Asian Political Thought

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

This course is a short introduction into the vast body of political thought originating in East, South and Southeast Asia. Defined in this way, Asian political thought has tapped the rich traditions associated with Confucian, Taoist, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim worldviews. However, it has also been an arena for debating and interpreting ideologies originating outside the region, such as nationalism, Marxism or liberalism. At the same time, Asian political thought itself has provided a rich source of inspiration to authors, thinkers and practitioners worldwide, especially those of the Age of Enlightenment and postmodernism.

This course is not confined to the ancient political theories before the times of intense exchanges. Neither is it confined to the study of ideas isolated from their interaction with political realities. In fact, the study of Asian political thought illuminates regional political realities. The backdrop of ideas popular at the time helps to more adequately understand the processes of state formation, regional power dynamics, nationalism, Communism and postcolonialism.

The course depicts Asian political thought in conversation with political theories popular in the West and tackling the universally relevant questions of self, society, power, politics, nation-state and modernity. The course is organised around these questions, addressed through several dimensions wherever possible: arguments and commentary, original sources to contemporary interpretations and adaptations as well as theory and practice.

Specific readings in the syllabus are still subject to some minor changes. 

Learning Outcomes: 

Course-specific learning outcomes: by the end of the course, students are expected to have grasped: 1) the richness and complexity of Asian political thought; 2) its ties to religious traditions influential in Asia; 3) its influence on major historical political developments in Asia; 4) the reasons why Asian societies have been portrayed as hierarchic, collectivist and under despotic rule; 5) the reasons why such portrayals have missed important aspects of political life; 6) the main points of exchanges and debate with European-origin political ideas; 7) the contemporary relevance of Asian-origin political ideas.