Asian Studies

Asian Studies is an interdisciplinary field grounded in current approaches to the varied regions of Asia. Seminars and lectures are offered on China, Japan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Indonesia. Courses explore Asian cultures, geographies, histories, societies, and religions. Visual and performing arts are included in the Asian Studies curriculum. Faculty, trained in languages of their areas, draw on extensive field experience in Asia. Their courses bridge humanities, social sciences, and global studies.

Students are encouraged to consider studying in Asia during their junior year. The Office of International Programs assists students in locating appropriate opportunities. Recent Sarah Lawrence College students have participated in programs of study in China, India, and Japan.

2018-2019 Courses

Asian Studies

First-Year Studies: Reform and Revolution: China’s 20th Century

Open , FYS—Year

In 1900, China was a faltering empire ruled by an autocratic foreign dynastic house and an entrenched bureaucracy of Confucian officials. Its sovereignty heavily battered and its territory compromised by foreign powers, China was commonly called “The Sick Man of Asia.” In 2000, China was a modern nation-state ruled by an authoritarian party and an entrenched bureaucracy of technocrats and administrators. With a surging economy, swollen foreign reserves, dazzling modern cities, and a large and technologically advanced military, it is regularly predicted to be the next global superpower. Yet, the path between these two startlingly different points was anything but smooth. China’s 20th century was a tortuous one. Policymakers, elites, and the common people oscillated between the poles of reform and revolution—bouts of wild radicalism alternated with more sober policies—as they pursued changes that they hoped would bring a better society and nation. This class examines some of the major events and personalities of this arduous century and its momentous political, social, and cultural changes. We will learn and apply skills of historical analysis to primary documents (in translation), some fiction, and film. Along the way, we will encounter a rich cast of characters, including China’s “national father” Sun Yat-sen, colorful warlords, corrupt bureaucrats, fervent intellectuals, protesting youths, heroic communist martyrs, the towering and enigmatic chairman Mao Zedong, long-suffering peasants, and fanatical Red Guards. These men and women made and remade modern China. This class is history and, thus, is not primarily concerned with contemporary China; but, by the end of the year, students will be well-equipped with an understanding of China’s recent past—knowledge that will help immeasurably in making sense of today’s China as it becomes increasingly important in our globalized economy and society.

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Writing India: Transnational Narratives

Open , Seminar—Fall

The global visibility of South Asian writers has changed the face of contemporary English literature. Many writers from the Indian subcontinent continue to narrate tumultuous events surrounding the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan that occurred with independence from British rule. Their writings narrate legacies and utopian imaginings of the past in light of current dystopic visions and optimistic aspirations. The seminar addresses themes of identity, fragmentation, hybridity, memory, and alienation that link South Asian literary production to postcolonial writing from varied cultures of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Accounts of South Asian communal violence reflect global urgencies. The cultural space of India has been repeatedly transformed and redeployed according to varied cultural projects, political interests, and economic agendas. After briefly considering representations of India in early chronicles of Chinese, Greek, and Persian travelers, we explore modern constructions of India in excerpts from writers of the British Raj. Our major focus is on India as remembered and imagined in selected works of writers, including Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. Film adaptations are included. We apply interdisciplinary critical inquiry as we pursue a literature that shifts increasingly from narrating the nation to narrating its diasporic fragments in transnational contexts.

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The Atomic Bombs as History, Experience, and Culture: Washington, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki

Open , Seminar—Fall

In January 2018, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the hands of the Doomsday Clock (yes, it’s a thing) at two minutes to midnight, the nearest it has been to catastrophe since 1953. In February, Putin announced that Russia has developed “invincible” nukes capable of hitting virtually anywhere on the globe, while Donald Trump goaded Kim Jong-un with tweets about the size of his nuclear “button.” With world leaders flirting with the prospect of nuclear holocaust, an understanding of the only instance of nuclear warfare is again relevant—even crucial. Through a rich variety of sources (textual, visual, and cinematic), this seminar will examine the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 from three major perspectives. First, reading scholarship and primary documents, we will look at the decision to drop the bombs, as well as the postwar claims justifying them. We will challenge the American narrative that the bombings were militarily necessary, while also putting them into the historical context of World War II—specifically, strategic bombing of nonmilitary targets, prospects of Japanese surrender in the final months of the conflict, and the looming Cold War with Russia. Second, we will confront the effects of the bombs on Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and their populations. Technical descriptions and firsthand accounts will help us grasp the unique destructiveness of the atomic bombs on both bodies and buildings, as well as how people coped with that destructiveness. The diary of Michihiko Hachiya, for example, will reveal a medical doctor’s observations on the breakdown of society and how ordinary Japanese dealt with the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. And finally, the course examines the impact of the bombs on Japan’s postwar culture, including the profound sense of victimization they imparted, which has complicated Japanese narratives about World War II and inspired an abiding pacifism in Japanese society. In a different vein, serious literature—such as Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse—will open up the relevance of atomic narratives by exploring the social alienation endured by the hibakusha (bomb survivors) in postwar Japan. Shōmei Tōmatsu's photography of Nagasaki and its hibakusha will provide a visual window on the bombs’ legacy, as well. We will also examine some popular culture—the original (1954) Godzilla (Gojirō) movie and some anime or manga—for the ways in which the bombs were appropriated and invoked in apocalyptic imagery, imagery that expressed a distinctive understanding of the dark side of science and technology and made a lasting contribution to wider global culture.

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Images of India: Text/Photo/Film

Open , Seminar—Spring

This seminar addresses colonial and postcolonial representations of India. For centuries, India has been imagined and imaged through the lens of orientalism. In recent decades, writers and visual artists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have been actively engaged in reinterpreting the British colonial impact on South Asia. Their work presents sensibilities of the colonized in counter narration to images previously established during the Raj. Highlighting previously unexposed impressions, such works inevitably supplement, usually challenge, and frequently undermine traditional accounts underwritten by imperialist interests. Colonial and orientalist discourses depicted peoples of the Indian subcontinent both in terms of degradation and in terms of a romance of empire, thereby rationalizing various economic, political, and psychological agendas. The external invention and deployment of the term “Indian” is emblematic of the epoch, with colonial designation presuming to reframe indigenous identity. Postcolonial writers and artists are, consequently, renegotiating identities. What does it mean to be seen as an Indian? What historical claims are implicit in allegories of ethnicity, linguistic region, and nation? How do such claims inform events taking place today, given the resurgence of Hindu fundamentalism? For this seminar on the semiotics and politics of culture, sources include works by influential South Asian writers, photographers, and filmmakers.

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Personal Narratives: Identity and History in Modern China

Open , Seminar—Spring

This seminar explores the realm of private life and individual identity and its relationship to the historical events and changes taking place in modern China from the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) into the Reform era (2000s). Our investigations will cover an eclectic mix of “personal” writings: diaries, letters, memoirs, oral testimony, autobiographies, third-party anthropological reconstructions of individuals, and (auto)biographical fiction. Among others, we will encounter late imperial Confucian radicals and mystics, petty literati, young urban women and their mothers with bound feet, peasants, radical revolutionaries, intellectuals, Maoist Red Guards, and factory workers. These personal narratives not only open up windows on the lives and times of their writers but also allow us to investigate the intersection between the practice of writing and identity construction in modern China. The primary readings will be contextualized with historical scholarship and supplemented by selections from some important theorists (Benedict Anderson, Anthony Giddens, and René Girard) that provide interdisciplinary analytical tools to explore the construction of personal identity and the self. We will ask ourselves how the writers of the personal writings present themselves: What are their self-conceptions and self-deceptions? Where does their sense of “self” come from, and how do they construct private selves through writing? We should even dare to ask whether these categories of “private” and “self” are relevant. The rapid, often traumatic, changes of modern China will cause us to consider how these people understood and situated themselves in wider society and the events of their time and, thus, will raise questions about the imaginative constructions of national (or social) communities that are smuggled inside these “personal” stories.

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Reading China’s Revolutions Through Fiction and Memoir

Open , Seminar—Spring

Some of the most consequential and revolutionary prose written in 20th-century China is to be found neither in history nor politics but in fiction and memoir. Indeed, state leaders, reformers, and revolutionaries all believed that fiction was central in their push toward political change and national modernization. The premise of this course is that literature offers an important glimpse into the individual, social, and cultural goals and ramifications of China’s political revolutions. More specifically, the course will look at the short-story fiction and memoirs produced following the 1911 revolution and May Fourth Movement (1919), the 1949 communist revolution, the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and the post-Mao era (1976-1990). Although we will use various methods of literary analysis, the primary approach to the readings will be historical. Topics to be explored include: the ways in which early writers viewed the problems of traditional literature, the role of literature in bringing about social and political change, the tension between the individual and society, and changing notions of gender. We will also look at the ways in which some writers (among them Lu Xun and Ding Ling) created new narrative techniques to embody their vision of social realism and in which others adopted Western literary techniques to convey their self-image as “modern” or “international” writers.

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Religion and the State in China

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

News coverage of China often highlights the government’s persecution of religious groups, among them Falungong and Tibetan Buddhism. And yet, the same government tolerates a widespread cult to the deceased Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong as the god of wealth and business success. This course seeks to place China's often contradictory attitudes toward religion within a broader historical and cultural context by looking at the rise and unfolding of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and popular religion. We will focus on two related themes: 1) how different religious groups in China interacted with and affected the state; and 2) how the state created its own religious structure and ultimately shaped the various religions. Questions to be raised will include the following: How did the traditional religions both support and oppose the state? How did the state adopt the symbols and practices of these religions to legitimize its authority? How did the traditional Chinese state conceive of the sacred role of the emperor? What assumption led to its creation of a state religion that controlled private religious practices? How has the contemporary Chinese government borrowed, transformed, or eradicated the traditional relationships between religious groups and the state? We will attempt to answer these questions from a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses religious, institutional, intellectual, and cultural perspectives. Although readings will include secondary sources, emphasis will be placed on primary documents. Sources will include government edicts, ritual manuals, legal cases, religious texts, temple records, private memoirs and diaries, miracle tales, didactic fiction, and folklore.

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Sacrifice

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

This seminar explores themes of sacrifice in classical Indian and Western traditions. After exploring case studies from ancient India and Greece, we analyze survivals of classical sacrifice in contemporary literature and cinema. Sacrificial practices bridge religious, political, and economic aspects of culture. The sacrifice of a scapegoat channels violence and legitimizes acts of killing or destruction in order to serve social interests of surrogacy and catharsis. As sacrament, sacrifice represents transformational mystery. As ceremonial exchange, it facilitates negotiations of status, observance of boundaries, and the redistribution of goods. In specific cultural settings, sacrifice functions as celebration, as a manifestation of goodwill, as insurance, and/or as a source of communion. Seminar topics include: offerings, gift exchange, fasting and feasting, the warrior ethic, victimization and martyrdom, bloodletting and scarification, asceticism, and renunciation. The seminar addresses the politics of sacrifice and scapegoating through critical inquiry into sati (widow immolation) in India, charity and service tourism, court rituals and judicial proceedings, the targeting of ethnic scapegoats, and gender bullying. Primary texts include Hindu myth and ritual, Greek tragedies, Akedah paintings, the Roman Catholic Eucharist, and selected contemporary short stories and films. Readings are drawn from anthropology, literature, comparative religions, and cultural studies.

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Pilgrimage and Tourism: South Asian Practices

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

Among global cultures of travel, pilgrimage is prevalent in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Sufi Islamic traditions of South Asia. At temples and shrines throughout the subcontinent, pilgrims perform sacraments, rites of initiation, sacrifices, and other acts of renunciation. Pilgrim fairs and festivals serve multiple functions, providing venues not only for religious expression but also for arts performance, social negotiation, and economic exchange. This seminar explores the proposition that pilgrimage and tourism are functionally indistinguishable. If categories of travel are to be defined, what role, if any, do travelers’ intentions play in such an analysis? Is a spiritually inscribed journey qualitatively different from tourism with a recreational, cultural, or service agenda? How does the transitional process of a journey from home relate to the experience of arrival at a destination? Through a study of travel memoirs, we explore themes of quest, discovery, and personal transformation. Postcolonial writings on spiritually inscribed journeys raise issues of dislocation, exile, memory, and identity. We inquire critically into traditional mappings of “sacred geographies” and the commercial promotion of competing destinations. We analyze travel industries and the specialists who service the many spectacles and attractions found along pilgrim and tourist routes. Films and photographic sources are used extensively. Readings are drawn from cultural studies, history of religions, anthropology, and personal narrative.

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First-Year Studies: How Things Talk: The Linguistic Materialities of Late Capitalism

Open , FYS—Year

One of the effects of advanced capitalism is to complicate the distinction between words and objects and between humans and things. Within the radicalization of market ideologies characterizing our contemporary moment, what counts as inalienable spiritual values as opposed to alienable material entities? Is kindness a virtuous demeanor or a form of immaterial affective labor that requires the performance of specific acts of speech? What should and what should not have a price? Which is the original, and which is the copy? Is a brand a symbol that stands for a product or a product in itself? How can we distinguish medium from message? This course provides an introduction to anthropology’s theories and methods through an investigation of how words and things mediate and enable human experience, creating the complex semiotic landscapes that we inhabit. The aim is to problematize the conventional conceptualizations of language and materiality and show how, within a regime of advanced capitalism, life and labor unfold through complex interplays of semiotic codes, affective registers, and material objects. Throughout the year, students will be introduced to a series of theoretical and ethnographic readings aimed at illustrating the blurred boundaries between words and things, subjects and objects, signs and referents, artworks and artifacts, gifts and commodities, and alienable and inalienable possessions. Aside from achieving a deeper understanding of how our life is shaped by our relation with things and language, students will also be introduced to the craft of ethnography as a method of research and a genre of writing. At the beginning of the fall semester, each participant will be assigned two objects and will be asked to explore them—as an individual item or as a class of objects—through a series of short essays and ethnographic tasks, which may or may not provide the material for a larger conference paper. Contrary to the classic approach in which the ethnographer engages the description of a specific cultural context through the narratives, beliefs, experiences, and actions of human agents, these thing-centered essays will provide mini-ethnographic sketches of how objects produce cultural meanings and social relations. During biweekly group conference meetings, held throughout the fall semester, students will compare notes on their ongoing thing-ethnographies, share their findings, and discuss their theoretical concerns and methodological problems. Students’ thing-ethnographies will also be presented periodically to the entire class during dedicated workshops. The format of these short presentations will be at the discretion of the participant, but students are encouraged to make use of digital voice recording, photography, and video to illustrate the objects and their contexts of use.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open , Seminar—Spring

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a deaf person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists in recent years have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular “lifeworlds” in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such worlds in terms that more orthodox social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology entails an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. Phenomenology, put simply, is the study of experience. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, emotions, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try her or his hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific subjective or intersubjective lifeworld through a combination of interviewing, participant observation research, and ethnographic writing.

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Faking Families: How We Make Kinship

Open , Seminar—Spring

In her study of transnational adoptees, Eleana Kim noted the profound differences between discourses about the immigration of Chinese brides to the United States and those describing the arrival of adopted Chinese baby girls: the former with suspicion and the latter with joy. Two ways that families form are by bringing in spouses and by having children. We tend to assume that family-building involves deeply personal, intimate, and even “natural” acts; but in actual practice, the pragmatics of forming (and disbanding) families are much more complex. There are many instances where biological pregnancy is not possible or not chosen, and there are biological parents who are unable to rear their offspring. Social rules govern the acceptance or rejection of children in particular social groups, depending on factors such as the marital status of their parents or the enactment of appropriate rituals. Western notions of marriage prioritize compatibility between two individuals who choose each other based on love; but in many parts of the world, selecting a suitable spouse and contracting a marriage is the business of entire kin networks. There is great variability, too, in what constitutes “suitable.” To marry a close relative or someone of the same gender may be deemed unnaturally close in some societies, but marriage across a great difference such as age, race, nation, culture or class can also be problematic. And beyond the intimacies of couples and the interests of extended kin are the interests of the nation state. This seminar, then, examines the makings and meanings of kinship connections of parent and spouse at multiple levels, from small communities to global movements. Our topics will include the adoption and fostering of children, both locally and transnationally, in Peru, Chile, Spain, Italy, Ghana, the United States, China, and Korea. We will look at technologies of biological reproduction, including the global movement of genetic material in the business of transnational gestational surrogacy in India. We will look at the ways in which marriages are contracted in a variety of social and cultural settings, including China and Korea, and the ways in which they are configured by race, gender, and citizenship. Our questions will include: Who are “real” kin? Who can a person marry? Which children are “legitimate”? Why do we hear so little about birth mothers? What is the experience of families with transgender parents or children? What is the compulsion to find genetically connected “kin”? How many mothers can a person have? How is marriage connected to labor migration? Why are the people who care for children in foster care called “parents”? The materials for this class include literature, scholarly articles, ethnographic accounts, historical documents, and film.

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Making the World Go Round: Children as Cogs in the Wheels of Empire

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

At the close of the 1920s, a Miss Wilson presented a paper at a London conference, addressing “The Education of European Children in Contact With Primitive Races.” In her talk, she described the life of rural white Kenyan settler children growing up with African playmates and expressed her concerns about the morally deleterious effects of such play on these future imperial leaders. This particular case illustrates discourse about the role of privileged white children in imperial regimes; but children of diverse social classes, races, and nationalities across the globe were all implicated in processes of imperial expansion and European settler colonization over (at least) the past three centuries. What was believed about children, done to children, and required of children was central to the political and economic success of empire. In this seminar, we will examine a series of cases in order to understand the diverse roles, both intentional and unintentional, of children in colonial processes. In addition to the white sons and daughters of European settler colonists in Africa and Southeast Asia, we will look at the contrary things that were said and done about mixed-race children (and their mothers) at different historical and political moments of empire. We will learn, too, about the deployment of “orphans” in the service of empire. In the metropole, particularly British cities, orphan boys were funneled into the military and merchant navy, while children of both sexes were shipped across the globe to boost white settler populations, provide free labor, and relieve English poorhouses of the responsibility of taking care of them. The ancestors of many contemporary citizens of Canada, Australia, and South Africa were exported as children from metropolitan orphanages. In our intellectual explorations, we will deploy approaches from sex-gender studies, postcolonial studies, and critical race theory. Questions that we will explore include: Why did settler authorities in Australia kidnap mixed-race indigenous children and put them in boarding schools, when such children in other colonies were expected to stay with their local mothers out of sight of the settlers? How did European ideas about climate and race frame the ways in which settler children were nursed in the Dutch East Indies? How did concepts of childhood and parental rights over children vary historically, socioeconomically, and geographically? How did metropolitan discourses about race, class, and evolution frame the treatment of indigent children at home and abroad? The materials for this class include literature, scholarly articles, ethnographic accounts, historical documents, and film. There will be much discussion.

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Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced , Seminar—Year

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. As his interlocutor Bernard Stiegler phrases the main idea behind this statement, “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the Internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida's observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida's punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, Internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and thus craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

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Beginning Chinese

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is designed for students who have no or little knowledge of Chinese language. In this course, we will develop four language skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) through lesson learning and interactive communications. By the end of the academic year, we will be able to conduct daily conversations and read short passages on a variety of topics at the level of intermediate-low. Chinese culture will also be explored and discussed.

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Intermediate Chinese

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

This course is designed for students who have finished one year of Chinese or its equivalent. We will continue improving the Chinese language skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. An emphasis will be place on communication and discussion in both conversational and written Chinese. By the end of the year, students will be able to read some newspaper articles, stories, and essays and hold conversations on topics of daily life that extend into culture, arts, and politics.

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Films and Novels in Chinese

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

This is a language course intended for students who have completed a second year of Chinese or its equivalent. We will continue developing Chinese language proficiency but with a stronger emphasis on transforming our language knowledge into output skills that are required for in-depth discussions on Chinese films, literature, culture, and history. Some important and recurrent themes in Chinese films and novels will be examined and discussed. Students are encouraged to bring into discussion their knowledge of Chinese/Western literature and culture and to conduct comparative studies on a variety of topics that include censorship, gender, and geopolitics. The course will be conducted mostly in Chinese, but some scholarly works in English might occasionally be included for discussion.

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Political Economy of Women

Open , Lecture—Year

What factors determine the status of women in different societies and communities? What role is played by women’s labor, both inside and outside the home? By cultural norms regarding sexuality and reproduction? By religious traditions? After a brief theoretical grounding, this course will address these questions by examining the economic, political, social, and cultural histories of women in the various racial/ethnic and class groupings that make up the United States. Topics to be explored include: the role of women in the Iroquois Confederation before white colonization and the factors that gave Iroquois women significant political and social power in their communities; the status of white colonist women in Puritan Massachusetts and the economic, religious and other factors that led to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692; the position of African American women under slavery, including the gendered and racialized divisions of labor and reproduction; the growth of competitive capitalism in the North and the development of the “cult of true womanhood” in the rising middle class; the economic and political changes that accompanied the Civil War and Reconstruction and the complex relationships between African American and white women in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements; the creation of a landless agricultural labor force and the attempts to assimilate Chicana women into the dominant culture via “Americanization” programs; the conditions that encouraged Asian women’s immigration and their economic and social positions once here; the American labor movement and the complicated role that organized labor has played in the lives of women of various racial/ethnic groups and classes; the impact of US colonial policies on Puerto Rican migration and Puerto Rican women’s economic and political status on both the island and the mainland; the economic/political convulsions of the 20th century—from the trusts of the early 1900s to World War II—and their impact on women’s paid and unpaid labor; the impact of changes in gendered economic roles on LGBT communities; the economic and political upheavals of the 1960s that led to the so-called “second wave” of the women’s movement; the gendered and racialized impact of the Great Recession and its aftermath; the current position of women in the US economy and polity and the possibilities for inclusive public policies concerning gender and family issues.

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Where does the food we eat come from? Why do some people have enough food to eat and others do not? Are there too many people for the world to feed? Who controls the world’s food? Will global food prices continue their recent rapid rise? And, if so, what will be the consequences? What are the environmental impacts of our food production systems? How do answers to these questions differ by place or by the person asking the question? How have they changed over time? This course will explore the following fundamental issue: the relationship between development and the environment, focusing in particular on agriculture and the production and consumption of food. The questions above often hinge on the contentious debate concerning population, natural resources, and the environment. Thus, we will begin by critically assessing the fundamental ideological positions and philosophical paradigms of “modernization,” as well as critical counterpoints that lie at the heart of this debate. Within this context of competing sets of philosophical assumptions concerning the population-resource debate, we will investigate the concept of “poverty” and the making of the “Third World,” access to food, hunger, grain production and food aid, agricultural productivity (The Green and Gene Revolutions), biofuels, the role of transnational corporations (TNCs), the international division of labor, migration, globalization and global commodity chains, and the different strategies adopted by nation-states to “develop” natural resources and agricultural production. Through a historical investigation of environmental change and the biogeography of plant domestication and dispersal, we will look at the creation of indigenous, subsistence, peasant, plantation, collective, and commercial forms of agriculture. We will analyze the physical environment and ecology that help shape but rarely determine the organization of resource use and agriculture. Rather, through the dialectical rise of various political-economic systems such as feudalism, slavery, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism, and socialism, we will study how humans have transformed the world’s environments. We will follow with studies of specific issues: technological change in food production; commercialization and industrialization of agriculture and the decline of the family farm; food and public health, culture, and family; land grabbing and food security; the role of markets and transnational corporations in transforming the environment; and the global environmental changes stemming from modern agriculture, dams, deforestation, grassland destruction, desertification, biodiversity loss, and the interrelationship with climate change. Case studies of particular regions and issues will be drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The final part of the course examines the restructuring of the global economy and its relation to emergent international laws and institutions regulating trade, the environment, agriculture, resource extraction treaties, the changing role of the state, and competing conceptualizations of territoriality and control. We will end with discussions of emergent local, regional, and transnational coalitions for food self-reliance and food sovereignty, alternative and community supported agriculture, community-based resource management systems, sustainable development, and grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Films, multimedia materials, and distinguished guests will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm field trip is possible, if funding permits. The seminar participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and agriculture,” tentatively planned for the spring. Please mark your calendars when the dates are announced, as attendance for all of the above is required. Attendance and participation is also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Geography Lecture and Film Series—approximately once per month in the evening from 6-8 pm. The Web board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of assignments will be made there, along with follow-up commentaries. There will be in-class essays, debates, and small group discussions. Conferences will focus on in-depth analyses of course topics. You will be required to prepare a poster project and paper on a topic of your choice related to the course, which will be presented at the end of each semester in a special session.

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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

Experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

In this yearlong seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political-economy of which the “Third World” is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial {development” to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and its associated institutions and the role that they have played in the post-World War II global political-economy—one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities, as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation-states. We will then examine globalization and its relation to emergent international institutions and their policies; for example, the IMF, World Bank, AIIB, and WTO. We will then turn to contemporary development debates and controversies that increasingly find space in the headlines: widespread land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds, China, and hedge funds; the “global food crisis”; and the perils of climate change. Throughout the course, our investigations of international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class: the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies primarily from Africa but also from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage substantive research project beginning in the fall semester and completed in the spring. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, students will be encouraged to do primary research during fall study days and winter and spring breaks.

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First-Year Studies: Reform and Revolution: China’s 20th Century

Open , FYS—Year

In 1900, China was a faltering empire ruled by an autocratic foreign dynastic house and an entrenched bureaucracy of Confucian officials. Its sovereignty heavily battered and its territory compromised by foreign powers, China was commonly called “The Sick Man of Asia.” In 2000, China was a modern nation-state ruled by an authoritarian party and an entrenched bureaucracy of technocrats and administrators. With a surging economy, swollen foreign reserves, dazzling modern cities, and a large and technologically advanced military, China is regularly predicted to be the next global superpower. Yet, the path between these two startlingly different points was anything but smooth. China’s 20th century was a tortuous one. Policymakers, elites, and the common people oscillated between the poles of reform and revolution—bouts of wild radicalism alternated with more sober policies—as they pursued changes that they hoped would bring a better society and nation. This class examines some of the major events and personalities of this arduous century and its momentous political, social, and cultural changes. We will learn and apply skills of historical analysis to primary documents (in translation), some fiction, and film. Along the way, we will encounter a rich cast of characters, including Sun Yat-sen, China’s “national father”; colorful warlords; corrupt bureaucrats; fervent intellectuals; protesting youths; heroic communist martyrs; the towering and enigmatic chairman Mao Zedong; long-suffering peasants; and fanatical Red Guards. These men and women made and remade modern China. This class is history and, thus, is not primarily concerned with contemporary China; but by the end of the year, students will be well-equipped with an understanding of China’s recent past—knowledge that will help immeasurably in making sense of today’s China as it becomes increasingly important in our globalized economy and society.

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The Atomic Bombs as History, Experience, and Culture: Washington, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki

Open , Seminar—Fall

In January 2018, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set the hands of the Doomsday Clock (yes, it’s a thing) at two minutes to midnight, the nearest it has been to catastrophe since 1953. In February, Putin announced that Russia has developed “invincible” nukes capable of hitting virtually anywhere on the globe, while Donald Trump goaded Kim Jong-un with tweets about the size of his nuclear “button.” With world leaders flirting with the prospect of nuclear holocaust, an understanding of the only instance of nuclear warfare is again relevant—even crucial. Through a rich variety of sources (textual, visual, and cinematic), this seminar will examine the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 from three major perspectives. First, reading scholarship and primary documents, we will look at the decision to drop the bombs, as well as the postwar claims justifying them. We will challenge the American narrative that the bombings were militarily necessary while also putting them into the historical context of World War II—specifically, strategic bombing of nonmilitary targets, prospects of Japanese surrender in the final months of the conflict, and the looming Cold War with Russia. Second, we will confront the effects of the bombs on Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and their populations. Technical descriptions and firsthand accounts will help us grasp the unique destructiveness of the atomic bombs on both bodies and buildings, as well as how people coped with that destructiveness. The diary of Michihiko Hachiya, for example, will reveal a medical doctor’s observations on the breakdown of society and how ordinary Japanese dealt with the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. And finally, the course examines the impact of the bombs on Japan’s postwar culture, including the profound sense of victimization the bombings imparted, which has complicated Japanese narratives about World War II and inspired an abiding pacifism in Japanese society. In a different vein, serious literature—such as Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse—will open up the relevance of atomic narratives by exploring the social alienation endured by the hibakusha (bomb survivors) in postwar Japan. Shōmei Tōmatsu’s photography of Nagasaki and its hibakusha will provide a visual window on the bombs’ legacy, as well. We will also examine some popular culture—the original (1954) Godzilla (Gojirō) movie and some anime or manga—for the ways in which the bombs were appropriated and invoked in apocalyptic imagery, imagery that expressed a distinctive understanding of the dark side of science and technology and made a lasting contribution to wider global culture.

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Personal Narratives: Identity and History in Modern China

Open , Seminar—Spring

This seminar explores the realm of private life and individual identity and its relationship to the historical events and changes taking place in modern China from the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) into the Reform era (2000s). Our investigations will cover an eclectic mix of “personal” writings: diaries, letters, memoirs, oral testimony, autobiographies, third-party anthropological reconstructions of individuals, and (auto)biographical fiction. Among others, we will encounter late imperial Confucian radicals and mystics, petty literati, young urban women and their mothers with bound feet, peasants, radical revolutionaries, intellectuals, Maoist Red Guards, and factory workers. These personal narratives not only open up windows on the lives and times of their writers but also allow us to investigate the intersection between the practice of writing and identity construction in modern China. The primary readings will be contextualized with historical scholarship and supplemented by selections from some important theorists (Benedict Anderson, Anthony Giddens, and René Girard) that provide interdisciplinary analytical tools to explore the construction of personal identity and the self. We will ask ourselves how the writers of the personal writings present themselves: What are their self-conceptions and self-deceptions? Where does their sense of “self” come from, and how do they construct private selves through writing? We should even dare to ask whether these categories of “private” and “self” are relevant. The rapid, often traumatic, changes of modern China will cause us to consider how these people understood and situated themselves in wider society and the events of their time and, thus, will raise questions about the imaginative constructions of national (or social) communities that are smuggled inside these “personal” stories.

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Japanese I

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is for students with no previous knowledge of Japanese. Students will develop basic communicative skills in listening comprehension and speaking, as well as skills in reading and writing (katakana, hiragana, and 145 kanji) in Japanese. While classes will be devoted primarily to language practice, an understanding of Japanese grammar will also be emphasized as an important basis for continued language learning. Classes will meet three times weekly, and tutorials with a language assistant will meet once a week.

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Japanese II

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

This advanced-beginning course is for students who have completed Japanese I or its equivalent. Students will continue to develop basic skills in speaking, listening, reading, and writing while expanding their vocabulary and knowledge of grammar. At the end of the course, students should be able to handle simple communicative tasks and situations effectively, understand simple daily conversations, write short essays, read simple essays, and discuss their content. Classes will meet three times weekly, and tutorials with a language assistant will meet once a week.

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Japanese III

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

This course is for students who have completed Japanese II or its equivalent. The aim of the seminar is to advance students’ Japanese language proficiency in speaking and listening, reading (simple essays to authentic texts), and writing in various styles (emails, essays, and/or creative writing). Students will meet for classes and conferences with the instructor and for weekly individual tutorials with a language assistant.

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Japanese Literature: Ancient Myths to Early Modern Tales

Open , Seminar—Fall

No previous background in Japanese studies is required for this course.

This course is an introduction to the richness and diversity of Japanese literature from its earliest written records in the eighth century to the late 18th century. From early myths of deities procreating the islands of Japan, to poetry that “takes the human heart as its seed,” to epic tales of imperial courtiers and samurai warriors, to essays by Buddhist recluse monks, to drama of the puppet theatre and Noh theatre, we will explore a variety of genres of Japanese literature and its development. Course assignments will include short, weekly writing assignments on course readings, two class papers, discussion questions for one seminar, and conference work. For students with Japanese language skills, conference work may incorporate readings in Japanese.

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Japanese Literature: Modern to Contemporary Literature

Open , Seminar—Spring

No previous background in Japanese studies is required for this course.

This seminar is an introduction to Japanese literature from the early 20th century to the contemporary period. We will move chronologically to consider how writers represented Japanese modernity in its varied forms. Writers we will read include Natsume Sōseki, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Yasunari Kawabata, Kenzaburō Ōe, Haruki Murakami, and Banana Yoshimoto. Several films will complement our readings. Course assignments will include weekly short writing assignments on course readings, two class papers, discussion questions for one seminar, and conference work. For students with Japanese language skills, conference work may incorporate readings in Japanese.

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Global Circulations: Art and Pop Music of Asia

Open , Lecture—Fall

This lecture course may be counted as either humanities or social science credit. This course may also be taken as a semester-long component.

This course examines how music and its global circulation make the relationships between people audible. In the social contexts of listening and musical performance—and in musical sound itself—we will understand how music and its movement across community-based, regional, and national boundaries shape people’s lives. As recordings, musicians, and ideas about music move, we will learn how they sound interpersonal relationships by using selected ethnographic examples of art and popular music from across Asia and the Middle East. Class topics will include South Indian classical music, Taiko, Southeast Asian heavy metal, Iranian pop, Japanese hip hop, Bollywood, world jazz, noise, k-pop, world music 2.0, and others. Course themes related to the circulation of music will include the ideology of tradition, cultural imperialism, sound technologies, and the more recent proliferation of cultural nationalisms that seek to impede circulation. By encountering musical diversity through listening and reading materials, students will develop the critical thinking skills to make connections between sonic and textual resources and to better understand the many ways in which music and sound are meaningful around the world. No prior musical experience is necessary. Participation in the Solkattu Ensemble, a vocal percussion ensemble, or African Classics, a popular music ensemble, is strongly encouraged.

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Buddhist Meditation in India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet

Open , Seminar—Fall

Buddhists believe that there are three modes of karma, or “action”: 1) bodily, 2) verbal, and 3) mental. That is to say, we can “do” things with our bodies, with our speech, and with our minds. All three modes of karma have moral value in the sense that whatever actions we perform are either good, bad, or neutral—and all actions of body, speech, and mind have consequences that are inevitably experienced sometime in the future. The results of physical and verbal actions may be more immediately obvious than those of mental actions (thoughts and emotions), but Buddhists regard the latter as even more consequential; for they are the underlying ideas and intentions that motivate and inform speech and physical action. Moreover, Buddhists hold that deluded thinking concerning the “self” and external “things,” because it gives rise to unwise attachment, is the root cause of all suffering experienced by humans and other living beings in the round of rebirth (samsāra). Given this fundamental outlook, Buddhists regard regulation of one’s own mind as the key to both individual happiness and social harmony and justice. They say that among the three kinds of karma, “mind” is primary—but that it is also the mode of action that is sublest and hardest to control. Throughout its long and diverse history, the Buddhist tradition has developed a wide variety of techniques for controlling and developing one’s own mind, many of which have been referred to in English using the word “meditation.” This course focuses on major types of meditation practiced in the Buddhism of India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet. Those include: techniques for calming the mind and entering into deep trance states; procedures for gaining insight into what is ultimately real; the cultivation of “mindfulness” of one’s own physical and mental actions, which has now been borrowed by Western psychotherapy; mental exercises designed to suppress negative emotions (e.g., anger) and foster positive ones (e.g., loving kindness); the “contemplation of impurity,” which involves meditating on decomposing corpses; procedures for recalling and repenting bad deeds done in the past; and a wide range of Tantric visualization practices designed to put one in direct touch with powerful sacred beings and forces. This is a self-contained, semester-long course taught in the fall that is also designed to complement a companion course that is taught in the spring: Buddhist Meditation in East Asia. Students may take just one or the other of the two courses without any problem, but those who take both will get the kind of sustained, integrated, in-depth exposure to all aspects of Buddhist meditation that is characteristic of a yearlong seminar at Sarah Lawrence College.

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Japanese Religion and Culture

Open , Seminar—Fall

Prior study or experience of things Japanese (language, literature, history, etc.) is desirable but not required.

A historical survey of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in Japan from ancient times down to the present, this course covers all of the major religious traditions and movements—Shintō, Buddhism, Shūgendō, Confucianism, and the so-called New Religions—as well as various elements of religion and culture (e.g., Noh theatre, Bushidō) that are not readily subsumed under any of the preceding labels. Readings include many primary sources (Japanese texts in English translation), and audio-visual materials are used whenever possible to give a fuller picture of traditional religious art, architecture, and ritual performance in Japan. This is a self-contained, semester-long course taught in the fall that is also designed to complement a companion course that is taught in the spring: Religion in Contemporary Japan. Students may take just one or the other of the two courses without any problem; but those who take both will get the kind of sustained, integrated, in-depth exposure to all aspects of the religions and culture of Japan that is characteristic of a yearlong seminar at Sarah Lawrence College.

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Buddhist Meditation in East Asia

Open , Seminar—Spring

Buddhists believe that there are three modes of karma, or “action”: 1) bodily, 2) verbal, and 3) mental. That is to say, we can “do” things with our bodies, with our speech, and with our minds. All three modes of karma have moral value in the sense that whatever actions we perform are either good, bad, or neutral; and all actions of body, speech, and mind have consequences that are inevitably experienced sometime in the future. The results of physical and verbal actions may be more immediately obvious than those of mental actions (thoughts and emotions), but Buddhists regard the latter as even more consequential—for they are the underlying ideas and intentions that motivate and inform speech and physical action. Moreover, Buddhists hold that deluded thinking concerning the “self” and external “things,” because it gives rise to unwise attachment, is the root cause of all suffering experienced by humans and other living beings in the round of rebirth (samsāra). Given this fundamental outlook, Buddhists regard regulation of one’s own mind as the key to both individual happiness and social harmony and justice. They say that among the three kinds of karma, “mind” is primary; but it is also the mode of action that is sublest and hardest to control. Throughout its long and diverse history, the Buddhist tradition has developed a wide variety of techniques for controlling and developing one’s own mind, many of which have been referred to in English using the word “meditation.” This course focuses on major types of meditation practiced in the Buddhism of East Asia: China, Korea, and Japan. Those include: techniques for calming the mind and entering into deep trance states; procedures for gaining insight into what is ultimately real; mental exercises for recalling and repenting bad deeds done in the past; the recollection of buddhas and bodhisattvas performed in conjunction with devotional prayer; a wide range of visualization practices designed to put one in direct touch with powerful sacred beings and forces; and the “investigation of words” attributed to Chan and Zen masters, also known as kōan practice. This is a self-contained, semester-long course taught in the spring that is also designed to complement a companion course that is taught in the fall: Buddhist Meditation in India, Southeast Asia, and Tibet. Students may take just one or the other of the two courses without any problem; those who take both will get the kind of sustained, integrated, in-depth exposure to all aspects of Buddhist meditation that is characteristic of a yearlong seminar at Sarah Lawrence College.

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Religion in Contemporary Japan

Open , Seminar—Spring

Prior study or experience of things Japanese (language, literature, history, etc.) is desirable but not required.

An examination of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in Japanese society today, this course covers all the major religious traditions and movements in contemporary Japan: Shintō, the various schools of Buddhism, Shūgendō, Christianity, and the so-called New Religions that have flourished in the postwar period. Issues of historical development are touched upon but only as an aid to understanding the current religious scene. The approach is thematic, with a focus on elements of Japanese religiosity that recur in different traditions, such as ancestor worship, beliefs in fate and karma, festivals, pilgrimages, the sanctification of natural phenomena, taboos against impurities, exorcisms, and rites of purification. Extensive use will be made in class of a variety of audiovisual materials, including animated films, documentaries, and amateur videos of ritual performances. The aim of the course is to provide insights into the intellectual, ethical, aesthetic, and spiritual wellsprings of contemporary Japanese culture at large, not simply to familiarize students with the basics of Japanese religion narrowly conceived. This is a self-contained, semester-long course taught in the spring that is also designed to complement a companion course that is taught in the fall: Japanese Religion and Culture (a historical survey). Students may take just one or the other of the two courses without any problem; but those who take both will get the kind of sustained, integrated, in-depth exposure to all aspects of the religions and culture of Japan that is characteristic of a yearlong seminar at Sarah Lawrence College.

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Informality and Precariousness in the City: Family, Home, and the Politics of Transnational Life

Open , Seminar—Fall

The UNHCR puts the number of stateless people—those denied nationality—at 10 million globally. Often, these are migrants, refugees, victims of trafficking, and displaced groups who find themselves living under extremely precarious and vulnerable conditions and without much in terms of resources and rights. Cities and urban areas become important spaces in which the marginalized poor and excluded communities seek refuge and shelter and engage in forms of rebuilding and place-making that tends to fall outside of the purview and control of the state and the authorities. Here, we take a broad transnational perspective on how the precarious and vulnerable urban poor develop strategies and practices of living that are geared toward securing greater autonomy and dignity, primarily through forms of peripheral development and informality. We will explore interconnected themes of family, kinship, work, gender, and social reproduction as they pertain to the urban poor. Some of the theories and concepts that we will read include Teresa Caldeira’s “autoconstruction,” Asef Bayat’s “quiet encroachment of the ordinary,” Henri Lefebvre’s “right to the city,” and Ananya Roy’s “subaltern urbanism.”

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