Making the Argument for Sanskrit

George Hart glhart at BERKELEY.EDU
Wed Jan 3 19:41:20 UTC 2007

I would like to second what Patrick says.  In my experience at  
Berkeley, Sanskrit is an integral and essential part of our South  
Asia program -- but it is only one of many South Asian languages we  
teach (including Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali, and soon, I  
hope, Telugu).  If we argued for a department of Sanskrit and Indian  
Studies or something of the sort, the administration would not pay us  
any heed at all.  After all, while the importance of Latin for the  
study of the West is indisputable, we do not find departments of  
Latin and European Studies anywhere.  I would add to Patrick's  
observation that it is important to involve local South Asian  
communities in our programs.  At Berkeley, we have raised money from  
the Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, and Punjabi communities for our  
programs.  I did approach some members of the community with the hope  
that they would raise money for Sanskrit, but they demurred because  
we do not adhere to their Hindu(tva) tenets.  In reading over the  
suggestions on this list, I find a sort of nostalgia -- for the time  
when Sanskrit and South Asian Studies were synonymous.  Much fine  
work was done then, but times have changed, and at most institutions  
Sanskrit will only be supported as part of a broader South Asian  
Program, including modern South Asia and modern languages.  It's  
worth remarking that about 1.5 billion people live in South Asia --  
more than Europe, North and South America combined.  It is easier to  
argue with deans for Hindi/Urdu, the third most widely spoken  
language in the world, than it is for Sanskrit, whom 500 people  
claimed to speak in the last census.  But it is possible (and  
necessary) to make a compelling case for Sanskrit as part of a  
broader program.  George Hart

On Jan 3, 2007, at 7:49 AM, Patrick Olivelle wrote:

> 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 does.
> Best,
> 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
>> framework.
>> 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).
>> From:
>> 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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