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Humanities

The humanities serve as a mirror to societies. An engagement with the world through various modes and methods of humanities enquiry enlivens its enquirer—the citizen, the subject, the student—to her social, historical, and cultural locations and trajectories. In its best practice, the humanities enable imaginations of a better world while enriching continuing struggles for peace, justice and equality. Therefore, a society that invests seriously in the pursuit of the humanities, especially among its young adults, also invests in nurturing the long-term health of its social body and its ability to deal with and heal from immediate shocks and historical injustices on both individual and collective levels.

Anchored in the educational needs and challenges facing 21st century India, the Humanities Major undergraduate program in the School of Liberal Studies at Azim Premji University, sees itself as an active contributor to this vision and process. With simultaneous concentration on three key disciplinary domains of humanities scholarship—the historical, the literary, and the philosophical—the program seeks to capacitate its students to think and act critically, with historical and aesthetic awareness, through a sustained engagement with a range of texts, contexts, theories, and methods, mediated through an innovative curriculum and by an accomplished faculty.

Prof. Usha Rajaram
"India, with its population and stunning diversities in every dimension, presents a particular challenge to its own citizens and to the world as a whole. We are committed to the education of young citizens capable of being active part of the journey of discovery and action that such citizenship demands. We see our Humanities curriculum to be a key dimension of such an education."


Students enrolled in the program are required to complete a total of twelve core courses (36 credits) in the Humanities Major—four each in History, Literature and Philosophy. They are further required to do three additional courses (12 credits) either in Literature, History or Philosophy pathway. Students will also complete a Quantitative Reasoning (3 credits) course as part of the majors.

Graduating from the program requires the successful completion of 84 credits spread across Major (48 credits) and Common Curriculum courses (36 credits).

Interested students, upon fulfilling the selection criteria at the end of the third semester of coursework, will also have the option of pursuing an Honours. This option offers students the opportunity to deepen their scholarly interest and academic training in either History, or Literature, or Philosophy through added, advanced-level coursework and a supervised thesis project, together worth 12 additional credits.

Core Courses

History(Click to expand)

Pre-Modern India

This course is meant to introduce students to the primary historiographical debates about pre-modern India. It begins in the 8th century and goes on to the end of the Mughal Empire and the coming of the British in the 18th century. The course is thematically organized, and covers the following topics: Temples and State in Early Medieval India; the Delhi Sultanate; the Mughal Period; Social and Religious Life in Pre- Modern India; Agriculture and Economy in Pre-Modern India; Theories of “Decline” of the Mughal Empire in the 18th century. The purpose of the course is to provide students pursuing a History track with a well-rounded knowledge of the history of the Indian subcontinent.

Empires, Imperialisms and Colonialisms:

The objective of this course is to introduce students to the large scale historical processes which culminated in the formation of colonies in various part of the world and to a comparative analysis of different forms colonial practices from the 17th to the mid-20th century. The purpose here is to have a descriptive account of the emerging networks of power both at ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’ while simultaneously exploring the debates on the industrial revolution, the scientific revolution, the expansion of capitalism and colonial state- formation

Colonial India:

The emphasis of this course will be the political, economic and cultural transformation in British colonial India. The course is a logical continuation of the earlier courses in the sense that it allows students to dwell on the deeper aspects of social transformation in the region over three centuries. However, in contrast with the previous history course termed ‘Intellectual and Cultural Aspects of Modernity’, this course is intended to get students to reflect more on material processes of colony-building. The course is therefore a foray into the colonial state’s interventions in the domains of agriculture, industry, administration, law, religion, science, scientific advancement and society.

History and the Idea of India:

This course aims to enable students to: (i) be aware of the historical evolution of History as a discipline (ii) be able to summarize the broad contours of modes of relating to the ‘past’ in India and the career of History therein (iii) discriminate, with arguments, strengths and weaknesses in historical analyses and narratives (iv) develop a critical historical curiosity and thinking that operates on, but also over and above, subsequent curricular requirements in the History track.

Literature(Click to expand)

An Introduction to Literature: This course is the first of a set of four mandatory courses in Language and Literature which is part of the Humanities curriculum. The main aim of the course is to convey the excitement of doing literature by suggesting that literary analysis does not merely ‘dissect’ a text but provides a deeper understanding of the relationship between reader, text and their respective contexts. The emphasis will be on enabling students to be self-directed learners by developing skills of literary analysis. Students will learn to recognize that literary forms emerge in context and that meanings emerge from readers grounded in a place and time. Students will take the first steps towards an analysis of texts that is informed by a familiarity with literary concepts, this, in turn, will enable them to do a close reading that produces an argument and is supported by textual evidence. Students will engage with genres like fiction, drama, and poetry, and learn about the significance of genre to an understanding of literature. Students will read literary texts drawn from different periods and world regions to produce interpretations that are informed by an awareness of form and genre.

Contemporary India through Literary and Cultural texts: This second course in the literature core will allow students to explore literary and cultural modes of narrating India in the period after 1947. The aim of this course is to allow students to engage with their location as “readers” and “consumers” of texts written in and about India. This course will build on the learning of An Introduction to Literature to see how literary and cultural “texts” are a product of a particular place and time, with specific reference to key moments in modern India. Some key questions the course will ask are: what are some literary forms that emerge in India in the present and why? Can we see Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj as a narrative mode of imagining/creating an Indian identity? Is Chetan Bhagat representative of writing in/about contemporary India?

Romantic Literature: Nature, Self and Society: This third course in the literature core aims to provide students with an overview of a very rich and significant period in English Writing. Romantic Literature is arguably the most popular and familiar period and form of writing in English and this course hopes to revisit some of its most central themes – our relationship with nature, our notion of the “individual” and place in social structures – in the light of how these continue to be very relevant for us today. This course will enable students to identify important forms, genres and issues that emerge in a historical context while also evaluating the impact of studying these in the present especially in the context of India. While the course will introduce students to ideas about authorship, literature, rights and the public sphere, all of which were being consolidated in the 18 th century, it will also enable them to explore for themselves how these ideas impacted writers and readers at the time as well as in the present.

Literary Forms: This fourth course in the literature core will immerse students in the study of specialized modes of writing like the novel and drama. Each of these forms has a long and complex history that enables us to see the connections between forms of writing and how they shape our engagement with each other and the world. Through a sustained engagement with significant examples of literary forms, this course will enable students to consolidate the capacity of close reading and critical analysis. The course will build on the learning of the previous core papers to allow students to form connections between why and how a way of writing, like the novel, is responsible for creating what are seen as fundamental axioms of meaning-making, for instance, what it means to be “human”.

Philosophy(Click to expand)

Introduction to Philosophy

The first steps in addressing the deep philosophical questions that lie behind everyday life. This course lets students explore a wide range of philosophical issues, finding their own solutions to some of the great questions with well supported arguments, rigour and precision. What can we know, and why is knowledge even worth having? Are you the same person who started reading this paragraph? What makes murder wrong, and how did we come to know it? The course focuses on analytic philosophy, though we also draw ideas from Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy and other traditions. The course focuses on practicing the skills of debate and working with others to find your own answers.

Ethical reasoning

Why should we be allowed to kill enemy soldiers in war? Is anything okay so long as all parties involved are consenting adults? Why is colonialism wrong? Is self-pity wrong at all? Some moral debates seem unresolvable. Other moral questions seem to have obvious answers, but on closer inspection these fall apart and leave us puzzled. In this course, we start with debates like these, and then go deeper. We look at the different types of moral arguments and their hidden presuppositions. And we try to get to the bottom of what on earth makes moral judgments true. Students will learn both to debate others with different moral views, and to recognize when such debate is impossible. They will find their own responses to the challenges of ethical reasoning, based on rigorous and careful thought.

How scientists think

Why do scientific theories change? Is it just on the basis of evidence, and if so what counts as good evidence for theory? Are social factors involved, and if so does this mean that science doesn’t deserve the authority it wields in our society? Science seems closed to outsiders. In this course, humanities students will break in and use their abilities to address some of these key questions. The course will cover both the history of science and some current scientific research. It consists of three parts: (i) how scientists reason (ii) the philosophy of modern physics (e.g. quantum mechanics) and (iii) the philosophy of economics (e.g. development economics).

Political Philosophy

We live in societies: families, states, and the country itself. In these societies, some have authority over others; other people can tell us what to do. But why is this authority legitimate, and what can and can’t it ask of us? And what obligations do we have to the societies we live in? How should societies distribute their resources and power? And, crucially, how can a society like the state make fair decisions when its members have such deeply different views about what makes life good? In this course, we take a close, critical look at texts in political philosophy. We appreciate and assess arguments employed by authors with different ideological backgrounds, and look at the different answers they found. Students will construct arguments of their own, favouring or finding fault with formidable points of view, and learning to articulate themselves with clarity and precision.

Pathway and Honours Courses

Listed below are the Pathway and Honours course details. After completion of the core courses, students are further required to do additional three courses in Literature, History or Philosophy depending on their disciplinary interest.

History(Click to expand)

Five of the following courses will be offered to every batch of students who choose to specialize in History.

Intellectual and Cultural Aspects of Modernity:

This course seeks out the processes of knowledge production and power that fashion modernity in the non-Western world and India in particular. It attempts to engender an understanding of modernity as being the product of 'cross-cultural encounter' between colonisers, elite liberal representatives, various indigenous groups and subaltern communities. Students are expected to develop the critical faculties that enable comparisons between historical phenomena and an understanding of how ideas circulate across time and place. Though its canvas encompasses the non-Western world, the course is mostly framed to address questions of modernity in colonial India.

History from the Margins

It is an enduring commonplace that History is the victor’s story. Since ‘victory’ is usually understood as usurpation or consolidation of power, congealed in the (nation-)state form at its pinnacle, History has for long focused on the ‘progress’ of the state, and on actors and institutions that facilitate this process, as the subjects proper to its discourse. This normative charge also frames, and is framed by, the archive on which the mainstream/traditional practice of History is based. Historical records that are deemed credible and valorised by the latter are typically produced under the aegis of the state and/or by ‘victorious’ agents. However, even if dominant, such actors and institutions comprise only a part—usually, a small part—of any given social totality. How then do we account for the history of those who are subordinated, ignored, and relegated to the ‘margins’ of social, political, and economic structures and processes—those who remain unrepresented in the state’s archives or in the victors’ letters, except as deviant subjects? How do we vivify the experience and agency of those historical actors who have been generally rendered ‘voiceless’ in the dominant modes of history writing? How do we rescue them from, as E.P. Thompson famously phrased it, “the immense condescension of posterity”? Framed by these overarching concerns, this course invites students to engage with the scholarship produced by the three main ‘schools’ of critical historiography that are usually credited with having innovated the theoretical and methodological approaches for accessing marginalized and subaltern pasts. Not only will this course look at the specific sociohistorical contexts to which historians associated with the aforementioned schools have applied their craft, it will also address the critiques brought against these radical historiographic modes.

Historical Methods

How is History done? This course in Historical Methods will introduce third-year students to the manner in which academic histories are constructed.  Using several case-studies, spanning the range of human history, it will seek to demonstrate the variety of ways in which historians establish truth-claims.  It will explore the interplay, in the historian’s work, between evidence, fact, argument, narrative, perspective and the use of conceptual categories. It will ask whether perspective and prejudice ought to be distinguished, and if so, how?  It will engage with the relationship between theory and history, showing how each enriches the other. It will focus on all of these elements in detail to examine how History straddles the Humanities and the Social Sciences. Inevitably, the course will also inform students about the expanding horizons of historians and about the new kinds of histories that have been written in the recent past: of everyday life, for instance, or of sport and leisure, of the reading habit, of the body and forms of deportment, of the liberal arts themselves.

Professional Histories, Popular Histories, Ourselves

How do disciplinary practices of doing history relate to the way in which history is accessed by the people? Professional historians produce histories by examining archives, approaching historical sources in a methodologically sound fashion, and, increasingly, by drawing upon interdisciplinarity. Popular histories, on the other hand, operate in the realm of memory, orality and myth-making. In understanding the significance of history to the present, no historian can dismiss the impact of popular histories. This course will critically engage with the often contentious relationship between history as a discipline and history as a source of national myths to alert students to the importance of critical histories to the future of the nation. It will draw attention to different ways of making sense of and representing the past that fall outside of, and often work against, the disciplinary ambit of history and the truth- claims of historians.

Connected Histories in the Indian Ocean World

This course explores the connections across the continents in the medieval period from an 'oceanic' perspective, focusing especially on connections between Asia and Africa. In this course, students will be familiarized with the transaction of ideas, materials and culture through the Indian Ocean and with the similarities and differences in this connected world, using a comparative method. By locating the Indian Ocean not just as a space of travel but as an analytical space, this course attempts to move historical process beyond the nationalistic modes of histories.

The History of Labour Practices in Colonial and Post-colonial India

The objective of this course is to familiarize students with labour practices in India in the colonial and postcolonial period. The course explores the economic and social aspects of labour and the transformation of work practices in this period. The course analyses debates in the history of trade unions and social movements related to labour, caste, gender and aspects of labour and legal interventions in the domain of labour practices.

Literature(Click to expand)

Literature pathway courses have been imagined as a way for students to optimize their interests in the discipline and visualize possible futures. There are three kinds of pathways courses (there are three at present but others may be on offer under these same categories) that allow students to strengthen a) their writing capacities b) engagement with disciplinary content and c) exposure to new and allied areas.

(Writing) Writing for the Public: This course will build students’ capacities in academic writing as well as writing for communication. While the course expects to build competence in writing in the discipline, it is also focused on preparing students to convey complex concepts and ideas in a simple manner to the generalist reader/public as well. The course will expect students to engage with simple and complex instances of rhetoric, criticism and argumentative writing in English with a view to developing their own capacity for writing. This course aims, at a general level, to enable students to see writing as a way to intervene in important public debates, and, at a more specialized level, to explore future avenues/careers in writing.

(Content) Literary Criticism and Theory: This course focuses on practices or methods of study in Literature in the present, while providing a brief overview of major critical thinkers who not only shape the ways in which literary texts are studied but contest the boundaries of the discipline in the 21st Century. As a course that introduces the practices of literary study, the aim here is to build specific capabilities in a student of Literature – namely, the identification of central debates in critical thought within the discipline, the ability to apply theoretical insights in the reading of both simple and complex texts and to understand and evaluate the role of Literature and the Humanities in our present context.

(Society through Culture) Our Body in Society: This course will introduce students to Literature’s intersections with other fields of study, namely, sociology, anthropology and medicine. Using the body as a focal point, this course will enable students to identify how reading, writing, language and interpretation are no longer a mainstay only in the discipline of literature but have become a central method of analysis in several other disciplines. This course aims to help students build and use their competence in closely reading and critically analysing texts, interpreted more broadly here as “processes and practices of meaning-making”.

Honours Courses (Literature)

The Literature Honours offering comprises of courses that allow a greater specialization in the discipline while preparing students who are interested pursuing a master’s degree and/or research.

Critical Approaches: As the first in the Literature Honours set of courses, Critical Approaches will introduce students to various “methods” of study in Literature. The course aims to briefly survey the history of the major schools of criticism in literary studies, thereby offering students a range of possible modes with which to approach key concepts and ideas broadly relevant for research in the discipline.

Literature of the Modern: This course focuses on literary and cultural movements that took place roughly in the first five decades of the 20th century and are widely recognized to have constituted “modernism.” Whereas the framework for the introductory course is genre, in this course, coevality—the existence of texts and authors in a particular time, living through developments that affected everyone, albeit in very different ways—will provide the framework for the study of literary and cultural genres, movements and debates. While recognizing that modernism as a literary and cultural phenomenon has truly global manifestations, for reasons of focus, this course limits itself to Europe and North America, making only occasional references to texts from other parts of the world. However, the course invites students to make connections between modernisms as they manifested themselves different regions, languages and forms.

Philosophy(Click to expand)

Pathway Courses

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

This course introduces students to study and reflection on the aesthetic dimension of human experience and a critical engagement with the works of visual art, performance art, and literary works. It trains students to think philosophically about the nature of art and its relation to other human experiences. The course focuses on developing the capabilities and skills that will enable students to (i) cultivate appreciation of philosophical deliberation on the nature of beauty and art (ii) develop the ability to interpret and evaluate works of art (iii) critically engage with key thinkers, analyse aesthetic theories, and articulate responses to them and (iv) uncover hidden problems in our assumptions about the relationship between art and society, and what happens when aesthetics collides with ethics and politics.

Paradoxes

In this course, we look at a different paradox each week: the surprise test, Milinda’s chariot, the liar, Newcomb's paradox, time travel paradoxes and many more. The course equips students with the philosophical tools required to find their own solutions. Tools introduced include first order predicate calculus, first order propositional calculus, truth table tests, probability theory, and set theory. The course therefore provides students with some more advanced skills dealing with formal language and mathematics. These skills unlock a wide range of work in philosophy, machine learning, natural science, and beyond, providing new avenues of thought for students to explore. Working with these will help students build arguments that are clear, precise and original.

Philosophy of Law

A close look at how the law works, focusing on legal reasoning in India. A court is charged with finding the truth. But it is also required to be just, and this means that the rules of evidence are not straightforward. Unlike scientists, judges cannot consider all evidence. How do the requirements of fairness affect our understanding of evidence? Abstract debates such as this are approached through recent judgments in India. In addition, we look at the role of the constitution in India.

Honours courses (Philosophy)

Philosophical methodology

In this course, students research alongside a faculty member. Get everything you need to find, craft and answer your own philosophical questions. Learn to unearth the best work already done that helps develop your thoughts. See the entire space of possible answers. Apply all the philosophical tools to build your own, new view. Demonstrate that this view is better than the others available in the market place of ideas. Do all this working next to an experienced philosopher. The topic will vary by interest, since the focus is on using and applying research skills. At the end of the course, the research will be presented in a conference form.

The Self

Am I the same person who started reading this sentence? If so, what makes me the same person? And what is a person anyway? These problems of personal identity arise in different traditions of philosophical thought. This course focuses on the answers given in the analytic and Indian philosophical traditions. Students will use the best insights of each tradition to reach their own solutions. See whether the problems found by the British empiricist Locke about memory can be solved by the Indian monk Shantideva’s work on anatman written a millenia before, and 7,500 km away.

Faculty Speak


Listen to our Faculty members speaking about the Humanities Major.






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