Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

South Asian Languages and Cultures

The program in South Asian Languages and Cultures is a growing component of the Department of Asian Studies. South Asia is a linguistically, culturally, religiously, and politically diverse region comprised of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. We have faculty across the university whose research specializes in both the Muslim and Hindu regions, regimes, and histories in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Faculty strength lies in regional and transnational studies of colonialism, religion, literary cultures, women and gender, rural communities, architecture and space, water technologies, neoliberalism, and modernization.

Learning and communicating in a local language is critical for a deep engagement with the cultures, literatures, religions, and politics of India and South Asia more broadly. We offer language instruction in Hindi, one of India’s official and most widely spoken languages. It is written in the Devanagari script, which is also used for Sanskrit and many other South Asian languages. Hindi is therefore a gateway to learning other Indo-Aryan languages such as Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi, and Nepali. Proficiency in Hindi will give interested students nuanced cultural knowledge and the language skills to study, work in, and meaningfully experience the rich cultural and linguistic diversity of the Indian subcontinent. We strongly encourage those who are interested in India and South Asian studies more broadly to learn Hindi.

Why should I study South Asia?

India is the world’s largest democracy and a key global player in politics, medicine, and technology. India and South Asia more broadly also boast some of the world’s oldest traditions of art and architecture, literature, and religion. An in-depth knowledge of South Asian cultures, histories, and politics prepares our students to be versatile global citizens whose backgrounds in South Asian studies will be an asset to many careers.

What careers can I have with a background in South Asia?

Given India’s global strategic importance, students with an academic background in South Asian studies and the Hindi language may successfully pursue careers focused on social, environmental, and economic issues across the globe, through organizations such as CARE, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, the Gates Foundation, among others. Hindi is among several critical languages identified by the US Department of State as essential for national security. Hindi language skills will therefore prepare students for an array of national government and intelligence work opportunities. Hindi language skills are also essential for jobs as translators and interpreters in the social, medical, business, or legal sector, or for students interested in graduate study of South Asia.

How do I declare a major with a focus on Hindi and South Asian studies?

South Asian Languages and Cultures does not (yet!) have its own major/minor. To focus on Hindi and South Asian studies, declare an Asian Studies major or minor today! See the requirements for the Asian Studies major/minor for details. Below is a sampling of courses on South Asia.

Coursework with a South Asian Studies Focus

  • ASIA 003 – Religions of the East
  • ASIA 103 – Introduction to Hinduism
  • ASIA 120Y – South Asia: A Literary History
  • ASIA 401 – Technology and Society in Modern Asia
  • ASIA 403 – Food Cultures of Asia*
  • ARCH 312 – Critical Postcolonial and Contemporary Perspectives in South Asian Architecture
  • ARTH 215 – Architecture and Art of South and Southeast Asia
  • ARTH 440 – Monuments of Asia
  • CMLIT 111 – Introduction to the Literatures of India
  • CMLIT 404Y – Topics in Asian Literature*
  • HIST 169 – The Indian Ocean World
  • HIST 170 – South Asia to 1500
  • HIST 171 – South Asia since 1500
  • HIST 176 – Survey of Indian History
  • HIST 182 – Asian Trade: Economy, Industrialization, and Capitalism in Asia
  • HIST 188 – Tibet: People, Places, and Spaces
  • HIST 475Y – The Making and Emergence of Modern India
  • PLSC 465Y – Democratization in Asia
  • PLSC 469 – Government and Politics of South Asia
  • WMNST 137 – Gender, Sexuality, and Religion
  • WMNST 280 – Gendering the Divine in Indian and South Asian Religions
*Focus varies semester to semester. Check with instructor or Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Faculty with a South Asian Studies Focus

  • Jyoti Balachandran, History 
    • Muslim communities; medieval and early modern South Asia (c. 1200-1800); the Indian Ocean world 
  • Jessica Vantine Birkenholtz, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Asian Studies 
    • Gender, sexuality, and religion in South Asia; Hinduism; goddess traditions; Nepal 
  • Trevor Birkenholtz, Geography 
    • Political ecology; development; social theory; nature-society relations; gender dynamics; urban and rural water resources; India
  • Madhuri Desai, Art History 
    • South Asian architecture, urbanism, and art 
  • Bruno Jean-Francois, French and Francophone Studies 
    • Indian Ocean Studies; migration studies; diasporic studies and creolization 
  • Prakash Kumar, History 
    • Colonial history; modernization and development; science and technology; agrarian history 
  • Aparna Parikh, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 
    • South Asian comparative urbanism; South Asian and transnational feminisms; Hindutva nationalism 
  • Suchismita Sen, Asian Studies 
    • South Asian literature and folklore, Asian food cultures 
  • Mary Shenk, Anthropology 
    • Fertility, mortality, marriage, family, kinship; quantitative/demographic and qualitative approaches 
  • Vineeta Yadav, Political Science 
    • Comparative politics; political economy; political institutions; judicial politics, development survey methods; India, Pakistan, Brazil, and China 

Additional Resources