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Foundation Courses
Foundation Courses
The following table provides Foundation Course (FC), Introduction to Critical Thinking (ICT) and, Critical Thinking Seminar (CTS) requirements for different undergraduate batches.
UG Batch
FC
ICT
CTS
Mandatory FCs
2020-2023
8
1
0
All the FCs mentioned in the description below. 
2019-2022
5
1
1
Indian Civilizations, Environmental Studies, 1 FC each from Humanities, NMS, and SES area.
2018-2021
6
1
1
Indian Civilizations, Environmental Studies, 1 FC from the NMS area.
2017-2020
7 (6 if Indian Civilizations is done)
1
1
Environmental Studies and 1 Math FC. 
* For the UG21 and UG22 batches, FCs are categorized into 3 areas: Humanities, Natural and Mathematical Sciences (NMS), Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
 
For further information on batch-wise FC rules, kindly go through the FAQs (available at the end of this page)
UG Batch 2020-2023 Onwards
Ashoka University requires each student to take 9 Foundation Courses. Each of these courses is mandatory. These are Introduction to Critical Thinking, Great Books, Literature and the World, Indian Civilizations, Environmental Studies, Mind and Behaviour, Economy, Politics and Society, Mathematical Thinking and Principles of Science. The Introduction to Critical Thinking Foundation Course is one which students take in their first year. It allows them to develop their critical thinking abilities both in discussion and, no less importantly, in writing. 
 
These courses are not formal gateways into the Major programmes, but distinctive courses that introduce students to the foundations of thought and various styles of thinking, and also to inter- and transdisciplinary approaches.  Other than Introduction to Critical Thinking which must be completed in the first year, students have the flexibility to choose the order in which they take the Foundation Courses but are advised to complete the Foundation Courses series early in the three year undergraduate programme.
Introduction to Critical Thinking
The Foundation Course Introduction to Critical Thinking, which students take in their first year, allows them to develop their habit of critical thinking, the ability to read and analyze a text, to ask questions, to engage in discussions, and to sharpen their writing skills. Capped at twenty students in each group, it is a seminar where students cultivate the skills and habits to become confident, articulate writers.
 
Faculty - Aditi Sriram (Academic Writing)
Introduction to Critical Thinking (ICT) is a first year requirement for all undergraduates at Ashoka University. Capped at 20 students, it is a seminar where students cultivate the skills and habits to become confident, articulate writers. We study the anatomy of the essay, breaking down articles into their structural and logical components, and then applying those to our own ideas. We learn how to read and analyze a text; how to summarize, accept, and refute it. We make observations, ask questions, and edit passages. By the end of the semester, students understand how to build an argument, support it with research, and format it as an academic article -- a skillset they will continue to refine through the rest of their Ashoka experience.
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. 

 

(a) Faculty Name: Madhavi Menon 

     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.

 

 

(b) 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.  

 

(c) Faculty Name: Rudrangshu Mukherjee

     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

 

(d) Faculty Name: Neeladri Bhattacharya

     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.

 

(e) Faculty Name: Malabika Sarkar

     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
Literature and the World

Stories are an important resource for understanding the world. As stories make their way into literature, they find a permanent home there. At the same time, the re-imagining and re-telling enhances our understanding of the world. Literature and the Worldintroduces students to this experience. This course poses questions about how literature has diversely imagined the world, and how the world has diversely imagined literature. What does it mean to tell a story about a specific place? How does one’s own place affect the stories one tells? How are we all story-tellers? And how is the act of reading always itself an act of story-telling (or re-telling)?

 

(a) Faculty Name: Johannes Burgers

     Department: English

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

Homer’s Odyssey is one of the central texts of the western canon, and has been a continuous touchstone for literary creation since its earliest telling in ancient Greece. With each retelling, authors have used the adventures of Odysseus to reflect on Homer’s time as well as their own. In this course, you will study the Odyssey and the long history of its influence on other works. Like the travels of Odysseus, you will sail to the horizons of the known world, and encounter many different cultures along the way. Your ship will launch from the Baghdad caliphate as you explore the medieval world of Sinbad the Sailor, from there you will travel into the depths of Dante’s Inferno, and sit next to the seat of empire in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Victorian England, go on to grab a pint in a pub in James Joyce’s modernist Dublin, walk with Primo Levi through the unimaginable darkness of the Auschwitz death camp, journey across Derek Walcott’s Caribbean isle of St. Lucia, and, finally, relive the Odyssey through Margaret Atwood’s feminist retelling of Penelope’s life. Throughout the semester we will think critically about what it means to read and write at the college level, and consider why, for better or for worse, some literary works might be considered “foundational.” 

 

(b) Faculty Name: Saikat Majumdar

     Department: English and Creative Writing

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

Is it possible to imagine a body of world literature in a single language? How did British colonialism shape a global terrain of colonial modernity? How did that modernity merge with Anglo-American globalization of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? How did this create the reality of the Anglophone/Anglographic world, and how did it turn English into a language of world literature? This course seeks to examine the transnational trajectory of this diverse and diffuse body of writing, including work from spaces with vastly different histories – the colonies in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia, the settler colonies of New Zealand and Australia, and the hard-to-classify contexts of Ireland and South Africa.
 

 

(c) Faculty Name: Jonathan Gil Harris

     Department: English

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

How does literature imagine the world?  And how does the world re-imagine literature? 

 

This class begins with the premise that every story is a migrant.  A story migrates in a variety of ways – from the teller to the audience or reader; but also from reader to reader, and from culture to culture, as the story get told and retold (or written and rewritten) over space and time. 

 

We live in a capitalist age when ideas of private property have subtly colonized how we think about stories.  It is assumed that a story is always BY someone, and is therefore their possession.  But if stories migrate, can a single author really claim full ownership of the story she has written?  How is every story a re-imagining of another story, or many stories, that have become before?

 

The notion that a story is an author’s private intellectual property also inhibits how we read.  Readers become potential trespassers; they must pay the price of admission, and then act respectfully when they enter the property, making sure not to damage or alter it.  If you are a student of literature, it’s likely that the command to respect an author’s private property will be accompanied by the assumption that the objective of literary analysis is simply to understand what the author intended, and to submit to that deferentially.  But if stories migrate from teller to reader, and from reader to reader and culture to culture, maybe the act of reading should not be thought of just as a respectful encounter with an author’s private property.  Every act of reading instead becomes a creative re-imagining of the story, in conversation with new potential readers and audiences.  

 

If stories are migrants, they are no longer individual property by authors who command their readers.  They are collective artefacts that invite us to respond creatively and re-imagine them anew.

 

If you doubt what I am saying, think this.  Do any two readers respond exactly the same way to a story?  Each reader, when asked about a story and what it meant, will retell it slightly differently.  Recognizing that reading is a form of creative re-imagining is one of this course’s most important themes.

 

As stories migrate across space, time, and languages, they are re-imagined by the world across many genres and media – poems, plays, novels, essays, films, graphic novels.  These re-imaginings might prove that, in literature, there is nothing original under the sun.  Yet how literature reimagines earlier stories also tells us a lot about the extraordinarily diverse ways in which different cultures have understood the world: relations between men and women, relations between diverse ethnicities and religions, the nature of political and social power, humans’ relations to the animal and plant world, the agonies and ecstasies of love, and the nature of imagination itself. 

 

How, for example, is a Roman re-imagining of an old Greek story about an Asian witch re-imagined by an English playwright in an “American” drama that has itself been re-imagined in very different ways by writers and artists from the Caribbean, Sierra Leone, Mauritius, and Samoa?  How is a Roman re-imagining of a Babylonian (ie Iraqi) love story reworked by the same English playwright in a Greek mythic tale with an Asian subtext that gets in turn re-imagined by a firang director in Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, and Sinhalese as well as by an English graphic novelist in a reworking of an American comic-book hero’s saga?  And how is an antique Persian story about an African migrant re-imagined in an Arab novel and then re-imagined by the same English playwright, whose play is then diversely re-imagined by a Sudanese novelist and a Hindi film-maker from Uttar Pradesh? 

 

We will read, among other texts, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Hanan Al-Shaykh’s The Thousand and One Nights, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, and The Tempest, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Dream Country, Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, and Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest, as well as see films such as Omkara and Forbidden Planet.

 

 

(d) Faculty Name: Abir Bazaz

     Department: English

     Semester: Spring 2022

 

What is literature? And what does it teach us about who we are, the world we live in, and where we are going? Does literature help us make better sense of the lives of others or the necessary strife involved in the human condition? Does literature put us more genuinely in touch with ourselves and one another? What is the relation between literature and politics? Or literature and religion? In this course, we will search for answers to some of these questions by reading modern literature from all over the world. We will be studying literary texts by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Franz Kafka, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, V.S. Naipaul, Tayeb Salih, Han Kang, Toni Morrison, J. M. Coetzee, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Flannery O’Connor among others.

 

(e) Rita Kothari (English Literature)

     Department: English

     Semester: Spring 2022

 

Families shape us, form us, for better or worse. How does literature talk about this institution? Does the world of imagination tell us deeper truths about the family—its silences, languages, and intimacies and its potential to define, destroy, and heal? How can homes be havens and sanctuaries but also sites of violence, discomfort, and trauma? How can we understand spatiality within the family and what does it say about hierarchy and normativity? How does popular culture depict homes and families? In reading the family, is it possible to read the self? Is there a self that is separate from the family? 

 

This course takes texts from across the world and focuses on this relation between the individual and the family; the joy and burden of kinship; the networks of relations that bind and set us free; the home and the nation; the personal and the political. In the process, we also hope to gain an understanding of literature as an institution, and its role in telling stories that are both real and imaginary.

Indian Civilizations

Indian Civilizations introduces students to the various influences that have fashioned the civilizations that are integral to the history of India, with an emphasis on the multiplicity of strands in Indian culture and tradition from pre-history to the present. The rich and varied ideas and thoughts from the ancient times to the modern age and their expression through art and artefacts, through literature and philosophical writings, will form the basis for discussions for an understanding of the plurality of Indian civilizations.

 

(a) Faculty Name: Nayanjot Lahiri 

     Department: History

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

This is a small course about a large and fascinating subject, that of Indian Civilizations. It has been structured in a way that it can be immersed in, I hope, with enjoyment.  The course will draw out civilizational elements from prehistory till the present – through travels and lives, through ideas and art forms – in which small phenomena will be linked to the larger world of the Indian subcontinent and beyond. In the process, the course will explore a varied and rich tapestry that includes rock art, the Harappan Civilization, the iconic emperor Ashoka,  the poetry of Bhakti saints,  the travels of Indians beyond India and Mughal art along with its influence on European painters like Rembrandt. Indian civilization, as the course will emphasize, is not to be seen merely as part of the dead past but as an element that continued to be invoked in present times, by literary giants like Rabindranath Tagore and statesmen like Jawaharlal Nehru, and by more ordinary people in India’s villages and towns. The  course will involve scholarly readings and  literature, as also film appreciation and analysis.

 

(b) Faculty Name: Dimitry Shivchenko

Department: Philosophy

Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

The guiding idea behind this course is that civilization is not a homogenous, static cultural monolith, but rather a choir – not always harmonious – of many voices, narratives, and practices. The course overviews some of the unique cultural and intellectual developments, which have taken place in the Indian sub-continent, beginning with the mysterious Indus Valley civilization, and ending with political imagination in Bollywood films. We will explore the religious thought and practice of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions, Indian philosophical traditions – both classical and modern -, classical aesthetic theory and literature, and interrelations between Islam and indigenous religions. We will attempt to look at Indian civilizations from several points of view – traditional and historical, sympathetic and critical. We will try to trace historical continuities and ruptures, examples of cultural synthesis and antagonism, as well as critically examine how cultural insiders and outsiders have imagined and represented Indian civilizations. 

 

(c) Faculty Name: Rudrangshu Mukherjee and Gopal Gandhi

     Department: History

     Semester: Monsoon 2021 & Spring 2022

 

This course aims to provide students with an outline of the various influences that fashioned the civilizations that are integral to the history of India. The emphasis is on the plurality of Indian culture and tradition. The course is divided into two separate but interrelated parts. In the first part Rudrangshu Mukherjee presents the very broad themes of the civilizations from ancient times to the modern age. The themes are:

  1. Harrapan Culture

  2. Vedic Civilization

  3. Coming of The Buddha

  4. Ashoka

  5. Gupta Empire --- Political Structure, Culture, Religious Ideas

  6. Coming of Islam -- Bhakti And Mughal Pluralism

  7. British Rule -- Indian Responses -- Rammohun, Gandhi, Tagore

 

In the second part Gopalkrishna Gandhi looks at some specific features of these civilizations. These features are

  1. Digging for the Future

    • 'Dancer', 'Priest-King' and Bull - Life's Rhythms in the Indus Valley (Discussing the possible reasons for their decline and the trajectories of their continuance ).

  2. Great Words

    • The Past, Present and Future of Sanskrit ( A Post-Modern reflection on the

                        Buddha, Mahavira and Sankara)

  1. Great Works

    • The Tirukkural (Its ethical and romantic as opposed to didactic voltage).

  2. Kalidasa (His romantic and aesthetic as opposed to moral preoccupations) 'Rock of Ages Cleft For Me'

  3. Asoka's Stones (The Imperatives of an Ethical Sovereignty)

    • The Peacock Throne

  4. Shah Jehan's Progeny and Abanindranath Tagore's paintings (with a tangential sighting of Sarmad and the Sufis)

    • Company - Colony – Country

  5. Dalhousie - as a Maker and Breaker of India

  6. Wavell – as a Soldier-Statesman who lost without knowing what he had lost

 

(d) Faculty Name: Upinder Singh 

     Department: History

     Semester: Spring 2022

 

Is there such a thing as ‘Indian civilization?’ How far back in time do we have to travel in order to discover it? Starting from the dawn of history and taking a long view of the past, how can we make sense of the seemingly endless detail, the bewildering variety and uneven textures, the striking continuities shot through by even more striking changes? Does civilization reveal itself in the everyday rhythms of life of village folk, city dwellers or forest tribes? Is it represented in artefacts or ideas, in simple objects or grand monuments, in folk songs or classical literature? This course answers such questions by looking at Indian civilization through the coexistence of contradictions. These include the coexistence of unequal societies with promises of salvation for all; of social prudery with a celebration of sexuality; of misogyny with the worship of goddesses; of religions preaching nonviolence with a politics marked by war and violence; of religious dialogue with religious conflict; of an inward-lookingness despite centuries of lively interactions with the world. By exploring such contradictions, the course will show that the past is neither dead nor dull, and that we need to understand it in order to understand our present and ourselves.

Environmental Studies

That every student must take some course in Environmental Studies is mandated by the UGC and, we think, for good reasons. At Ashoka, we are convinced that being exposed to and engaging with issues having to do with the role human beings play in our shared environment is an important part of every student’s education. This course will look at a variety of issues from climate change and species extinction, to socio-economic responsibilities and environmental justice, to address the fundamental question of how do we live at peace with nature. 

 

(a) Faculty Name: Amita Baviskar 

     Department: Environmental Studies

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

Any environmental issue is invariably about society and politics.  From global warming to garbage on city streets, nature and culture lie at the centre of competing claims about what should be done.  To understand these processes of ‘socio-nature’, we need to focus on social inequality as well as biological complexity.  This course looks at how biophysical processes in natural landscapes are changed by the cultural geography of capitalism, colonialism, caste and nationalism.  We will analyse environmental crises and explore how collective action can lead to ecological justice.

 

(b) Faculty Name: Mukul Sharma

     Department: Environmental Studies

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

This course offers an overview of the interrelationship between environment, development and climate change. It examines various concepts and components of ecosystem and biosphere, and diverse ways in which human-non human lives exist, cooperate and compete with each other. It traces the history of development through different phases of human-nature correlation and explains how theories, practices and questions of globalisation, sustainability, transition, inter-generational equity, gender, health, disasters and green growth have important bearings on our understanding of ecology in present times. In this course, environment and development are also inferred in the context of climate change. It analyses not only how development has led to climate change, but also how climate change is defining our development, which incorporates socio-economic distribution of impacts and burden, energy and carbon emissions, politics of climate change and justice, and alternatives of renewable energy and sustainable transition.

 

(c) Faculty Name: Ghazala Shahabuddin

     Department: Environmental Studies

     Semester: Monsoon and Spring 2021

 

The global focus on economic growth and development has led us onto a path which might not be sustainable in the near future. Growing scientific evidence now suggests that the Earth’s systems may not be able to cope with the growing demands imposed on them.  This situation has created an urgent need to critically examine environmental issues from a variety of perspectives. There is also a need to inculcate holistic thinking that includes concerns of social equity, and economic and ecological sustainability. This course will discuss some of the current concerns about the environment such as climate change, species extinction  and pollution with a view to creating an in-depth understanding and engendering a multidisciplinary (and critical) perspective on them. The course will be taught using a combination of lectures, films, slide-talks, discussions and group projects to encourage debate in class.


(d) Faculty Name: Mukul Sharma

      Department: Environmental Studies

      Semester: Spring 2022

 

Environment has become an important area of interactions between society, politics, economy and culture. This foundation course will focus on diverse sets of social, economic and cultural values and political, ideological and religious views expressed through environment. The course will discuss how ecological issues are understood in different political and economic systems, ideologies and institutions. In turn, the political, ideological and social essence of ecological problems is manifested by deeply contrasting visions of what structuring society according to nature might mean. Taking a historical approach, the course will strengthen the interaction of natural and social sciences in understanding contemporary environmental politics. The course will give close attention to some prominent environmental and social movements in India, which will significantly enhance the knowledge about new developments in environment/politics/society interface.   

Mind and Behaviour

Philosophical debates about the idea of human nature and the influential models of human nature in Indic and Western traditions form the core component of this course. Fundamental questions the course looks at include what is mind and how it is distinct from the brain, and can we identify a single human essence. These are some of the foundational issues explored in Mind and Behaviour from the perspective of both philosophy, psychology and science.

 

 (a) Faculty Name: Kathleen Harbin

      Department: Philosophy

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

Is the essential nature of our minds their capacity to reason, to behave in certain ways, to grasp certain features of the world? And what does understanding the mind allow us to know about ourselves, about the best kind of life for human beings, and about our relations with others? This course explores the nature of the human mind and what it can tell us about ourselves and our place in the world. We will consider whether the operations of human minds are fundamentally different from the functions of animals or robots, whether our minds enable us to make choices that are truly our own or instead only to channel the influential forces in our environment, and what the nature of our minds implies about how we should live and treat each other.

 

(b). Faculty Name: Eric Snyder

       Department: Philosophy

       Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

What is required to be a person? Is rationality required? How about possessing a mind? Or the ability to speak or make decisions? Maybe some combination of all of these? Is artificial intelligence possible, and if so, how would such an intelligence differ, if it does, from our own? Can there be non-human persons? Can non-human beings experience consciousness? These are the sorts of questions we will be grappling with in this course. We will look at and critically evaluate various philosophical answers to these questions, along with some relevant empirical data, concerning e.g. how humans predict the behavior of others and the capacity for non-human animals to speak. By the end of the course, students should not only have a firm grasp on certain central overlapping issues within philosophy of mind, psychology, and cognitive science, but also possess an improved capacity for thinking and writing clearly and persuasively about a variety of topics.

 

(c) Faculty Name: Kranti Saran 

     Department: Philosophy

     Semester: Monsoon 2021 and Spring 2022

 

What kind of creature are you? A human being, no doubt. But what kind of creature is that? How should such a creature live? We will critically explore influential models of human nature in the Indic and Western philosophical traditions and their profound implications both for how we ought to live and our place in the social world. Readings include selections from the Upanishads, Vasisṭḥa’s Yoga, Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Freud, Mill, Railton, Śāntideva, Korsgaard, Foot, O’Neill, Frye, Haidt, Milgram, Hobbes, Rawls, Bilgrami and others. 

 

(d) Faculty Name: Bittu Rajaraman

     Department: Psychology

     Semester: Spring 2022

 

This course will introduce you to questions of mind and behaviour and their relationship to the brain and body, and will encourage you to think critically and scientifically through your own ideas around these relationships. In this course we will try to understand ourselves, the people and animals around us, and all the ways in which our interactions produce learning. Every conversation, every memory, even your reading of this course outline, structurally and functionally changes your brain, but not everything that the brain processes seems to make it to the realm of conscious perception. We will think about various seemingly intangible aspects of the mind and try to imagine how to make sense of them.

Economy, Politics and Society

Economy, Politics and Society introduces students to the main currents of economic thought, the ways in which geography, history and institutions have shaped the trajectory of nations, and how basic concepts such as work and labour define both the individual and society. The important facts and events that have shaped economic development around the world, and influential theorists who have had a major impact on our thinking about the Economy, Politics and Society, will be discussed to help students understand the modes of reasoning that have been deployed in this field.

 

(a) Faculty Name: Ravindran Sriramachandran. 

     Department: Sociology and Anthropology

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

This course introduces seminal writings related to the emergence of modernity on the Indian subcontinent. We will explore the evolution of modern South Asia from 1818 until 1947 survey major figures who grappled with and helped shape social, political and economic struggles during the British colonial period and thereby formed the basis for our present.  We will do this by closely examining debates about religious reform, the role of women, nation formation, and caste stratification, complexity of the social and political discourse of the period. We will analyse primary texts, including autobiographies, speeches, dialogues, treatises, ethnography, and literary fiction and also look at some seminal secondary sources and eminent historians and social scientists who contributed to our understanding of the present.

 

(b) Faculty Name: Vinay Sitapati

     Department: Political Science

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

This course provides an introduction to the world of social science (especially economics and politics) by asking a question we all care about: Why are some countries more ‘developed’ than others; why are some Indian states more developed than other states? Why, for instance, is it safer for women to walk on the streets of Mumbai rather than Sonepat? And why is the average Botswanian healthier than the average resident of Somalia? The course begins by studying different definitions of “development”. It then looks at the various explanations for development, from political institutions to economic growth to regime type, to cultural mores to leadership. Apart from the substance of the course, students will also familiarise themselves with key concepts in social science, such as: research design, correlations, dependent and independent variables, regression analysis, causal mechanisms, and randomized controlled trials. 

 

(c) Faculty Name: Saptarshi Mukherjee

     Department:  Economics

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

The design of social institutions (e.g., marriage, property rights, electoral systems, markets) and the way they function matter to every facet of our lives.  Often, the outcomes depend on what game theorists call `strategic' behaviour.  This is just saying that our actions and choices are made keeping in mind the actions and choices of others.  For instance, my decision to be a good citizen (in class, in life) may well depend on similar decisions by others.  The outcome (e.g., pollution, global warming, traffic congestion, the spread of Covid) is the aggregate of each of these micro-decisions.  Clearly these can be good or bad.  Indeed, very often they are bad despite well intentioned policies.  Why is that?

 

In this course we aim to introduce multi-agent interactions using game theory.  We will follow an example-based approach where intuitive reasoning would be provided to explain various phenomena as mentioned earlier.  This would illuminate why co-operation can be hard and when it can be sustained.  We will discuss, using examples, how one can circumvent the problem of inefficiency led by strategic interactions.  Several applications from market and institution design such as voting, auctions and matching will be discussed. Further, it is interesting to model some of the observable characteristics in the biological kingdoms as strategic interactions. For instance, consider oak trees in a wood shading each other. If the surrounding trees are tall, then a tree must also grow tall to get more light. We will discuss how modeling such observations as games helps us understand evolutionary outcomes in phenotypic terms. 

 

(d) Faculty Name:  Rita Brara

      Department:  Sociology

      Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

The New Political: Reconfiguring the Human and the Non-Human 

 

Inquiries into science studies, animal rights, and climate change are building up the foundations of a ‘new political’ in our times. This theorizing and the charge of the ‘new political’ is co-evolving with capitalism as it intensifies its extractive relationship to nature. The planet can well do without us humans, but it is rather our survival that is contingent both on living and non-living nature. 

 

We now seek to remake the political: we postulate rights of non-human nature; we deliberate the agency of matter (such as machines, for instance); and reckon with precarity as the earth’s present condition. The ongoing attempts at reforming politics are not without ifs and buts… and so we shall look into the continuing force of inclusions by legacy and troubling exclusions. 

 

(e) Faculty Name: Aparajita Dasgupta

     Department: Economics

     Semester: Spring 2022

 

The course is primarily targeted towards students who are interested in getting a flavour of economics in their academic journey without necessarily specialising in it. The course introduces you to the framework and language used in economics to assess and understand the world around us. The course will help you answer the following questions using an economic framework. How do people make decisions? How to make sense of the decisions taken by people? How do you come up with a causal framework to understand a phenomenon? How do economists formulate and test a hypothesis? In which cases the markets provide the efficient outcome and where should governments intervene? Students will also be introduced to certain aspects of economic history, the role of economic institutions in governing the trajectory of economies and our lives, principles of decision making in a world marked by scarcity and strategic interaction. We will also go on to cover other topics, including discrimination, unemployment, inequality and poverty.

 

(f) Faculty Name: Srinath Raghavan

      Department: International Relations

      Semester: Spring 2022

 

The central preoccupation of modern social theory—from the 18th century onwards—has been to plumb the nature and possibility of the social bond in a non-religiously sanctioned social order. The very notions of economy, politics and society that we take for granted were conceptualized and transmuted with the onset and development of modernity. This course offers an introduction to the key texts and thinkers of modern social theory—Hobbes, Rousseau, Smith, Hegel, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Keynes, Hayek, Beauvoir, Foucault—as well as the concomitant rise of the modern state, democracy and capitalism. In particular, it aims at probing the relationship between the theories and institutions of modernity. In so doing, this course intends to ground students in the conceptual and historical foundations of contemporary social sciences. The course assumes no prior knowledge of economics, political science or sociology—only a willingness to read original texts that defy disciplinary boundaries and understand their historical context.    

Quantitative Reasoning and Mathematical Thinking

Mathematics is not just a tool. It is a language, and a way of thinking and engaging with the world. Mathematical Thinking introduces students to the history, power and creative potential of mathematical and quantitative thinking and familiarizes students with some basic problem solving strategies. This course aims to give students an experience of contemporary Mathematics. One can see that Mathematics is driven by ideas, not by calculations. It is both beautiful and powerful, and it combines precision with the greatest creativity. En route, students develop a set of broadly useful problem-solving skills, gain experience in precise thinking and writing, and encounter some of history’s landmark ideas.

 

(a) Faculty Name: Krishna Maddaly 

     Department: Mathematics

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

This course is about Mathematics and you. The course starts with the mathematical abilities you have and are unaware of. Then there is an excursion visiting numbers through the ages culminating with a discussion of the power of zero. As you progresses through the course, various concepts in Mathematics will be visited learning their use in your daily life. You will discover if elections of any sort can be fair to everyone. You will get empowered to estimate anything under (or above) the sun, such as the number of grains of sand on the beach, the number of times you blink in your lifetime and so on. You will have a lecture by the instructor in one class and will solve problems in groups in the next class each week. If you have not done serious mathematics in school or if you are scared to take a mathematics course don’t worry. You will learn it with others who will give you a helping hand. 

 

 

(b) Faculty Name: Debayan Gupta

      Department: Computer Science

      Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

This is an introductory course intended for students who want to learn the basics of programming. No prior programming experience is expected, though it helps to be "computer literate". We will delve into computational thought and the principles which underlie modern programming, including rudimentary complexity theory. We will also explore the history and evolution of current computation and the internet. Students will learn how to write simple code in and express algorithms in the form of pseudocode. In terms of algorithms, we will start with some sorting and searching, as well as a number of useful computational tools and techniques. After these basics, we will learn about image and sound processing, and (if physical classes happen) working with hardware.

 

Note: If you already possess some coding ability, and want to improve, or to start coding more seriously in a principled manner, please take the "Introduction to Computer Programming" (CS 101) course offered in the spring. This course is not a replacement for 101. This is an FC, intended for general audiences; 101 is more intensive, and meant for people who are considering a CS major.

 

(c) Faculty Name: Mihir Bhattacharya

     Department: Economics

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

The course will begin with the origins of quantitative thinking vis-a-vis the number system and its evolution. This will be followed by a discussion of methods in problem solving and estimation, using real-world examples. We will then delve into the world of abstracts, i.e., set theory, geometry, graph theory, probability, and logic. Students will learn how some of these tools can be utilised to study (i) fairness in division of scarce resources, (ii) collective decisions in committees and democracies around the world (voting methods), and (iii) applications to finance- decisions regarding investments and returns. By the end of the course, students would have a basic understanding of the most widely used mathematical tools in the liberal arts. They will learn how to approach different problems from nature and society- by reducing the problems to their bare essentials and to analyse their underlying structural and logical patterns.

 

 

(d) Faculty Name: Maya Saran

      Department: Mathematics

      Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

Some of humankind’s most powerful and beautiful ideas live in Mathematics. This ancient and most human of disciplines also happens to be the ideal arena in which to gain experience in both analytical thinking as well as creative problem solving -- these twin aspects of mathematics are what will drive this course. The topics we will choose to work with will not require any technical background – you will be given all the tools you need. During this course, you will develop a set of broadly useful problem solving strategies and gain experience in making rigorous arguments while encountering landmark ideas. Among other things, we will look at the existence of non-rational lengths, the foundation of calculus, and Cantor’s set theory -- ideas that we take for granted today but which represent some of the "great works" of our collective intellectual history. 

 

Some topics we will cover:

  • The notion of infinity
  • Graph theory
  • A new look at induction
  • Symmetries and an introduction to algebra
  • Some ideas from probability
 

(e) Faculty Name: R. B. Bapat

     Department: Mathematics

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

There are different ways of perceiving, analysing, and expressing the world, and the foundation courses at Ashoka will hopefully introduce stu- dents to many of them. This foundation course is designed to serve as an introduction to one of the most fundamental, powerful, and beautiful modes of perception, analysis, and expression − mathematics.

In this course we will introduce a number of ideas and methods, some useful, some beautiful, some both useful and beautiful. Profound ideas in mathematics often arise through generalization of the familiar. We will give a flavour of mathematical way of thinking using topics which are accessi- ble, without requiring overwhelming technical background, such as number theory, graph theory, calculus, probability and so on.

 

(f) Faculty Name: Gaurav Bhatnagar

      Department: Mathematics

      Semester: Spring 2022

 

One of the ways in which mathematics grows is by solving tough problems.   In 2000, the Clay institute listed the so-called millennium problems, and announced a prize money of one million dollars each for their solution. The objective of our course is to learn about and understand one of these problems, namely the Birch-Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture. We will do this by reading (as a group) an expository account of this conjecture beginning with the mathematics one learns in high school. The book is Elliptic Tales by Avner Ash and Robert Gross.  No background knowledge of mathematics is required. We will use computer algebra packages and graphing calculators in order to explore the intuitive side of mathematical ideas required to understand the conjecture. We will learn in groups with each other’s help. 

 

There is a further book reading component to the course…a book review. There will be a different book assigned to each group. The objective is to gain an appreciation for mathematics and how it is used in the world around us. 

 

(g) Faculty Name: Gautam Menon

      Department: Physics

      Semester: Spring 2022

 

This course is structured on observations of the world around us as well as data regarding it, on reasoning about these observations, and on using mathematics to advance this reasoning. What is the notion of infinity and are there different types of infinities? How do pandemics start and grow? How can we tell if data is being faked? How can we read graphs and understand them? How can we figure out if data is being presented in a way designed to fool us? How can we make intelligent guesses as to the magnitude of things, e.g. how many auto-rickshaws are there in Delhi? Which COVID-19 tests are better - the PCR tests or the Rapid Antigen tests and why? What sorts of cognitive fallacies should we be aware of? What is the idea of a function? 

 

The course will stress estimation and approximation techniques, including order-of-magnitude arguments, the ability to understand graphs and plots, an understanding of geometric arguments, a feeling for how different functions “should” behave, probability and statistics including Bayesian methods and related questions. Some part of the course will describe models, how to construct them and how to interpret them. I will choose a range of examples  and show how to reason quantitatively about them. The course itself is dynamic and its content changes from year to year in terms of the examples that will be used and the ideas that will be stressed, since I would like to use current examples as far as possible.

Principles of Science

Science provides an unparalleled view of the order and symmetry of the universe and its workings from subatomic particles to the infinity of space. Principles of Science looks at the evolution of scientific thought over time and at the landmark moments of discovery. It also helps students understand the essence of the scientific temper which is characterized by unbiased observation and multiple methods of validation and falsification. With the many fields of science within its purview, mathematics emerges as the unifying link.

 

(a) Faculty Name: Gautam Menon

     Department: Physics

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

This course will provide a survey of the evolution of scientific thought, from the point of view of examples that I’ll use to illustrate general principles. Examples I’ll use will include: (i) the Hyderabad fish cure and the British doctors cohort (illustrating evidence in epidemiology and the importance of randomized control trials), (ii) the evolution of the atomic theory (how can we reason about things we can’t see?) (iii) the evolution of the periodic table (why is the whole world made up of a limited set of building blocks?) (iv)
nuclear energy and atomic bombs (experiments that point the way to a deeper understanding of fundamental constituents of nature and the ethical and moral consequences of such knowledge) (v) evolution (are there “laws” in biology and what determines the diversity we see around us?) (vi) DNA and genetic engineering (Watson, Crick and Franklin and the Nobel prize, ethical issues around cloning) and (vii) the greenhouse effect and climate change (how to reason about the world from a scientific viewpoint, dealing with the unknown). The course will introduce some mathematical concepts along the way that relate to these examples, among them: counting arguments, probability, random walks, functions and simple statistics, so that the role of mathematics in helping us think is illustrated. The content of this course is somewhat dynamic and goes beyond the topics listed above – it will use  examples from what is happening currently, including the COVID-19 pandemic, to illustrate the importance and relevance of scientific thinking.  It assume no prerequisites, except for a willingness to learn new things and to also view material you may have encountered in school with a new eye.

 

(b) Faculty Name: Sourav Pal

     Department: Chemistry

     Semester: Monsoon 2021

 

Length Scales in Science

 

The course deals with the effect of length scales on phenomena that we see around us. It will introduce the concepts of length scales and their effects from examples out of our experience and analyze the broad basis at a pedagogical level. Understanding from electronic to atomic and molecular scale to coarse graining in biological systems has enriched the multi-scale effects in science. The large length limit of classical mechanics has been one that forms a well understood part of science. The discovery of quantum mechanics about a hundred years back has been one of the most disruptive ones and is established as one which allows us to understand the small length science. The metaphysics behind quantum mechanics will be explained. The course will also deal with intermediate length scales, going up from smaller length scales progressively upwards to mesoscopic length, which has been of great recent interest that has enriched science, from quantum systems to Nanotechnology to system level biology. It will be taught at a level which will be of interest to those not only interested in science, but also humanities. 

 

(c) Faculty Name: Alok Bhattacharya & L.S. Shashidhara

      Department: Biology

      Semester: Monsoon 2021 & Spring 2022

Science gives us the ability to understand how our world works and how we interact with our physical surroundings. It not only incorporates basic ideas and theories about how our universe behaves but it also provides a framework for learning more and tackling new questions and concerns that come our way. Science is a thought process that allows you to integrate with your surroundings, both living and non-living. Ideas are continuously falsified, verified and tested for their correctness making the process inherently a journey towards the truth and reality. This makes scientific ideas and discoveries unbiased and stand test of time. A singularly major achievement of scientific methods is to perceive the world around as which beyond human perception, which is limited by our sensory systems.  

Science also provides an unparalleled view of the order and symmetry of the universe and its workings—subatomic particles to the never-ending space. It has also given us the tools to alter and create new living and non-living things. It has potential to have both positive impacts such as coping with natural disasters, curing diseases, and discovering new sources of energy, as well as negative impact in the form of climate change and new diseases. 

The course narrates some of the key historical, philosophical, ethical, theoretical and technical developments in the evolution of the scientific thought and offers a synoptic view of the development of concepts that drive modern science. The course is taught through a series of debates, discussions. Assignments and observations along with classroom lectures.

 

(d) Faculty Name: Somak Raychaudhury & L.S. Shashidhara

     Department: Biology

     Semester: Spring 2022

 

This course discusses how we evolved the concept of age and time- age of the earth and of the solar system, time in relativity (and arrow of time, entropy), time in biological systems (biological clocks) etc. Through this course we would be like to bring to the students, our current understanding about the scale and age of the Universe, and how this knowledge has evolved; How biological systems including human body maintain temporal patterns; impact of climate change and ecological damage on biological time and the evolution of survival strategies that require understanding of past, present and future.

 

The course will start with a general introduction and historical perspective to the concept of time in our day-to-day life and in physics and in biology. We shall discuss the history of measurement of time and invention of clocks. Without involving any mathematics, the course will help students derive relationship between speed of light and time, space-time continuum, age of the universe, stars, earth etc. We would then follow concept of time in biology in the context of birth-growth-ageing-death. Seasonal variations in morphological and life-history traits as measurement of time, mechanism of timekeeping - biological clocks, circadian rhythms. The course ends with discussions on human cognition and the concept of time: conceptual understanding of past, present and future.

 

The course is taught through lectures, discussions, flip-the-classroom mode (students making presentations on various related topics), reading books/watching movies and writing assignments.

When and what to take?

In their first semester, students are to take 4 Foundation Courses of which one could be the Introduction to Critical Thinking course. Currently there is only one exception: students who consider choosing a major that requires familiarity with higher mathematics may choose to take 3 Foundation Courses and one Calculus course in their first semester. They may then take the remaining Foundation Course later. 

 

In their second semester, students take at least two Foundation Courses of which one may be Introduction to Critical Thinking if not taken in the first semester. Students may take as many Foundation Courses as they can before declaring a Major. There is no specific order in which students have to take the Foundation Courses. 

Note on Foundation Courses

*Note that depending on the faculty member teaching the course, the emphasis may vary across courses offered. While the basic understand remains the same, themes and texts will vary within the same Foundation Course.

 

For example, with three faculty members offering the Great Books course in the same semester, the chosen books and fragments of books as well as the themes explored will vary from faculty member to faculty member.

 

The course description for each Foundation Course offered in a semester will be announced before the semester begins.