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 2022-23

CAS390H1F Special  Topics: Asian Digital Network Practicum Monday 12:00 – 2:00 PM
Students are connected with a digital practicum placement in partnership with local, national, or international not-for-profits or governmental organizations connected to Asia. Students work in teams of 2-5 students, and help partner organizations address key issues they identify. Student teams work actively on strengthening on-line networks with partner organizations, while developing mutual mentoring, critique, and exchange with the organizations. Students are expected to invest 5-7 hours per week in course projects, in addition to class time. Students are expected to help teammates, advise other teams, and contribute their skills and talents to their community partners. The course will emphasize how groups can work together to contribute to extending, learning from, and contributing to transnational networks that bridge the University of Toronto and a range of partners throughout Asia.
CAS390H1S Special Topics: Digital Futures of Asia Tuesday 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM

This course is designed for senior undergraduate students who wish to enhance their knowledge of Asia’s adoption of the Internet and digital tools, and how these tools and systems are reshaping Asian societies, including their politics, culture, and social movements. We will study how governments in the region regulate information flows online and experiment on new technologies that have the potential to either curtail or encourage public participation. This course will also examine the private sector’s outsized role in digital infrastructure and its consequences for human rights and good governance. Finally, we will shed light on the role of the Internet as a site of contestation, where representation, dissent, and resistance are developed and negotiated. By the end of the course, students will be able to identify and distinguish the range of actors, institutions, and policies that constitute our global network society, and understand Asia’s impact on the future of technology. Assignments in the course are designed to help students develop critical thinking and public speaking skills, and learn how to write to different audiences.

CAS490H1F Special  Topics: Politics of China and Democracy in Asia Tuesday 10:00 AM – 12:00 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 Thursday 2:00-4:00 PM

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 from the Center for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies and the Asian Institute, as well as the Master of Global Affairs program. Focusing on China, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, we will explore specific cases of geopolitics, geoeconomics and geoculture along the Digital, Green, and Health Silk Roads, looking at everything from surveillance in smart cities, to debt trap diplomacy, to the future of democracy in a China-centric world.


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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