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ASIAN 225 A: Indian Philosophical Literature

ASIAN 225A scales image
Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm
SAV 168
Joint Sections: 
Prem Pahlajrai

Syllabus Description:

Course home page:

Course Description & Goals

What is karma? Is our fate predestined? Or do we have free will? This course explores the tensions between the ideas of karma, agency, free will, fate and predestination in the major Indian philosophical systems. In the process of doing so, we will at a minimum examine the position on these ideas in the orthodox Hindu systems of Sāṅkhya-Yoga, the Bhagavad Gītā, Nyāya, Mīmāṃsā and Advaita Vedānta, as well as the heterodox systems of Jainism and Abhidharma & Mādhyamika Buddhism. Time permitting, we will also explore the Grammarians’ viewpoint and the theistic traditions of Vedānta, Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism.

All texts will be read in English translations, no knowledge of Sanskrit or other Indian languages is required. There are no pre-requisites for this class.

The primary goals of this course are to familiarize ourselves with the basic ideas of the major Indian philosophical traditions and their ontologies, to understand the concerns and motivations of their creators, and their implications and limitations. The class will follow a seminar format. We will use writing and discussion as a means to organize our understanding and to work our ideas into coherent arguments. Our goal in class sessions will be to engage with the ideas and issues raised by our readings, with the active participation of all students. The ultimate purpose of this class is to utilize the material studied to put forth a working statement of one’s individual position on the question of free will versus karma, grounded in an academic as well as a personal basis.

Assignments and Grading policy

The final grade will be based on the following factors:

  • 15%  Class Preparation & Participation, which includes contributing to in-class discussion by asking questions, and making thoughtful academic arguments.
  • 25%  Twice-Weekly Feedback on readings assigned for class lecture, via Canvas. These will facilitate your Weekly Reflections and Final Term Paper.
  • 30% - Weekly Reflections to readings via Canvas, to prompts on specified topics.
  • 30%  Final Term Paper, 8-10 pages (double-spaced, 12 pt. font, 1” margins), with a max. 10 minute presentation in class during Finals time (worth 10% of Final Paper grade).
  • Reading Feedback will be due via Canvas by 11:30 am twice a week on Mondays & Wednesdays. Reflections will submitted online weekly by 10:00 am Saturday – these will be graded on a 10 pt. scale. Interpreting your response scores:

        9.0 or higher = You reflect a thorough, nuanced grasp of the issues. Superlative!
        8.0 - 8.9 = You have understood the material well. Well done!
        7.0 - 7.9 = You have mostly understood the issue, missing some key matter(s).
        < 7.0      = Might need to revisit/complete the reading, clarify your understanding.

  • The term paper will be graded out of 100, the interpretation of the scores is similar in scale to the reflections.
  • Grades for the course will be calculated according to the percentages indicated. The class median score will be around 3.5, the highest score in class a 4.0 and all other scores will be assigned on a straight linear interpolation based on these two points.

Required readings

The following four books (all available from the University Bookstore) are required. In addition, we will read other selections and secondary readings which will be made available as PDFs online through the course website.

  1. Dasti, Matthew and Edwin Bryant, eds. 2014. Free Will, Agency and Selfhood in Indian Philosophy. Oxford University Press.
  2. Hamilton, Sue. 2001. Indian philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
  3. Stoler Miller, Barbara, tr. (1986) The Bhagavad-gītā: Krishna's Counsel In Time Of War. Bantam Classics Edition
  4. Harris, Sam. 2012. Free Will. New York: Free Press.

General Guidelines

  • All assigned readings must be completed before the class in which they are assigned for.
  • Prior to coming to class on Mondays & Wednesdays, you will be expected to submit online a brief entry by 11:30am with feedback on the assigned readings for that day on the following points (which will help me structure the class that day):
    1. What is puzzling or hard to understand?
    2. What did you like & why?
    3. What did you dislike & why?
    4. What is worthy of further discussion?
  • In class, we will conduct ourselves in a manner that allows the class to be a space for an open and respectful discussion of the ideas being explored. This includes setting aside distractions, being respectful of one another, making sure that everyone gets a chance to be heard, and staying open to new and possibly uncomfortable ideas.
  • The Thursday sections will be time to discuss more deeply the material studied in class on Mondays & Wednesdays
  • All written assignments are to be turned in online by the deadline indicated (typically 11:30 am Mondays & Wednesdays for Reading Feedback, 10:00 am Saturdays for Reflections, 1 pm Monday for term papers).
  • All assignments will be graded on having a defensible thesis statement, the use of textual support, and the overall strength and clarity of the argument.

Policy on Attendance and Late Assignments

Students enrolled in this class are expected to attend all classes and are responsible for all material covered in class. If you are unable to attend a class, it is your responsibility to find out from classmate what was covered and what assignments were assigned. Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class. Any missing or unexcused late assignments will receive a grade less 10% for each day late. If, owing to exceptional circumstances such as illness, death in the family, etc. (substantiated by appropriate medical or other documentation), you are unable to submit an assignment on time, it is your responsibility to inform the instructor as early as possible and to make alternate arrangements. While in class, the student’s conduct needs to be such that a productive learning environment for all is maintained. Students engaging in behavior that distracts other students or interferes in the ability of the instructor to teach will be asked to leave the classroom and will be considered as absent on that day.

Policy regarding Academic Responsibility

All students are expected to follow University of Washington standards of academic honesty, to be found at Cheating and plagiarism, i.e. submitting anyone else's work as your own (whether it be an essay written by another student, downloaded from the Internet, or use of others’ published work without citation), are strictly forbidden. Cases of suspected plagiarism will be reported immediately to the Committee on Academic Conduct of the University's Office of Undergraduate Education.

For more details, see the course home page:

Catalog Description: 
Introduction to various topics pertaining to the vast philosophical literature of India, such as its origins and contexts, dharma; karma and free will; logic and argument. A variety of systems from Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, theistic, and non-theistic schools are covered. Taught in English. Offered: WS.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 6, 2019 - 9:40pm