Undergraduate Courses

Neuro-Culture and Asian Philosophies of Mind (AS 255 new in Fall 2019)

This course teaches students how to develop conversations between discourses on neuro-culture and Asian philosophies of mind. Questioning the ‘mind’ is a complicated task, taken up by numerous philosophical traditions around the world and, more recently, through modern scientific inquiry into the mind and consciousness.  The encounter between Asian philosophical traditions and neuroscience, in particular, has yielded an enormous amount of research, conversations, cultural products, and new ways to frame, understand, control and deconstruct the self. Drawing from a variety of practice-based Asian traditions (including Sikh, Hindu and  Buddhist and Daoist ) this course will explore the intersection of these two ongoing conversations (scientific and philosophical) to challenge students to engage across the borders of their own experiences, interests, and linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Assignments will be composed of weekly responses based on specific, instructor designed questions at the intersection of two short readings, one from neuroscientific work and one from Asian philosophy in translation. This course will use the conversation between popular neuroscience and Asian philosophy in translation as a means of building both a critical and productive literacy with the way each is presented to English language audiences, as a set of tools for challenging commonplace understandings of the self, and as an accessible entry point into the further student of philosophy in Asia.


Philosophy and Religion in Asia  (AS 220)

This course will introduce students to some of the major philosophical teachings from Asia that have existed from ancient times to the present. Representative material will be drawn especially from Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sufi, Sikh, Daoist and Confucian schools of thought. Readings will consist largely of primary materials translated into English. The main focus of the course will be to highlight the central philosophical concepts and to ask how these ideas contribute to their respective world-views and ethical outlooks, and how they affect the religious expressions of these cultures. Asian 220 will give you the tools to think critically about the diversity of philosophical and religious traditions and ideas that exist in Asia. Students will also gain an understanding of how these philosophical ideas have been influential in shaping the religious cultures of much of Asia. The course also serves as a general introduction to philosophical thinking on a number of profound philosophical questions. Who am I? What is really real? What happens after death? What is the good life? What is the relationship between the individual and society? What is the relationship between spirit and nature? The course also aims to develop the student’s skills in reading, writing and critical thinking.


Violence and Religion in a Secular Age (AS 305)

Recent events have brought the debate about the relationship between religion and violence into the foreground of public debate. Do religions justify and cause violence or are they more appropriately seen as forces for peace and tolerance? In the context of secular modernity, religion has been represented by some as a primary cause violence, social division and war, whilst others have argued that this is a distortion of the ‘true’ significance of religion, which when properly followed promotes peace, harmony, goodwill and social cohesion. Coinciding with the global re-surfacing of religious violence is the work of the media that can be seen both as a key agent in transforming the public’s reception of the relationship between religion and violence, and in many ways affecting the course of national and international politics itself.  This course will explore the relationship between secularism and the globalization of religion and violence. Specific themes for discussion may include but are not limited to: Reconceptualizing the relationship between religion and violence; Violence as an ideological construct; 9/11 and the War on Terrorism; Racial and Religious Violence in America etc


Race, Caste and Religion in India and the United States (AS 334)

This course looks at patterns of prejudice in a comparative study of India and the United States. It examines the relationship between Race, Caste and Religion in two very different democracies, India and the United States. To do this, in the first part of the course,  we shall compare the historical struggles of two geographically disparate populations in India and the United States, namely, Indian Dalits (once known as Untouchables) and African Americans,  Through this comparison we probe the language and construction of race, nation, religion, color, and ethnicity, as well as the linkages between these categories. The juxtaposition of these very different locations and histories, each with its own public and private narratives of struggle, will allow us to analyze and discuss issues at the heart of public policy agenda, such as asylum, immigration, hate crimes and citizenship. The second part of the course will look at more recent forms of racial and religious profiling related to the effects of the post 9/11 War on Terror in both India and the United States. In this way the course will introduce students to systematic patterns of intolerance and chauvinism in Europe, India and the US – hence covering both Asia and the West.


War Machines:  Religious Military Orders of the World (AS 303)

This course looks at the representation in film and literature of some of the more well known militant religious orders, movements and ideas that have combined religion and violence in unique ways. These include movements and orders inspired by Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Daoism and Buddhism . Students will be introduced to the historical, cultural and ethnic contexts in which these movements arose and the influence they exerted in shaping the societies around them. The focus of the course will be to examine: (i)  how each of these movements was able to justify violence in the name of spirituality, and the idea of religious wars; (ii) whether their legacies have managed to survive in the modern world; (iii) the relationship between meditation and the martial arts in Christian asceticism, Japanese aikido, Hindu yoga, Sikh gatka, Zen Buddhism, and Islamic jihad. The course will be taught as a discussion seminar with a very minimal lecture component. The course will involve an analysis of how these traditions have been presented in modern film and cinema. The last two weeks of the course we shall expand our analysis to look at the relationship between war, politics and the modern ‘superhero’. To what extent does the figure of the ‘superhero’ address some of the themes discussed earlier in the semester. As well as regular readings, students will be expected to watch and analyse relevant films and documentaries, and to carry out group projects. Courses assessment will be mainly on the basis of weekly forum posts.


Introduction to Sikhism (AS 219)

Sikhism’s relatively short but eventful history provides a fascinating insight into one of South Asia’s most vibrant sub-cultures. By taking contemporary Sikhism’s preoccupation with the enigmatic figure of the “Warrior-Saint” (sant-sipahi) as its focus, this course will examine a variety of different themes including, but not limited to, problems of migration, racial stereotyping, the relationship between violence and mysticism, or politics and religion.  This interdisciplinary course begins by providing an introduction to the forms and central ideas of Sikh culture, ethnicity and religion. In weeks 1-3 we shall study the historical development of Sikh traditions and the construction and institutionalisation of its major beliefs, practices and festivals. In addition the course will aim to explore the Sikh textual and interpretive traditions. Students will be expected to analyse the complex interactions that have given rise to the contemporary interpretive scene, and will be encouraged to link their understanding of the various traditions to the present day problems of textual transmission and reception in global diasporas. In the second part of the course (weeks 8-14) we shall probe some of the central teachings and leading ideas in Sikhism (traditionally known as Gurmat). By focusing on the dual context of contemporary Sikhism situated between its Indian and modern Western diasporic contexts, we shall explore the possibility of a cross-cultural dialogue between Gurmat and some central concepts of Western philosophy and religion. In the latter part of the course we shall look at the visual perception Sikhs in the West, asking how the visual appearance of Sikhs has affected their treatment in film, literature and real life. Special reference will be made to the racial profiling of Sikhs in the US and Europe as result of world political events such as the US-Iran crisis in 1979 and 9/11, and the classification of Sikhs as a race in British law during the 1960’s.


Philosophy of the Sikh Gurus  (AS 430)

The Sikh Gurus comprise a unique lineage of ten successive spiritual masters who passed on their teachings through a large body poetic compositions of surpassing beauty and directness that are designed to be sung or recited. These teachings (or gurmat) are now enshrined in the two key scriptures of the Sikh tradition: the Guru Granth Sahib and the Dasam Granth, both recognized masterpieces of Indian literature. This course will examine the mystical and philosophical aspects of these teachings and their relation to contemporary practice. At the heart of this course is the following question: how can we interpret these teachings today in a foreign language such as English, and make them relevant to today’s complex world. Specifically we shall be looking at some of the critical terms used by the Sikh Gurus and ask what these terms tell us about the nature of God, the nature of Man, and broader themes such as Time and Language, Self and Mind, Authority, Ethics etc.      The aim of the course is to explore aspects of Sikh philosophy, religious experience and ethics. But such an undertaking faces two immediate problems. First, while there are indigenous traditions of Sikh thought, teaching and praxis (collectively called gurmat or simply  sikhī: lit. the teachings of the Guru) going back several centuries, many of these have been affected by Sikhism’s encounter with modernity and imperialism. Second, ever since the first encounters between Asian and Europe in the 19th C, the West has reserved the right to define the terms ‘philosophy’, ‘religion’ and ‘ethics’. Indeed, from this standpoint non-Western cultures, properly speaking, do not have ‘philosophy’. As such, ‘philosophy’ and the task of thinking, despite evidence to the contrary, has come to be regarded  as uniquely European. We see this particularly in the way that philosophical and theoretical knowledge is organized in the modern university system. If other traditions of philosophy are even acknowledged, they exist only at the margins of history, that is to say, as historical, which means no longer alive, or as traditions whose essence has been exhausted.


Sikhism and Modernity (AS 580)

This course looks at the interaction of one of South Asia’s most visible and distinctive communities (the Sikhs) with modernity. The course will bring together South Asian and European imperial history together with scholarship on trans-nationalism and postcoloniality. The course will begin by looking at the creation of the modern Sikh imaginary by mapping the emergence of nationalist discourses on Sikh religion, history and politics, before moving on to study anti-colonial movements such as the Ghaddar movement, the role of Sikhs in the Indian Independence Movement, and Sikh separatism in the wake of the events of 1984. One of our concerns will be to revaluate the shifting, complex and often competing visions of Sikh identity over the last two centuries to the present day. Seminar topics may include, but are not limited to, discussions of contemporary Sikh responses to modern ethical dilemmas; responses to secularism and multiculturalism; capitalism and spirituality; globalization and diaspora; gender; the problem of caste; projections of Sikhs and Punjabis in cinema; music; art; wars of scholarship; notions of community, the internet etc..


Sikh Diaspora

(details forthcoming)


What is Religion?   (AS 306)

What are people looking for when they turn to religion, and what kind of fulfillment do they find in the experience? Why did religion seem to have disappeared by the mid-20th century before returning with a vengeance only a few decades later? Is ‘religion’ sui generis or was it invented in the 19th century, the product of the Western scholarly imagination? The aim of this course is to get students to think critically about religion in its many facets by introducing students to important contemporary themes and to the writings of key thinkers who have influenced the contemporary understanding and academic study of religion. We will discuss the construction of the modern concept of religion and its career as a theoretical concept, as an academic discipline and as a public discourse. Students should expect to become acquainted with philosophical approaches to the study of religion and to the work of theorists who have contributed to some of the main debates in modern religious studies. By way of reference to studies of Asian and Western religious traditions, students will also be expected to examine a variety of critical issues that intersect with the contemporary study of religion, such as gender, colonialism, metaphysics, nihilism, belief, love, politics, capitalism, mysticism and spirituality, secularization, postmodernism, pluralism etc.. The course will taught primarily as a student colloquium.  The course is divided into 3 parts. Part 1 introduces students to the modern liberal understanding of religion that underpins the discourses of the two main sub-disciplines in the study of religion, namely, Philosophy of Religion and World Religions. Our text will be John Hick’s An Interpretation of Religion. Part 2 of the course will look at readings and authors that question the prevalent understanding of religion and religious discourse. We shall consider alternative ways of understanding common ‘religious’ terms such as Belief, Faith,  Nihilism, Mysticism and Experience. Part 3 will focus on the relationship between Religion and Capitalism and look more closely at the question of pluralism.


Postcolonial Theory  (AS 380)

European imperialism in Asia developed in a complex manner through conscious planning and contingent occurrences. As a result of this complex development something happened to imperial culture for which it had not bargained: imperial culture found itself appropriated in projects of counter-colonial resistance which drew upon the many different indigenous local and hybrid processes of self-determination to resist and sometimes replace the power of imperial cultural knowledge. Post-coloniality is the result of this interaction between imperial culture and complex indigenous cultural practices. The aim of this course is to theorize this interaction between European metropole and its colonies in various parts of Asia. Our theorization may involve discussion about various kinds of experiences of race, migration, translation, suppression, resistance , representation, gender as well as responses to the master discourses of imperial Europe such as religion, history, linguistics and philosophy. In this year’s course we shall look closely at two things: (i) problems in the conceptualization of  postcolonial agency, i.e. how understandings of the nature of self and worldly reality inflect theories of action and capacity; (ii) the relationship between colonialism and religion as well as the relationship between religion and postcoloniality with special emphasis on the case of India.


Gurbani Vichaar: Language and Interpretation of Sikh Scripture