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Classical Cultures of South and Southeast Asia: Seminar 1


Admission requirements

Admission to the BA South and Southeast Asian Studies. All other students interested in this course should contact the Coordinator of Studies.


This seminar offers an introduction to the cultural heritage that has linked South and Southeast Asia through the ages. We focus on the medieval period when Hinduism and Buddhism and later also Islam were important shared cultural phenomena. During the first block we first critically consider the term ‘classical’ and the theories brought forward to clarify South and Southeast Asia’s shared culture. Then, perceptions of time, space and the cosmos are discussed, as well as the writing systems and manuscript cultures of South and Southeast Asia. A visit to the rich collections of South and Southeast Asian manuscripts in the Leiden University Library concludes this block. During the second block the focus is on major monuments (stupa, temple, mosque) and objects of worship (relics, divine statues, graves) and we visit the Asia and Indonesia rooms of Museum Volkenkunde. Finally, we also look into the role of the great epics Mahabharata and Ramayana in offering a narrative backbone for arts and media in various different places, times and contexts. Each of these culture-historical topics will also be linked to aspects of the living cultures of South and Southeast Asia.
The seminar combines content-focused lectures and readings with study materials and practical exercises focused on training specific library and academic skills, such as reading and abstracting, presenting, essay-writing, and using online resources for academic purposes. Library skills will be offered by staff of the University Library during separate meetings.

Course objectives

  • To get familiarized with characteristic cultural traditions that connect South and Southeast Asia historically and up to the present;

  • To develop a first working knowledge of the nature and relevance of primary and secondary sources for the study of the shared heritage of South and Southeast Asia;

  • To discover ways to access such sources (along traditional roads and digitally) and to judge them for their usefulness, quality and reliability;

  • To train the specific academic skills (academic reading, abstracting, presenting, writing) meetings, while focusing on content issues related to the classical shared cultural heritage of South and Southeast Asia.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method

Practical exercises:

  • In the first half of the semester the emphasis is on reading, summarizing and interpretation skills. These are linked to 3 mandatory home assignments. These assignments need to be handed in on time via TurnitIn/Blackboard according to the planned schedule of submission (to be found in Blackboard). They are graded (10 %).

  • Early in the second half of the course the students prepare in small groups a joint presentation (20 %).

  • Later in the second half of the semester they write a short paper to test academic skills related to use of sources and academic writing (20 %). A passing grade of 5.50 or higher for this part is required.

Final exam:

  • The power point presentations and readings of block 1 and 2 are examined by means of a 2-hour written exam with open questions in the concluding exam week (50 %).

Participation in classes and mentorship meetings is obligatory and so are the home assignments that are related to developing academic skills. Students are required to submit all parts of the practical exercises as listed above (both in academic skills and in the seminar). Students who do not fulfill these requirements cannot sit in the final exam and will automatically fail the course.

Passing Seminar I with a sufficient result (6 or higher) is an entry requirement for students in SSEAS for admission to BA2 of SSEAS.


The final mark of the courses is established by the weighted average (see above), with the passing grade for the presentation/paper component as an additional requirement.


There will be a re-sit of the written exam. The grade for this re-sit will replace the grade of the first final exam and have a weight of 50%. A re-sit is not possible for those students who did not participate in the practical exercises.

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

Inspection and feedback

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

Reading list

Links to chapters from books or articles or info on how to access them is offered via Brightspace

  • A syllabus with a reading list is made available before the start of the course.
    Literature needs to be read in advance based on the list. This includes reading for the first meeting.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website



Classical Cultures of SSEA: Seminar 1 has to be successfully completed for a positive binding study advice. Failing for this course implicates that you cannot continue your SSEAS programme!