Contemporary Asian Studies: Asia on the World Stage

Global power dynamics are shifting, and Asia is an increasingly significant force. The region is home to some of the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world, as well as some of the poorest populations. Rapid globalization and technological innovation are transforming physical, cultural, and ideological landscapes. Now more than ever, it is crucial for global citizens to understand this diverse and influential region.

The Dr. David Chu Program in Contemporary Asian Studies (CAS) provides a multidisciplinary, pan-Asian, and thematically driven lens through which to understand the complexities of today’s Asia. Students gain empirical and critical knowledge of South, Southeast, and East Asia from multiple disciplinary approaches, including anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, and sociology. Taught by leading University of Toronto scholars, the CAS program guides students in examining the links between Asia’s history, its emergence onto the global stage, the challenges and opportunities inherent in its modernity, and its future(s) in the global arena.

Offered by the Dr. David Chu Program in Asia-Pacific Studies at the Asian Institute, Munk School of Global Affairs, CAS provides a unique, experiential, and intimate undergraduate learning experience at the University of Toronto.

A Comprehensive and Diverse Curriculum. Our interdisciplinary, thematic, and pan-Asian suite of courses provides students with a rich and multi-sided comprehension of this dynamic, changing region. Core courses at the 200, 300, and 400 levels provide the theoretical and empirical backbone to the program, while electives provide diverse coverage of contemporary issues in Asia as they intersect with cutting-edge faculty research.

A Vibrant Community. The Chu Program, Asian Institute, and Munk School provide an exciting intellectual community linking students to affiliated scholars from across U of T and an elite global network of experts on Asia. In addition to the year-round stream of seminars, conferences, and events showcasing research on Asia, there is also a thriving community of student organizations to join.

Experiential Learning.The Asian Institute is committed to facilitating overseas experiential learning opportunities. Our students have travelled throughout Asia on trips organized and led by U of T professors and for internships, exchange programs, and independent study and research.

Career Pathways. CAS prepares graduates for success in a global economy that is increasingly integrated with Asia. Our networking opportunities, internships, and career panels help students gain the real-world skills, experience, and connections they need to get their foot in the door to a rewarding career in Asian and global affairs.


Contemporary Asian Studies

The Dr. David Chu Program in Contemporary Asian Studies prepares undergraduate students to comprehend Asia’s role in new global dynamics. Several of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies are in Asia, yet the outcomes of modernization across the region have been varied, as seen through differing approaches to government, wealth distribution, ethnic diversity, gender dynamics, human rights, religion, and migration. Our students consider all of these factors in present-day South, Southeast, and East Asia, in the context of the diverse histories that inform these societies. The CAS program provides students with the knowledge and analytical tools to grasp processes of change in Asian societies and draw meaningful linkages between them.

The CAS program provides a lens through which to examine the links between Asia’s history, its increasing influence in world affairs, the challenges and opportunities arising in this time of rapid transformation. Both the major and minor programs train students in pan-Asian and thematically driven multidisciplinary approaches to the student of the region, including anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, and sociology.

Program Requirements

CAS majors and minors must take a sequence of required courses at the 200, 300, and 400 levels. Students can fulfill their remaining program requirements with CAS courses or approved courses offered by collaborating departments. Although there is no language requirement for the CAS major and minor, students are strongly encouraged to study an Asian language. One full course equivalent (FCE) in an approved Asian language can be credited towards the major or minor. Enrollment in the program is open to students who have successfully completed 4 FCEs.

For further information regarding program requirements and enrolling in a subject POSt, please refer to the Faculty of Arts and Science calendar.

Major (7.5 FCEs)

  1. CAS200Y1 (Global Asia) or POL215Y1 (Politics and Transformation of the Asia-Pacific)
  2. CAS310H1 (Comparative Colonialisms in Asia) and CAS320H1 (Comparative Modernities in Asia)
  3. CAS400Y1 (Capstone Seminar – Critical Perspectives on Asian Modernity)
  4. 1.0 additional FCE from each of Groups A, B, and C
  5. 1.0 additional FCE at the 300 or 400 level from Group A, B, or C, or at any level in an Asian Language
  6. 0.5 FCE in a quantitative reasoning or research methods course to fulfill the Quantitative Reasoning competency required in the program.  Students may use courses listed in the calendar posting, or another course as approved by the program director.approved by the program director. (new for 2015-2016!)

Minor (4.0 FCEs)

  1. CAS200Y1 (Global  Asia) or POL215Y1 (Politics and Transformation of the Asia-Pacific)
  2. CAS310H1 (Comparative Colonialisms in Asia) and CAS320H1 (Comparative Modernities in Asia)
  3. 2.0 additional FCEs from CAS course offerings or Groups A, B, or C (excluding 100-level courses), or 1.0 FCE from CAS or Groups A, B, or C and 1.0 FCE in an Asian language

Group A: Political Transformation
These are courses pre-approved by the program to count towards Group A: Political Transformation. Students may use courses not on the list but must seek pre-approval from the program before enrolling in the course in question.

CAS430H1: Nationalism and Revolution in Asia CAS440H1: Critical Asia: Power and Culture EAS345Y1: The Rise of Greater China: Issues & Topics
EAS357H1: Mao’s China and Beyond EAS364H1: China’s Cultural Revolution: History and Memory EAS374H1: Modern Japan and Colonialism
EAS464H1: The Korean War EAS474H1: U.S. & Canada’s Wars in Asia EAS484Y1: The Japanese Empire
JHA384H1: Japan and the World, mid-16th to mid-20th century JHA394H1: The Asia Pacific World JMC301Y1: State & Society in 20th Century China
JPA331Y1: Issues in Contemporary Chinese Politics JPA410H1: Democracy and Identity in Asia JPA411H1: The Political Economy of Global Taiwan
POL215Y1: Politics and Transformation of Asia-Pacific POL328H1: Politics and Government in South Asia POL357Y1: Topics in South Asian Politics
JPA376Y0: Transforming Global Politics: Comparative and Chinese Perspectives POL431Y1: Politics and Society in Contemporary China POL441H1: Topics in Asian Politics

Group B: Economic Transformation

These are courses pre-approved by the program to count towards Group B: Economic Transformation. Students may use courses not on the list but must seek pre-approval from the program before enrolling in the course in question.

CAS420H1: Asia and the New Global Economy CDN230H1: Asian Canadian History CDN390H1: Chinese Canadian Studies
EAS247H1: History of Capitalism in Modern Japan ECO435H1: The Economics of Modern China GGR342H1: The Changing Geography of Southeast Asia
GGR343H1: The Changing Geography of China SAS114H1: Introduction to South Asian Studies ANT341H1: China in Transition
ANT472H1: Japan in Global Context: Anthropological Perspectives ANT477H1: Transnational Korea in and outside the Peninsula EAS105H1: Modern East Asia
EAS217Y1: Major Aspects of Contemporary Korea EAS247H1: History of Capitalism in Modern Japan EAS272H1: Post-War Korean Society
EAS289Y1: Environment and East Asia EAS333H1: Modern and Colonial Korea EAS347H1: Everyday Life in Modern Japan
EAS372H1: Postwar Korean History EAS375H1: Postwar Japan: Crisis, Apocalypse EAS378H1: Edo, Osaka, and Kyoto: Urban Life in Early Modern Japan
EAS457H1: Special Topics in Modern Japanese History EAS473H1: Modern Korean History Seminar HIS281Y1: History of Modern Japan
HIS282Y1: History of South Asia HIS283Y1: Southeast Asian Crossroads HIS284Y1: Viet Nam: Crossroads of Asia
HIS315H1: Narratives of Viet Nam HIS328H1: Modern China HIS346H1: Rice and Spice in Southeast Asia: A Regional Food History
HIS385H1: The History of Hong Kong HIS385Y1: The History of Hong Kong HIS470H1: History, Rights, and Differences in South Asia
JHA384H1: Japan in the World, mid-16th to mid-20th Century SOC218H1: Asian Communities in Canada


Group C: Cultural Expression/Exploration

CAS350H1: Asian Youth Cultures CAS360H1: Asian Genders CAS414H1: Public Culture and Media in Asia
CDN307H1: Asian Cultures in Canada CIN376Y1: Chinese Cinemas EAS251H1: Aesthetics and Politics in 20th Century Korea
EAS307H1: Chinese Political Philosophy EAS314H1: Culture and World After Hiroshuima and Nagasaki EAS333H1: Modernism and Colonial Korea
EAS394H1: Film Culture in Contemporary China EAS431H1: Advanced Topics in Japanese Cinema FAH363H1: The Mechanics of the Image in East Asia
FAH364H1: Visual South Asia FAH368H1: Encounters: Art Within and Beyond East Asia FAH461H1: East Asian Art as a Cultural System
FAH462H1: Outside East Asian Art FAH463H1: Materiality, Objecthood, Connoisseurship and Collecting in the Arts of East Asia FAH464H1: Transregional East Asian Art
FAH465H1: Exhibiting China FAH466H1: Photography in India HIS448H1: Gender in East and Southeast Asia
HIS467H1: French Colonial Indochina: History, Cultures, Texts, Film MUS209H1: Performing Arts of South Asia RLG205H1: Hinduism
RLG311H1: Gender, Body and Sexuality in Asian Traditions RLG312H1: Gender, Body and Sexuality in Islam RLG355H1: Anthropology of Islam
RLG356H1: Islam in China RLG358H1: Special Topics in Hinduism RLG361H1: Hinduism in the Diaspora
RLG364H1: Hinduism and Contemporary Media RLG365H1: Modern Hinduism RLG366H1: Hindu Philosophy
RLG372H1: Tibetan Buddhism RLG373H1: Buddhist Ritual RLG375H1: Buddhist Thought
RLG376H1: Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia RLG378H1: Himalayan Buddhism RLG379H1: Central Asian Buddhism
RLG459H1: Disciplining Islam RLG464H1: History and Historiography of Buddhism RLG467H1: Buddhist Institutions
RLG472H1: Religion and Aesthetics in South Asia NEW214Y1: Socially Engaged Buddhism


CAS200Y1: Global Asia
This is a required course for all students enrolled in the CAS major and minor.
This course introduces students to Asia’s growing role in the contemporary global community. It provides an interdisciplinary take on key themes and topics in the study of the Asia with a particular emphasis on the dynamic movement of people, ideas, and resources across borders in the region. It provides conceptual and area studies backgrounds for students aiming to take more advanced courses on Asia and for students interested in the Contemporary Asian Studies major and minor. The course also examines the growth and character of economic, political, and cultural connections tying Asia to Canada.

CAS310H1: Comparative Colonialisms in Asia
This is a required course for all students enrolled in the CAS major and minor.
This course analyzes the impact of colonialism in South, East, and Southeast Asia and the various ways in which pre-colonial traditions intersect with and reshape colonial and postcolonial process across the various regions of Asia. The course will examine the conjunctures of economy, politics, religion, education, ethnicity, gender, and caste, as these have played out over time in the making and re-making of Asia as both idea and place. Attention will be paid to postcolonial and indigenous theories, questions of ‘the colonial’ from the perspective of Asian Studies, and debates about the meaning of postcolonialism for the study of Asia now and in the future.

CAS320H1: Comparative Modernities in Asia
This is a required course for all students enrolled in the CAS major and minor.
Since at least the late 1700s, the effects of capitalism across the globe have profoundly transformed the landscapes of human livelihood, consumption, production and governance in Asia. While colonial empires have declined, new empires have emerged, and a growing number of countries have witnessed the rise of nationalism and independent states, social, political and technological revolutions, and most recently neoliberal globalization. This course theorizes and explores these dramatic changes in a comparative framework. It is aimed at students wishing to better understand the great transformations of modern Asia in a global context.

JPA331Y1: Issues in Contemporary Chinese Politics
The course covers topics of interest in China from the Communist takeover in 1949 through to the reform period of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. It will also address aspects of China’s diplomacy related to its growing economic power.  (Given by the Department of Political Science and the Contemporary Asian Studies Program)

CAS350H1: Asian Youth Cultures
In focusing on youth in Asia, this course brings together two disputed cultural formations of substantial contemporary importance. Both youth and Asia are increasingly invoked on the global stage in support of a wide range of interests. Examining practices of young people and the idea of youth in the context of Asia requires critical attention to the promises and fears that attach to the rise of Asian economies, international demographic transitions, the growth of a global middle-class, increasing consumption disparities, changing immigration patterns, expanding technological skills, global/local environmental concerns, and young people’s shifting political priorities and loyalties. The course may consider: youth subcultures, styles, music, and politics.

CAS360H1: Asian Genders
This course will explore ways that gender is mobilized and produced in parts of Asia. It seeks to understand gender in its diversity and in attempts to “fix” or locate it in various bodies and places. Attempts will be made to see how gender is made knowable in terms of sexuality, medicine, nation, class, ethnicity, religion, and other discourses.

JHA384H1: Japan in the World, mid-16th to mid-20th century
This course examines Japan within the context of world history from the mid-16th to the mid-20th century.  Rather than seek comprehensive coverage of Japan’s national history along a linear timeline, we will use Japan as a lens through which to consider key moments in the history of the modern world.

NEW FOR 2015-16 CAS370H1: Asian Cities
This course offers students a multidisciplinary investigation of urban life in Asia. The thematic focus will be on how the urban intersects with Asian modernities and postcolonial formations. Drawing on recent scholarship in the social sciences, we examine the realignment of cultural, political, and economic forces associated with Asia’s diverse processes of urbanization.

CAS390H1: Special Topics
2015-16 Topic: Science and Technology in Modern China. In this course, we will learn to understand modern China from an understudied yet important perspective: the development of science and technology since the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. Science and technology have played crucial roles in China’s political, economical, social, and cultural transformations. Drawing from anthropological, social, and historical studies of science, we will examine, among other topics, science and nation-building, biopolitics, technocracy, and scientists’ self-fashioning at the junction of Communist reign and global capitalism.

CAS393H1/Y1: Independent Research
Supervised independent research on a topic agreed on by the student and supervisor before enrolment in the course. Open to advanced students with a strong background in contemporary Asian studies. A maximum of one year of Independent Research courses is allowed per program. Contact hours with the supervisor may vary, but typically comprise of one hour per week. Not eligible for CR/NCR option.

JHA394H1: The Asia Pacific War
This course examines the Second World War in the Asia Pacific region and highlights: (1) how imperialism and colonialism of both the Euro-American and Japanese varieties were central to the War’s outbreak, conduct, and “resolution”; (2) various “local” rather than simply national experiences and memories of the War, including those of marginalized groups in Japan and its colonies, “comfort women,” victims of war atrocities, Asian North Americans, African Americans, and Pacific Islanders.

CAS400Y1: Capstone SeminarCritical Perspectives on Asian Modernity
This is a required course for all students enrolled in the CAS major.
This seminar course examines the diverse postwar experiences of countries in East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. The region comprises a wide range of countries that at once differ, but also share some commonalities in cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds; in levels of social and economic development; and in political regimes. To make sense of this diversity, a comparative, multidisciplinary perspective will be introduced. Highlighting the principal theme of interdependence – of countries but also of fields of enquiry (geography, history, political science) – the first term will look at the interactions between economic development, political change, and migration. The second term will continue with these themes, and will pay particular attention to environmental issues and history as memory and politics. The course will critically examine various social science theories that seek to explain socio-economic change in its many manifestations, and aim to find an appropriate balance between the particular and the general or universal.

JPA411H1: The Political Economy of Global Taiwan
This course explores the place of Taiwan the new global economy from historical, comparative, and international relations perspectives. (Given by the Department of Political Science and the Contemporary Asian Studies Program)

CAS413H1: Asia and Canada
This course is an interactive, participatory seminar. It will provide an opportunity to complement theoretical understanding about Asia acquired in other courses through hands-on research and experiential learning. The course will enable students to link studying Asia and Canada to career trajectories in the field of development and research.

CAS414H1: Public Culture and Media in Asia
This upper-level seminar will introduce students to the interdisciplinary study of popular culture and mass-mediated cultural forms in Asia. Through readings about popular protest, festivals, cinema, print, television, and music this course provides methodological tools to interpret the politics of representation and the formation of alternative modernities in the Asian continent and among the diaspora. The course will furthermore familiarize students with a range of theoretical lenses for conceptualizing the different meanings of the public from a modern Asian perspective.

CAS420H1: Asia and the new Global Economy
This course explores the rise of Asia and its integration into the new global economy (labour, capitalism, knowledge economy, economic nationalism, inequality, gender, the meaning of capitalism, democracy, among others), exposing students to different disciplinary perspectives. Geographical coverage is pan-Asian, including East, Southeast and South Asia.

CAS430H1: Nationalism, Revolution, and Reform in Asia
This course explores the far-reaching social, political, and cultural transformations in East, Southeast, and South Asia, focusing on the regions’ twentieth-century revolutionary histories and struggles to establish modern nation-states. The course adopts a topical approach within a chronological and comparative framework to highlight major historical movements and theoretical issues significant to the Asian experience.

CAS440H1: Critical Asia: Power and Culture
This course is an examination of power in various Asian settings. “Power” is critically examined in Asia from a variety of possible perspectives, times, and locations.  Possible topics may include revolution, states, resistance, colonialism, Orientalism, and mutual aid. “Power” is studied from a cultural and interdisciplinary perspective, so as to integrate and deepen students’ previous studies of Asia.

CAS490H1: Special Topics
2015-16 Topic: Asian Authoritarianisms. In the wake of Arab Spring, the Asia Pacific has displaced the Middle East in the spotlight as a holdout region whose countries remain significantly resistant to global democratizing tends. Despite notable breakthroughs in Taiwan, Korea and more recently, Indonesia, the region remains home to a remarkably diverse group of functioning authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes, including Vietnam, North Korea, Myanmar, Singapore, China and Malaysia. In the light of the growing interest among social scientists in the authoritarian revival, this course will seek to explore the conditions for authoritarian sustainability and prospects for political change in the region.

CAS498Y1/H1: Independent Research
Supervised independent research on a topic agreed on by the student and supervisor before enrolment in the course. Open in exceptional circumstances to advanced students with a strong background in Contemporary Asian Studies.  Application for enrolment should be made in the preceding term. A maximum of 1 FCE of Independent Research courses is allowed per program. Contact hours may vary, but typically comprise of one hour per week.

CAS450H1Asian Pathways Research Practicum
This qualitative methods course provides opportunities for students to conduct oral history projects in Toronto’s Asian communities. Personal stories and inter-generational legacies of migration are uncovered in order to learn about the continuities and disjunctures between contemporary and historical forms of mobility from East, South and Southeast Asia.

Asian languages

While the Asian Institute does not sponsor any language courses at the University of Toronto, students in CAS are strongly encouraged to take at least one year of an Asian language while in the CAS program.   On St. George campus, the Department of East Asian Studies offers courses in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.  Alternatively,  UTM and UTSC also offer courses in Asian languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Sanskrit, and Tamil.

Quantitative Reasoning Competency

The Contemporary Asian Studies program requires students enrolled in the major subject POSt to complete 0.5 FCE towards a required Quantitative Reasoning Competency. The specifications for this requirement have been updated and will be in effect for all students who enrol in the subject POSt starting in the 2015-2016 academic term. The requirement is designed to encourage students to enhance their research and analytical skills, tools that will greatly enhance their interdisciplinary study of Asia in the CAS program. Below is a list of pre-approved courses; students may use courses not on the list but must seek pre-approval from the program before enrolling in the course in question.

ANT447H1: Ethnographic Practicum: Metropolis ANT449H1: Ethnographic Practicum: Infrastructures DTS300H1: Research Design for Diaspora and Transnational Studies
ECO220Y1: Quantitative Methods in Economics ECO227Y1: Quantitative Methods in Economics GGR225H1: Power of Maps and Geographic Information
GGR270H1: Introductory Analytical Methods GGR271H1: Social Research Methods MUN105Y1: Global Problem-Solving: Laboratory Opportunities
POL322H1: Introduction to Quantitative Reasoning POL419H1: Quantitative Methods and Data Analysis PSY201H1: Statistics
PSY202H1: Statistics II STA201H1: Why Numbers Matter STA220H1: The Practice of Statistics
SOC200H1: Logic of Social Inquiry SOC302H1: Qualitative Analysis in Social Science Research

n.b. For students who enrolled in the CAS major POSt prior to 2015-2016, the specifications for this requisite are: 0.5 FCE in Breadth Requirement Category 5: The Physical and Mathematical Universes, or another half course approved by the program director, to fulfill the Quantitative Reasoning competency required in the program.

More Information


Part of the undergraduate experience takes place outside the classroom; bringing the lessons and themes learned in courses and applying them to real-world situations and student activities. Learn more about how to get involved here.

For the most up-to-date course and program information, and for general information about undergraduate study at the University of Toronto, please refer to the current Faculty of Arts and Science Calendar.

Have questions? Email the program administrator at or call 416-946-8832.  The program office is open Monday- Friday 9 AM- 5 PM for drop in consultations as well.




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