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 members, 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.

Asian Studies 2021-2022 Courses

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

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

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 polity. 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 Yatsen, China’s “national father”; colorful warlords; corrupt bureaucrats; fervent intellectuals; protesting youths; heroic communist martyrs; the towering and enigmatic chairman Mao; 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. In addition to regular seminar (discussion) sessions, this FYS includes an individual research (conference) project each semester; these will be guided through biweekly, research-specific, group meetings and individual conferences in the fall and biweekly one-on-one meetings in the spring.

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

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

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 those hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways in which 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. By considering these questions, this course hopes to think through the contradictory realities of a moment in India during which major Bollywood studios are producing gay dramas and even rom-coms, while questions of sexuality, gender, class, caste, and religious identity are being violently weaponized by mobs with seeming impunity granted by a Hindu-nationalist state. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artifacts—such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and BR Ambedkar—as 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).

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Japan’s Heisei Era (1989–2019): Culture, Society, and Experiences

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

In this seminar, we will embark on an examination of Japan’s Heisei Era (1989-2019). Over the course of 30 years, this dynamic period of contemporary Japanese history gave rise to significant societal changes, profound cultural transformations, and multiple shared national traumas. Persistent demographic shifts produced far-reaching consequences, greatly altering individuals’ lived experiences and expectations. Devastating natural and manmade disasters deeply shaped collective and individual consciences. Desires for catharsis, escapism, recreation, and reflection reinvigorated popular culture across a plethora of mediums: J-pop, literature, puroresu, anime, and many more. Relaxed societal constraints facilitated new options for self-expression, livelihood, and interpersonal relations. Underrepresented voices were added to critical dialogues. We will examine the unique sociocultural phenomena and historical events that constitute the Heisei Era, utilizing a diverse and interdisciplinary array of primary sources—ethnography, literature, journalism, analyses, and narratives—augmented by albums and films. We will attempt to deconstruct the era from a monolithic entity into a series of interlinking but distinct features in order to better understand and evaluate it. We will explore key sociocultural developments of the Heisei Era: Japan’s rapidly aging and decreasing population, family structure, alienation, gender norms and reform, rural depopulation, historical reckonings, and more. We will investigate the ramifications of major events, such as the Aum Shinrikyo terror attacks; the collapse of the bubble economy; and the “311” Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown. We will also examine influential Heisei-defining individuals and exemplars of popular culture, potentially including Hikaru Utada, Studio Ghibli, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hakuho, and Perfume. Our ultimate aim is to comprehend this immensely impactful period in recent Japanese history from a variety of perspectives through both academic analyses and the creative output of the period itself.

Faculty

Asian Imperialisms, 1600–1953

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

East Asia, like much of the globe, has been powerfully shaped by the arrival and presence of imperialist power in the region. In fact, in both China and Japan, nationalism is founded on resistance to the encroachments of Western imperialism. Both nations cast themselves as victims to the rapacious West. And yet, often unnoticed by patriots and pundits, both China and Japan are deeply indebted to their own domestic imperialisms, albeit in very different ways. Relying on a wide range of course materials (historical scholarship, paintings, lithographs, photographs, literature, and relevant primary sources), this course is an intensive investigation of the contours of Asian imperialism, covering the colonialism of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), the aggressive Western expansion in the 19th century, and the Japanese Empire (1895-1945). We will ask: What features (if any) did these very different empires share, and what set them apart from each other? How and why were Asian empires built, how did they end, and what legacies did they leave? We will excavate the multiethnic Qing imperium for how it complicates China’s patriotic master narrative. Does Qing ethnic policy toward native Miao tribes differ from Western racism and its familiar Civilizing Discourse? And what are the legacies of Qing colonialism for China’s modern nation state? The Qing campaigns to subjugate the Mongols in the northwest and the colonization of the untamed southwest both predated the arrival of the Westerners and the Opium War (1839-42). How does that impact our understanding of the clash between China and the rapidly expanding West? We will trace earlier views on the classic confrontation between those two presumed entities before examining more recent revisionist formulations on the Western penetration of China. What were the processes of Western intrusion, and how did Western imperialism come to structure knowledge of China? And, finally, we will turn to the Japanese empire. What were its motivations, its main phases, and its contradictions? Should we understand it as similar to Western imperialism or as an alternative, something unique? What are the implications of both positions? To understand the Japanese empire in both its experiential and theoretical dimensions, we will range widely across Japan’s possessions in Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria. The questions and topics in this seminar will complicate the master narratives that prevail in both East Asia and the West—not to delegitimize or subvert Asian sovereignties but, in order to understand the deeply embedded narratives of imperialism within those sovereign claims, to see how those narratives (and their blind spots) continue to frame and support policies and attitudes today.

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Virtue and the Good Life: Ethics in Classical Chinese Philosophy

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This course centers on the close, detailed reading of a small number of foundational texts in classical Confucianism and Taoism. Our focus will be to explore how these texts might fit “virtue ethics,” which emphasizes moral character and the pursuit of a worthwhile life. Some attention will be paid to other forms of ethics, including those that stress either the adherence to duties and obligations or the social consequences of ethical action. Our primary goal, however, will be to examine the ways in which classical Chinese philosphers regarded personal virtues and “good character” as both a prerequisite to and an explanation of appropriate action and its consequences. Among the more specific topics that we will explore are: ideal traits of virtue, the links between moral values and different understandings of human nature, the pyschological structures of virtue, practices leading to the cultivation of virtue, the roles of family and friendship in developing moral values, and what constitutes a good life.

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Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, First Nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Argentina, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how queer is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, queer itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures produces or reveals, not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time in which homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).
 

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity From 1949 to the Present

Open, Joint seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This seminar course will examine both the historical and cultural context of mainland Chinese cinema from 1949 to the present. The course will be focused on full-length feature films from the People’s Republic of China, providing an eclectic mix of movies covering socialist propaganda of the high Maoist period (1949-76), the critical stances of the “Fifth Generation” (of graduates from the Beijing Film Academy) in the 1980s and early 1990s, the more entertainment-focused films of post-Deng (2000s) China, as well as contemporary art films that are largely seen outside of the commercial exhibition circuit. This wide variety of films will open up questions of cinematic representations of Chinese identity and culture in at least four major modes: socialist revolutionary (1949-76), critical reflections on China’s past and the revolution (1982-1989), what one might call neoliberal entertainment (1990-present), and the more underground art cinema that has emerged as mainstream Chinese cinema has become increasingly commercial. Along with the close analysis of films (their narrative structure, audiovisual language, relationship to other films from both China and beyond), the course will deal with Confucian legacies in Chinese society, communist revolutionary spasms and the censorship system, and the more open market and ideology of the post-Mao reform era. Assigned readings will be varied, as well. Several key movies will be paired with their textual antecedents (e.g., LU Xun’s New Year’s Sacrifice will be read alongside HU Sang’s by the same title, while LI Zhun’s The Biography of LI Shuangshuang will accompany the 1962 movie that followed). Appropriate readings will cover important historical background in some detail; for example, the Great Leap Forward (1959-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) are both crucial events for understanding the revolutionary experience, while the latter is particularly relevant for its impact on reform-era filmmakers. Other readings will focus specifically on cinema, ranging from broad historical overviews on the material/financial conditions of production, distribution, and exhibition; close analyses of individual films; the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema and the construction of “Chineseness” as a object for the Western gaze to the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open superseminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for two and half hours in order to facilitate in-depth discussions of paired material; for example, two movies or a movie and significant historical texts (either primary or secondary). In addition to this weekly class time, there will be required screenings of film (one or two per week).

Faculty

Ethnographic Research and Writing

Advanced, Seminar—Year

Javanese shadow theatre, Bedouin love poems, and American community life are but a few of the cultural realities that anthropologists have effectively studied and written about. This is no easy task, given the substantial difficulties involved in understanding and portraying the concerns, activities, and lifeworlds other than one’s own. Despite those challenges, ethnographic research is generally considered one of the best ways to form a nuanced and contextually rich understanding of a particular social world. To gain an informed sense of the methods, challenges, and benefits of just such an approach, students in this course will try their hands at ethnographic research and writing. In the fall semester, each student will be asked to undertake an ethnographic research project in order to investigate the features of a specific social world, such as a homeless shelter, a religious festival, or a neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the spring, she or he will craft a fully realized piece of ethnographic writing that conveys something of the features and dynamics of that world in lively, accurate, and comprehensive terms. Along the way, and with the help of anthropological writings that are either exceptional or experimental in nature, we will collectively think through some of the most important features of ethnographic projects, such as interviewing others, the use of fieldnotes, the interlacing of theory and data, the role of dialogue and the author’s voice in ethnographic prose, and the ethnical and political responsibilities that come with any attempt to understand and portray the lives of others.

Faculty

Black England: From Tudors to Two-Tone

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

In 1596, Elizabeth Tudor wrote to lord mayors of major English cities that there were “of late divers blackamoores brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are already here to manie…….those kinde of people should be sente forth of the land.” A common myth about England is that it was a homogeneously white nation until Jamaicans and South Asians emigrated to Britain after World War II. Another myth is that there were no slaves held in England. As the above quotation indicates, free Black people were already settled there in the 16th century; and they were already the object of scapegoating for increasing poverty in the land at that time. The 17th century brought African slaves to England and, by the 19th century, the great ports of London, Bristol, and Liverpool were populated by West Africans (free and unfree); Lascars (Muslim sailors from east of the Cape of Good Hope); and seamen from Shanghai and Guangzhou, who created the first European China Town in the London Docks. In this class, we will investigate the multiracial nature of England from the Tudor era to the late 20th century. We will consider temporal moves between free and unfree lives and the role of free Africans in the abolition movement. Articulations of race, gender, and sexuality will be central, particularly as they play out in family formations and economic activities. We will wrestle with the absence of people of color in discourses about the English past and with contemporary constructions of racist stereotypes, such as the 19th-century trope of the Chinese opium den. Finally, we will engage with cultural explosions in music (reggae, ska, two-tone), film (Young Soul Rebels, Bend it Like Beckham, The Stuart Hall Project), and literature (Fathima Zahra, Aizaz Hussain, Paul Gilroy) created by second- and third-generation children of Commonwealth immigrants, particularly as they articulate with antiracism movements. Our hands-on class materials will be multidisciplinary (anthropology, history, literature) and multimedia, with a particular focus on visual images, audio, maps, and archival documents.

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Global Modernism, Internationalism, and the Cold War: 1930s, 1960s, 1990s

Open, Lecture—Year

This course is an introduction to diverse trajectories of modern and contemporary art from contexts that include Russia, Mexico, Iran, China, Japan, Argentina, India, Nigeria, Brazil, Ethiopia, Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan, as well as Europe and North America. The course ties these trajectories together via the theme of “internationalism” and its shifting geopolitical stakes over the course of the 20th century. The course follows the creation of modern internationalism in institutions like the League of Nations, the United Nations, UNESCO, and the Non-Aligned Movement; to a shift from diplomatic internationalism to economic “developmentalism” and “globalization” led by institutions like the World Bank and the IMF; and related cultural internationalisms promoted by MoMA, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Venice and São Paulo Biennales, and even the Stalinist state and Chinese Communist Party. Lectures will examine topics like Mexican muralism and Rockefeller internationalism; Négritude and its influence on African postcolonial modernisms; the infamous “weaponization” of abstract expressionism during the Cold War; debates on socialist realism in the Second and Third Worlds; the arrival of postcolonial diasporas to London and Paris and, relatedly, developments in “calligraphic modernism” spanning from North Africa to East Asia; and finally the proliferation of post-medium and new media strategies around the world toward the end of the century. Taking a chronological journey through global modern and contemporary art, the course focuses on three key decades to examine how artists navigated the shifting pressures and opportunities of internationalism throughout the 20th century. We will ask: How did modern artists think about national identity and nationalism in the colonial and postcolonial periods? What were the stakes of abstraction versus realism in different Cold War contexts? Can modernism exist in a totalitarian state? How have “First World” ideologies informed how modernist history has been written in the past? How are global modernists expanding the canon today? And on whose terms? While the course will include canonical readings on modern and contemporary art from the West, we will also read work by thinkers including Hannah Arendt and Rabindranath Tagore on nationalism; Mark Mazower and Vijay Prashad on the shifting politics of internationalism; Geeta Kapur and Ferreira Gullar on postcolonial avant-gardes; and primary documents, including UNESCO conference proceedings and artist manifestoes. The course lays a particular focus on recent work on global modernism by scholars that include Chika Okeke-Agulu, Iftikhar Dadi, Kellie Jones, Joan Kee, Ana María Reyes, and Reiko Tomii. These readings will illustrate current debates and shifts in the field, opening onto questions of art historical method and ways of looking, especially as they pertain to contested and formerly marginalized domains of art history. Writing assignments will focus on New York-area collections; the course will include a guided field trip to MoMA.

Faculty

Home/Nation: 20th-Century Asian Art–via New York

Open, Seminar—Fall

This seminar is an introduction to modern and contemporary art from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The course takes its title from Indian artist Rummana Hussain’s “Home/Nation” (1996), a multimedia installation reflecting on rising political violence in India at the end of the century—especially against minority groups. In 1998, Hussain completed a residency at Art in General in New York and was one of numerous artists from across Asia showing in the City during the “global” and “multicultural” 1990s. This seminar elaborates on this global turn by tracing prior histories of Asian art in the City; however, our discussion and reading will also spend equal time in Asian and New York-based histories of modern and contemporary art, looking across continents to consider parallels, inversions, connections, and disconnections between and among them. We will, therefore, examine artists like Hussain, who might have visited New York only briefly, along with those who have lived in the City for all or most of their lives. Artists examined will include Toshi Shumizu, Rabindranath Tagore, Chao Chung-hsiang, F. N. Souza, Isamu Noguchi, Zainul Abedin, Yoko Ono, Tehching Hsieh, Zarina Hashmi, and Shahzia Sikander. We will consider how artists grappled with splits between “home” and “nation,” both in Asia and in the United States, during the 20th century, taking into account major events in Asian history that include decolonization, the Cold War, and neoliberal globalization. We will also explore the impact of World War I and World War II on Asian minorities in the United States, the civil rights movement and related passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, the Vietnam War, and, more recently, the aftermaths of 9/11 and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Artistically, we will examine diverse trajectories of realism and abstraction, photography and performance, and new media and avant-garde strategies. Students will have the opportunity to visit New York-based museums, galleries, and archival collections, including the Asia Art Archive, as part of in-class and individual assignments. Seminar discussion and final papers will focus on primary documents: institutional correspondences and historical newspaper and magazine reviews, artist writings and interviews, and archival photographs, among other documentary forms. These records will be used to build on existing histories of Asian art in/via New York and, if possible, to rediscover new or forgotten ones.

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity From 1949 to the Present

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

This seminar course will examine both the historical and cultural context of mainland Chinese cinema from 1949 to the present. The course will be focused on full-length feature films from the People’s Republic of China, providing an eclectic mix of movies covering socialist propaganda of the high Maoist period (1949-76), the critical stances of the “Fifth Generation” (of graduates from the Beijing Film Academy) in the 1980s and early 1990s, the more entertainment-focused films of post-Deng (2000s) China, as well as contemporary art films that are largely seen outside of the commercial exhibition circuit. This wide variety of films will open up questions of cinematic representations of Chinese identity and culture in at least four major modes: socialist revolutionary (1949-76), critical reflections on China’s past and the revolution (1982-1989), what one might call neoliberal entertainment (1990-present), and the more underground art cinema that has emerged as mainstream Chinese cinema has become increasingly commercial. Along with the close analysis of films (their narrative structure, audiovisual language, relationship to other films from both China and beyond), the course will deal with Confucian legacies in Chinese society, communist revolutionary spasms and the censorship system, and the more open market and ideology of the post-Mao reform era. Assigned readings will be varied, as well. Several key movies will be paired with their textual antecedents (e.g., LU Xun’s New Year’s Sacrifice will be read alongside HU Sang’s by the same title, while LI Zhun’s The Biography of LI Shuangshuang will accompany the 1962 movie that followed). Appropriate readings will cover important historical background in some detail; for example, the Great Leap Forward (1959-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) are both crucial events for understanding the revolutionary experience, while the latter is particularly relevant for its impact on reform-era filmmakers. Other readings will focus specifically on cinema, ranging from broad historical overviews on the material/financial conditions of production, distribution, and exhibition; close analyses of individual films; the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema and the construction of “Chineseness” as a object for the Western gaze to the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open superseminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for two and half hours in order to facilitate in-depth discussions of paired material; for example, two movies or a movie and significant historical texts (either primary or secondary). In addition to this weekly class time, there will be required screenings of film (one or two per week).

Faculty

Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong (Fundamentals)

Component—Fall

Students will be introduced to the traditional Chinese practices of Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong. These practices engage with slow, deliberate movements, focusing on the breath, meditative practice, and posture to restore and balance energy—called chi or Qi. The postures flow together, creating graceful dances of continuous motion. Sometimes referred to as one of the soft or internal martial arts, Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong are foundational practices within a lifelong, holistic self-cultivation in traditional Chinese culture. 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.

Faculty

Butoh Through LEIMAY Ludus

Component—Spring

This course is an introduction to butoh through the lens of LEIMAY’s Ludus practice, which is the embodied research being taught today by LEIMAY Artistic Director Ximena Garnica. Butoh is a Japanese performing-art form that was created by Tatsumi Hijikata in the 1950s and 1960s. The course will start with an introduction to Hijikata’s butoh-fu, a choreographic method that physicalizes imagery through words. The course will then expand into LEIMAY’s Ludus practice, using multiple physical explorations to embody imagery and enlarge states of consciousness, enabling multiple realms of perception while challenging eurocentric notions of body, space, and time. Each dancer’s physical potential will be cultivated to develop a unique movement language that is rooted in butoh's ideas of transformation. Simultaneously, we will focus on the conditioning of a conductive body through the identification of the body’s own weight in relation to gravity, along with the cultivation of internal rhythm and fluidity. Together, we will decentralize self-centered approaches to movement and explore the possibilities of “being danced by” instead of “I dance,” “becoming space-body” rather than occupying space. We will challenge our body’s materiality and enliven our sensorium through listening to the rhythms and textures of the nonhuman. And we will use impossibility as a spark to enrich the ways in which we create and inhabit the world. This course is based on principles developed through nearly two decades of Ximena’s study of butoh. Historical and cultural context will be offered throughout the course.

Faculty

Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity From 1949 to the Present

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

This seminar course will examine both the historical and cultural context of mainland Chinese cinema from 1949 to the present. The course will be focused on full-length feature films from the People’s Republic of China, providing an eclectic mix of movies covering socialist propaganda of the high Maoist period (1949-76), the critical stances of the “Fifth Generation” (of graduates from the Beijing Film Academy) in the 1980s and early 1990s, the more entertainment-focused films of post-Deng (2000s) China, as well as contemporary art films that are largely seen outside of the commercial exhibition circuit. This wide variety of films will open up questions of cinematic representations of Chinese identity and culture in at least four major modes: socialist revolutionary (1949-76), critical reflections on China’s past and the revolution (1982-1989), what one might call neoliberal entertainment (1990-present), and the more underground art cinema that has emerged as mainstream Chinese cinema has become increasingly commercial. Along with the close analysis of films (their narrative structure, audiovisual language, relationship to other films from both China and beyond), the course will deal with Confucian legacies in Chinese society, communist revolutionary spasms and the censorship system, and the more open market and ideology of the post-Mao reform era. Assigned readings will be varied, as well. Several key movies will be paired with their textual antecedents (e.g., LU Xun’s New Year’s Sacrifice will be read alongside HU Sang’s by the same title, while LI Zhun’s The Biography of LI Shuangshuang will accompany the 1962 movie that followed). Appropriate readings will cover important historical background in some detail; for example, the Great Leap Forward (1959-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) are both crucial events for understanding the revolutionary experience, while the latter is particularly relevant for its impact on reform-era filmmakers. Other readings will focus specifically on cinema, ranging from broad historical overviews on the material/financial conditions of production, distribution, and exhibition; close analyses of individual films; the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema and the construction of “Chineseness” as a object for the Western gaze to the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open superseminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for two and half hours in order to facilitate in-depth discussions of paired material; for example, two movies or a movie and significant historical texts (either primary or secondary). In addition to this weekly class time, there will be required screenings of film (one or two per week).

Faculty

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 by the person asking the question? How have the questions 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 the 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.

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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

In this 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 the role some of its associated institutions 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, urbanization, industrialization, 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, as well as the potential of ”a new green deal.” 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 from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and North America. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage, substantive research project. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, you will be encouraged to do primary research over fall study days. Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

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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 polity. 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 Yatsen, China’s “national father”; colorful warlords; corrupt bureaucrats; fervent intellectuals; protesting youths; heroic communist martyrs; the towering and enigmatic chairman Mao; 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. In addition to regular seminar (discussion) sessions, this FYS includes an individual research (conference) project each semester; these will be guided through biweekly, research-specific, group meetings and individual conferences in the fall and biweekly one-on-one meetings in the spring.

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Nationalism

Open, Large seminar—Fall

This course provides a broad historical and theoretical inquiry into the phenomenon of nationalism—one of the most enduring ideological constructs of modern society. Indeed, the organization of the globe into a world of bordered territorial nation states—each encapsulating a unique social identity—is such a taken-for-granted feature of contemporary geopolitics that it is easy to forget that nations did not exist for most of human history and that nationalism dates back only to around the 1700s. And yet, despite many predictions of its imminent demise at different moments in history—Albert Einstein quipped famously that nationalism was an “infantile disease” that humanity would eventually outgrow—nationalism remains perhaps as powerful an ideological force as ever in the United States, as elsewhere. This course will examine a range of foundational questions about the emergence of nations and nationalism in world history: What is a nation, and how has national identity been cultivated, defined, and debated in different contexts? Why did nationalism emerge when it did? Who does nationalism benefit, and how do different social groups compete for control over national identity and ideology? How and why did nationalism become such a vital feature of anticolonial political movements beginning in the late-19th century? Is nationalism fundamentally a negative force—violent and exclusionary—or is it necessary for forging cohesive social bonds among diverse and far-flung populations? The course will begin with the emergence of nations and nationalism in Western Europe but will then move on to explore its evolution and ensuing spread to all parts of the globe, exploring a number of case studies along the way. The course will conclude with a brief survey of the state of nationalist politics today, with a particular emphasis on Brexit and white nationalism in the United States.

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Asian Imperialisms, 1600–1953

Open, Seminar—Fall

East Asia, like much of the globe, has been powerfully shaped by the arrival and presence of imperialist power in the region. In fact, in both China and Japan, nationalism is founded on resistance to the encroachments of Western imperialism. Both nations cast themselves as victims to the rapacious West. And yet, often unnoticed by patriots and pundits, both China and Japan are deeply indebted to their own domestic imperialisms, albeit in very different ways. Relying on a wide range of course materials (historical scholarship, paintings, lithographs, photographs, literature, and relevant primary sources), this course is an intensive investigation of the contours of Asian imperialism, covering the colonialism of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the aggressive Western expansion in the 19th century, and the Japanese Empire (1895-1945). We will ask: What features (if any) did these very different empires share, and what set them apart from each other? How and why were Asian empires built, how did they end, and what legacies did they leave? We will excavate the multiethnic Qing imperium for how it complicates China’s patriotic master narrative. Does Qing ethnic policy toward native Miao tribes differ from Western racism and its familiar civilizing discourse? And what are the legacies of Qing colonialism for China’s modern nation state? The Qing campaigns to subjugate the Mongols in the northwest and the colonization of the untamed southwest both predated the arrival of the Westerners and the Opium War (1839-42). How does that impact our understanding of the clash between China and the rapidly expanding West? We will trace earlier views on the classic confrontation between these two presumed entities before examining more recent revisionist formulations on the Western penetration of China. What were the processes of Western intrusion, and how did Western imperialism come to structure knowledge of China? And, finally, we will turn to the Japanese Empire. What were its motivations, its main phases, and its contradictions? Should we understand it as similar to Western imperialism or as an alternative, something unique? What are the implications of both positions? To understand the Japanese Empire in both its experiential and theoretical dimensions, we will range widely across Japan’s possessions in Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria. The questions and topics in this seminar will complicate the master narratives that prevail in both East Asia and the West—not to delegitimize or subvert Asian sovereignties but in order to understand the deeply embedded narratives of imperialism within those sovereign claims, to see how those narratives (and their blind spots) continue to frame and support policies and attitudes today.

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Mainland Chinese Cinema, Culture, and Identity From 1949 to the Present

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

This seminar course will examine both the historical and cultural context of mainland Chinese cinema from 1949 to the present. The course will be focused on full-length feature films from the People’s Republic of China, providing an eclectic mix of movies covering socialist propaganda of the high Maoist period (1949-76), the critical stances of the “Fifth Generation” (of graduates from the Beijing Film Academy) in the 1980s and early 1990s, the more entertainment-focused films of post-Deng (2000s) China, as well as contemporary art films that are largely seen outside of the commercial exhibition circuit. This wide variety of films will open up questions of cinematic representations of Chinese identity and culture in at least four major modes: socialist revolutionary (1949-76), critical reflections on China’s past and the revolution (1982-1989), what one might call neoliberal entertainment (1990-present), and the more underground art cinema that has emerged as mainstream Chinese cinema has become increasingly commercial. Along with the close analysis of films (their narrative structure, audiovisual language, relationship to other films from both China and beyond), the course will deal with Confucian legacies in Chinese society, communist revolutionary spasms and the censorship system, and the more open market and ideology of the post-Mao reform era. Assigned readings will be varied, as well. Several key movies will be paired with their textual antecedents (e.g., LU Xun’s New Year’s Sacrifice will be read alongside HU Sang’s by the same title, while LI Zhun’s The Biography of LI Shuangshuang will accompany the 1962 movie that followed). Appropriate readings will cover important historical background in some detail; for example, the Great Leap Forward (1959-62) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) are both crucial events for understanding the revolutionary experience, while the latter is particularly relevant for its impact on reform-era filmmakers. Other readings will focus specifically on cinema, ranging from broad historical overviews on the material/financial conditions of production, distribution, and exhibition; close analyses of individual films; the transition from socialist to postsocialist cinema and the construction of “Chineseness” as a object for the Western gaze to the avant-garde/independent responses to the current global/commercial Chinese cinema. This course is an open superseminar (capped at 30 students), meeting once a week for two and half hours in order to facilitate in-depth discussions of paired material; for example, two movies or a movie and significant historical texts (either primary or secondary). In addition to this weekly class time, there will be required screenings of film (one or two per week).

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Decolonization and the End of Empire

Open, Large seminar—Spring

Among the most salient features of the new international order that was ushered in by the end of World War II and the creation of the United Nations in 1945 was the emergence of an unprecedented global wave of decolonization that would last for roughly three decades. As many leaders of the international community consigned the “age of empire” to the dustbin of history, the world witnessed, in rapid succession, the dissolution of European overseas imperial configurations and the consequent formation of myriad new nation states across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. This seminar provides an in-depth historical inquiry into the global phenomenon of decolonization in the post-World War II era. The course will adopt a comparative and transnational lens, exploring—through a wide range of both secondary and primary sources—the complex historical processes that attended decolonization in the British, French, Italian, Dutch, and Portuguese imperial domains. Particular attention will be paid to the following questions: Why did European imperialism end when it did, and how did the politics of anti-colonial nationalism vary across the different empires? How did nationalist movements and local elites negotiate the end of imperial rule, and what challenges did they face in their attempts to build postcolonial societies? What role did international organizations such as the United Nations play in constructing the new decolonized world order? How did the Cold War impact decolonization? How did decolonization work within nascent frameworks in post-World War II international law, particularly concerning the legal status of postcolonial national citizens as well as migrants? And finally, to what extent has decolonization led to a truly “decolonized” world order? Or, to what extent have older imperial discourses, ideologies, and cultural prejudices persisted into the era of postcolonial independence and self-determination? Conference work for this seminar will take the form of small-group work: Each group will undertake research relating to the experience of decolonization in a different European imperial context (British, French, Italian, Dutch, or Portuguese).

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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.

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Advanced Beginning Japanese

Intermediate, 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.

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Italian and Japanese Women Writers: A Dialogue

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

This course will examine literature written by 20th- and 21st-century Italian and Japanese women writers. We will explore how their works address social issues related to family, marriage, and women’s changing roles, as well as the place of women’s writing in Italian and Japanese literary canons. Our readings will include works by Sibilla Aleramo, Grazia Deledda, Paola Masino, Ada Negri, Rosa Rosà, Anna Banti, Anna Maria Ortese, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Dacia Maraini, and Elena Ferrante for Italian literature; Higuchi Ichiyo, Ota Yoko, Hayashi Fumiko, Enchi Fumiko, Ariyoshi Sawako, Oba Minako, Yoshimoto Banana, Tsushima Yuko, Ogawa Yoko, Tawada Yoko, and Oyamada Hiroko for Japanese literature. Primary sources will range from fiction (novels, short stories, and fictional diaries) to autobiographies, diaries, and plays supplemented with secondary texts on women’s literature and histories. In addition to the lectures, students will attend weekly group conferences, and there will be group conference options for intermediate/advanced language students (in Italian and Japanese, respectively) to focus on developing language proficiency (e.g., by reading literary works in the original language, producing written compositions, and discussing works in Italian or Japanese). No previous background in Italian or Japanese language, literature, or history is required for this course.

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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 in which 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. By considering these questions, this course hopes to think through the contradictory realities of a moment in India during which major Bollywood studios are producing gay dramas and even rom-coms, while questions of sexuality, gender, class, caste, and religious identity are being violently weaponized by mobs with seeming impunity granted by a Hindu-nationalist state. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artifacts, such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and BR Ambedkar—as 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).

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Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, first nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Argentina, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how queer is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, queer itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures produces or reveals, not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time in which homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).

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Japanese Religion and Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall

This historical survey of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in Japan, from ancient times down to the present, covers all of the major religious traditions and movements—Shinto, Buddhism, Shugendo, Confucianism, and the so-called New Religions—as well as various elements of religion and culture (e.g., Noh theatre, Bushido) 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 provide a fuller picture of traditional religious art, architecture, and ritual performance in Japan. Prior study or experience of things Japanese (language, literature, history, etc.) is desirable but not required.

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Buddhist Meditation

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

Throughout history, most branches of the Buddhist tradition have embraced the idea that a deluded apprehension of one’s “self” and of the “things” that make up one’s world is the root cause of all suffering experienced by humans and other living beings in the round of rebirth (samsara). On a more mundane level, Buddhists have generally held that regulating the “mind”—the deep-seated nexus of habitual responses, proclivities, and beliefs that filters our perceptions and directs our actions—is the key to achieving individual satisfaction and social harmony and justice. Thus, whether the aim is ultimate salvation, happiness in this life, or simply the attainment of material benefits, Buddhists have often prescribed some program of sustained mental discipline—some kind of “meditation” practice—as the best means of working toward the goal. But “Buddhist meditation” is only a loose rubric that covers a wide range of different practices—as, for example, techniques for calming the mind and entering into trance; procedures for the systematic philosophical analysis of ultimate reality; mental exercises meant to suppress negative emotions (e.g., anger) and foster positive ones (e.g., loving kindness); the cultivation of “mindfulness,” in which one strives to maintain a constant, detached awareness of one’s own physical and mental states without trying to change them; mental exercises for recalling and repenting bad deeds done in the past; the visualization of deities, performed in conjunction with devotional prayer; the “investigation of words” attributed to Zen masters, also known as koan practice; and so on. In this course, we examine a selection of texts deriving from the Indian, Southeast Asian, East Asian, and Tibetan Buddhist traditions that treat these different types of meditation. Readings are in English translation.

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Both Public and Private: The Social Construction of Family Life

Open, Seminar—Year

Many of us take for granted the dichotomy between public and private life. The former is frequently understood as abstract, distant, and a key site of power; the latter, as the site of warmth, intimacy and emotional sustenance. In this seminar, we will critically examine the assumptions underlying such idealized distinctions between public and private domains. Through such revisioning, it is hoped that we will better understand the public and private dimensions of the family, its complexity, and its historical variability. In particular, our analysis will enable us to critically examine notions that posit the inevitability of the nuclear, heterosexual family as a universal and “natural” institution. Through historical, cross-cultural materials and oral histories, we will look at the myriad ways in which personal and social reproduction occur; the relationship between distinct family forms and different systems of social organization and social movements; and the expression of class, gender, racial relations, and sexual relations in diverse familial settings. Throughout, we will be attentive to shifting boundaries between the private domain (often erroneously and transhistorically understood in familial terms) and public institutions and practices. The “private” domain of the family will be problematized as a site for the construction of identity and caring and, simultaneously, as a location that engenders compulsion and violence. In this latter context, we will examine how relations of domination and subordination are produced through the institution of the “family” and how resistance is generated to such dominant relations and constructions. The course will conclude with an examination of family forms in contemporary societies (single-parent, same-sex, fictive-kin based) and of public struggles over these various forms.

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Lineages of Utopia

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Utopias have existed in human history for centuries. Guided by a critique of the world as constituted, utopias have been vehicles for both imagining and constructing a different socio-spatial order. In this seminar, we will examine the materialization of utopias in physical space and the logic(s) that informed them. Rather than dealing simply with the abstract ideas behind utopian thinking, we will examine a diversity of socio-spatial formations—both as a critique of the present state of existence and as a practice rooted in a radically divergent notion of the future. It is the contention of this course that utopias, rather than being solely imaginary, are deeply historical and informed by existing social conditions. With the objective of analyzing utopias as materialized practices, we will look at different kinds of utopian communities, ranging from millenarian movements, to socialist, anarchist and countercultural experiments, to the Occupy Wall Street movement. We will also examine architectural and aesthetic utopias which, like their more explicitly movement-based counterparts, attempt to visualize and rethink space—which remains an essential utopian preoccupation. Our foray into these various utopian designs is meant to get us to interrogate the impulses undergirding these practices instead of an approach that dwells primarily on their sustainability over time. We will attempt to understand the traces that these various experiments have bequeathed us regarding activism, social transformation, and the potential for a more just world. Participants in this seminar will be encouraged to address our living relationship with utopia by asking how we might, both individually and collectively, work to create, experience, or perform utopia without ascribing a totalizing vision to it. Student projects might take the form of a close examination of specific utopian practices or be based on creative projects and/or fictional utopias frequently encountered in science-fiction novels and film. Particular activist movements—such as Black Lives Matter, LGNTQ+ activism, and feminist movements—can also be seen as ways of visualizing futures that depart from the historical present, out of which such movements emerge and in which they are embedded. As such, these, too, have a vision of the future that is at odds with the present and will provide fertile ground for conference work. Finally, while the course will not specifically address the vexed relationship between utopias and dystopia, an examination of the latter remains yet another possible line of inquiry for student projects.

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