South Asian M.A. and Ph.D. Programs

At the graduate level, the South Asian Languages Program offers both the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, with concentrations in Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu, and Buddhist Studies. It provides an excellent environment for not only developing advanced proficiency in South Asian languages, but also, through its various classes, seminars, and colloquia, for acquiring professional training in the description, analysis, and critical interpretation of South Asian languages and literary texts. A sample of classes and seminars rarely taught elsewhere include those on the decipherment, translation and interpretation of early Buddhist texts, Sanskrit Epigraphy, on the life of Buddha in comparative perspective, on Pali, Prakrit, and Gandhari, on medieval Hindi literary languages (e.g. Braj, Avadhi, Rajasthani) and literatures and on the study of Indian religious themes and motifs throughout history.

There are several areas of research in which the Department's faculty and programs in South Asian languages are particularly well known, including the following: Sanskrit literature and language; Middle Indo-Aryan languages and literatures; Indian religion; Buddhist studies; epigraphy, paleography, and the history of Indic writing systems; Hindi and Indo-Aryan linguistics; medieval devotional texts and religion; comparative mythology; hagiography, and the description of Indian gods and goddesses throughout the course of South Asian history. The Department of Asian Languages and Literature is the home of the Early Buddhist Manuscript Project, a joint enterprise of the University of Washington and the British Library, which has attracted international attention for its research into the language and texts of the earliest surviving written materials of the entire Buddhist tradition.

Funding opportunities for Graduate students include research assistantship in the Early Buddhist Manuscript Project and a limited number of teaching assistantships for Hindi. Graduate students in the Department of Asian Languages are also eligible to apply for National Resource Fellowships, formerly designated FLAS, administered under the auspices of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies.

The Department of Asian Languages and Literature sponsors many lectures and colloquia, many in conjunction with other units on campus. The University of Washington Libraries boast one of the most extensive collections of South Asian materials in the country. The University of Washington is the location of a National Resource Center for South Asian Studies, funded through a grant from the United States Department of Education. Opportunities to participate in South Asian cultural events abound as Seattle is home to a significant South Asian population with an active cultural and arts scene. Seattle is the site of many concerts of classical and popular South Asian music, of festivals of South Asian film, and of exhibitions of South Asian art. Seattle is also the home of a vibrant and growing South Asian community, which interacts with faculty and students at the University in numerous ways.


The applicant must meet the requirements of the Graduate School as outlined in the University Catalog. An undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 in the last 90 quarter or 60 semester credit hours is a prerequisite for admission, together with three letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and a statement of purpose. For admission to the M.A. program with specialization in South Asian Languages and Literature, preference will be given to students with prior preparation in a South Asian language and literature, in South Asian regional studies, or in a humanistic discipline pertinent to the study of South Asian civilization. Students lacking such preparation may be admitted to the M.A. program; however, they must remedy any deficiencies by adding, as early as possible, such courses as the academic adviser considers necessary. South Asian languages in which specializations are offered at the University are Hindi, Sanskrit, and Urdu. 

Prospective applicants to this program should be aware that there is also an M.A. program in South Asian Studies in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. These two South Asia-focused programs are partially overlapping, but have significantly different emphases. In general, the South Asian studies concentration in Asian Languages and Literature is designed for students with interests in any studies which are primarily based on the study of languages and/or linguistics, and in textual or philological studies. The Jackson School South Asia program is intended for students who are more interested in a general interdisciplinary area studies program, particularly (though not exclusively) with an emphasis on the social sciences.


Students should request an adviser within one year and one term of the beginning of their program; if no adviser is requested within that period, one will be assigned. Each student is expected to work out a course of study with the adviser which concentrates on areas pertinent to the language specialization (e.g., Hindi devotional literature, Sanskrit poetry). In addition, all students are required to comply with the rules and procedures of the Department of Asian Languages and Literature (copies of which are available from the Department).

M.A. Program

Requirements for Course Work and Credits

  1. For the M.A. non-thesis option, 45 course credits, 18 of which must be 500 level and above, are required. Students are required to complete language study through the fourth-year level in their major language. In addition, the student must present two seminar papers which are approved by the student's faculty adviser and at least one other faculty member in the Department.

  2. The M.A. thesis option requires a minimum of 45 course credits, including 9 thesis credits. At least 18 of the 45 credits must be taken at the 500 level or above. The language requirements in this program are the same as in the non-thesis program. In addition, the student must write an acceptable M.A. thesis according to the rules and policies of the Department of Asian Languages and Literature.

Ph.D. Program

Normally, entry into the program is contingent upon successful completion of the M.A. degree in Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington and a satisfactory evaluation by South Asian Language Program faculty. Students with sufficient background, usually the successful completion of a relevant M.A. degree at another institution, may be considered for admission into the Ph.D. program. Students are expected to fulfill the Graduate School's residence requirements (see the Department of Asian Languages and Literature's Policies and Procedures), to fulfill foreign language requirements, to pass a series of examinations (described below), and to write and defend a dissertation. Students who have completed an M.A. in Asian Languages and Literature at the University of Washington with specialization in a South Asian language, as described above, will often have fulfilled the residence requirements for the Ph.D. as set out by the Graduate School. If not, these must be satisfied as the student moves toward the Ph.D. Often, course work will continue to be appropriate.

Students must demonstrate competence in their major South Asian language. In addition, students must demonstrate through a written examination reading knowledge of one foreign language relevant to their research, which must be other than English and the student's native language. This language may be an Asian or European language.

Students are also required to pass three written field examinations, at least two of which must fall within the general purview of South Asian languages and literature. The third can have as its subject an adjacent field or discipline, if the candidate so chooses--an aspect of South Asian history or art history, for example. Once these field examinations have been satisfactorily completed, the student is eligible to take a two hour comprehensive oral examination, administered by his or her supervisory committee. When that has been passed, students are accorded candidate's status (Ph.C.) and are ready to submit a dissertation proposal. The Ph.D. is conferred once the completed dissertation has been defended before the student's supervisory committee.