts will continue to alter our world throughout this century. Indeed large scale, irregular human migration should be considered the new normal. It affects the lives of millions, unsettles established governments, creates sharply polarizing policy dilemmas and generates far-reaching administrative, economic and political challenges. This course will focus on distress migration, including refugee flight and other forms of forced displacement, evaluated through the lens of human rights. It will address the multifaceted drivers of the phenomenon, including the enduring legacies of colonization, armed conflict, environmental stress and climate change, global inequality, demographic pressures and increasing globalization. The course will also consider the impact of government responses to the COVID 19 pandemic on forced migrants. Migration actors from UN agencies, NGOs and other civil society organizations, and research experts working in a range of field sites will contribute to the class. The course will address the legal frameworks governing migration, and the ethical and pragmatic considerations that influence policies. It will explore the viability of a range of solutions to current migration challenges, including unequal access to protection, the failure of equitable resettlement and the erosion of host empathy/solidarity.

Who needs God? Rethinking God In Light of Hindu and Christian Theologies

Francis Clooney, RELIGION 1059

This course reflects on God — the idea, the reality, the significance — in light of Hindu and Christian scriptures, from philosophical and theological perspectives, and with reference to spiritual paths to union with God — all re-read in light of modern theological questions and doubts about the very idea of “God.” Issues include: the meaning of “God” and knowledge of God; reasons to believe (or not) in God’s existence; God’s relationship to the world, humans, all living beings; divine embodiment and salvation by God; theism and polytheism before and after secularism and atheism. Knowing both Hindu and Christian traditions on God clarifies each tradition, as we learn from their great similarities and great differences. And: how might studying God comparatively change our God-talk, God-practice, God-love here and now? Quiet course for noisy times. Weekly written responses, plus two 10-12 page papers. Jointly offered in the Faculty of Arts and Science as Religion 1059.

Introduction to Vedic Literature and Culture

Michael Witzel , SANSKRIT108

This course discusses the earliest Indian texts, c. 1200-500 BCE.  Reading and interpreting excerpts (in English) from the Rgveda, Atharvaveda, Yajurveda prose, Brahmanas/Aranyakas, Upanisads, and early Sutras: their contents, poetics/style, and ritual, philosophical, cultural background. — along with the development of Indo-European-derived, complicated religious poetry to technical ritual prose, and philosophical speculation in the Upanisads.

Language Offerings

Harvard offers courses in many languages related to South Asia, including Hindi-Urdu, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Nepali, Sanskrit and Tamil. Please check the  course pages to see the levels and courses available for Fall 2022.