East Asian Languages and Cultures Courses

This course will provide students with a basic understanding of the history, teachings, and practices of the Buddhist tradition. We will begin with a look at the Indian religious culture from which Buddhism emerged, and then move on to consider the life of the Buddha, the early teachings, the founding of the monastic order, and the development of Buddhist doctrinal systems. We will then turn to the rise of Mahāyāna Buddhism, and the transformation of Buddhism as it moved from India to China, Japan, Tibet and the countries of Southeast Asia. We will end with a brief look at contemporary controversies over, (1) the tulku (reincarnate lama) system in Tibet; (2) the ordination of Buddhist nuns in Southeast Asia; and (3) the rise and popularity of mindfulness meditation in America. Readings will cover a variety of primary and secondary materials, as well as two short novels, and we will make use of films and videos. There are no prerequisites for this course—everyone is welcome. But the course does demand a great deal of time and effort on the part of  students. There is a lot of reading as well as a short written assignment or quiz each week,  and attendance at all lectures and discussion sections is mandatory. Students should only enroll if they can commit the required time and energy to the course.


This course explores representation of romantic love in East Asian cultures in premodern and post-modern contexts. Students develop a better understanding of the similarities and differences in traditional values in three East Asian cultures by comparing how canonical texts of premodern China, Japan and Korea represent romantic relationship. This is followed by the study of several contemporary East Asian films, giving the student the opportunity to explore how traditional values persist, change, or become nexus points of resistance.

Fall 2019: Expressing the Ineffable in China and Hebrew Poetry
This course will explore how the Chinese and Hebrew-language literary traditions (broadly defined) delineate the realm of the ineffable, and how cultural notions of the inexpressible shape the writing and reading of poems, songs, and a selection of prose pieces, from the uses of figurative language and prosody to genre and canon formation. Over this course of study, students will not only refine their sensitivity to the power of literary modes of indirection, but will also hone their skills in close reading, analytical writing, and oral expression. All readings will be in English. Prerequisites: None.


We concentrate on three interconnected issues: women’s status, homoeroticism, and the human body. Our discussion will be informed by cross-cultural comparisons with ancient Greece, Renaissance England, and Contemporary America. In contrast to our modern regime of sexuality, which collapses all the three aforementioned issues into the issues of desire and identity intrinsicto the body, we will see how the early Chinese regime of sexual act evolved into the early modern regime of emotion that concerned less inherent identities than a media culture of life-style performance.

Higher Learning begins with the study of heaven. As the source of orientation in space and time, heaven provides humanity the foundation for its knowledge and political order. To understand what knowledge is or how politics function, we need a basic understanding of the ways of heaven. This course examines the function heaven serves in the founding of order against the void in nature through the formation of conventional systems of time and space and the role heaven has played in the promulgation of governments. From a cross-cultural, interdisciplinary perspective that covers the course of Eurasian history and using primary sources in translation, we will see heaven unfold through the developments that leave us with the world we know today.

This course will discuss the historical development of the Pure Land school of East Asian Buddhism, the largest form of Buddhism practiced today in China and Japan. The curriculum is divided into India, China, and Japan sections, with the second half of the course focusing exclusively on Japan where this form of religious culture blossomed most dramatically, covering the ancient, medieval, and modern periods. The curriculum will begin with a reading of the core scriptures that form the basis of the belief system and then move into areas of cultural expression. The course will follow two basic trajectories over the centuries: doctrine/philosophy and culture/society.

The emergence of the tantras in seventh and eighth-century India marked a watershed for religious practice throughout Asia. These esoteric scriptures introduced complex new ritual technologies that transformed the religious traditions of India, from Brahmanism to Jainism and Buddhism, as well as those of Southeast Asia, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan. This course provides an overview of tantric religion across these regions.

How do film genres come into being? Do they evolve like species with identifiable features and family resemblance? Are they allowed to cross-breed? What enable film genres to travel across national boundaries? How does gender and class get mixed up with genre? This course engages the questions of genre through East Asian cinema. We will look at genre films as complex negotiations with the circulation of global film genres while they engage with specific economic, social, and political histories of East Asia. Throughout the semester we will study contemporary theories of film genre, examine how the case of East Asian genre films complicate existing theories, and follow the parallel transnational traffics--between East Asian Cinema and global film genre, and across East Asian Cinema in their history of cultural and economic flow as well as political confrontation. The course will integrate our investigations of genre-specific questions--industry, style, reception, spectatorship, affect--with those of gender, ethnicity, power as well as nation and transnational/transregional dynamic. Major genres to be discussed include melodrama, film noir, martial arts films, horror, samurai films, and musical. Students will acquire foundational skills for film analysis, familiarize themselves with the history of East Asian Cinema, and gain critical insights with film theory and genre theory.

In this seminar we will explore the history and practice of photography across China, Taiwan, and Japan. We will explore the advent of photography in East Asia in the nineteenth century and its entanglement with histories of colonial encounter; studio portraiture and vernacular photography; modernist and documentary photography in the interwar years; and the photography of war and revolution. We will familiarize ourselves with some of the most significant photographers and photographic movements to have emerged in the post-war, post-Mao, and post-Chiang periods, with particular attention to the way in which contemporary photographers have grappled with historical legacies of war, political violence, and environmental destruction. We will be attentive throughout to the questions of photography's intertwinement with print culture and literary writing. Each week's meeting will pair close analysis of photographs with discussions of essays by historians, critics, and practitioners on the technics, aesthetics, and ethics of photographic practice. Given the cross-regional framework for the course, all assigned readings will be in English; but students are required to conduct further research in Chinese or Japanese language materials.
Prerequisites: Graduate standing or the approval of the instructor.