First-Year Studies: Cultures and Arts of India


The Indian subcontinent hosts many cultures grounded in Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, secular, and unassimilated traditions. This seminar addresses the diverse cultural traditions of India through literature and the visual arts. It also introduces first-year students to history, anthropology of religions, and cultural studies, bridging college-level work in both humanities and social sciences. Beginning with core mythologies and iconography, we explore modes of Indian thought and expression found in devotional texts, court poetry, popular narratives, Hindu temple sculpture, and Mughul miniature painting. Artistic production under Mughal and British imperial rule provides a framework for our study of the formation of modern Indian identities. Sectarian movements and caste hierarchies are analyzed in relation to systems of patronage. We move on to explore contemporary Indian fiction and poetry, photography and film. We interpret aesthetic, religious, economic, and political aspects of South Asian arts in light of postcolonial theories of production and consumption. How do arts of the 21st century both reflect and transform traditional myths and images? What social agendas have led to conventional distinctions between “classical” and “folk” arts, and why are such definitions now widely rejected? Why does the Indian canon include cuisine and body decoration among classical art forms? Which arts historically have been available to women? How have South Asian artists “written back” to orientalist representations?