Anthropology 56

Peoples and Cultures of South Asia

Fall 1998

TuTh 10:10-11:40 Old Main 003


Arjun Guneratne
Office Hours: Tu & Th 1:00-3:00
Office: Carnegie 004D (x6362)


This course is both an introduction to the peoples and cultures of that region of the world that has come to be known as South Asia and to the ways in which Western knowledge of that region has been constructed and shaped. India (and by extension the rest of South Asia) has represented to westerners the very antithesis of Europe: tradition vs. modernity, superstition vs. rationality, society vs. the individual. Our goal in this course, using South Asia as an example, is to understand the process by which knowledge comes to be constructed. Rather than providing a body of essentialized cultural facts, this course focuses on helping the student to understand the processes that, over the centuries, have shaped the culture and lifeways of the people who live on the subcontinent and which link the modern states of South Asia, historically and culturally, to the world beyond their frontiers.


Required Texts

(Available for purchase in The Hungry Mind Bookstore. One copy of each of these texts, excepting Metcalf's, is on reserve)

  • Ghosh, In an Antique Land
  • Gombrich & Obeyesekere, Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka
  • Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj
  • Sax, Mountain Goddess: Gender and Politics in a Himalayan Pilgrimage
  • Purchase recommended:

  • Quigley, The Interpretation of Caste (available in class; 3 copies on reserve)

    Copies of the following texts are on reserve

  • Basham, The Wonder that was India
  • Cohn, An Anthropologist among the Historians and other Essays.
  • Milton Singer, When a Great Tradition Modernizes. (WGTM)
  • Marriott, Village India
  • Van der Veer, Religious Nationalism
  • Grading

    The grade will be based on a map quiz (10 %) and four essays on pre-assigned topics; the first three essays will be worth 20% of your grade, and the final essay will be worth 30%.

    Important dates

  • 9/24 .......... Essay I topics distributed
  • 9/29 .......... Essay I due
  • 10/13 ........ Map Quiz
  • 10/22 ........ Essay II topics distributed
  • 10/27 ........ Essay II due
  • 11/19 ........ Essay III topics distributed
  • 11/24 ........ Essay III due
  • 12/10 ........ Essay IV topics distributed
  • 12/17 ........ Essay IV due

    The links on the on-line version of this syllabus will take you to various resources on South Asia on the web. Explore!

    For a quick overview of Indian history and culture, go to India and its neighbors.


    Part I: South Asia as an Area

    September 10
    Locating India in the Western Imagination

  • Singer, WGTM, Chapter 1, "A Passage to more than India: A Sketch of Changing European and American Images", pp. 1-38.
  • Rau, "The Image of India in European Antiquity and the Middle Ages."
  • September 15
    Defining an Historical Space: The Indus Valley Civilization

  • Basham, The Wonder that was India, pp. 1-43.
  • India Today, "The Indus Riddle"
  • A walk through Mohenjo-Daro
  • The Indus Valley Civilization
  • Around the Indus in 90 slides
  • Additional Resources
    Ancient India: an index to articles on the internet

    September 17
    The Indian Ocean World

  • Hodgson, "The interrelations of societies in history"
  • Gunawardana, "Time and territory in the Study of South Asia's Past."
  • Richards, Early Modern India and World History

    Additional Resources
  • The uses of maps: the Peter's Projection and Mercator compared.
  • Crampton, Cartography's defining moment: the Peters Projection controversy, 1974-1990
  • September 22 & 24

    September 24: Topics for Essay 1 distributed
  • Ghosh, In an Antique Land
    (Reviewed by Anton Shammas)
  • September 29
    India as a civilization

  • Singer, "The Social Organization of Indian Civilization." In WGTM
  • Marriott, "Little Communities in an Indigenous Civilization." In Village India.
  • Cohn, "Networks and Centres in the Integration of Indian Civilization." In An Anthropologist among the Historians.

    Part II:
    Colonialism and its forms of knowledge


    October 1
    Orientalism and India

  • Metcalf, Ch. 1 (for a review of this book, follow this link)
  • Rocher, "British Orientalism in the Eighteenth Century: The Dialectics of Knowledge and Government."
  • Inden, "Orientalist Constructions of India." (For a rebuttal of Inden's position, see Lariviere, Protestants, Orientalists, and Bråhmanas: Reconstructing Indian Social History)
  • October 6
    The Utilitarian reaction

  • Metcalf, Ch. 2 & 3
  • October 8
    The Colonial construction of Indian Society

  • Metcalf, Chs. 4 & 5
  • Cohn, "The Census, Social Structure and Objectification in South Asia." In An Anthropologist among the Historians and other Essays.
  • October 13
    The Aryan Theory of Race

  • Leopold, "The Aryan Theory of Race."
  • Susan Bayly, "Caste and Race in the Colonial Ethnography of India."


    Part III:
    Caste and the Anthropological Imagination


    October 15
    Is Homo hierarchicus?

  • Dumont, "Hierarchy, Status and Power: The Caste System and its implications."
  • Quigley, Chs. 1 & 3; Ch. 2 is recommended.
  • October 20
    Caste and the State

  • Quigley, Chs. 6 and 7
  • October 22
    Caste in Sri Lanka: The Sinhala System

    Topics for Essay 2 distributed

  • Stirrat, "Caste conundrums: Views of caste in a Sinhalese Catholic fishing village."
  • Kendrick, "Landholding and Service in a Temple Village in the Kandyan Highlands."
  • Jiggins, "Description of castes"
  • October 27

    Film: Caste at Birth (Media Services)



    October 29
    Fall Break


    Part IV:
    South Asian Identities

    November 3
    The politicization of identity: Hindus and Hindutva

  • van der Veer, Religious Nationalism, Ch. 1.
  • Sarkar, "Indian Nationalism and the Politics of Hindutva."
  • Hardgrave, "India: The dilemmas of diversity."
  • November 5
    The formation of religious identities: The Sikhs

    Guest lecture: Van Dusenbery, Hamline University
  • Oberoi, "From Ritual to Counter-Ritual: Rethinking the Hindu-Sikh Question, 1884-1915."
  • Dusenbery, "A Sikh Diaspora? Contested Identities and Constructed Realities."
  • November 10

    Film: In the name of God (Media Services)

    November 12
    Making the nation: The Case of Nepal

  • Burghart, Richard, 1984 "The formation of the concept of nation state in Nepal."
  • Whelpton, John. 1997. "Political identity in Nepal: State, Nation, and Community."

    Part V:
    Gender & Politics


    November 17

  • Sax, Mountain Goddess. pp. 1-126
  • November 19

  • Sax, Mountain Goddess. pp. 127-208
  • Topics for Essay 3 distributed

    November 24

  • Agarwal, "Who sows? Who reaps? Women and Land Rights in India." On reserve
  • Additional resources:

    Hitchcock, Women's Rights and Women in Development Bibliography
    Sarin, Wasteland Development and the Empowerment of Women



    November 26 
    Thanksgiving Recess


    Part VI:
    Religion and Social Change

    December 1

  • Gombrich & Obeyesekere, Buddhism Transformed, chs.1-3
  • December 3

    Film: Kataragama

  • Gombrich & Obeyesekere, Buddhism Transformed, ch. 5
    (see also Islamic Kathirkamam (Kataragama))
  • December 8

  • Gombrich & Obeyesekere, Buddhism Transformed, ch. 6 & 7
  • December 10

  • Gombrich & Obeyesekere, Buddhism Transformed, ch. 11, 12 & 13

    Topics for Final Essay distributed


    Additional resources

    Mahinda Deegalle, A Bibliography of Sinhala Buddhism


    Part VII:
    Nuclear South Asia

    December 15

  • Arundhati Roy, "The End of Imagination"
  • December 17