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Classical Cultures of South and Southeast Asia: Seminar 1


Important remark

The mentorship meetings during the first and second semester form an integrated part of this course and are therefore also mandatory!

Admission requirements

Admission to the BA South and Southeast Asian Studies. Please, contact the student advisor, Nicole A.N.M. van Os, or Dr. E.M. Raven, if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student of the BA South and Southeast Asian Studies.


This seminar offers an introduction to the classical culture of South and Southeast Asia, in particular to those aspects that have their origin in the region that have linked both regions through the ages. We focus e.g. on Hinduism and Buddhism as cultural phenomena and we discuss the role of the great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana in offering a narrative backbone for arts and media. We will study the visual heritage in the form of sculptures, paintings and architecture (mostly created for religious purposes) as region-specific manifestations of the common cultural tradition. The rich manuscript tradition of South and Southeast Asia, which illustrates the use of scripts with a common origin and formats familiar to both regions, also exemplifies the cultural bond between the two regions, as we shall see. Finally we will learn about the lively trade in particular luxury textiles between India and Southeast Asia, which presents a maritime expression of the long-lived links between India and countries in Southeast Asia.

These subjects are discussed by means of selected academic literature that is made available via Blackboard. The seminar links studying this contents with practical exercises focused on training specific academic skills, such as reading and abstracting, presenting, essay-writing, and using online resources for academic purposes. A study visit to the South and Southeast Asia galleries of the Museum Volkenkunde (of Ethnology) at Leiden is part of the programme.

Course objectives

  • To get familiarized with characteristic cultural traditions that connect South and Southeast Asia traditionally and up to the present;

  • To develop a first working knowledge of the nature of the sources for the study of the classical cultures of South and Southeast Asia (both primary and secondary);

  • To discover ways to access such sources (along traditional roads and digitally) and to judge them for their usefulness, quality and reliability;

  • To train the specific academic skills (academic reading, abstracting, presenting, writing) discussed in the mentorship meetings, while focusing on content issues related to the classical cultures of South and Southeast Asia.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar. Attendance and active participation are mandatory. The mentorship meetings during the first and second semester form an integrated part of this course and are therefore also mandatory.

Course Load

140 hours (5 ECx28 hours):

  • 2 contact hours per week = 11 × 2=22 hours;

  • 2 contact hours per two weeks of mentorship (first and second semester) (Academic skills) = 11 × 2 = 22

  • 4 hours reading for ca. 10 classes = 40 hours;

  • 3 home assignments (3 x ca. 5 hours = 15 hours);

  • preparing the presentation: 6 hours;

  • writing a short paper: 15 hours;

  • preparing for the exam: 1×12 hours = 12 hours;

  • museum visit 2 hours.

Assessment method

Practical exercises:

  • In the first half of the semester the emphasis is on reading, summarizing and interpretation skills. These are linked to 3 mandatory home assignments throughout the course. These assignments need to be handed in in time via SafeAssign according to the planned schedule of submission (to be found in Blackboard). They are graded (10 %).

  • Early in the second half of the course the students prepare in small groups a joint presentation (20 %).

  • Later in the second half of the semester they write a short paper to test academic skills related to use of sources and academic writing (20 %).

Final exam:

  • The literature read in weeks 2-11 is examined by means of a 2-hour written exam with open questions in the concluding exam week (50 %).

Participation in classes and mentorship meetings is obligatory and so are the home assignments that are related to developing academic skills. Students are required to submit all parts of the practical exercises as listed above. Students who do not fullfil these requirements cannot sit in the final exam and will automatically fail the course.

There will be a resit of the written exam for those who did not achieve an average of minimum 5.50 (=6) for the exam and practical exercises together. The grade for this resit will replace the grade of the first final exam and have a weight of 50%. A resit is not possible for those students who will not have participated in the practical exercises.

Students who pass the course (obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher) are not allowed to take the resit.

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Blackboard is used for making available readings materials, presentations, supporting materials both for contents on the classical cultures of South and Southeast Asia and for the academic skill exercises. The Powerpoint presentations used in class are also made available via Blackboard. All administrative matters regarding classes, timings, exams, exam results and other activities related with the course are also communicated through Blackboard.

Reading list

  • Chapters from books or articles, offered via Blackboard.

  • A reading list is made available some time before the start of the course.
    Literature needs to be read in advance based on a reading assignment list made available through Blackboard before the start of the course. This includes reading for the first meeting.


Students are requested to register through uSis, the registration system of Leiden University for this course. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Mw. Dr. E.M. Raven