Making the Argument for Sanskrit

Patrick Olivelle jpo at UTS.CC.UTEXAS.EDU
Wed Jan 3 15:49:45 UTC 2007

I want to agree with Lars about the importance of integrating 
Sanskrit and Classical India studies into the broader institutional 
commitment to the study about South Asia. This is how we have built a 
strong program at the University of Texas at Austin. The other kinds 
of arguments for the importance of Sanskrit is what is called here 
"inside baseball"; it is preaching to the choir -- it will convince 
all of us, but not the institutional leaders who count. The question 
then is how to present Sanskrit studies as an essential and central 
part of the study about South Asia. This is not a difficult thing to 
do; and many suggestions have already been made. But infighting among 
South Asianists could be the greatest danger; and there are many 
examples of this in American institutions. When scholars of 
contemporary South Asia denigrate classical studies, or vice versa, 
we have a real problem. This is what eliminated Sanskrit from the 
University of Toronto many decades ago; and it has debilitated many 
other fine programs.

But making Sanskrit a stand-alone area of importance will be a losing 
argument. It may feel good, but it will not produce results.

And the blending of undergraduate education in South Asia into our 
programs is another essential component; many programs have suffered 
because of an exclusive focus on graduate education. We have to make 
the teaching about South Asia, not only to students who focus on the 
regions (majors in the American system) but also to the general 
student body, a significant part of the institutions undergraduate 
educational program. It difficult for the administration to ignore a 
department when it teaches over 2000 students each semester, as our 


Patrick Olivelle

At 11:22 AM +0100 1/3/07, Lars Martin Fosse wrote:
>Some years ago, I and a few other people took the initiative to creating a
>Nordic Institute in India. In connection with that, we developed a
>comprehensive argument for the importance of Indic studies in general. In my
>opinion, the importance of Sanskrit has to be argued within such a
>In our justification, we stressed
>1. The economic importance of South Asia
>2. The geopolitical importance of South Asia
>	Here, among other things, we discussed South Asia in the global
>context and regional conflict as a global concern.
>3. The cultural importance of South Asia.
>	The last point discussed South Asia as a cradle of cultures and
>South Asia as a linguistic laboratory.
>Sanskrit and Sanskritic culture is the key to understanding Hinduism, but
>also to a comprehensive understanding of Buddhism and Jainism. Understanding
>Sanskrit and the cultural patterns and conflicts that are rooted in
>Sanskritic culture is of the utmost importance for any in-depth
>understanding of India and Hinduism in general. We cannot afford to ignore
>it. In a broader political perspective, knowledge of Sanskrit therefore has
>instrumental value.
>I am afraid that aesthetic arguments are not likely to win any battles. The
>narrow-minded politicians and bureaucrats that define university policies
>today deep down think in terms of instrumentality and mass production of
>students (that, at least, is the case in Norway). Indologists need to get
>out of their ivory towers, they need to participate in public debates and
>show that Sanskritic studies have a practical aspect. Public debates on
>India and South Asia should not be left to social anthropologists and
>sociologists alone.
>Lars Martin Fosse
>(Incidentally, the Nordic Institute was realized and today is an integral
>part of the study of South Asia in Scandinavia).
> Lars Martin Fosse
>Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
>0674 Oslo - Norway
>Phone: +47 22 32 12 19 Fax:  +47 850 21 250
>Mobile phone: +47 90 91 91 45
>E-mail: lmfosse at

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