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Iconography of South and Southeast Asia


Admission requirements

Successful completion of 5481VS112 Classical Cultures of SSEA: Seminar I. Please, contact the Coordinator of Studies or Mw. Dr. E.M. Raven, if you are interested in taking this course, but do NOT fulfill the abovementioned requirement.


Asia’s religious art derives much of its distinctive visual presence from an intricate iconographic vocabulary. Message and meaning are expressed through systems of gestures, postures and attributes that manage to capture the essence of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain beliefs and practices.

This class focuses on developing skills to ‘read’ this iconography by carefully looking at, describing and understanding selected works of art from South and Southeast Asia. These skills are trained by means of assignments related to selected literature dealing with iconography as a traditional science in ancient India) and with specific iconographies. Students are also introduced to a number of important digital image databases. A guided visit to a Dutch museum collection with Asian art is part of the programme.

This course is a vital component in a BA-programme of students focusing on the arts and material culture of South and Southeast Asia, but may be equally relevant for those studying Asian religions, cultural history, history or archaeology. Students of western art may consider to join and focus on a comparative approach. Students from other departments and contractstudents are most welcome to participate as well.

Students are expected to prepare each week’s classes via readings and/or written assignments related to the literature read (graded, 40% of total mark). Most of the literature is made digitally available. The classes are offered in a thematic sequence. At the start of the second half of the semester the students present an iconographic case study selected for their paper , 20% of total mark). To round off the series, the students write a concise paper focusing on the iconography of a work of art in a Dutch museum collection (40%).

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of the basic principles of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain iconographic language;

  • Awareness of the conceptual iconographic links between the arts of the various religious systems in South and Southeast Asia

  • Developing skills in describing and analysing Hindu, Buddhist and Jain art

  • Developing skills in presenting an iconographic analysis with the help of Powerpoint

  • Overseeing the landscape of digital resources for iconographic studies of Asian art

  • Developing skills to put the results of research into writing



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and active participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to prepare for and attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

  • Seminar, 12×2: 24h

  • Preparing the presentation: 16h

  • Writing the final paper: 40h

  • Reading for and preparing home assignments: 60h

  • Total study load: 140 hours

Assessment method


  • Participation and home assignments

  • Presentation

  • Paper


  • Participation and home assignments: 40%

  • Presentation: 20%

  • Paper: 40% (a passing grade of 5.50 or higher for this part is required).


Students submit a version 1 of their paper, which will be graded. After receiving feedback, they may submit a final version for final grading. This arrangement is a form of ‘resit’. Students are allowed to skip version 1 and submit only a (final) version of their paper for grading (concise explanation for grade is provided afterwards).

In order to pass the course, students must achieve a passing grade for the final version of their paper and obtain an overall mark of “5.50” (=6) or higher.

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

Exam Review

If a student requests in writing a review of his/her paper within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an review will be organized.



Reading list

  • Selections from J. Guy, Indian Temple Sculpture. London, 2007 (or later edition).

  • Selected reading materials (offered via BB).


Students of the BA program South and Southeast Asia Studies are required to register through uSis before August/January 15. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Other students are requested to send an email to the study co-ordinator including their name, student ID number, course title and prospectus or catalog number. Depending on the availability of places, the study co-ordinator will register these students after August/January 15. By September/February 1 at the latest the student will be able to see in uSis whether (s)he is registered or not.

Not registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


Mw Dr. E.M. Raven


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).