The Joint M.A./Ph.D. Program in South and Southeast Asian Studies

Paula Varsano, Chair

(510) 642-3480

paulavarsano [at] berkeley [dot] edu (Paula Varsano's email)

Robert Goldman, Head Graduate Advisor

(510) 642-4089

rpg [at] berkeley [dot] edu (Robert Goldman's email)


Kristen Brooks, Student Affairs Officer 

(510) 642-4219

kristenbrooks [at] berkeley [dot] edu (Kristen Brooks' email)



This program offers emphases in the following languages and literatures: Hindi, Urdu, Indonesian, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Tamil and Khmer. Literature is understood in the widest sense to include not only creative writing and cultural expression in the various genres but also sources concerning religion, philosophy, history, and the fine and performing arts. The analysis of cultural expression is also understood to include attention to social, anthropological, economic, and political contexts.

The program provides opportunities to explore the rich cultural, social, and religious histories of South and Southeast Asia as well as the living contemporary cultures of these areas. The curriculum covers the classical literary canon, religious literature, folk and popular works, oral traditions and performance media (including recitation, musical and dramatic performance, dance, and film), and modern literatures of the colonial and post-colonial periods.

Advanced proficiency in the language of emphasis is a central goal of study, as is the ability to undertake sophisticated textual study of a broad range of literary works in that language.

Students are encouraged to take advantage of the extensive opportunities for interdisciplinary linkages by pursuing courses offered by the South and Southeast Asia faculty in other departments on the UCB campus. Students are also encouraged to pursue courses and independent reading that will familiarize them with pertinent methods in the various disciplines (such as contemporary literary theory, ethnographic theory, historiography, and cultural studies theory). Appropriate comparative work, on Asian and non-Asian cultures, is encouraged as well.

The Ph.D. in South and Southeast Asian Studies prepares students for academic careers in teaching and research not only in South and Southeast Asian Studies, but also in History, Comparative Literature, Religious Studies, Asian Studies, and Cultural Studies.

To apply: Submit a UC Berkeley Graduate Application for Admission and Fellowships and a writing sample. The Graduate Record Examination is required (except for most international students, who need to take TOEFL). For details, see "applying for the graduate program" link.

Prerequisites for Admission to the M.A./Ph.D. Program

  1. At least two years of study in the language of emphasis, or the equivalent (as determined by the Head Graduate Adviser);
  2. Eight undergraduate or graduate courses dealing with South or Southeast Asia, or the equivalent (as determined by the Head Graduate Adviser).


Program Requirements

  1. A minimum of 10 courses undertaken in graduate status at UCB, including at least four graduate seminars in the area of specialization and the departmental Methods Seminar (SSEAS 294);
  2. A historical knowledge of the area of emphasis, demonstrated by appropriate course work, as approved by the Head Graduate Adviser;
  3. Completion of an M.A. thesis, supervised by a committee of three faculty members (also required of transfer students holding the M.A. who have not completed equivalent work in the judgment of the Head Graduate Adviser);
  4. Competence in one or more appropriate secondary languages, as determined in consultation with the Head Graduate Adviser and the Academic Adviser (and demonstrated either through course work or departmental examination);
  5. Completion of an Oral Qualifying Examination in three approved fields (including the field of emphasis, a secondary field within the Department, and a cognate field);
  6. Submission of a Dissertation Prospectus and its approval during a Prospectus Conference involving the three faculty members of the Dissertation Committee;
  7. Advancement to Ph.D. candidacy;
  8. Completion of the dissertation under Plan B. (See university catalog.)


Additional Requirements for the Sanskrit Emphasis

  1. Completion of a written competency examination in Sanskrit (three hours in length, dictionary may be used);
  2. One course in Linguistics (Linguistics 100 is strongly recommended);
  3. Reading knowledge of two additional languages of scholarship in the field, normally French and German, to be demonstrated either by written examination of two years of course work at the college level.

Reading ability in a second South Asian or other related foreign language (such as Latin, Greek, Old Iranian) is strongly recommended.

Students in the joint M.A./Ph.D. program will acquire the M.A. degree upon completion of twenty units of course work in graduate status at UCB (including two graduate seminars in the language of emphasis and the methods seminar). Additionally, students will complete requirements #2 and #3 (as above), demonstrate advanced competence in the language of emphasis and advance to M.A. candidacy. They will acquire the Ph.D. degree upon completion of the remaining requirements.

Upon completion of the M.A. requirements, students will be reviewed by the faculty to determine whether they are making satisfactory progress and should continue in the program.



Requirement # 1: Course Work

Students should carefully plan their courses so as to be ready, normally after six semesters, to concentrate on reading for their Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examinations (which should be taken in the seventh or eighth semester). All course work should be completed before the oral examinations. The course work must include:

  • four graduate seminars in the language of emphasis;
  • the departmental Methods Seminar (SSEAS 294);
  • a history course;
  • courses to satisfy the language requirement (which may count-in the case of South or Southeast Asian languages-toward the ten-course program requirement if taken at the upper-division or graduate level);
  • appropriate course work in the second and third fields to be covered in the Oral Qualifying Examination (see below), as determined by the Academic Adviser and the faculty examiners in the second and third fields.

The course work should also include appropriate provision for completing the Master's thesis (which might be begun, for example, in a graduate seminar and completed during an Independent Studies course).

Further course selections are elective. Students may enroll in courses beyond the ten-course minimum and may audit courses with the permission of instructors. A limited number of lower-division and Independent Studies courses may be used to satisfy the program requirements. During the registration period of each semester, the choice of courses must be approved by the Academic Advisers and noted on the Semester Plans (see below, "Advising and Scheduling Calendar").

Students must take required courses for letter grades and maintain an overall grade point average of 3.0 ("B").

Requirement # 2: Historical Knowledge

Each student is expected to enroll in a one-semester course, either at the graduate or upper-division level, that deals substantially and extensively with the history of the area of concentration. The course must be taken for a grade. The Head Graduate Adviser must approve the selection.

Requirement # 3: M.A. Thesis

The program requires completion of an M.A. thesis as specified under the university's Plan I requirement for the M.A.

A thesis topic should be identified during the second semester of the program or, at the latest, by the beginning of the third. The student's M.A. thesis committee must approve it. (See below.) The project should be a feasible one that can be completed by the end of the fourth semester. Bibliographical work and preliminary research will normally be carried out in the fall semester (the third semester in the program) and the writing done in the spring. Complete and near-final drafts must be submitted to the thesis committees by April 12 for award of spring degrees.

A student's M.A. thesis committee consists of three faculty members, at least one from the Department's core faculty, who are chosen by the student and approved by the Head Graduate Adviser. Normally the thesis committee chair will be the student's Academic Adviser. The committee chair and/or Academic Adviser will assist students to plan course work that supports and contributes to the timely completion of the M.A. thesis project.

The M.A. thesis must demonstrate the ability to pursue advanced independent research, evaluate and analyze evidence, and present a reasoned and coherent argument. Students should obtain a copy of the booklet "Instructions for Preparing and Submitting Theses and Dissertations for Higher Degrees" from the Graduate Division. (Also available at the Graduate Division's web site.) The M.A. thesis in South and Southeast Asian Studies is expected to run between 25 and 50 double-spaced, typewritten pages, excluding footnotes and bibliography.

Requirement # 4: Secondary Foreign Languages

Language requirements in the South and Southeast Asian Studies program are based on the individual student's fields of specialization and research needs. The program has as its main requirement advanced proficiency in the student's language of emphasis. To develop command of a range of linguistic skills in support of the student's research agenda, additional work is required in one or more secondary languages.

Within the first year of the program, each student must complete—in consultation with the academic adviser and the Head Graduate Adviser—a language plan. This plan identifies (in addition to the language of emphasis) the secondary language or languages in which the student must demonstrate competence to fulfill the requirements of both the degree program and the research agenda. The language plan must also indicate how the requirements are to be met.

Dissertations will be written in English. Students are also required to demonstrate advanced ability, through course work or a departmental examination, of a principal South or Southeast Asian research language. Furthermore, before advancing to candidacy, students must attain reading competence in at least one additional language of research. This may be another Asian language or the language of a relevant archive. Determination of the principal and additional languages will be made in consultation with the student’s academic advisor and the Head Graduate Advisor. Note that the mastery of a principal language and competence in an additional language are minimal requirements. A student’s advisor may require the demonstration of research-level ability in other languages depending on the expectations of the particular program and the demands of a student’s individual dissertation project.

For all students with an emphasis in Sanskrit, the following candidacy requirements apply:

  • Reading ability in a second South Asian or other related language (such as Latin, Greek, Old Iranian), to be demonstrated either by written examination or advanced (minimum of two years of course work at the college level) language training.
  • Reading knowledge of two languages of scholarship in the field, normally French and German, to be demonstrated either by written examination or two years of course work at the college level.
  • Students are also strongly advised to complete a graduate course in each of the following: Vedic, Middle Indic, and Vyakarana. Old Iranian and a course in Indo-European linguistics are also highly recommended.

Requirement # 5: Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination

Students are eligible to take the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination after they have completed their course work, foreign language(s) requirements, and M.A. thesis. The qualifying examination will take place within one year of the completion of these requirements (which should normally take six semesters). Taking this examination after the eighth semester will result in a significant loss of funding to the student (the Dean's Normative Time Fellowship).

This examination is designed to assess the readiness of the student to enter the dissertation research phase of the doctoral program. Its primary aim is to evaluate the student's mastery of the substantive content and theoretical concepts of three approved fields of specialization. These fields should be defined and developed in consultation with the student's Academic Adviser and the individual faculty members of the examination committee. The Head Graduate Adviser must approve the fields and the composition of the committee. A list of fields, as well as the membership of the examination committee, must be submitted to the Graduate Division (on a graduate Division form) no later than three weeks before the examination date.

Each student is urged to select and consult members of the examination committee very early in the academic career so as to shape a suitable study program that develops both theoretical and substantive competence in the three fields. A general meeting between the student and the committee, well in advance of the examination itself, is desirable as an opportunity to discuss the preparation for and objectives of the examination.

The Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination is based on prepared bibliographies in the chosen three fields of specialization. These bibliographies are designed by the student in consultation with one or more faculty members in each given area. While centered on subjects significant to the student's research interests, they should also be sufficiently broad to cover the major sources, analytical issues, and methodological questions relevant to each field. Each bibliography should be substantive: ideally, a minimum, thirty books or a commensurate volume of essays, inclusive of both appropriate primary and secondary texts, and intellectually coherent.

The first and primary field of examination will focus on a subject and a body of texts pertaining to the student's language of emphasis. The second field will engage a related but distinct subject (and body of texts) in South or Southeast Asian Studies. The third will concern a cognate subject (and body of texts)-one that engages a particular discipline, theoretical perspective, or comparative area relevant to the student's interests.

Each Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Committee consists of four faculty members. At least one member must be from the Department's core faculty, and at least one from outside the Department. The exam committee chair, who must be a member of the DSSEAS faculty, may be the person who chaired the M.A. thesis committee, but cannot also serve as the chair of the student's Ph.D. dissertation committee.

Prior to the qualifying examination each student must successfully complete one of the two following written exercises. (The options may not normally be mixed. Students will select one or the other in consultation with their examiners.)

Option 1: Preparation of Field Statements.
Each statement (roughly 6,000-8,000 words for the first field, roughly 4,000-6,000 words each for the second and third fields) will be an analytical essay that surveys in an integral fashion the themes, arguments, evidence, and theoretical perspectives of the prepared bibliographies.

Option 2: Response to Field Questions.
Each examiner in each of the three fields will pose one written question. On three different days of a single week, the student will receive one of the questions and then prepare at home, during a twenty-four hour period, an analytical essay in response.

The appropriate examiner must approve each field statement or each response to a field question at least one week prior to the oral qualifying examination. Approval forms are available from the Student Affairs Officer. Responses to individual field questions may not be undertaken more than three times. Following approval, the statements or responses may be shared with the full Oral Qualifying Committee. They are to be kept on file in the Department. The examination is an oral examination of three hours. At its conclusion, the committee may advise the Dean of the Graduate Division that the student has a) passed the examination and should be continued in the program, b) failed the examination but should be re-examined after at least three months, or c) failed the examination and should be discontinued without re-examination.

Requirement # 6: Dissertation Prospectus and Formation of Dissertation Committee

To be admitted to Ph.D. candidacy, a student must write and submit for approval a Dissertation Prospectus consisting of the following:

  1. An essay outlining the nature of the proposed dissertation research, its relation to existing scholarship on the subject, and its anticipated value. This essay (five pages or less) is intended to serve as a working paper outlining the issues to be addressed in the dissertation, the approach to be taken, and the relation of that approach to recent knowledge.
  2. A bibliography of approximately five pages, which surveys the pertinent primary and secondary literature.

After preliminary approval of the Dissertation Prospectus by the dissertation committee chair, the student submits copies to the other members of the dissertation committee and the Department's Head Graduate Adviser. During the subsequent Prospectus Conference the full dissertation committee reviews and discusses the Prospectus with the student. Once approved, the Prospectus is placed in the student's file together with notes from the conference discussion. This document functions as a statement of baseline expectations for subsequent work on the dissertation.

A Ph.D. dissertation committee, following the university's Plan B, will consist of three faculty members. (Formerly, one faculty member had to be from outside the department, but as of 9/2019 that is no longer the case. Students can choose to have an committee member from outside the department, however, it's not necessary.) The composition of this committee may overlap with that of the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination committee, but the same person may not chair both committees. The member of the dissertation committee most closely involved with the student's research is usually selected as the chair (also referred to as dissertation adviser), but, upon the advice of the student, the Dean of the Graduate Division may appoint joint chairpersons. The committee chair will normally, but not necessarily, be a member of the Department's core faculty.

The dissertation adviser plays an important role in guiding the student toward successful completion of the dissertation and in helping to place the student in professional employment. Students retain the right to change dissertation advisers or other members of their committees.

Requirement # 7: Advancement to Candidacy

An application for advancement to Ph.D. candidacy must be filed with the Graduate Division no later than the end of the semester in which the student passes his or her Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination. The application is to be signed by the chair of the student's dissertation committee and the Head Graduate Adviser.

In addition to satisfaction of Requirements 1, 2, and 3 of the joint M.A./Ph.D. program in South and Southeast Asian Studies, eligibility for advancement to candidacy requires the following:

  1. Satisfaction of the foreign language requirement(s);
  2. Successful completion of the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination;
  3. Approval of the Dissertation Prospectus during the Prospectus Conference;
  4. The presence on the official transcript of no more than two courses graded "Incomplete";
  5. A minimum 3.0 (B) grade point average in all upper-division and graduate courses taken in graduate standing.

Requirement # 8: Ph.D. Dissertation and Normative Time

After the Dissertation Prospectus has been approved, the dissertation adviser meets regularly with the student to check his or her progress. (Annual interviews are required; semester interviews are desirable; and monthly interviews are preferable.) The student and dissertation adviser should agree in advance on how written material is to be submitted for review and returned with timely commentary from both the dissertation adviser and the other members of the committee. The Graduate Division requires all doctoral students advanced to candidacy to submit to their committees an evaluation of their progress during the previous year and a program for the coming year.

In accordance with the university's Plan B, the completed dissertation must be read and approved by all three members of the student's dissertation committee. The committee may, at its discretion, require a final oral defense, to which other members of the faculty and students of the Department may be invited.

Doctoral degrees are awarded in December and May. The deadline to file a dissertation is the last working day of the semester. To receive the degree, all work for the degree must be completed and filed with the Graduate Division by the last day of the term.

To comply with UCB's Normative Time requirement, the Ph.D. dissertation must be completed before the end of the 8th year (16th semester) from the student's entry into the program. Students who do not complete dissertations within the 7-year Normative Time period, plus a 1-year grace period, will have their candidacy lapsed by the Graduate Division. The Department's Head Graduate Adviser may request an extension of the student's candidacy if the student is otherwise making adequate progress and the delay can be attributed to factors largely beyond the student's control.

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Readers, GSRs, GSIs

As part of their professional preparation, graduate students in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies may be employed in one or more of the following capacities.

Readers assist class instructors by reading and grading essays and examinations in larger undergraduate courses in South or Southeast Asian Studies. They hold consultation hours with students and normally attend class lectures.

Graduate Student Researchers assist faculty members on research projects.

Graduate Student Instructors assume instructional responsibility, normally by serving as section leaders of the discussion groups associated with the large lower-division survey courses that are principally taught and overseen by faculty members. GSIs may also participate in the instruction of introductory and intermediate language courses. They sometimes lead Reading and Composition courses in the lower division or specialized upper-division seminars.

For information on wages, benefits and appointment procedures, see the Personnel Officer. For information on vacancies, see the Student Affairs Officer.

Advising and Scheduling Calendar

Students are invited freely to seek counsel throughout the academic year. The following schedules are suggested.

Prior to the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination, students see their academic advisers three times each year.

  1. During the fall registration period for the coming spring semester: a) to seek approval of course selections for the coming spring term (noted and filed on the Semester Plan); b) to submit any outstanding language plans; c) to form Master's or Qualifying Committees; and d) to schedule forthcoming examinations for the spring semester.
  2. During the spring registration period for the coming fall semester: a) to seek approval of course selections for the coming fall term (noted and filed on the Semester Plan); b) to form Master's or Qualifying Committees; and c) to schedule forthcoming examinations.
  3. During the first week of classes each fall: a) to confirm or change course selections for the current semester (noted and filed on a form called the "Semester Plan,"); b) to submit a language plan; c) to select and seek approval, as relevant, for Master's Thesis Committees or Oral Qualifying Committees; and d) to confirm the scheduling of all forthcoming examinations (in languages as well as the Orals, when relevant).

After meeting their academic advisers, students should promptly inform the Student Affairs Officer of examinations they intend to take, committees they have formed, plans to apply for advancements to candidacy or to file for degrees, and other arrangements that require official action.

Language examinations are normally administered during the twelfth week of each semester.

Qualifying examinations are scheduled at the discretion of students and committee members, but must be taken by the last day of the semester in which the student hopes to advance to candidacy. Not doing so can result in a considerable loss of Graduate Division funding on the part of the student.

Before the Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination, a student meets with her/his Chair of the Dissertation Committee regularly (on a mutually agreed schedule) to prepare the Dissertation Prospectus and the Prospectus Conference.

Following the successful completion of the Prospectus Conference, students continue to meet their dissertation committee members on a regular, mutually agreed schedule (as discussed in Requirement #8).


Semester Plan forms describing prospective course work must be completed, approved, and filed for each term, in consultation with the Head Graduate Adviser. Students should procure the forms from the Student Affairs Officer before seeing their academic advisers and return them, signed, in order to receive their adviser codes (necessary for registration).

The Student Affairs Officer must be kept informed of (and will advise on) all official actions: the scheduling of Prospectus Conferences, the appointment of Dissertation Committees, applications for advancements to candidacy, filings for degrees, and the like.