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LS: India in the Making of the Global Esoteric, 1200-2000


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


Why is it always India that has been imagined as a wonder, and what did that wonder mean, intellectually and politically, within and beyond India? Deconstructing an “imagined India” has been a prominent theme throughout the decades following Edward Said’s ground breaking criticism of Western Orientalism. From about the mid-1980s scholars like Raymond Schwab, Wilhelm Halbfass and Ronald Inden paved the way in the exploration of India’s specific place in the Orientalist discourse in the West, whether in the service of the West’s imperialism or of its self-understanding. One of the most persistent components of this Indian discourse was the cliché that India is an essentially Hindu-Buddhist civilization that is inherently spiritual and as such the antithesis to a materialist, modern West. Rather than the result of Western Orientalism
alone, this stereotype was also a product of “self-orientalization” on the part of Indian intellectuals and politicians in dialogue with Western orientalist scholars and politicians. All along, both in India and in the West, connected by scholarly and spiritual knowledge networks, “moral geographies” developed of a deeply spiritual, Indianised Asia which failed to impress East Asian intellectuals but drew Southeast Asia into an imagined “Greater India.” In that imagination, India and Southeast Asia became part and parcel of an epistemic violence which silenced the role of Islam, or made it into a disconnected, Indianized version of local genius.

Although we have gained a better understanding of these relatively recent and ongoing processes of appropriation, the role of esoteric thinking in this imagination, and how these developed inside and outside India, still needs serious scrutiny. In this Literature Seminar, we will compare and contrast different trajectories of esoteric thinking. 1) We will examine the spatiality of esoteric thinking by Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the West, and African diasporas therein. 2) We will link the debate on Indian orientalism to precolonial engagements with Indian religions and philosophy, in particular with the Persianate World. From circa 1200, the Persianate courts show a remarkable fascination for the esoteric, which may have been partly the result of an increasing engagement with the Indian subcontinent and its legendary “wonders”. 3) We will integrate intellectual history into political history by exploring the entanglements of the esoteric with political power, be it Persianate sultans, modern nationalist leaders like Gandhi, or lesser known spiritually inclined local participants involved in global reformist movements.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  2. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  3. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  4. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  5. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940);
  2. (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student:

  1. Will gain command of an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of Global Intellectual History, Religious Studies, and Philosophy.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. Students who are unable to attend must notify the lecturer beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written essay
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 1 (Discussion of research questions)
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 2 (Oral discussion of assigned monograph)
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 3 (Critical reflection)
    measured learning objectives: 3, 8


  • Written essay(s): 50%

  • Assignment 1: 10%

  • Assignment 2: 20%

  • Assignment 3: 20%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the final paper must always have a passing grade.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the final paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.

Reading list

To be announced through Brightspace.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Not applicable.