Non-Western and Comparative Studies

Last updated: October 4, 2021 at 1:42 PM


The non-Western and comparative studies requirement is designed to encourage students to explore societies, cultures and experiences beyond those of the Western tradition. The common goal of the courses in the program is to acquaint students with world views, indigenous intellectual traditions, historical narratives and social institutions that have developed largely outside European society and its North American transplants.

By examining some particular culture, society or region of the non-Western world (such as those of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Oceania), or by systematically comparing a range of values and institutions across cultural boundaries, students will be able to broaden their understanding of human achievements and potentialities beyond the Western heritage. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, and at the same time more diverse, such an understanding is all the more necessary.

Through the study of non-Western societies in their original settings, it is expected that students will also gain a better understanding of minority groups and diasporic cultures (such as African-American, Latino, Asian and Muslim) in the United States and the West in general. Non-Western courses expand students’ horizons and help them better understand their own history and culture. 

Courses that satisfy the requirement may have Western components or modes of analysis, but their primary purpose is to foster an understanding of non-Western cultures, experiences and perspectives. For example, in a course on the political economy of Africa that employs Western methodologies, the history and culture of Africa still occupy a central place. The program draws attention to the intellectual and methodological problems inherent in the study of cultural systems other than those of the West.  

For students entering Brandeis prior to fall 2019, students must satisfactorily complete one non-Western and comparative studies course. Courses that satisfy the requirement in a particular semester are designated "nw" in the Schedule of Classes for that semester. A list of non-Western and comparative studies courses is available in the Courses of Instruction.

There is no non-Western and comparative studies requirement for students entering Brandeis beginning fall 2019.