Making the Argument for Sanskrit

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UCL.AC.UK
Wed Jan 3 00:14:44 UTC 2007

The closure of Skt and Hindi undergraduate teaching at Cambridge, and of
Skt at Berlin, reminds us all of the crisis facing our field.  There are 
sub-critical but still serious threats to the subject at many other 
universties in Germany and elsewhere.

I would like to initiate here on the INDOLOGY list a conversation about 
the aims and values of Sanskrit teaching in western universities.  If we 
can jointly develop a set of plausible arguments for the value and 
importance of our field, then I will post it as a document on the INDOLOGY 
website for general information, use and reference.

I have been heartened and interested to see in The Economist's "The World
in 2007" magazine, currently on the bookstands, p.39, an article that
mentions the Cambridge closure in the following terms:

   In October 2006, for example, Cambridge University awarded India's Prime
   Minister, Manmohan Singh, an honorary doctorate.  As such things go,
   this was a fairly high-profile affair.  There was much talk of the
   university's strong historica connection with India and its plans for
   deepening that relationship.  There was less talk about the fact that,
   for the first time since the 1860s, new students are no longer able to
   take a BA in Hindi or Sanskrit.  Surely a case not so much of looking
   to the future as turning your back on the past.

If we can develop the right kind of statement about the value of classical 
Indian studies, I would be willing to explore the possibilities of 
releasing it as a press release, though I have no experience in doing 

As a start, I give here the three reasons I stated in my letter to the
Berlin authorities for supporting the study and teaching of Sanskrit.


1. Indology is a field of study that offers students a rigorous 
intellectual training that is applicable to almost any of their future 
fields of study and employment.

2. It is a field full of fascination, since it introduces a beautiful, 
profound culture that viewed the world very differently from us today. 
This experience is inherently enlarging and promotes inter-cultural 
tolerance and understanding.

3. And Indology is a field that has assumed a special relevence and
importance due to the contemporary international politics of global
conflict in Asia, and the extraordinary economic rise of China and
India. This is precisely a time where Asian studies, including Indology,
should be encouraged and developed.


I invite you to add to this list, or to change or improve the wording in 
any way you wish.

I consider argument 3 to be the weakest from the internalist point of 
view.  But the fortunes of Asian studies have often risen and fallen in 
tune with the politics of the day.  Although it may be opportunistic, I 
think it is still worth attempting to make use of the contemporary 
fascination with the rise of India as a world economic power.

Dominik Wujastyk

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list