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New theme semester to study India’s global impact

By Amia Davis, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 8, 2014

University President Mary Sue Coleman brought students back a souvenir from her recent trip to India: a new theme semester.

Mirroring the University’s involvement in the subcontinent, the LSA Winter 2014 Theme Semester explores India’s changing role in the world through courses, lectures, museum exhibits and other opportunities.

Students from India make up the fourth largest group of international students at the University. Additionally, the University of Michigan India Alumni Association has over 1400 members, according to the organization’s Facebook page.

Called “India in the World,” the theme semester will focus on changes in the world’s second-most-populous country. Associate Prof. Farina Mir, director of South Asian Studies and the Winter 2014 Theme Semester, said the theme aims to change some popular perceptions of India.

“Conceptions of India have been changing from this sort of limited spectrum that focuses on mysticism and poverty to this sort of complex understanding of this dynamic society and impact on the world,” Mir said.

She added that — despite the fact India is the world’s largest democracy and has the largest middle class — many reduce it to a backward, poverty-stricken nation.

LSA has offered theme semesters since 1980, according to its website. The college fuses the University’s classroom and research opportunities to provide a comprehensive discussion of a particular topic.

This year, special events will display India’s culture and its role in the world. Upcoming events include a performance of Sufi Muslim devotional music called Qawwali, lectures, a weekly media piece and five exhibitions.

Forty-three courses within the theme semester explore topics like Islam in South Asia and equality in India’s 20th century.

LSA freshman Swathi Shanmugasundaram is enrolled in ASIAN 220, an introductory course on Asian religions. She said the course’s denotation as being part of the themed semester course appealed to her.

“We have such a diverse student population at Michigan, many of whom have ancestral links to India, and we certainly hope that they will be enthused by the Theme Semester,” Mir said.