Contemporary Asian Studies

Asia on the World Stage

Asia is home to more than half the world’s population. Its cultural and historical complexity is endless, its economic growth unprecedented, and its global influence unmatched. Our job is to understand it better.

Our faculty and students create interdisciplinary, cross-regional, cutting-edge insights into a wide range of crucial issues at stake in this dynamic region of the globe. Asia’s breakneck urbanization processes, social media and communications revolutions, and growing environmental crises all offer new challenges and demand creative interventions. Meanwhile, the creation of local literary, visual, and archaeological sites as fields of a contested colonial and postcolonial past provide rich pathways to greater understanding of the region’s complexity.

Contemporary Asian Studies

The Dr. David Chu Program in Contemporary Asian Studies (CAS) examines the linkages between Asia’s history and culture, its emergence on the global stage, and its future in the global arena through a multidisciplinary lens informed by anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, cultural studies, and sociology. CAS students gain empirical and critical knowledge of East, Southeast, and South Asia through a comparative exploration of contemporary issues. We offer a major and minor in Contemporary Asian Studies and a minor in South Asian Studies with a wide range of courses and electives. For complete program requirements and course descriptions, please refer to the Faculty of Arts and Science calendar.

Special Topics Courses 2021-22

SAS390H1S Special Topics: Cultural Transfers in Persianate South Asia W 2-4
Instructor: Dr. Pegah Shahbaz (Postdoctoral Fellow, Asian Institute)

This course is designed for senior undergraduate students who wish to enhance their historical knowledge of a period crucial for the formation of contemporary South Asia and the intellectual and cultural transfers that occurred within the prolonged and multifaceted interactions between the Persianate and Sanskritic worlds. It aims at picturing the transregional flows and the exchange of diverse traditions (including statecraft, warfare, architecture, literature, and religion) within this historical period, and studies the acculturation of values, sentiments and ideas that proceeded between the Persianate and Indic cultural spheres. We will study how translation movements enabled the circulation of knowledge between Persian, Sanskrit and vernacular languages and how this intercultural encounter led to the reinterpretation of self-identity and cultural alterity in the South Asian multicultural and multilingual context.

Note: Students do not require prior courses in South Asian Studies to take the course – the prerequisite is 9.0 FCEs.

CAS490H1F Special  Topics: Politics of China and Democracy in Asia T 10 AM – 12 PM
Instructor: Professor Lynette Ong

This joint undergrad/grad seminar is designed to provide students with an understanding of the underlying forces driving the political landscape in China and other Asian countries. We begin with the question why China has defied the modernization theory with the persistence of authoritarian regime. What are the nature of political institutions and state-society relations that explain this persistent outcome in China? We then examine the polities of South Korea, Taiwan and emerging Asian democracies to study the underlying patterns of state and societal forces that led to regime changes. This course seeks to understand the similarities and explain the differences of the hodgepodge of autocratic and democratic regimes in Asia, and ask “why” and “why not”. Students should be prepared to read course materials and engage in class discussion.

CAS490H1S Special Topics: Comparative Regional Studies of China’s Belt and Road Initiative R 8-10 AM

Instructor: Dr. Stephen Smith, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Toronto

This course considers how China’s enormous Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has generated cultural, political, social, and economic transformations across Asian and Eurasian contexts. The course is open to senior undergraduate and early graduate students and will include students from three institutes participating in The Belt and Road in Global Perspective project: i) Center for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies and the Asian Institute, both at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto; ii) the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore; and iii) the Political Science and International Relations Department, Nazarbayev University (Kazakhstan). University of Toronto students will attend in person. Students from other universities will attend via video link.


Asian languages

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

The Asian Institute Advantage

As a boutique program situated in the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, CAS offers students a host of unique resources. Find out more on our student resources page.

Experiential learning

Scholarships and Awards

Career Development

  • Gain the skills and knowledge for careers in a world that is no longer rooted in the West
  • Prepare for work in academic research, policy development and practice, global business and more
  • Global Careers through Asia Conference
  • Internship Opportunities
  • Alumni network

Student Groups

Contact US

We want to hear from you! To learn more or get your questions answered, contact:

Katherine MacIvor
Program Advisor and Communications Officer
Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
1 Devonshire Place, room 228N | 416-946-8832


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