SOAS University of London

School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Cultures of Africa, the Middle East, South and South East Asia I: Basic Terms and Concepts

Module Code:
152900122
Credits:
15
FHEQ Level:
4
Taught in:
Term 1

Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and South East Asia are home to more than half of the world’s population. With interconnected histories of cultural exchange and locally anchored traditions, these regions contain some of the world’s most ancient cultural heritage alongside dynamic contemporary artistic production.

Rather than offering an exhaustive survey of culture in Africa and Asia – an impossible proposition that would reflect Eurocentric perspective – the module will equip students with critical tools enabling them to understand how different perspectives create different forms of social practice and authorize some of them to stand for ‘regional cultures’.

The module will introduce students to the main regions while inviting them to think and question the terminology in use, not least the boundaries and the entangled and contested meanings of these geographic-cultural terms. What is Africa? Where is the Middle East? What makes South Asia and South-East-Asia into regional identities? Particular attention will be paid to the indigenous terms used to describe the various areas, languages, peoples and polities, communities and outsiders, and the role of empires, colonialism, nationalism, post-colonialism and decoloniality. At the end of the module, the students will acquire an understanding of different perspectives and contestations regarding these regions and their common denominators. They will have explored the basic terminology as well as key concepts for the analysis of cultural production in social context, which may include topic such as tradition and modernity, the transnational and local role of religion, the politics of history and heritage, gender and sexuality.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will have acquired an ability to:

  1. assess and analyse the usefulness and limitations of area studies and of the different terms used about the languages and cultures of Africa, the Middle East and South and South East Asia
  2. understand aspects of language and culture and contemporary society in these regions
  3. show an awareness of the cultural diversity of these regions and their global connectedness
  4. identify different framings of cultural production and their implications to the regions studied

Scope and syllabus

Topics covered in this module will typically include a number but not necessarily all of the following:

  • Boundaries and the entangled and contested meanings of these geographic-cultural terms.
  • What is Africa? Where is the Middle East? What makes South Asia and South-East-Asia into regional identities?
  • Terms used to describe areas, languages, peoples and polities, communities and outsiders
  • The role of empires, colonialism, nationalism, post-colonialism and decoloniality.
  • The cultural production of an “area” - the different meanings of Africa, Middle East, South and South East Asia
  • Tradition and modernity
  • Myths of origin of peoples and nations
  • Religion: transnational and local
  • Material culture
  • Cultural politics of heritage and cultural institutions
  • Sexuality and gender

Method of assessment

  • Reaction paper OR curated exhibit (1000 words) 40%
  • Essay OR curated online gallery (1500 words) 60%

Disclaimer

Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules