Making the Argument for Sanskrit

Whitney Cox wmcox at UCHICAGO.EDU
Wed Jan 3 21:35:34 UTC 2007

Dear friends,

I have been following today’s discussion with great 
interest: this discussion is past due among members of our 
field, and I think that there has been a good start to it 
today.  Dominik’s idea of posting a sort of “mission 
statement” on the INDOLOGY web site is a commendable one, 
and I would like to add another suggestion into the 

While it is natural to feel rancor when your livelihood is 
threatened, I don’t think that demonizing the various deans, 
chancellors, provosts etc. who work at all of our 
institutions is really productive: it is their job to look 
to the fiscal bottom line, just as it is our job to teach 
and to research.  The complaints from administrative types 
that I have most frequently encountered about the study 
(especially the linguistic study) of premodern India are 
two: low student enrollment beyond the most elementary 
level, and the lack of high-profile, income-generating 
research projects.  The caricature (and caricature it is) 
that they have of the indologist is a misanthrope who 
resents undergraduate teaching, and who works over her own 
arcane research in a vacuum from the larger intellectual 
life of the university.

Of course, this simply isn’t true.  A great many scholars of 
early India of my acquaintance are very gifted and 
successful teachers, at all levels of instruction. And some 
of the most intrinsically valuable recent work in the field 
has been the result of long-term, multiple-investigator 
projects that more closely resemble research in the natural 
and social sciences than the traditional indological 
monograph. The books and studies produced from places like 
Groningen, Halle, Chicago et cetera are very good Indology 
and present a model of research funding that is increasingly 
going to be attractive to university administrators the 
world over.

This is where my suggestion comes in. This listserve has 
proven to be an extremely effective means of communication 
and tool to foster discussion within members of our field.   
I would like to propose that we further extend this by 
having the INDOLOGY site house an archive of a.) syllabi and 
other pedagogical materials that members of the list have 
successfully used and b.) successful applications for 
research grants (or even unsuccessful applications with 
reviewers comments, if anyone would be so selfless).  

In addition to allowing us to take stock of our core 
interests and professional principles, as Dominik rightly 
suggests, this would help us to improve our practices as 
teachers and as researchers.  Many of our colleagues work in 
institutions where they are the only indologist, or one of a 
small handful, and this would be a great help for those who 
don’t have the luxury of existing courses they can adopt, or 
the direct advice of fellow workers in the field.  Speaking 
as someone at the beginning of my research career, it would 
be extremely useful to have a model of a successful 
application to the NSF/AHRC/DFG etc as a way to help 
structure my own research, and (again, this is just my 
editorializing) I would be especially interested in 
exploring the collective approach used so successfully by 
some of our colleagues.  This is a somewhat tricky subject, 
I realize (more so than syllabi) since research proposals 
are proprietary documents, but I think that it would be easy 
enough to have a password protected archive the use of which 
would be limited to approved members of the list.

Other attempts at this already exist: there is the Project 
South Asia page ( 
focusing on the area-studies field as a whole), while my 
colleague Manan Ahmed at the University of Chicago has 
proposed a more exhaustive, wiki-based collection of 
teaching materials, including images, lecture notes, etc.  
But one dedicated to our field would obviously be all the 
more useful.

Every effort needs to be made to ensure that Indology and 
its allied subjects are seen for what they are, crucial 
areas of global humanistic study.  We may do this by making 
our case in as many public fora as possible, but also by 
laboring to ensure that our work as teachers and as 
researchers are as principled and as compelling as any 
branch of knowledge.

A very happy new year to you all,


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