Ashoka University requires each student to take at least 7 Foundation Courses. These consist of 2 mandatory courses from the Critical Thinking Series and 5 other Foundation Courses. Out of the latter, Environmental Studies and Indian Civilizations are mandatory. The two seminars in the Critical Thinking Series begin with the course Introduction to Critical Thinking, which students take in their first semester. In their second semester, students take a further Critical Thinking Seminar, which allows them to further develop their critical thinking abilities both in discussion and, no less importantly, in writing.
Foundation Courses are not formal gateways into the Major programmes. Instead, they are distinctive courses that introduce students to various styles of thinking, but also to inter- and transdisciplinary approaches.
Environmental Studies and Indian Civilizations
That every student must take some course in Environmental Studies is mandated by the UGC and, we think, for good reasons. In the contemporary world with its global economies and the huge and varied impact human activity has on our shared environment, it is imperative that the next generation is made acutely aware of what this impact is. Future leaders in all areas of society must be attuned to the environmental repercussions of our actions and equipped with the tools that allow them to act responsibly. 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. The Foundation Course in Environmental Studies is one of the ways in which we implement this conviction.
Ashoka is the leading liberal arts university in India. Because we are situated in India, we think that through providing our students—in the Foundation Course on Indian Civilizations—with the opportunity to thoroughly engage with India’s diverse intellectual and cultural landscapes, we contribute something to their education that is distinctive of the Ashoka experience and unique both in India and abroad. India is like a civilizational sponge that has absorbed various influences. Accordingly, the Foundation Course on Indian Civilizations is designed to introduce students to the plurality of ideas that is at the heart of Indian Civilization. Faculty members emphasize the mosaic character of Indian tradition through examples from history and from the writings of some eminent thinkers and draw out aspects of dialogue, dissent, syncretism and tolerance.
Other Foundation Courses
The non-mandatory Foundation courses fall roughly into three areas (though some transdisciplinary Foundation Courses may well be relevant to two or even all the three of these areas): Humanities, Natural and Mathematical Sciences, and Social and Economic Sciences.
Each student takes must take at least one Foundation Course affiliated with each of these areas. Example courses that fall into the Humanities area and that have been successfully taught in the past are Great Books, Literature and the World, and Mind and Behavior. Example courses that fall into the area of Natural and Mathematical Sciences are Introduction to Mathematical Thinking, Principles of Science, but also Introduction to Programming. Finally, example courses that fall into the area of Social and Economic Sciences are Social and Political Formations, The ‘Social’ and the ‘Political’ in Contemporary India, Economic ideas from Smith to Sen, and Politics of Development.
When and what to take?
In their first semester, students are to take 3 Foundation Courses and one 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 2 Foundation Courses and one Calculus course in their first term. They may then take the remaining Foundation Course later (up to the third semester).
In their second semester, students take at least one Foundation Course and one Critical Thinking Course. 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.
Students must have taken 7 Foundation Courses (including the courses from the Critical Thinking Series) by the end of the third semester.
A Few Example Courses*
*Note that depending on the faculty member teaching the course, the emphasis may vary across courses offered. Moreover, these are just some examples – many more and quite different Foundation Courses may and will be offered.
The books in the Great Books course will come from different cultures, different time periods, different languages, and different subjects. But they all have something significant to offer us as we think about the world today. The curriculum and themes will vary between sections, but readings will include influential books such as the Kama Sutra, the Mahabharata, Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and Darwin’s The Origin of Species, among others.
Introduction to Mathematical Thinking
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, one develops a set of broadly useful problem-solving skills, gains experience in precise thinking and writing, and encounters some of History’s landmark ideas.
Literature and the World
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)?
Mind and Behaviour
What kind of creature are you? A human being, no doubt. But what kind of creature is that? How ought such a creature live? We will critically explore influential models of human nature in the Indic and Western philosophical traditions and their implications both for how we ought to live and our place in the social world. We will also survey key psychological results that directly have a bearing on those philosophical models.
Principles of Science
This course equips students to function productively in a world that is increasingly driven by science and technology. Rather than looking at any particular scientific discipline, the course focuses on understanding the nature of scientific inquiry and the relevance of science and scientific thinking in our lives. By studying the history of the development of our current understanding of the world, this course aims at gaining an appreciation for the importance and wonder of the scientific worldview.
Social and Political Formations
The course introduces students to two of the most important concepts that frame the study of social sciences: the political and the social. What does it mean to be political? What is the difference between thinking politically and doing politics? What do we mean by social and political formations? How and why do these formations emerge? Are they similar and static across time and space? If not, then what explains their variation? What are some of the ways in which these issues have been studied? Importantly, how do we begin to understand these diverse and dense set of ideas?