Last semester, the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) approved the creation of a Certificate in South Asian Studies, which is now available to students. The new interdisciplinary offering developed out of growing student and faculty interest at the University.
“It was demonstrable that students were having increasing interest in South Asian studies; our course enrollments have been growing, and you also had the formation of the Hindu students association [Athma],” said Religion Department Chair and South Asian Studies Certificate Coordinator Peter Gottschalk. “Secondly, we recognized how many South Asian studies specialists we have on campus.”
The certificate consists of at least seven courses within South Asian studies from the following categories: contemporary society and practice, historical inquiry, language, and performance traditions. Students pursuing the certificate must have completed a gateway course that focuses specifically on South Asia.
The University has 11 faculty members who will be teaching courses that count toward the certificate hailing from the Music, Dance, History, Sociology, Economics, English, Anthropology, Religion, and Art History departments, in addition to a part-time professor in Hindi.
“It’s exceedingly unusual for a university of our size to have that many people [teaching South Asian studies courses],” Gottschalk said.
In 2001, South Asian Studies was awarded “cluster” status, which groups together related courses across disciplines on WesMaps, the University’s online course catalog, and opens up funding opportunities for lectures and other programs relating to South Asian studies. Not long afterward, a new position was created in the Religion Department to teach Hinduism, Islam, and their interactions in South Asia. According to History Department Chair, William Pinch, this resulted in the hiring of Gottschalk, who has led efforts to create the new South Asian Studies Certificate.
South Asian studies became a more formal academic discipline after the University hired a professor in a South Asian language. Currently, the University offers elementary courses in Hindi.
“Part of the difficulty for South Asia is that there are so many languages, so we had to choose a language and convince the University to hire somebody to teach that language,” Pinch said. “That was a tough sell.”
Despite the desire for greater language offerings, South Asian studies has held its own at the University, especially in the Music and Dance Departments.
“The beginnings of South Asian studies at Wesleyan go back to the early 1960s,” said Professor of Art History, Phillip Wagoner. “The initial impetus came from the Music Department.”
The University’s “Ethnic Music” program hired Professor Robert Brown in 1961. He went on to teach at Wesleyan for over 30 years.
“Within a few short years [Brown] had brought some of the greatest luminaries in the tradition of Karnatak (South Indian classical tradition) music to Wesleyan for residencies and workshops,” Wagoner said. “From that point on, classical South Indian music was always a mainstay of the ethnomusicology program.”
Professors with interests and expertise in South Asian studies held positions in a variety of departments over the following decades, including Anthropology, Art History, Religion, and History.
“There were these very long-standing pockets of expertise, but we never really offered any coherent program in South Asian studies,” Pinch said.
In 2005, the University became a member institution of the American Institute of Indian Studies, which offers research fellowships and language study programs and facilitates international study opportunities.
“There is this increasing awareness of the importance of South Asian culture, history and society in the last 20 years,” Pinch said.