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ISLE Program

ISLE Program Courses

Required Common Courses. ISLE students are required to take the following courses:

Conversational Sinhala I and II. 85-90 hours of intensive language instruction in colloquial Sinhala, emphasizing functional use of the language in contexts that students can be expected to encounter in daily life. Classes are held at the ISLE Study Center.

Class format consists of classroom instruction, language tasks to be performed at host family homes and other sites, one-on-one sessions with instructors, and sessions on topics such as communication and language learning strategies, and cross cultural topics involving language and etiquette. Quizzes, review and feedback sessions round out the format of this class.

The Sinhala I and Sinhala II courses are each worth four semester-hour credits, for a total of eight semester-hour credits.

Sri Lanka Studies Seminar. The Sri Lanka Studies Seminar series is a collection of field-based lectures led by professors and scholars from the University of Peradeniya. Each seminar offers a glimpse into a different aspect of Sri Lankan culture and society, so as to provide students with a holistic understanding of the island and its people. The seminars include short day trips to nearby villages, NGOs, and historical sites, as well as weekend and week-long tours to Jaffna, the Cultural Triangle, the Eastern Province, tea country and to the south of the island. Through the Sri Lanka Studies Seminar series, students gain exposure to various parts of the island, its diverse people, and experiences that will ultimately inspire and shape their independent field studies. 

Independent Field Study. The Independent Field Study is the culmination of the semester-long Sri Lanka Studies Seminar, and represents four weeks of independent field study, resulting in a major written report and oral seminar presentation on a topic chosen by the student in consultation with the ISLE Faculty Director and Field Study Consultant. In this final session of the program, students are challenged to put their language skills and cultural proficiencies to work, as they navigate their chosen region and gather research independently. This course is worth four semester-hour credits.

Elective Courses:
ISLE students choose two courses from among a range of electives, each of which is worth two semester-hour credits. Following is a list of electives offered by the ISLE Program in recent years. Applicants should contact the Program for specific elective course information for the ISLE semester they plan to attend.

Buddhist Ethics. Studies of fundamental Buddhist theories of action as articulated in canonical texts, and their applicability in the context of moral and psychological dilemmas in contemporary life. Meditation and observation of various Buddhist rituals are part of the field study experience.

Environmental Science. An environmental studies course incorporating ethnobotany, plant taxonomy, biogeography, and historical ecology and exploring how agriculture, silviculture, and horticulture have created brand-new anthropogenic ecosystems that not only became the foundation of human civilization, but at the same time transformed entire biomes, shifted the distribution of species, inflicted widespread extinction, propagated weeds and other invasive organisms, and even changed patterns of rainfall, drought, and climate. Classes are held in Peradeniya Botanical gardens. In addition, students are taken on field tours.

Ethnicity and Social Identity. Examines the construction of racial, religious, linguistic, and historical class identities in Sri Lankan society. One of the key issues explored is the question of ethnicity and its role in shaping group processes, political dynamics, and social conflict in contemporary Sri Lanka. A day-long field trip involves interviews with locals exploring ethnic issues.

Images of the Feminine and the Social Experiences of Women. A survey of the important factors that inform women's gendered status in Sri Lankan society through an introduction to the forces - cultural, social, economic, and political - which impinge upon, and shape, women's options and life-experiences in Sri Lanka.  Conceptions of what it means to be a female in Sri Lankan society as understood in Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim sociological contexts, and processes through which women are seeking to enhance the status of themselves and their families. This includes a seminar with women representing various ethnic and religious communities.

Modern Sri Lankan Politics. Critical review of political dynamics from 1948 to the present, giving particular attention to the application of ethnicity-based arguments to "legitimize" political activities during volatile periods of ethnic conflict and attempts made to resolve the ethnic conflict both by military and political means. A lively debate with leaders of various political parties is the highlight of this course.

Sri Lankan Ritual Culture. An exploration of the rituals performed in Sri Lanka, including religious rituals, prosperity-invoking rituals, and rituals performed as household chores. In keeping with Sri Lanka's religious, cultural and geographic diversity, the course explores Sri Lankan rituals within the religous, ethnic, and geographic context.

Theravada Buddhist Thought. Theravada Buddhism represents one of the most ancient interpretations of the teachings of the Buddha. The importance of the Theravada teachings as a philosophy of life, a psychology, an ethical system, a social, political and economic philosophy will be discussed, as will implications of the Theravada doctrines on some of the current social problems in Sri Lanka. (Recommended for interested students without prior background in the study of Buddhism.) In addition to the theoretical understanding of Buddhist meditation that will be provided, students will be introduced to the practical aspect of Buddhist meditation by taking them for a day's retreat to a lay meditation center in Nilambe.

Traditional Medicine. In this survey course of Sri Lanka’s traditional medicinal practices, students examine the way in which this ancient system changed over time and the various factors that influenced its transformation. The principal objective of this course is to help students understand how the country’s geographical location, Indian influence, ancient kings’ contributions, colonial governments’ health policies, nationalist groups’ activities and modernity impacted the state of traditional medicine in Sri Lanka.

Extra-Curricular Offerings: Traditional Kandyan Dance and Drumming classes are offered at the University during Session II. Students have the opportunity to perform in a dance and drumming recital at the close of Session II. Past students have also chosen to pursue batik, Sri Lankan cooking, volunteering with children, and many other extra-curricular activities in and around Kandy.