South Asian Languages and Civilizations

Quad Entrance

The Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations (SALC) was founded in 1966. The Department emphasizes a text-based approach to the study of historical, social, literary, and political issues of South Asia. Language training is another core component of the Department and the following languages are taught through SALC: Bangla, Hindi, Pali, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Tibetan, and Urdu. MAPH students taking SALC coursework may also find relevant courses in Cinema and Media Studies, Comparative Literature, Divinity, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and Philosophy.

Selected Faculty

Whitney Cox

Whitney Cox

Sanskrit Language and Literature, Premodern Tamil Language and Literature, History of Medieval South India
Rochona Majumdar

Rochona Majumdar

Indian Cinema, Gender and Marriage in Colonial India, Indian Intellectual Thought

Sample Courses

SALC 48403 - Text and World in Medieval India (Whitney Cox)
This course is intended as a graduate seminar (undergraduates are welcome to attend, too) concentrating on the cultural and intellectual history of medieval southern Asia.  For the purposes of the course, ‘medieval’ is roughly delimited by the half-millennium 700-1200 CE; ‘southern Asia’ refers mostly to the Indian subcontinent, with collateral attention paid to mainland and insular Southeast Asia. The recurrent focus will be on the reciprocal connections between texts—as physical artifacts, concretizations of cultural knowledge, articulations of traditions of wisdom, and realizations of intentional projects—and the social and physical world of their emergence and circulation.  The class meetings will be divided between thematic and regional topics.  Themes include the royal court, the nature of religious plurality, literary intertextuality, and the nature and efficacy of linguistic reference; regional concentrations include the Tamil country, Pāla-Sena Bengal, Angkor, central Java, and Kashmir.

SALC 30509 - Hindi Cinema: from Bombay to Bollywood (Rochona Majumdar)
This course maps the transformation of the Hindi film industry in India. Starting out as a regional film production center, how did the Bombay film industry and Hindi cinema gain the reputation of being the leader of Indian cinema? This despite the fact that most critical acclaim, by the state and film critics, was reserved for “art cinema.” Through an analysis of Hindi films from the 1950s to the present we map the main trends of this complex artistic/industrial complex to arrive at an understanding of the deep connect between cinema and other social imaginaries. 

SALC 30800 - Music of South Asia (Kaley Mason)
This course examines the music of South Asia as an aesthetic domain with both unity and particularity in the region. The unity of the North and South Indian classical traditions is treated historically and analytically, with special emphasis placed on correlating their musical and mythological aspects. The classical traditions are contrasted with regional, tribal, and folk music with respect to fundamental conceptualizations of music and the roles it plays in society. In addition, the repertories of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka, as well as states and nations bordering the region, are covered. Music is also considered as a component of myth, religion, popular culture, and the confrontation with modernity.

SALC 47301 - Islam in Modern South Asia (Francis Robinson)
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Islam in South Asia came to embrace roughly one third of the Muslims of the world.  It also moved from being primarily a receiver of Islamic influences from outside the subcontinent to increasingly being a transmitter of influences to the wider Muslim world. The beginning of the period saw great changes for Muslims as, after 600 years of wielding power, they became subject to British rule.  In this context there was a ferment of new ideas as Muslims confronted the challenges of maintaining a Muslim society without power and in the face of the apparent triumph of Western civilisation. Out of the ferment came ideas and institutions which were to have great influence in South Asia, but also far beyond: the Islamic modernism of Saiyid Ahmad Khan, his Aligarh movei Ahl-i Hadith and the Tablighi Jama<at; and the political Islam pioneered by Mawlana Mawdudi and his Jama<ati Islami.  On the political side there was the development of Muslim separatism, eventually led by the remarkable Jinnah, and culminating in the partition of British India at independence.  A growing issue from the 1920s was what should be the relationship between Islam and the modern state.  Arguably, Pakistan was to be the laboratory in which the problem was worked out.  But it was no less a problem for Muslims in India and Bangladesh, and in all these states finding a solution has been subject to the play of politics, national and international. While covering the ground above the course will also be concerned to address these themes amongst others: the relationship between Islam and the Indic world in which it moved; and issues of authority, identity, emerging individualism, Pan-Islamic loyalties and modernities.

SALC 43800 - Wives, Widows, Prostitutes: Indian Lit & the Women's Question (Ulrike Stark)
From the early nineteenth century onward, the debate on the condition and 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 explores 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 other 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. 

SALC 49300 - South Asian Aesthetics: Rasa to Rap, Kamasutra to Kant (Tyler Williams)
This course introduces students to the rich traditions of aesthetic thought in South Asia, a region that includes (among others) the modern-day states of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. By engaging with theories of art, literature and music from the Indic and Indo-Persian traditions, we will attempt to better understand what happens in an aesthetic experience. A central concern will be thinking about how much any aesthetic tradition, be it South Asian or other, is rooted in the particular epistemic and cultural values of the society that produced it; we will therefore explore how ideas from the South Asian tradition can help us to understand not only South Asian material, but art in other societies as well, and to re-think the boundaries of 'aesthetic' thought. 

A complete listing of offerings is available at the Department’s course page.

Recent SALC Thesis Projects

"The Memoirs of a Veiled Princess: Zeb-un-Nisa, Her Poetry and the Mughal Harem"
Anurag Advani, MAPH '15
Advisor: Muzaffar Alam

"To Hell and Back: The Journeys in Homer’s Odyssey and Valmiki’s Ramayana"
Parth Joshi, MAPH '15
Advisor: Wendy Doniger