Vedic Studies

Sun Nov 14 23:30:52 UTC 1993

The Southern Asian Institute at Columbia University recently
received several million dollars from the Uk-based Indian business
house, the Hinudjas, in order to establish a "Dharam Hinduja Centre
for Vedic Studies."

This has evoked mixed feelings from the existing South Asian studeies
faculty and students at Columbia who feel that not enough fundhing
is being made available for South Asian history, anthropology,
political science, economics, linguistics, philosophy, but only 
for what Orientalists traditionally consider worth studying about
India, viz. religion, mysticism, etc.

There was a meeting held recently of concerned students which I
happened to attend, and the basic view that many expressed was that
the move to establish the Centre was a fait accompli and that effort
should be made to hire respected and critical scholars and not those
who study the Vedas from a communal or orientalist standpoint. People
had no objection to the study about the Vedas (which perosnally speaking
is an understudied area) but wanted to know who were the scholars
who done serious work on the Vedas, in terms of understanding their
socio-economic context, their philosophical (as opposed to religious)
contribution in terms of epistemology, cosmology, relationship of
humans to nature and to each other, etc.

During a series of conferences on Indian philosophy organised by
the Association of Indian Progressive Study Groups (AIPSG) in
1990-1991, a number of issues were raised about the need to
invigorate modern Indian philosophy and to rescue it from the
clutches of orientalists and others who consider it synonymous
with religion, especially Hinudism. In that context, I remember
having heated discussions about why the Vedas should be treated
more as philosophical texts rather than religious texts and one
has to appreciate what problems were posed by the philosophers in
the Vedic age and whether they were solved or not. 

There was an interesting speech on Darshan and the problems of
modern Indian philosophy by Hardial Bains which I will post
in due course, but in the meantime, would appreciate if anybody
knows of serious Veda scholars whom I can then put in touch
with the South Asian studies students and faculty at Columbia
so that this multi-million dollar bonanza from the Hindujas
doesn't go down the drain or into the political vote-banks
of Congress (I) and BJP.

Posted by V. Siddharth
Columbia University

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