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 modern 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.

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."

Sanjunkta Sunderason

University Lecturer

Sanjunkta Sunderason

"A typical example of my first-year courses is ‘Nation, Community, Self: Questions of Culture in South and Southeast Asia’. I aim to teach students to reflect critically on the phenomenon of ‘culture’: What is culture? What forms can it take? How is it influenced by political heritage? Is something propaganda or not? And so on."

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 upon 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.

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