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Great Books

Studying books from different cultures, time periods and languages, the Great Books course introduces students to multiple ways of thinking and being in the world. Complex questions about sexuality, conflict, self, identity and science are navigated with reference to books, and fragments of books, from across geographies and chronologies These books and questions form the core of the course and its explorations.

Department: English | Semester: Monsoon 2021

In this course, we will address the question “What is sexuality” by reading some of the many books that have shaped our current ideas of the subject. These books will range across chronologies, cultures, and disciplines, starting with classical and medieval Indic texts — the Kamasutra, Sufi poetry — to ancient Greek and Roman classics — the Symposium, the Metamorphoses. We will also read philosophical texts like the Discourse on Method, biological texts like The Origin of Species, psychoanalytical texts like The Interpretation of Dreams, and literary texts like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Together, these “great books” will allow us to trace threads that have gone into our current ways of thinking about sexuality.

Faculty Name: L.S. Shashidhara and Dhruv Raina

Department: Biology/History | Semester: Monsoon 2021

The purpose of the course is to introduce students to thinking about developments in the sciences and their relationship with society in the twentieth century. These developments in the sciences are explored through the writings of leading scientists who played a seminal role in advancing the frontiers of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, the course engages with the philosophical dimensions of these sciences as discussed in the works of the leading philosophers of science of the twentieth century. The subject matter relates not just to the nature of this knowledge but also the dynamics of the growth of scientific knowledge. Students will be introduced to some of the central concerns through readings in the philosophy of science from accessible chapters and portions of the major works of a few philosophers of science.  Students will also read novels and plays about the world of science.

Department: History | Semester: Monsoon 2021 and Spring 2022

In this course through certain texts and in some cases parts of texts students are invited to explore a series of complex and variegated themes and issues.  Some of these are the relationship between knowledge and ignorance, darkness and truth; the relationship between identity and destiny; narratological techniques; understanding of the historical processes and ideology; and the quest to discover the self to emancipate it from the restrictions that society imposes on the self. The books through which these issues are pursued are:

  1. Isa Upanishad

  2. King Oedipus by Sophocles

  3. The Mahabharata (Selected Themes)

  4. Babur Nama (Sections)

  5. The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx

  6. Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

  7. Crisis of Civilization by Tagore

Department: History | Semester: Spring 2021

This course will focus on a set of texts that offer powerful critiques of the societies the authors lived in. They seek to disturb our conception of the social normal, what we take for granted, and what we see as acceptable. They help us understand how and why we might see things differently from those who lived a century earlier, why what we are likely to consider unacceptable and discriminatory now was normal in earlier times. They make us sensitive to structures of social oppression and domination and help us understand how discriminatory social complexes – of race, gender, caste, class – operate within society. By juxtaposing texts from different times and regions in the world, the course will explore how seemingly similar issues are conceptualized in historically specific ways in different societal contexts.

We will also explore how texts can be read. How do we relate the text to the author, or to the societal context of its production? Is the meaning of the text fixed, or does it change over time? What happens when a text circulates, and is read in diverse ways in different times and in different places? Finally, through these explorations, we will also ask: what makes a text great? Is greatness inherent in the text itself, embedded within it, or is it constituted over time, in the way it is received and the significance it acquires historically?

The course will focus on specific sections and fragments from a range of texts, from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to Rokeya Hossain’s Sultana’s Dream, from Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto to Jyotiba Phule’s Gulamgiri, from W.E.B. Dubois The Souls of Black Folks to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, from Tarabai Shinde’s Stri Purush Tulna to Simon de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, from Mohandas Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj to Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

While the lectures will seek to offer a larger picture of the texts, students will have to read the short fragments specified.

Department: English | Semester: Spring 2022

In this course I would like to look at some books and excerpts from books – philosophical texts, a sonnet sequence, plays, an epic and a treatise – that engage with ways of thinking about empowerment, gender and related issues. Fundamental questions that we are grappling with today have been raised since classical times. If Wollstonecraft was regarded as a radical by her contemporaries in the 1790s, passages in the works of the fifth century BC philosopher Plato are equally radical along the same lines. Aeschylus and Shakespeare weave patterns of magic into their considerations of gender and empowerment. Perhaps the most powerful questioning and dismantling of the tradition of disenfranchisement is in Milton’s Paradise Lost and the most memorable suggestion of the way forward is also there. The experience of reading seminal texts both deepen our understanding of these issues and enrich our lives through our encounter with these great books.  Texts will include

  • Plato’s Republic and other dialogues (excerpts)
  • Aeschylus’s Agamemnon
  • Shakespeare’s Sonnets and The Tempest
  • Milton’s Paradise Lost
  • Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka