IFSA/Alliance The City, the River, the Sacred

Varanasi, India
Fall, Spring
Language of Instruction

English, Hindi, Urdu

Language Prerequisite


Finance Options
Scholarships, grants, financial aid, monthly payment plan, credit card payments and more!
Application Deadlines:
  • Fall: April 15
  • Spring: November 1
Min. GPA for Consideration:
Typical Credit Load:

About The City, the River, the Sacred

Experience how the influx of religious pilgrims to the sacred Ganges River has given rise to unique urban and environmental issues over the centuries. Through studying Hindi or Urdu language, living with a host family, and learning an Indian art form or artisan trade, you will be fully immersed in Varanasi's daily life!

The City, the River, the Sacred Benefits

  • Enjoy our Varanasi program center’s prime location to witness year-round religious rituals on the nearby banks of the sacred Ganges River
  • Learn traditional Indian art forms or yoga theory straight from master teachers in the local community through the Culture in Practice field component
  • Boost your resume with a Directed Research project focused on a relevant topic of interest within the social sciences and humanities
  • Make lasting connections in your host community by living with Indian families and learning Indian customs that might be difficult to experience in any other way
  • Improve your critical language skills locally and begin to communicate with nearly 500 million Hindi speakers globally
  • Experience a completely different side of India by visiting historically and culturally significant places in West Bengal and the Himalayas

The IFSA-Butler Difference

Your success is our success! Whatever your goals, our approach is carefully designed to help you achieve them.
You will experience challenging, rewarding coursework in the highest quality classes, while receiving the academic support you need.
More than a tourist in a foreign country, you will engage in the community, build competencies, and develop yourself as a citizen of the world.
Our programs and practices reflect the value we place on diverse perspectives and are designed to support a variety of learners.
Round out your classroom experience with hands-on opportunities like internships, directed research, student teaching, community-based learning or volunteering, and cultural excursions.
You will have academic and personal mentors to assist with program choice, application, travel, cultural acclimation, language acquisition, class registration, academic issues, health and safety, and everything in between.

Academics at The City, the River, the Sacred

The City, the River, the Sacred program challenges you to examine the urban realities and geography that define Varanasi and place it in a greater context of national and global currents. This 15-credit semester is comprised of a core course and field component, plus Hindi or Urdu language and 2 electives. Students choose from three Culture in Practice field component options: music and dance, yoga and yoga theory, or artisanal apprenticeship, which take learning outside of the classroom and into local communities.

REQUIRED COURSES (3 U.S. semester credit hours each):
  • Varanasi: City of Confluence: This interdisciplinary core course explores the complex intersections of the city, the river, and the sacred that both define Varanasi and place it in the greater context of national and global environmental, urban, and religious currents. Various local field visits are also incorporated into this course.
  • Beginning Hindi or Beginning Urdu: Fundamentals of conversation and written Hindi or Urdu for beginning students. Intermediate and advanced levels will be taught through individual tutorials, such as Intermediate Hindi.
  • Culture in Practice (Music & Dance; Yoga & Yoga Theory; Artisanal Apprenticeship): This field-based component provides the rare opportunity for students to go into the local community and study under master teachers known as gurus. Students choose from three options: music and dance, yoga and yoga theory, or artisanal apprenticeship and spend the semester examining the history and theories behind them as well as learning the skill or trade first-hand.
*Students may select Directed Research as an alternative to the Culture in Practice field component.

ELECTIVE COURSES (3 U.S. semester credit hours each):
Not all electives may be offered in a given semester depending on enrollment and faculty availability.
  • Studies in Gender: This course introduces students to salient discourses and local practices in Indian society from a gender perspective. Through a socio-cultural framework, students explore the diversity of social practices and complexities of gender relations in different social groups. The course highlights key structural issues and marginalization of women in the economic, legal and cultural areas. It also focuses on counter responses in the form of activism and social movements. Case studies from diverse areas supplement the conceptual analysis.
  • Peace and Conflict Studies: Gandhi and Beyond: Peace and conflict studies have taken on an important role in South Asia studies in the last decades of 20th century. This course analyzes the links between conflicts, security and development in the theoretical framework keeping special focus on the Indian experience against the wider context of South Asia. Selected lectures also focus on Varanasi, a representative site of contestation and cooperation for inter-civilizational dialogue and communal peace.
  • Living Religious Traditions in India: This course aims to expose students to the religious diversity of India and enhance their understanding of the diverse and composite character of Indian culture and its people. The course focuses on the study of the history, texts, beliefs, and practices pertaining to the main religious traditions of India (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, and Sikhism), while also exploring the socio-political implication of religious beliefs and customs. Students develop an academic understanding of the festivals and rituals that may be observed during a semester in Varanasi.
  • Exploring Community & Culture in a Global Context: In addition to required and elective courses, Alliance students may participate in an exciting online course with a global cohort from IFSA-Butler locations around the world. Enrolling in this course brings your course load to, or above, 18 U.S. semester credit hours and requires approval from your study abroad advisor. Through a creative online format, this course facilitates active engagement with your host community, exploration of cultural identity and examination of diversity in the context of political, economic and sociocultural structures. Students cover topics such as intercultural communication skills, intercultural learning theories, tools for intercultural analysis and the development of personal strategies for engaging with differences of any kind following the study abroad experience. This course is ideal for students who seek transferable skills and specific competencies for successful work in the global marketplace. The asynchronous course format allows you to take part in online discussions, post responses, review peer contributions, submit your assignments, read materials and watch instructor videos at the time of day (or night) that best suits your personal schedule.
Special Curriculum Options
CULTURE IN PRACTICE The Culture in Practice required component provides students with the rare opportunity to study under master teachers in the local community. Students spend a third of their time in a classroom setting with their peers. Weekly lectures provide the academic framework in which students learn about the theory and history of their Culture in Practice choice. The remaining two-thirds of the class are spent in practice, focusing on a specific aspect of the category chosen. Here, students study their respective art or discipline first-hand through one-on-one or small group lessons with their teachers. Regular assessments are conducted jointly by the professor and the teacher throughout the semester.
  • MUSIC AND DANCE: Varanasi boasts a longstanding tradition of music that is still vibrant in the city today. Despite the widespread popularity of Bollywood, Indian classical music has continued to play a prominent role in the socio-cultural life of the city. The active performing arts community in Varanasi has a strong legacy in classical Indian music, and was home to legendary figures like Pandit Shanto Prasad (tabla) and Pandit Ravi Shankar (sitar). Music students are introduced to North Indian classical music and dance through the Indian method of learning. Lectures for music and dance students are led by scholars of Indian performing arts, providing a historical and theoretical foundation for the student's experience. Students may choose from instruments such as tabla or sitar, Khyal classical singing, or Kathak dance.
  • YOGA AND YOGA THEORY: The Hindu spiritual destination, Varanasi is home to hundreds of shrines and temples and remains the center for Hindu enlightenment, yoga, and learning. An integral part of Hinduism, yoga has been practiced in India for centuries as a way of freeing the mind, body, and spirit. For these reasons Varanasi provides yoga students with a wealth of context and opportunities for profound experiential learning. Students have classroom lectures with their Yoga professor two times per week to study both the religious and theoretical foundations of Yoga. Students then meet regularly with their teacher to practice Yoga.
  • ARTISANAL APPRENTICESHIP: Varanasi, long known as a center for silk production, has attracted many of the world's finest luxury brands to its doorstep. This apprenticeship provides an opportunity to study local crafts and trades of significant importance to the local economy in Varanasi. During weekly courses students learn about the history and importance of trades, such as silk weaving and ceramics, and venture into artisan communities throughout the city accompanied by a professor. In private classes with teachers, students enjoy hands on learning using looms and pottery wheels to better understand the level of skill and artistry in existence in Varanasi today.
Experiential Learning
Students may select Directed Research as an alternative to the Culture in Practice field component. Pre-approval is required prior to November 15 (for spring semester) and May 1 (for fall semester). Contact your Program Advisor for more information about this option. Students who choose to pursue directed research as their field component are paired with a faculty member appropriate to their academic area of interest, such as performing arts, religious or cultural studies, tribal, environmental or women's issues, or text-based historical research, and are expected to produce a formal research paper. Research students have regular meetings with faculty guides in their subject area to discuss the formation and execution of their research plans. All directed research projects are subject to the interest and availability of faculty and feasibility in the program location.
Faculty are drawn from universities and other institutions in Varanasi, as well as its renowned artistic and artisanal communities.

Dr. Sanjay (Varanasi: City of Confluence)
Prof. Swarnali De (Studies in Gender)
Dr. Binda Paranjape (Living Religious Traditions in India)
Dr. Manoj Mishra (Peace and Conflict Studies: The Indian Experience)
Prof. Binit Mishra (Beginning Hindi, Intermediate Hindi)
Dr. Salman Raghib (Beginning Urdu)
Dr. Yogesh Kumar Bhatt and Mrs. Geeta Yogesh Bhatt (Culture in Practice:Yoga and Yoga Theory)
After you return to the U.S., IFSA/Alliance will send a Butler University transcript to your home university and to your permanent address. The transcript reflects the courses taken, credits attempted, and grades earned during your term abroad. This service is included in your study abroad program at no additional cost
Subjects offered at The City, the River, the Sacred
Anthropology Art History Asian Studies Cultural Studies Dance English Literature Environmental Science/Studies Fashion Design Hindi Human Rights Music Studies Philosophy Religious Studies Sociology Textiles & Apparel Urban Studies Women and Gender Studies

Housing & Meals

Housing Type
Host Family
Most meals included
Students will take most meals in their homes and at the program center, though there may be days when students will be required to eat out on their own.

The IFSA-Butler Team

IFSA-Butler has a dedicated team and staff who are here to help every student prepare and be ready to achieve their goals at every step of the way.

Program Advisor

Finance Advisor

Resident Director

Lara Azzola's headshot

Lara Azzola

Resident Director, Varanasi

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Academic Affairs Director

Dates and Fees

Spring 2018

Program start date
January 15, 2018
Program end date
May 6, 2018
Non-refundable Program Deposit
Estimated Personal Costs
Total Estimated Personal Costs

Fall 2018

Program start date
August 27, 2018
Program end date
December 15, 2018
Non-refundable Program Deposit
Total Program Fee
Estimated Personal Costs
Start-up Costs
Independent Travel
Total Estimated Personal Costs