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Introduction to Critical Thinking Seminars


All first-year students take a seminar called Introduction to Critical Thinking, which focuses on critical thinking, reasoning and and cogent writing. Emphasis is placed on how to make a persuasive argument by entering into conversation with other writers, including one’s fellow students. During the semester, each student receives close mentorship from his/her professor and an assigned tutor in the Centre for Writing and Communication. A carefully sequenced set of writing assignments is accompanied by multiple rounds of feedback that help the student develop his/her skills of writing and, by implication, his/her skills of thinking.


In the process, the student learns how to respond appropriately to different kinds of writing situations, apply critical reading skills to support his/her writing, and integrate sources to make more effective arguments.Through these seminars Ashoka students learn how to scrutinize their unstated assumptions, develop the ability to understand multiple perspectives, and recognize that asking thoughtful questions is often more intellectually productive than knowing a “correct” answer.



Critical Thinking Seminars

In both their second and their third semester, every student takes a Critical Thinking Seminar. These elective seminars, which are offered in a range of disciplines and fields of scholarly inquiry, build on the skills that students have acquired in Introduction to Critical Thinking. Students opt for seminars that best suit their academic interests and needs; the seminars offer students an opportunity either to trial a discipline that they may major or minor in, or simply to study a subject that fascinates them. The Critical Thinking Seminars are not capacious introductions to specific subjects so much as topic-driven lines of inquiry based on a question or a problem with which the professor’s research is engaged. The objective in each seminar is to spend the semester thinking about the given topic from a variety of perspectives. Through a series of in-class writing workshops led by the professor and tutors in the Centre for Writing and Communication, students acquire greater awareness not only of the seminar topic but also of their writing and thinking processes.


A full list of Critical Thinking Seminar topics from 2015-16 is offered below. 


Click here to see what second year students studied in their Critical Thinking Seminar during 2015 Monsoon session.

Seminars in 2017

All second-semester students are required to enrol for one of the following eighteen seminars:


Academic Writing

Faculty: Aditi Sriram

Course Description: During the semester, students will cultivate critical reading, thinking and writing skills by closely reading a variety of essays. Their writing progress will be monitored over time by providing personalised instruction that encourages development. Multiple rounds of teacher feedback and extensive support for revision will be accompanied with a carefully sequenced set of writing assignments.


Discrete Mathematics

Faculty: TBA

Course Description: This course will introduce and develop proficiency in use of some of the key mathematical tools and techniques that students will require for a CS major. The emphasis will be on creative problem solving, rigorous analysis and reading and writing formal proofs. Topics include Logic and Proofs, advanced counting techniques like recurrence relations and generating functions, modular arithmetic and finite fields with applications to coding theory and cryptography, matchings, cuts, flows and connectivity in graphs, the probabilistic methods and applications of probabilistic techniques in computer science.


Introduction to Proofs

Faculty: Dario Darji

Course Description: This course aims to make you conversant with the language of mathematics. This means being able to read and write proofs, which are simply careful expressions of reasoning. You will learn how to do so while learning actual mathematics, of course. Topics will be determined by the instructor.


Indian Environmental History

Faculty: Mahesh Rangarajan

Course Description: This course integrates ecological themes with the study of India's past and present. It brings into its ambit issues as diverse as elephants and kings, Gandhian approaches and environmental movements and conservation and pollution.


Critical Thinking Seminar in Psychology ( 2 Sections)

Faculty: Bittu Rajaraman, Sieun An

Course Description: This course introduces what it means to think like a psychologist. We will focus on the nature of evidence from which we construct psychological theories, and the inferential errors we make when faced with this evidence. This course will be taught by different instructors in different semesters, with each instructor bringing in his or her own specializations into the course. This course is not required for a major/minor, but can count towards a major/minor.

Prerequisites : None


Creative Writing

Faculty: Aruni Kashyap

Course Description: This is a course of critical thinking about the process of creative writing. The goal is to reflect on writing methods, techniques, and reading literature with the eyes of a writer. Students in this course will write critical essays about the process of writing. Readings will include literary texts, which will be read and discussed with an eye to craft and technique, with close attention to the writing process.



Faculty: Mandakini Dubey

Course Description: : This course traces the thin curl of opium smoke that winds across some key moments in British and Anglophone literature. We will examine representations of opium in the writings of Romantic poets and authors like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas de Quincey; Victorian writers like Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Oscar Wilde; and postcolonial writers such as Amitav Ghosh and Jeet Thayil. How do these depictions stage changing ideas about self and body, individual and collective? And in what way does opium open into the cultural history and literary lives of empire, globalisation and the urban space?


Gods, Guns and Globalization

Faculty: Subhashree Chakravarty

Course Description: It is ironic that we are often surprised to find our era so full of fundamentalisms. What should surprise us rather is that we neither anticipated them nor understand them very well despite their historical and contemporary prominence. In this course we will read fundamentalisms in the late-20th and early-21st century not as an orthodoxy of faith but a modern political phenomenon. We will argue how reading fundamentalism as nothing but religious conformity fails to uncover the social, ethnic and nationalistic grievances embedded within it. It is perhaps this conservative definition of fundamentalism that has denied it an audience for decades and thus failed to thwart its progress.



Faculty: Madhavi Menon

Course Description: In recent years, there has been much contestation between the terms “gay” and “queer.” While the former seems to give us access to sexual identity, the latter problematises the very concept of identity. As such, rather than addressing the question of whether or not Shakespeare was gay, this critical thinking seminar will think of what Shakespearean texts have to say about queerness, and how queer theory engages with Shakespeare.

We will interrogate various factors – power, triangulation, identity reproduction – that prick out the realms of the queer in Shakespeare. Readings will include plays, poems, films, and theory.


War in History

Faculty: Pratyay Nath

Course Description: In this seminar, you will get a historical perspective on the world of warfare. You will begin by looking at various constituents of military enterprises – military labour, war-animals, and technology. Next, you will explore more theoretical issues like military orientalism, gendered military roles, anti-war politics, war-propaganda, and the making of martial cultures. You will also investigate how ethics has shaped the conduct and perception of war as well as how wars have historically been represented in diverse societies. Finally, you will unravel the relationship of war with state-formation, natural environment, and society at large.


Journalistic Perspectives

Faculty: Vaiju Naravane

Course Description: Can the media really be objective? This seminar critically examines the media and the women and men who populate the media landscape. It analyses the principles of journalism, media law, the place of the journalist in society and how the media covers or fails to cover major issues. The course will be a mix of class discussions and seminars with guest speakers who will explore specific topics. How does a mainly urban-based media look at questions that are relevant to an emerging, poor and  predominantly rural country like India?


Film Appreciation

Faculty: K.Hariharan  

Course Description: The language of moving images and synchronous sounds have empowered the art form called Cinema to establish itself as the most powerful foundation of contemporary popular culture across the world. Despite its enormous dependence on technology, cinema has allowed peoples from diverse backgrounds to partake in its expressive force and communicate with ease across national borders. Who were these filmmakers and what were the stories they narrated? Why did certain forms of expression prevail over others? And how did this art form subvert conservative tenets of the establishment to constantly lead modern culture from the front?


History and Memory Across Asia

Faculty: Nayanjot Lahiri

Course Description: The seminar aims to look at a few key figures who have had a vivid historical presence as also a rich and diverse afterlife across Asia. Alexander III of Macedon (also known as ‘Alexander the Great’) and Ashoka, the third emperor of the Maurya dynasty will be examined here in relation to South Asia, West Asia and Southeast Asia. Apart from the historical sources that throw light on the history and memory of such figures, the seminar will involve analysing literature and films in order to gain insights into memory formation and memorialization.


Right-wing politics and ideas in India

Faculty: Vinay Sitapati

Course Description: This course provides students with a history of 20th century right-wing politics (as well as ‘conservative’ economic and social ideas) in India. We will explore whether these terms are even applicable to India. Apart from the substance, the focus will be on improving reading and writing skills.


Shifting Power Balance in Asia and the Rise of China: A View from the Front Row

Faculty: Nayan Chanda

Course Description: One of the most striking features of modern Asia has been the rapid emergence of China and the reversal of alliances. This course will follow the evolution of East Asia from the end of the Vietnam War to the rise of China and the new Sino-American rivalry. Students will have the chance to examine a personal perspective of the the power shift in the region.


Professional & Intercultural Communication

Faculty: Hannah Morris

Course Description: Communicating, negotiating, and engaging across diverse social and cultural settings requires intentional understanding and practice. In this course, we will discuss the application and evaluation of cross-cultural communication theories, develop an enhanced awareness of our own social and cultural backgrounds, and understand how personal experiences and biases impact intercultural communication. Through class discussions, readings, audio-visual resources, experiential activities, this course aims to challenge our previous notions of communication while learning the critical thinking skills necessary for effective communication across cultures.


The Flaneur

Faculty: Aditi Sriram

Course Description: 'Flaneur' in French is a person who walks around a city, studying it, listening to it, and discovering it. What kind of writing do cities inspire? How to become a flaneur or flaneuse yourself -- if you aren't already one? Take this course to find out.

Seminars in 2016

Sufi Poetry

Faculty: Abir Bazaz

Course Description: Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, has had a deep and enduring impact on history and culture in Africa, Middle East, South Asia and South East Asia. The course will situate Sufi poetry in a wider social, historical and intellectual context of the Islamic and Indo-Islamic worlds, and  includes selections from the love poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, the Hindavi Sufi kavya of Manjhan and Jayasi, the dohas of Kabir, the Punjabi and Sindhi kafis of Bulleh Shah and Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, the ghazals of Khwaja Mir Dard and Mirza Ghalib, songs of Sahir Ludhianvi, the nazms of Iqbal and Faiz, etc


Critical Thinking Seminar in Psychology

Faculty: Kaveri Rajaraman

Course Description:This course introduces what it means to think like a psychologist. We will focus on the nature of evidence from which we construct psychological theories, and the inferential errors we make when faced with these evidence. This course will be taught by different instructors in different semesters, with each instructor bringing in his or her own specializations into the course. This course is not required for a major/minor, but can count towards a major/minor.


Critical Concepts in Islam

Faculty: Ali Khan

Course Description: This course will offer students the chance to tackle individual concepts within Islam and then go into an in-depth analysis of their origins, changes in meaning and their relevance to the everyday lives of Muslims by using a longue durée approach. Furthermore, there will be a constant effort to underscore how these issues remain deeply relevant today and thereby introduce students to currents debates as well.


Studying Indian Culture and Society

Faculty: Ravindran Sriramachandran

Course Description: South Asia provides us with an archive that is exceptionally useful for tracking the changes that colonialism ushers in and changes in the field of studying culture because of a combination of many factors. Every major phase in the development of anthropology and every anthropological theory has had its lively encounter and engagement in and through South Asian ethnographies.  As a result, in reading a range of representative ethnographies of South Asia, we will also discuss the evolution and range of anthropological theory more generally.


Political Ecology

Faculty: Mitul Baruah

Course Description:  This course is intended to help students understand the broader politicization of nature through processes of environmental governance, development politics, and struggles over resources and livelihoods. We will pay close attention to the role of political economic processes in shaping environmental transformations and interpretations of ecological change, as well as to the ways in which understandings of nature are materially and discursively bound up with social processes and multiple axes of differentiation (e.g. gender, caste, class, etc.). Overall, the course will help students engage critically with a broad range of theories and themes related to questions of nature, culture, power, and their interactions.


A History of the Future: Tocqueville’s Democracy in America

Faculty: Simon Green

Course Description: With the passing of the Communist era, it is becoming ever clearer that Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, rather than Marx’s Capital,  represents the truly prophetic work of nineteenth-century political sociology.  


This course invites students to consider why Tocqueville chose the United States, not Europe, as his model for the future, how he was able to predict developments in the advanced societies so accurately and the degree to which his insights remain applicable to the wider world today.


Media Studies: Globalized News and Beyond

Faculty: Vaiju Naravane

Course Description: Why is it that almost every news media in our globalised world sounds the same? With a growing crisis in the media industry, newspapers and broadcast media are curtailing their budgets, relying increasingly on national and international agencies to provide news coverage. 

As a result, in-depth reporting, once the mainstay of many publications, has been reduced to a trickle. This seminar will examine the changing concepts of news and attempt to go beyond the common news story to build deeper, more meaningful reports from multiple sources.


Film Studies

Faculty: K. Hariharan

Course Description:  What is the basic language of film and film-making? This course will teach students how to study cinema as text and context through the four major forms of filmic narration: the Analytic Dramatic, the Lyric, the Epic and the Didactic or Melodramatic.


It will enable students to see how a language emerges in the triangular confluence of visual/ audio grammar, technology and spectatorship. Students will study the essentials of film language – shots, scenes, sequence and composition.


Language of Math  

Faculty: M. Krishna

Course Description: This course aims to make you conversant with the language of mathematics. This means being able to read and write proofs, which are simply careful expressions of reasoning.

You will learn how to do so while learning actual mathematics, of course. Topics will be determined by the instructor.  


Animal Histories (cross listed with Environmental Studies ES 201-01)

Faculty: Mahesh Rangarajan

Course Description: It is impossible to disentangle the way we look at animals from how we look at people.  Mainly but not wholly focused on the modern world, the paper examines the way animal-human relations have changed over time.


The paper ranges over hunting and museums, animal science and empire, nation making and nature protection, gender and nature. The ethical and political issue of how we define animals is critical to how we define the human condition in our times.


Probability and Statistics

Faculty:  Mahabir Jhanwar

Course Description: Compulsory for  all likely Computer Science Majors


Philosophy of Film

Faculty: Roy Perrett

Course Description: Selected topics in analytical philosophy of film, including film as art, the nature of film, documentary films, narration and emotion in film, film criticism, and film's relations to knowledge and morality.


Early Modern Philosophy

Faculty: Aditi Chaturvedi

Course description: The Scientific Revolution profoundly changed how philosophers in the Early Modern period thought of the nature and task of philosophy.


This course will survey some of the central topics in the works of John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume, who thought that all ideas and knowledge must be derived from experience. Opposed to them were Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and G.W. Leibniz who privileged reason over experience.


Globalization and its Discontents

Faculty: Nayan Chanda

Course description: This course aims to explain the reasons behind the rising anti-globalization sentiment especially  in developed countries. While analyzing the present, the course will also dive back into history to explore how the increasing interconnectedness of the world came about.


The course will be divided into two broad parts: (1) Origins of globalization and (2) the growing discontent wrought by the process of globalization. 


Finally, the course will assess the impact of globalization and its future: Is globalization on its last legs or is the news of its demise exaggerated?