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.

2020-2021 Courses

Asian Studies

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

Open , Lecture—Fall

In January 2018, the Bulletin of the 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. Donald Trump goads Kim Jong-un with tweets about the size of his nuclear “button,” and the North Korean pushes ahead with missile tests. In late 2019, Putin announced that Russia has developed “invincible” hypersonic nuclear missiles capable of hitting virtually anywhere on the globe. 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 lecture-seminar hybrid course will examine, from three major perspectives, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. First, by 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 the strategic bombing of non-military targets, the 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 HACHIYA Michihiko, 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. Next, 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 written by survivors will open up the relevance of atomic narratives by exploring the social alienation endured by the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) in postwar Japan. TOMATSU Shomei’s photography of Nagasaki and its hibakusha will provide a visual window on the bombs’ legacy, as well. And finally, we will examine some popular culture—the original (1954) Godzilla (Gojiro) movie and some anime and 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 that made a lasting contribution to wider global culture. This course will consist of weekly lectures paired with a weekly seminar meeting for close discussion of our syllabus readings. Each student, thus, must not only attend the lecture but also choose one of the three seminar section times.

Faculty

Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors: Chinese Religion in Daily Life

Open , Seminar—Year

This course will look at the rise and unfolding of China’s major religious traditions—Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, and popular (folk) religion—and seeks to place them within a broader historical, social, and cultural context. In doing so, we will take a two-pronged approach. The first approach will involve the close reading of texts that were foundational in each of the traditions. Topics to be explored will include: notions of the Dao (Tao) and the ways in which it might be attained by individuals, families, and communities; the essence of the mind, human nature, and the emotions and the ways in which they interact in behavior; and practices of inner self-cultivation and social engagement. The second approach will be to explore the specific religious practices associated with each of the traditions (e.g., ancestor worship, exorcisms, community worship, and prayers), the origins and transformation of popular religious festivals (including New Years, All Souls Day, and Hell), and the rise and spread of deity cults (including Guanyin, Mazu, and City Gods). This will involve a different set of texts, including ritual and liturgical texts, temple records and regulations, “how-to” manuals for specific practices, miracle tales, temple performance pieces, government documents, legal cases, diaries, and journals. In bringing these two approaches together, we will consider the ways in which religious traditions and practices both shaped and were shaped by social, cultural, economic, and political institutions.

Faculty

China’s 20th-Century Through Fiction

Open , Seminar—Year

There is no prerequisite knowledge of China (history or literature) for this course.

In 1902, China’s leading intellectual and political theorist, LIANG Qichao, observed, “If one intends to renovate the people of a nation, one must first renovate its fiction.” In the century that followed, reformers, radicals, and regimes repeatedly placed fiction at the center of the national project of modernity. Exploring literature’s contribution to the construction of the Chinese national body, this yearlong seminar uses short stories and novels as windows on a cataclysmic century filled with wars, political revolutions, cultural change, and social upheaval. As writers participated in and commented on these traumatic events, fiction was a key battleground for political, social, and cultural change. In the fall, we will encounter short stories and novels that carried forward radical demolitions of the Confucian cultural tradition and political critiques in the first half of the century. Beginning in the 1920s, urban feminists wrote to promote the emancipation of the individual while, a decade later, leftist writers exposed the evils of Western imperialism and capitalist exploitation. How did those works contribute to revolutionary movements? Despite an overall focus on the political dimension, we will take time out to consider some more lyrically inclined writers who explored China’s ethnic margins and the intricate and private dramas of love and despair. In the spring semester, we will delve into the socialist realism of Communist fiction to identify its unique qualities and role in Maoist political life before turning to the literary reassessments of Maoist excesses in the reform era (1980s) and the place of literature in the neoliberal atmosphere of post-Tiananmen (1989) China. We will interrogate fictional works in post-revolutionary China for how they deal with and understand China’s revolutionary past, its ragged cultural tradition, and a rapidly changing society and economy. What is the relationship between art and politics in these ostensibly (even studiously) apolitical works? And finally, we will also cover Taiwanese literature from the 1960s through the 1990s, as it too grappled with economic development, its political basis, and social effects. Our readings include many of the great characters in early 20th-century literature, such as Lu Xun’s cannibalistic madman and hapless Ah Q, Ding Ling’s tubercular Miss Sophie, SHEN Congwen’s Hmong villagers, and Zhang Ailing’s college student turned mistress-assassin. We will also meet blood-drenched bandits, long-suffering peasants, and disaffected urban youths in an age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. For those taking this class as an FYS, conferences in the fall semester will consist of biweekly individual meetings, with a group session held on alternate weeks to handle matters concerning all FYS students. Conferences in the spring will be on the regular biweekly individual model (i.e., no group conferences).

Faculty

Taoist Philosophy: Laozi and Zhuangzi

Open , Seminar—Fall

This seminar centers on the two foundational texts in the classical Taoist tradition, Lao-tzu’s Tao-te ching (Daode jing) and the Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi). The Tao-te-ching, an anthology of poetry, asks us to contemplate the nature of the Dao and the possibility of the individual’s attainment of it, the role of the government and rulers in making the Dao prevail in the world, and a rudimentary cosmology that proposes an ideal relationship of the individual to society, nature, and the cosmos. By contrast, the Chuang-tzu defies all categorization and, instead, invites readers to probe through its layers of myth, fantasy, jokes, short stories, and philosophical argumentation. Along the way, Chuang-tzu plunges us into an examination of some of the core questions of moral philosophy and epistemology: What is being? What is the nature of human nature? What does it mean to be virtuous? What is knowledge? How does one know that one knows? And, what does it mean to attain true knowledge and the Dao? To explore these topics and answer these questions, our seminar sessions will revolve around the close, detailed reading and interpretation of the texts.

Faculty

China, 1768–1963: From Empire to Nation

Open , Seminar—Spring

What did it mean to be a subject of the Qing dynasty in 1800 or a citizen of one of the modern Chinese Republics founded in the 20th century? What changed in the course of that century and a half? This course is a reading seminar in China’s fitful transition from the empire of the Manchu (Qing) dynasty (1644-1911) to the nation-state of the PRC (1949-present). The Qing dynasty was massive. From its height in the 18th century to the middle of the 20th, this continental power was remade into a member of the modern international community of nation-states. As we chart this process, recurring themes will be the changing nature of (state) sovereignty, relations with outsiders/foreigners, and the relationship of individuals to state power. We will examine the sinews of the Manchu dynasty’s domestic authority, including the balancing act between the emperor’s personal will and the bureaucracy’s routinized power. Qing colonialism in Xinjiang will illuminate the multiethnic nature of its empire and its interactions with foreign “others.” Despite internal challenges, external relations with expansive Western powers brought fundamental challenges to the imperial state—particularly the corrosive interactions with another imperial power, the seafaring British. The role of translation (of Western philosophy and international law) will be our entry point for China’s slide into the modern international system of nation-states. The concept of race highlights how Chinese struggled with the definition of “nation” itself. From there, we will turn to the growth of a modern nation-state. Keeping in mind the distinction between rural and urban environments, the changing nature of power and the relationship between state and individuals, along with revolutionary political mobilization, will be topics of particular interest.

Faculty

Art and Society in the Lands of Islam

Open , Lecture—Fall

This course will explore the architecture and visual arts of societies in which Islam is a strong political, cultural, or social presence. We will follow the history of some of these societies through the development of their arts and architecture, using case studies to explore their diverse artistic languages from the advent of Islam through the contemporary world. We will begin with an introduction to the history surrounding the advent of Islam and the birth of arts and architecture that respond to the needs of the new Islamic community. We will proceed to follow the developments of diverse artistic and architectural languages of expression as Islam spreads to the Mediterranean and to Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, exploring the ways in which arts can help define and express identities for people living in multi-confessional societies. We will then draw this exploration into the present day, in which global economics, immigration, and politics draw the architecture and artistic attitudes of Islam into the global contemporary discourse. Our work will include introductions to some of the theoretical discourses that have emerged concerning cultural representation and exchange and appropriation in art and architecture. One of our allied goals will be to learn to read works of art and to understand how an artistic expression that resists representation can connect with its audience. And throughout this course, we will ask: Can there be an Islamic art?

Faculty

Beginning Chinese

Open , Small seminar—Year

Beginning Chinese is designed for students with little to no knowledge of Modern Standard Mandarin Chinese. The course aims to develop students’ communicative competency in listening, speaking, reading, and writing in Mandarin Chinese at the novice-high level on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency scale. Students will learn the basics of the language—including sounds, grammar, vocabulary, and Chinese characters—as well as important cultural aspects. Through authentic materials and meaningful tasks, students will acquire basic communicative skills for essential daily-life communication. Additionally, students will learn the basics of Chinese calligraphy.

Faculty

Intermediate Chinese

Intermediate , Small seminar—Year

Intermediate Chinese is designed for students who have finished at least one year of Mandarin Chinese and for students who already have knowledge of basic Chinese. The goal of this course is to help students to achieve intermediate-low level on the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) proficiency scale in Modern Standard Mandarin Chinese. Students will continue developing their communicative skills upon the foundation acquired. Students will reinforce and expand their language skills by reading, listening, discussing, and writing about topics related to daily-life events. By the end of the year, students will establish the ability to communicate in Mandarin Chinese to satisfy personal needs and social demands. In addition, students will expand their knowledge of Chinese culture and society.

Faculty

Butoh

Component—Spring

This class is open to dance, theatre, and any other students who are curious and interested in discovering alternative approaches to body and movement practices.

In this class, students will engage in a series of somatic, improvisational movement and vocalization practices that reflect principles of butoh, Zen, and Noguchi Taiso (or water body movements). Through engaging in those practices, we will explore a way to liberate our body from a sense of self and from existing concepts of a body in order to realize unprecedented transformation and evolution of the body. Students will be descending a ladder into a well that is hidden deep inside the body and will keep digging the well until the water splashes out.

Faculty

TBA

Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open , Lecture—Year

Where does the food that 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 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 guest lectures will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm/factory field trip is possible in each semester if funding permits. The lecture participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and hunger,” 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 are also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Social Science Colloquium Series, which are held approximately once per month. The Web Board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of short essays will be made there, as well as followup commentaries with your colleagues. There will be in-class essays, a midterm quiz, and a final exam each semester. Group conferences will focus on in-depth analysis of certain course topics and will include debates and small-group discussions. You will prepare a poster project each semester on a topic of your choice that is related to the course and which will be presented at the end of each semester in group conference, as well as a potential public session.

Faculty

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

Open , Lecture—Fall

In January 2018, the Bulletin of the 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. Donald Trump goads Kim Jong-un with tweets about the size of his nuclear “button,” and the North Korean pushes ahead with missile tests. In late 2019, Putin announced that Russia has developed “invincible” hypersonic nuclear missiles capable of hitting virtually anywhere on the globe. 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 lecture-seminar hybrid course will examine, from three major perspectives, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. First, by 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 the strategic bombing of non-military targets, the 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 HACHIYA Michihiko, 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. Next, 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 written by survivors will open up the relevance of atomic narratives by exploring the social alienation endured by the hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) in postwar Japan. TOMATSU Shomei’s photography of Nagasaki and its hibakusha will provide a visual window on the bombs’ legacy, as well. And finally, we will examine some popular culture—the original (1954) Godzilla (Gojiro) movie and some anime and 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 that made a lasting contribution to wider global culture. This course will consist of weekly lectures paired with a weekly seminar meeting for close discussion of our syllabus readings. Each student, thus, must not only attend the lecture but also choose one of the three seminar section times.

Faculty

China’s 20th-Century Through Fiction

Open , Seminar—Year

There is no prerequisite knowledge of China (history or literature) for this course.

In 1902, China’s leading intellectual and political theorist, LIANG Qichao, observed, “If one intends to renovate the people of a nation, one must first renovate its fiction.” In the century that followed, reformers, radicals, and regimes repeatedly placed fiction at the center of the national project of modernity. Exploring literature’s contribution to the construction of the Chinese national body, this yearlong seminar uses short stories and novels as windows on a cataclysmic century filled with wars, political revolutions, cultural change, and social upheaval. As writers participated in and commented on those traumatic events, fiction was a key battleground for political, social, and cultural change. In the fall, we will encounter short stories and novels that carried forward radical demolitions of the Confucian cultural tradition and political critiques in the first half of the century. Beginning in the 1920s, urban feminists wrote to promote the emancipation of the individual while, a decade later, leftist writers exposed the evils of Western imperialism and capitalist exploitation. How did those works contribute to revolutionary movements? Despite an overall focus on the political dimension, we will take time out to consider some more lyrically inclined writers who explored China’s ethnic margins and the intricate and private dramas of love and despair. In the spring semester, we will delve into the socialist realism of Communist fiction to identify its unique qualities and role in Maoist political life before turning to the literary reassessments of Maoist excesses in the reform era (1980s) and the place of literature in the neoliberal atmosphere of post-Tiananmen (1989) China. We will interrogate fictional works in post-revolutionary China for how they deal with and understand China’s revolutionary past, its ragged cultural tradition, and a rapidly changing society and economy. What is the relationship between art and politics in those ostensibly (even studiously) apolitical works? And finally, we will also cover Taiwanese literature from the 1960s through the 1990s, as it too grappled with economic development, its political basis, and social effects. Our readings include many of the great characters in early 20th-century literature, such as Lu Xun’s cannibalistic madman and hapless Ah Q, Ding Ling’s tubercular Miss Sophie, SHEN Congwen’s Hmong villagers, and Zhang Ailing’s college student turned mistress-assassin. We will also meet blood-drenched bandits, long-suffering peasants, and disaffected urban youths in an age of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. For those taking this class as an FYS, conferences in the fall semester will consist of biweekly individual meetings, with a group session held on alternate weeks to handle matters concerning all FYS students. Conferences in the spring will be on the regular biweekly individual model (i.e., no group conferences).

Faculty

China, 1768–1963: From Empire to Nation

Open , Seminar—Spring

What did it mean to be a subject of the Qing dynasty in 1800 or a citizen of one of the modern Chinese Republics founded in the 20th century? What changed in the course of that century and a half? This course is a reading seminar in China’s fitful transition from the empire of the Manchu (Qing) dynasty (1644-1911) to the nation-state of the PRC (1949-present). The Qing dynasty was massive. From its height in the 18th century to the middle of the 20th, this continental power was remade into a member of the modern international community of nation-states. As we chart this process, recurring themes will be the changing nature of (state) sovereignty, relations with outsiders/foreigners, and the relationship of individuals to state power. We will examine the sinews of the Manchu dynasty’s domestic authority, including the balancing act between the emperor’s personal will and the bureaucracy’s routinized power. Qing colonialism in Xinjiang will illuminate the multiethnic nature of its empire and its interactions with foreign “others.” Despite internal challenges, external relations with expansive Western powers brought fundamental challenges to the imperial state—particularly the corrosive interactions with another imperial power, the seafaring British. The role of translation (of Western philosophy and international law) will be our entry point for China’s slide into the modern international system of nation-states. The concept of race highlights how Chinese struggled with the definition of “nation” itself. From there, we will turn to the growth of a modern nation-state. Keeping in mind the distinction between rural and urban environments, the changing nature of power and the relationship between state and individuals, along with revolutionary political mobilization, will be topics of particular interest.

Faculty

Advanced Beginning Japanese

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is for students who have completed Beginning Japanese or its equivalent. Students will continue to develop basic skills in listening comprehension, speaking, 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. In addition to classes with the faculty instructors, there are weekly one-on-one tutorials with one of the Japanese language assistants.

Faculty

Beginning Japanese

Open , Seminar—Year

Beginning Japanese is an introduction to Japanese language and culture, designed for students who have had little to no experience learning Japanese. The goal of the course is to develop four basic skills: listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing (hiragana, katakana, and some basic kanji) in modern Japanese, with an emphasis on grammatical accuracy and socially appropriate language use. In addition to classes with the faculty instructor, there are weekly one-on-one tutorials with one of the Japanese language assistants.

Faculty

Queer(ing) India: Literature, Film, and Law

Open , Seminar—Fall

What is a queer perspective on culture and society? This course aims to provide an introductory survey to queer narratives and cultural production from India and the Indian diaspora as a way to think through this question. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century to the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, political and cultural manifestos, postcolonial novels, and contemporary films. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India finally struck down Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, from the Indian Penal Code after more than a decade of legal battles. The fight for legal rights was accompanied by growing queer representation in popular culture and literature. The supposed “coming out” of queerness into Indian social and cultural life in the last 10 years, the demand to be seen and heard, has been critiqued by some as a by-product of “Westernization” or the influence of “foreign-returned” elites inspired by the Euro-American LGBTQ movement. This has brought with it the need to understand the diversity of queer India as well as the diaspora. In the case of the diaspora, we will work to de-center the Euro-American diaspora, paying attention to long histories of migration to the African continent and indentured labor in the Caribbean and the Pacific as sites for possible South-South solidarities. Taking seriously questions of race, caste, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to these hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways experiences of gender and sexuality were iterated and experienced across times and spaces will help us think through the specifics of each text (and its contexts) while also following threads and connections beyond. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artefacts, such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and BR Ambedkar— well as legal briefs opposing the punitive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which further stigmatizes non-normative gender identities by requiring transgender people to register with the government. We will read fiction, old and new, such as Untouchable (1935), The God of Small Things (1997) and A Life Apart (2016), as well as watch movies ranging from indie films like Chitrangada (2012) to Bollywood rom-coms like Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020).

Faculty

Japanese Literature: Translations, Adaptations, and Visual Storytelling

Open , Small Lecture—Spring

No previous background in Japanese studies, literature, art history, or film history is required for this course.

This lecture course is an introduction to Japanese literature from the 10th century to contemporary fiction, and we will explore the connections between literary texts, translations, and visual adaptations—paintings, hand scrolls, performing arts, film, and manga. We will read selected works of Japanese literature in English translation(s), including early Japanese tales such as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, The Tale of Genji, Life of an Amorous Woman, and modern novels and short stories by writers such as Shimazaki Toson, Hayashi Fumiko, Ota Yoko, Nakagami Kenji, and Murakami Haruki. With each text, we will examine other texts that are in conversation with these literary works and explore the content and forms of those conversations. In addition to lecture, there will be weekly group conferences and regularly scheduled film screenings throughout the semester.

Faculty

Studies in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition

Open , Small Lecture—Spring

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat for biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to explore and understand the concept of “nature” at the core of the Western tradition and how it was shaped over the course of more than 2,000 years. This course will create a series of bridges between and among the history of literature, philosophy, and science, with implications for many other disciplines. Most importantly, we will discuss the Western and Judeo-Christian concept of nature in the context of race and ethnicity in America today by confronting it with works and arguments developed by Black, Indigenous, Latine, and Asian American authors. Among many themes, we will study how antiquity came to develop a concept of “physis,” so different from our modern understanding of physics, but also shaped our aesthetic eye with the creation of the pastoral genre and the idea of agreeable and tamed landscapes or set a model for a utilitarian relationship to nature with Hesiod and Virgil’s agricultural treaties. We will also analyze specific places, such as the forest in Medieval chivalric romances and American “wilderness” fictions, or chaotic landscapes admired and imagined by the Romantics, or the sea as depicted in Melville’s Moby Dick. The 17th-century scientific revolution and its mathematical and mechanistic approach to nature will lead us to discuss with Descartes the concept of animality in parallel with contemporary philosophers such as Deleuze and Guattari, who make use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm. Going into a completely different direction, we will question the characteristics of a Judeo-Christian conception of the world organized around a remote and immaterial god in direct opposition to a more organic understanding of nature as a “motherly” and immanent figure, with all of the reservations that such a figure implies. These are some of the questions that we will explore, and the focus of our discussions will be to bring new voices in order to deconstruct the Eurocentric concept of “nature.”

Faculty

The World According to Ariyoshi Sawako

Open , Seminar—Fall

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

In this seminar, we will read a variety of works by Ariyoshi Sawako (1931-1984), one of Japan’s most talented storytellers in the last century. Ariyoshi’s novels vividly portray the lives of women in different historical moments, such as the dancer Okuni, the originator of kabuki theater, in Kabuki Dancer; the wife and mother of Hanako Seishu, the first surgeon to perform surgery using general anesthesia, in The Doctor’s Wife; and a mother, daughter, and granddaughter whose lives reflect changes in modern Japan in The River Ki. Many of Ariyoshi’s works also expose social issues, such as The Twilight Years, her immensely popular novel on the challenges of caring for aging parents, and Compound Pollution, her environmental novel that brought greater public attention to the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Early in her writing career, Ariyoshi received a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to study at Sarah Lawrence College, and we will also consider how her experiences at Sarah Lawrence may have influenced the directions she took in her subsequent writing. Ariyoshi’s literature will provide us with a lens to consider various topics, such as Japanese performing arts, history, gender, social issues, and translation. In addition to these readings, we will view some film adaptations of Ariyoshi’s literary works.

Faculty

Visionary Spaces: Light Information Reflexivity

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

This course offers an unusual take on contemporary culture (digital media, cybernetics, networked society) by starting from the reference points of Eastern philosophy (Taoist, Buddhist). Rather than the focal point of the individual subject (whether in affirmative or critical mode), it is a different notion of the self, or rather processes of interaction, transmutation, and ecology, that provide ground for our investigations. In the end, we arrive at a different formulation of the problems of reification, spectacle and power. The question of subjectivity will not be deconstructed so much as redesigned and repurposed within the context of what I call Eastern praxis—practices of mind, rather than analyses of discourse—and brought to bear on the perennial question of critical thought: how do we live (well) under contemporary conditions of labor and communication? Sidestepping the dialectic of utopia/dystopia, we will explore the problem of social life under the auspices of an Eastern vital materialism. Primary materials for this course are drawn from film, multimedia and performance art, Internet-based projects and environmental design, as well as extensive readings in criticism, theory and philosophy.

Faculty

Music, Structure, and Power: Theories of Musical Meaning

Open , Lecture—Spring

This course may be counted as either humanities or social science credit. This course may also be taken as a semester-long component. No prior experience in music is necessary.

How do we listen to unfamiliar music? What ideas, principles, and ideologies influence how we hear? What do the sounds of music tell us about society? This course explores the practice of music theory and the search for musical meaning with examples from around the world. We will describe unfamiliar music and then understand it, using various attempts to translate its meaning. Course themes include musical and cultural difference, the relativism of musical perception, structuralist approaches to music theory, the politics of representation, decolonizing music history, and others. Course units will draw from varied ethnographic case studies from ethnomusicology and anthropology and may include examples from India, Indonesia, China, East Africa, West Africa, the Caribbean, and North America. Class sessions of this course may be modified for an online format, if necessary. Participation in the Faso Foli (West African percussion) ensemble is strongly encouraged.

Faculty

The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open , Seminar—Spring

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon in which people move into another nation with the intention of making a better life for themselves and/or residing there temporarily or permanently. While anchored in a multidisciplinary perspective, this seminar explores the crucial role of psychology in understanding the processes associated with our conceptualizations of immigrants and immigration. The course will begin with some theoretical perspectives on immigration, as well as a brief historical overview of some sociological and some social psychological research on immigrants. We will then examine the identity of the immigrant, stressing the profound distinctions between forced and voluntary immigrants. We will explore the processes through which “illegality” is constructed by reflecting on the lives of undocumented immigrants. We will also look very closely at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture to see how they shape the psychological experience of immigrants. Seeking to extend our analysis to immigration’s impact on the host population, we will conclude the course by discussing several social psychological issues, such as intergroup relations, discrimination, and modes of adaptation.

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Religion in Contemporary Japan

Open , Lecture—Fall

This course is an examination of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in Japanese society today, covering all of the major religious traditions and movements in contemporary Japan: Shinto, the various schools of Buddhism, Shugendo, Christianity, and the so-called New Religions that have flourished in the postwar period. Issues of historical development are touched on 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 audio-visual 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. Prior study or experience of things Japanese (language, literature, history, etc.) is desirable but not required.

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The Buddhist Tradition in India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia

Open , Lecture—Spring

This introductory course treats the evolution of Buddhism in India from the origins of the religion as a group of “world-renouncing” ascetics through the development of large, state-supported monastic communities and the emergence of the major reform movements known as Mahayana and Tantra. The course also focuses on the Buddhism of two regions of the world—Southeast Asia and the Tibetan plateau—where the respective traditions have been most self-consciously concerned with maintaining precedents inherited from India. Equal attention is paid to: (1) matters of philosophy and doctrine, (2) religious rites and practices, and (3) social and institutional arrangements. The lectures will be accompanied by copious audio-visual materials.

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Chan and Zen Buddhism

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course is an in-depth, historical examination of the philosophy, mythology, literature, institutional arrangements, religious practices, art, and architecture associated with this most famous and widely misunderstood school of East Asian Buddhism. The Chan (Zen) school of Buddhism arose in China as the result of a cross-cultural exchange of epic proportions: the gradual intrusion into China of an alien set of religious ideas, values, and practices—those belonging to Indian Buddhism—between the first and the eighth centuries of the Common Era and the subsequent efforts of some 20 generations of Chinese Buddhists to defend, adapt, domesticate, and finally make the foreign religion entirely their own. Chan became the most “Chinese” school of Buddhism by defining itself in terms of indigenous concepts of clan genealogy; by exalting members of its spiritual lineage as native-born buddhas; and by allowing those buddhas to speak in the vernacular, using a mode of rhetoric that was heavily influenced by the Confucian and Daoist traditions. The course begins by outlining Indian Buddhist doctrines and practices that were imported into China and by summarizing the indigenous cultural milieu that was initially quite hostile to the alien religion. We will then explore the various compromises and adaptations of Indian Buddhist teachings, practices, and institutions that took shape within the Chan tradition and enabled it to emerge in the Song dynasty (960-1278) as the predominant school of Chinese Buddhism. Background knowledge of East Asian history, languages, or religions is desirable but not required.

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Zen Buddhism in Japan and America

Open , Seminar—Spring

The American fascination with Zen Buddhism began during the postwar occupation of Japan and took off during the 1950s, when Jack Kerouac and other members the “beat generation” styled themselves as freewheeling Zen “dharma bums.” In the 1960s, the Zen writings of D. T. Suzuki became popular and introduced the possibility of satori, or spiritual “enlightenment,” which seemed to fit right in with the “turn on, tune in, drop out” philosophy of the hippie movement and its use of psychedelic drugs. From the 1970s, Zen centers sprang up across the United States and Europe, giving people who were serious about gaining satori a taste of the rigors of Japanese-style Zen monastic training with its long hours of zazen (sitting meditation) and emphasis on ascetic endurance. Karate and other martial arts dojo opened in neighborhoods everywhere, and anyone who trains in one is likely to hear something about the deep historical connection between Zen and Bushido (the “way of the warrior”) in Japan. Meanwhile, Zen has also became known in the West for its refined aesthetic sense, as represented in the "Zen arts" of the tea ceremony, flower arranging, ink painting, landscape gardening, and Noh theatre. The project of this course is to pull back the curtain of these Western images of Zen and to look behind them to see what Zen Buddhism in Japan has really been like from the time of its initial importation from China in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) down to the present. It may be surprising to learn, for example, that Zen was instrumental in introducing Confucian-style ancestor worship to Japan and that, even today, the main occupation of Zen monks is the performance of funerals and memorial services for ancestral spirits. Zen monasteries were, indeed, built and patronized by samurai rulers right down to the advent of the Meiji period in 1868, when Japan began a headlong rush to adopt many elements of Western technology and culture; but what attracted samurai to the religion was largely the elite Chinese culture that samurai conveyed, not any warrior spirit of fearlessness in the face of death. Ironically, much of what Americans think of as "Zen" was invented in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as the Zen Buddhist priesthood in Japan struggled to make itself relevant in the modern scientific age of colonialism and militarism. The notions that Zen dispenses with religious superstition and empty ritual, for example, and that it is a kind of spirituality that can be practiced in the midst of everyday life no matter what a person's occupation, were formulated in Japan by Zen monks and lay practitioners who had been deeply influenced by Western cultural norms such as rationality and individualistic self-help. Similarly, the idea that Zen training could toughen up soldiers to fight for the empire dated from a time when the samurai class had been dissolved and the country was busy conscripting into the military all the sons of farmers and merchants. In the postwar period, the theme of “Zen and Bushido” was conveniently muted, while “Zen and the arts” was promoted both within Japan and abroad. This course explores these and other aspects of the history and current status of Zen Buddhism in Japan. Some background knowledge of the Buddhist tradition is desirable but not mandatory.

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Veiled Lives: Women and Resistance in the Muslim World

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course is designed to enable participants to better understand the complexities, nuances, ambiguities, and contradictions that surround our understanding of the lives of women in those places designated as the “Muslim” world. Our examination will not be based on a comprehensive historical accounting of women’s lives in the geographical spaces under scrutiny. Instead, it will be informed by central guiding questions, including the following: What are the different conceptual frameworks that inform our perceptions of women in the Muslim world? What politics and histories are embedded in different “ways of seeing”? What are the various discursive and material forces that inform women’s lives in the places under scrutiny, and how do they serve to restrict women and simultaneously provide openings for women’s resistance to their oppression? We will analyze the debates surrounding the origins of women’s subordination in the Muslim world; consider the harem and the veil, both as representational devices and embodied spaces; examine the multiple modalities through and in which women’s lives are lived out (historically and socially); and examine the shifting and dynamic constitution of their existence. In order to do so, the course will take into consideration colonialism, modernity, and postcoloniality in relationship to women’s ability to carve out their own histories. For our analysis, we will draw upon ethnographic and visual materials, colonial and literary writings, sociological texts, films (including) documentaries, and (auto)biographies. For conference, possible topics include an analysis of women’s movements in a particular place or in multiple spaces, the role of the state and the law and their impact on women, representation of women and Islam in the media and in colonial writing; and women's writing and voice(s). The course will be of interest to students who wish to pursue studies of gender and sexuality, colonialism and postcoloniality, media and Islamic studies, law and society, studies of the global south and diaspora studies, as well as writing, film, and media studies.

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Contextualizing Communications: The Poetics of Seeing

Open , Seminar—Spring

Seeing is not a natural process or an individual activity; rather, it is embedded in social forces and imbued with historically and spatially constructed meanings. This seminar is designed to interrogate how we communicate and make meaning from such a vantage point. While this course takes a broadly construed sociology of culture as its point of departure, it understands sociology as what a British sociologist called a “parasitical” discipline that frequently disrupts and violates disciplinary borders and boundaries. The course will follow in that vein. Our initial readings, which will include Raymond Williams, Edward Said, Aime Cesaire, and John Berger, will set the conceptual framework for what follows. We will draw upon literature; film and music; (auto)biography; letters, diaries, oral histories; and archival and legal texts emanating from different parts of the globe, with an emphasis on cultural productions about and from the global South and/or diasporic communities. Our analyses will be framed in terms of a number of themes and questions, relating those to the contexts within which the works were produced. We will start with an overview of historical and methodological questions; examine colonial texts and their critique, the production of nationalism(s), and identities; censorship, post-coloniality, and the violence of “home”; and conclude with transformative visions. It is hoped that this perusal of a diversity of genres and voices will enable us to rethink the relations between objectivity and subjectivity, fiction, biography and fact, political and social censorships to which their producers subscribe or against which they struggle, as well as struggles over voice and/in the remaking of space. Our goal is to problematize naturalistic "ways of seeing” (a term borrowed from John Berger) and thus show how seeing (through sonic, cinematic, and literary constructions) is both an ideologically regimented activity and a creative form of emancipatory action. Rather than seeing our readings as the expression of individual genius, we will engage with them as a way to become astute readers of the material poetics of social life.

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Experiments With Truth

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

Nonfiction writing is defined not by what it is but by what it is not. It is not fiction. But what it is not comprehends a vast territory. We will spend the semester looking at the more unusual, experimental, and lyrical inhabitants of this territory: personal essays masquerading as anthropological studies or paleontological meditations or political screeds, blog posts from medieval Japan and Renaissance France, diaries, poems in the form of diary entries, essays masquerading as poems, micro nonfictions, feuilletons, prose poems passing themselves off as travelogues, koans, sermons, speeches, prayers. We will read a variety of writers from the past (among, but not limited to, Sei Shonagon, Montaigne, Sir Thomas Browne, Wilde, Pessoa, Gandhi, Mandelstam, Elizabeth Bishop, V. S. Naipaul, and the unknown genius who wrote the Book of Job) and from the present (John D’Agata, Bhanu Kapil, Anne Carson, Jonathan Franzen). After the first few weeks, we will alternate week-by-week sessions discussing reading with sessions discussing student work. Conference work will comprise discussion of reading tailored to individual students and the equivalent of two large pieces of writing in whatever form student and instructor agree upon.

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Ecopoetry

Open , Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the living world—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read and write poems every week. We will ask questions: When did we begin to think of nature as apart from us? Why did we begin to speak of the animals as if we are not also animals? What are the stories and myths that have determined out attitude toward what we are and what we believe? We will read some of these stories and myths (myths of creation, Eden, the lost garden). We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder and to utterly contemporary poets writing right now. We will read books and articles that teach us about the other animals and living entities that we call plants and trees and planets and galaxies. Each student will research an aspect of the living world and teach the rest of us what they have learned. And we will write poems that incorporate that knowledge. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class in weekly poetry dates. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will create a collection of poems that engage the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other organisms? How have we, as a species, affected the other organisms? How have we affected the oceans, the earth, the air? How can poetry address the planetary emergency? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world, to pay attention, and to write poetry that matters. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

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Poetry Workshop: Wearing a Mask: Persona Poems

Open , Seminar—Spring

When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person.—Emily Dickinson, in a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

For centuries, poets have spoken in the voices of other people. From the early Greeks to Shakespeare, to Walt Whitman, to Emily Dickinson, to Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, Robert Hayden, Lucille Clifton, Louise Gluck, Patricia Smith, Nick Flynn, Jorie Graham, Tyehimba Jess, etc. What is made possible when one speaks in the voice of a character that is not oneself? What is possible speaking through a character in an ancient story or myth? What is made possible when one gives voice to a character nothing like oneself? Who dares to speak in the voice of a flower? Of a bee? Of a storm? Of a star? What if one gives voice to the fragments of voices within one’s consciousness? In this class, we will read poems where the poet has spoken in a different tongue, or worn the mask of someone else, or of something else. Each participant will be expected to deeply read assigned collections each week, to meet with another student in a weekly poetry date, and to bring in one new persona poem each week. I hope we will find that outside the limits of the personal story is a cosmos of possibilities for empathy, revision, wonder, instruction, and finding another way in: slant.

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