Universiteit Leiden

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South and Southeast Asian Studies (BA)

About the programme

In the South and Southeast Asian Studies programme you gain a strong foundation in the academic, language and critical thinking skills essential to understanding the history, culture and modern context of this dynamic, fast-growing region.

Programme overview

In your first year you will follow core courses designed to give you a basic understanding of the history, cultures, and contemporary societies of South and Southeast Asia. In addition you will follow elective courses of your own choosing. You choose to study one of four languages: Hindi, Sanskrit, Tibetan, or Indonesian. This language study makes up a third of your study programme in years one and two. In your first year you also choose between introductory courses on three major religions of the region, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

In year two you will select one of two fields of non-language specialisation: Modern South and Modern Southeast Asia, or Classical Cultures of South and Southeast Asia, each with a range of courses to choose from. It will also be possible to follow one course from the other track if you wish so. In addition you will attend a seminar in which you will learn to develop your academic skills, and continue studying the language you chose in the first year.

The whole of the first semester of the third year is spent abroad for language immersion. Those studying the Indonesian language will go to Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, students of Hindi to the University of Hyderabad, and those studying Sanskrit or Tibetan to a European University.

The programme concludes with the writing of a BA thesis, the skills required for which you will have been acquiring and practicing since the first year. Examples of topics of recent theses:

Examples of thesis topics

  • Democratic regression in the Philippines: ideology and legitimation
  • Rapes, reportage and the crisis of masculinity in contemporary India
  • Sufism in South Asia: a study on the appeal and revival of Sufi music among modern Indian youth
  • The Cankama: an architectural analysis
  • The international security of small states in South Asia
  • Why has income inequality increased rapidly in Indonesia between 2003 and 2011?

Curious? View the study materials at home

For this programme, we have multiple language courses. Those courses are: Hindi, Tibetan, Sanskrit and Indonesian. For learning Hindi, you can start with the Devanagari script that the language uses. For Tibetan, you can take a look at the Tibetan alphabet. Next, for Sanskrit and Indonesian, you can look at the learning methods that are used at the programme. For Sanskrit, The Cambridge Introduction to Sanskrit method is used and for Indonesian Indonesian: A Comprehensive Grammar.
For the course Premodern History of South and Southeast Asia, the book A History of Southeast Asia: Critical Crossroads by Anthony Reid is required. If you are interested in this course, you can maybe find the book in a local library. The book is also available online, where you can the first chapter.

You can also watch mini-lectures about a variety of topics in South and Southeast Asian Studies in the Online Experience module.

Giacomo Canetta


Giacomo Canetta

"I really enjoyed the course ‘State, Politics and Economy in Modern South and Southeast Asia’. This course has sparked my interest in international politics. Next year I’m going to focus on Southeast Asia, more specifically Indonesia. There is no better place to study that topic than in Leiden: the amazing collections provide great sources."

Abishnek Avtans

University Lecturer

Abishnek Avtans

"I think our programme is unique in the sense that we combine a bigger region. Most universities teach South and Southeast Asia separately. This is one of the few programmes in the world where these areas are combined together. There is a reason for this combination, as there is a historical connect between South and South East Asia, which goes back thousands of years. The areas therefore have a lot in common, and instead of having to do two separate bachelors, in Leiden you can follow courses in both areas during one single bachelor. I think this is an advantage, as you can learn from all perspectives."

Educational methods

As a student of South and Southeast Asian Studies, you can expect a full working week of about 40 hours. You will spend an average of 14 hours in-class, for example lectures or tutorials, and the rest of the time on independent study. You attend lectures focused on a particular topic; the lectures are complemented by tutorials in which the material is discussed in greater depth and with more student input, for example in solo or group presentations.

Student support

Do you need support during your study? We make sure to offer our students the support they need. A mentor will be at hand to offer the help or advice that you need.

Should you have any questions about the programme, our coordinator of studies is available to provide advice or help you make practical arrangements if needed.

Apart from study advice, we offer many more support services. Our Career Services can help you arrange a study abroad or find an internship position.

In case of psychological issues, a university psychologist can be consulted. In the event of chronic illness, dyslexia or a physical or psychological disability, you can contact the university’s Fenestra Disability Centre.

The POPcorner is an accessible study support point with locations in Leiden and The Hague, focused on creating an inclusive and diverse learning environment. As well as organising POPtalks on D&I related topics, the POPcorner helps students develop study skills through workshops, create social and support networks, establish personal and academic goals, and connect them with university resources and services.

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