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 additional FCE from each of Groups A, B, and C
  5. 1 additional FCE at the 300 or 400 level from Group A, B, or C, or 1 FCE 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 additional FCEs from CAS course offerings or Groups A, B, or C (excluding 100-level courses), or 1 FCE from CAS or Groups A, B, or C and 1 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.

CAS200Y1: Global Asia CAS370H1: Asian Cities CAS430H1: Nationalism and Revolution in Asia
CAS440H1: Critical Asia: Power and Culture SAS216H1: South Asia” Perspectives on Politics and Society EAS251H1: Aesthetics and Politics in 20th Century Korea
EAS307H1: Chinese Political Philosophy JHA384H1: Japan and the World, mid-16th to mid-20th century JHA394H1: The Asia Pacific World
JMC301Y1: State & Society in 20th Century China JPA410H1: Democracy and Identity in Asia POL215Y1: Politics and Transformation of Asia- Pacific
POL328Y1: Politics and Government in South Asia POL357Y1: Topics in South Asian Politics POL376Y1: Transforming Global Politics: Comparative and Chinese Perspectives
POL431Y1: Politics and Society in Contemporary China POL441H1: Topics in Asian Politics  NEW214Y1: Socially Engaged Buddhism

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: Asian and the New Global Economy EAS247H1:History of Capitalism in Modern Japan EAS345Y1: The Rise of Greater China: Issues & Topics
EAS357H1: Mao’s China & Beyond EAS374H1: Modern Japan and Colonialism ECO435H1: The Economics of Modern China
GGR342H1: The Changing Geography of Southeast Asia GGR343H1: The Changing Geography of China JPA331Y1: Issues in Contemporary Chinese Politics
JPA411H1: The Political Economy of Global Taiwan


Group C: Cultural Expression/Exploration

CAS350H1: Asian Youth Cultures CAS360H1: Asian Genders CAS414H1: Public Culture and Media in Asia
SAS114H1: Introduction to South Asian Studies SAS318H1: Colonialism and Tradition SAS413H1: Asian and Canada
CIN376Y1: Chinese Cinemas ANT341H1: China in Transition ANT477H1: Transnational Korea in and outside the Peninsula
ANT467H1: Ethnographies of Contemporary South Asia EAS105H1: Modern East Asia EAS217Y1: Major Aspects of Contemporary Korea
EAS272H1: Post- War Korean Society EAS333H1: Modern and Colonial Korea EAS340Y1: The Chinese: Society & Culture
EAS347H1: Everyday Life in Modern Japan EAS364H1: China’s Cultural Revolution: History and Memory EAS372H1: Postwar Korean History
EAS375H1: Postwar Japan: Crisis, Apocalypse EAS378H1: Edo, Osaka, and Kyoto: Urban Life in Early Modern Japan EAS394H1: Film Culture in Contemporary China
EAS431H1: Advanced Topics in Japanese Cinema EAS457H1: Special Topics in Modern Japanese History EAS462H1: Ethnographic Literature on Korea: Class, Gender & Family
EAS464H1: The Korean War EAS473H1: Modern Korean History Seminar EAS497H1: Beyond Orientalism
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
HIS385H1: The History of Hong Kong HIS385Y1: The History of Hong Kong HIS448H1: Gender in East and Southeast Asia
HIS467H1: French Colonial Indochina: History, Cultures, Texts, Film HIS470H1: History, Rights, and Differences in South Asia MUS209H1: Performing Arts of South Asia
RLG205Y1: Hinduism RLG207Y1: East Asian Religions SOC218H1: Asian Communities in Canada


Note: Not all electives are offered every year. Students are responsible for checking co- and prerequisites for all courses in Groups A, B, and C. Some of these courses may not be offered on a regular basis, and/or may only be offered to students enrolled in a POSt sponsored by the department or unit offering the course.

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 economy.  It provides an interdisciplinary lens onto 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 background 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 religion, education, ethnicity, gender, and caste, as these have played out over time in the making and remaking 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 the postcolonial 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 both the rural and urban landscapes of human livelihood, consumption, and production 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, political and technological revolutions, and most recently neoliberal globalization. The varied nature and specificities of these dramatic transformations are only beginning to be understood. This course theorizes and explores “Asian modernities” in a comparative framework. It is aimed at students wishing to better understand the great transformations of 20th and 21st century Asia in a global context.

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. The course is aimed at developing an understanding of “youth in Asia” that the global cultural economy has forged in tandem with the expansion of market capital, the tensions at the heart of sovereign nation-states, and the slowly shifting hierarchies embedded in the structures of the global political economy.

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.

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.

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.

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.

AS440H1: 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.

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.

DTS300H1: Research Design for Diaspora and Transnational Studies EAS457H1: Special Topics in Modern Japanese History 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
PSY319H1: Developmental Laboratory STA201H1: Why Numbers Matter STA220H1: The Practice of Statistics

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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