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Southeast Asian Culture Courses

Here are some of the Buddhist Studies courses that are regularly offered. Be sure to check our course gallery and the LSA Course Guide to find out everything being taught in a given semester.

ASIAN 248: Jesus Comes to Asia: Conversion and its Consequences in Asia

This course provides a broad introduction to the history of Christian conversion and its legacies in the regions now known as South, East, and Southeast Asia. Our focus will be largely limited to the period during which Christian conversion was contemporaneous with other forms of global expansion such as colonialism. Drawing from a range of primary and secondary source materials, we will try to understand who Christian missionaries were, the many motivations that drove them, the diversity of methods they used to convert native populations, and, of tantamount importance, the ways in which local populations resisted and transformed Christianity to suit or blend with their own social and political structures, spiritual beliefs and practices, and notions of temporal and divine power.

Throughout the semester, we will engage these central themes through the lens of religious conversion. Questions considered include: What role did religious conversion play in constructing racial and ethnic categories? To what extent was race and religious difference conflated by missionaries and those they attempted to convert? How did pre-existing structures of racial and ethnic diversity affect the receptivity of different Asian communities to Christianity? How did race and ethnicity intersect with other forms of discrimination such as those based on class?

ASIAN 342: Gender and Power in Southeast Asia

This course examines gender and sexual identities in historical and contemporary Southeast Asia. Many recent scholars and Southeast Asians have positively viewed the region as an exemplary locus of fluid or ambiguous gender identities. At the same time, sex in Southeast Asia has long served as a site of colonial and nationalist anxiety, exploitation, and regulation, and in more recent times has been made a tourist attraction. Drawing from a wide range of material including primary source documents, ethnography, literature, and film, we will historicize these gender identities and sexual imaginaries of Southeast Asia, paying particular attention to the transformations wrought by colonial perceptions and instruments of rule, the political economy of imperial wars, the globalization of human rights discourses, and the so-called “return” of religion.

ASIAN 416: Possessing Culture: Spirit Mediumship and Ethnography in Southeast Asia

From factory floors in Malaysia, to Karoland, to Chiang Mai, from Central Java, to Bicol, to the Meratus Mountains, from Aceh, to Mount Banahaw, to Kuala Lumpur and beyond, Southeast Asia has provided an exceptionally good locus from which to get accustomed to the phenomena of spirit possession and mediumship. This seminar asks why this is so, whether mediumship and possession reveal a shared regional culture of negotiating power and difference, or, by contrast, if its prevalence in the literature and perceived importance is largely the product of a (mostly American) ethnographic imaginary. To this end we will begin by engaging several of the classic and contemporary debates about Southeast Asian cultures and history, alongside some of the non-region specific theories of possession and mediumship whose logics seem particularly relevant to this context. We will then examine the mediating role that ethnographies of Southeast Asia have played in presenting spirit possession and mediumship as especially productive sites for both illustrating and generating cultural analysis and critical theory.

ASIAN 422: Southeast Asian History Through Literature

This course will examine some of the most canonical and cutting-edge literature to come out of Southeast Asia over the last two centuries as it reflects and reimagines the complex history of the region. Working in loose chronological order and across different colonial and national contexts, we will read novels that explore and serve as commentary on themes such as race and politics, gender and intimacy, modernity and technology, war and its aftermath. We will contextualize each novel in its historical milieu and literary tradition. All readings will be in English translation.