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Iconography of SSEA


Admission requirements

Successful completion of 5481VS112 Classical Cultures of SSEA: Seminar I. Please, contact the student advisor or Mw. Dr. E.M. Raven, if you are interested in taking this course, but do NOT fulfill the abovementioned requirement.


Asia’s religious art derives much of its distinctive visual presence from an intricate iconographic vocabulary. Message and meaning are expressed through systems of gestures, postures and attributes that manage to capture the essence of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain beliefs and practices.

This class focuses on developing skills to ‘read’ this iconography by carefully looking at, describing and understanding selected works of art from South and Southeast Asia. These skills are trained by means of assignments related to selected literature dealing with iconography as a traditional science in ancient India) and with specific iconographies. Students are also introduced to a number of important digital image databases. A guided visit to a Dutch museum collection with Asian art is part of the programme.

This course is a vital component in a BA-programme of students focusing on the arts and material culture of South and Southeast Asia, but may be equally relevant for those studying Asian religions, cultural history, history or archaeology. Students of western art may consider to join and focus on a comparative approach. Students from other departments and a-la-carte students are most welcome to participate as well.

Students are expected to prepare each week’s classes via readings and/or written assignments related to the literature read (graded, 40% of total mark). Most of the literature is made digitally available. The classes are offered in a thematic sequence. At the start of the second half of the semester the students present a case study (selected from a pre-arranged list of subjects, 20% of total mark). To round off the series, the students write a concise iconographic case-study focusing on the iconography of a work of art in a Dutch museum collection (40%).

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of the basic principles of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain iconographic language;

  • Awareness of the conceptual iconographic links between the arts of the various religious systems in South and Southeast Asia

  • Developing skills in describing and analysing Hindu, Buddhist and Jain art

  • Developing skills in presenting an iconographic analysis by means of Powerpoint

  • Overseeing the landscape of digital resources for iconographic studies of Asian art

  • Developing skills to put the results of research into writing



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and participation are obligatory. Classes missed for a good reason (to the discretion of the convener and to be discussed BEFORE the class takes place) will have to be ‘repaired’ by means of an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end paper and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

  • Seminar, 12×2: 24h

  • Preparing the presentation: 16h

  • Writing the paper: 40h

  • Reading for and preparing home assignments: 60h

  • Total study load: 140 hours

Assessment method

  • Participation and home assignments: 40%

  • Presentation: 20%

  • Paper: 40% (a passing grade of 5.50 or higher for this part is required).

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of “5.50” (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. All assessments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.



Reading list

  • J. Guy, Indian Temple Sculpture. London, 2007 (or later edition).

  • Selected reading materials (offered via BB).


Students of the BA program South and Southeast Asia Studies are required to register through uSis before August/January 15. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Other students are requested to send an email to the study co-ordinator including their name, student ID number, course title and prospectus or catalog number. Depending on the availability of places, the study co-ordinator will register these students after August/January 15. By September/February 1 at the latest the student will be able to see in uSis whether (s)he is registered or not.

Not registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

(Studeren à la carte is not possible for this course.)


Mw Dr. E.M. Raven

All Buddhism related courses

At BA-level
Fall Semester
Buddhist Art
Introduction to Buddhism
Japanse religies en boeddhisme
Iconography of South and Southeast Asia

Spring Semester
Architecture: The Temple and the Stupa
Chinese Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism
Tibet: State and Society
Indian Philosophy
Buddhism and Modern Chinese Literature
Elective: Buddhism and Violence

At MA-level
Reading Buddhist Scriptures


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).