Making the Argument for Sanskrit

Jan E.M. Houben j_e_m_houben at YAHOO.COM
Thu Jan 4 14:40:43 UTC 2007

Dear Colleagues,
In view of the turn the discussion of the
explosively sensitive topic of the history of
Indology is taking it is probably indeed better
to face this problem in a trans-national context
and keep it for a separate thread (and a section
in the planned Indology FAQ). 
Probably no general rule can be stated about how
to defend and promote the study of Sanskrit in
different countries and in different situations.
If Sanskrit studies are supported by a steady
flow of state subsidy the arguments are indeed to
be addressed to the university policy makers. If
universities are already habituated to attract
and use private sources a full-fledged market
oriented approach is to be adopted. 
In either case it does not seem useful to argue
for Sanskrit in isolation simply because in the
several millennia of its history it always has
been in interaction with non-sanskritic
languages, cultures and literatures. While many
may feel hesitant to adopt a "marketing" approach
for Sanskrit (and other ancient and modern
languages of the Indian subcontinent) because
this might turn out to be self-defiant (at the
end there is no direct economic advantage to be
expected from Sanskrit), a good argument in favor
of keeping Sanskrit provisions at universities
even with low student enrollment is thoroughly
economic: while oak bark is measured per kg,
cinnamon is measured per gram. In other words the
student number criteria valid for psychology or
sociology or religious studies cannot be applied
to what are "small" languages at our universities
but languages with a richer literature and/or
more speakers than many of the European languages
except English. 

--- Antonio Ferreira-Jardim
<antonio.jardim at GMAIL.COM> wrote:

> Dear colleagues,
> As interesting as a discussion about
> orientalism in the context of the
> history of western research on sanskrit may be
> - it would appear to me
> to be very tangential to the real issue at hand
> which is precisely how
> to make an effective argument for the retention
> of sanskrit teaching.
> For many Indologists, the language and practice
> of politics and
> economics does not come easily. However, I
> truly believe that in order
> to preserve (and hopefully even grow) the
> teaching of sanskrit at
> universities around the world, Indologists need
> to embrace modern
> fiscal arguments based on Markets and
> Marketing. Having worked in both
> a University bureaucratic environment and in a
> major political party
> environment, from my own experience I am
> personally very sceptical
> about the efficacy of proforma style letters to
> relevant stakeholders.
> They are often a-dime-a-dozen and from the
> perspective of
> management/politicians -  written by people
> with no familiarity with
> the situation on the ground. Unfortunately the
> saying that "all
> politics is local" is even more pertinent in
> the context of university
> administrations.
> To put it simply, university administrators and
> politicians are often
> talking at cross-purposes to humanities
> academics. The former is
> concerned about tax dollars, fiscal
> accountability, fiscal efficiency,
> product sales (in this case - students enrolled
> in classes) and
> opportunities for return to scale. The former
> is often not interested
> in the long history of sanskrit, nor its
> historical, religious,
> linguistic and social importance to many people
> across the
> Asia-pacific region.
> This is perhaps because indologists often fail
> to articulate in any
> coherent way the MARKET-VALUE of sanskrit's
> importance. On a micro
> level, nor do indologists generally seem to be
> good marketers of
> sanskrit-learning to students. Nor are
> important funding/relationship
> ties often struck with local consulates, the
> local ex-pat community,
> local religious communities of differing
> sectarian traditions. Until
> this is done effectively, I fear that sanskrit
> teaching will continue
> to decline in the West. As a side note, it is
> interesting to note the
> relative health of sanskrit teaching in the
> United States - perhaps
> because US universities and departments are so
> reliant on building
> these important local relationships, private
> endowments, heavily
> marketing to students and making the "market"
> case for sanskrit -
> rather than simply reliant on an often fickle
> budgetary allocation
> from the State.
> To this end, it would be worth establishing how
> much trade to India
> and other asian countries to whom sanskrit
> remains an important
> historico-religious language is worth for each
> particular European
> nation. India is a growth economy and
> opportunities for trade and
> business partnerships will only improve over
> time. Tying the teaching
> of sanskrit in western universities into the
> emerging Indian economy
> is a very valuable exercise in attempting to
> make a case for continued
> funding. It is not too far a link to suggest
> that understanding the
> cultural and religious traditions of India
> through her language (and
> Sanskrit remains one of the official languages
> of India) can ONLY help
> to build important financial relationships. I
> think that such a
> preliminary market-based argument is a good
> foundation to build a
> coherent and persuasive argument for continued
> funding.
> A more aggressive and enthusiastic embrace of
> marketing methods to
> entice students into taking up Sanskrit coupled
> with a more modern and
> accessible approach to teaching the language
> will also help a great
> deal towards making the case for sanskrit as a
> viable course of study
> for undergraduates. Sanskrit DOESN'T have to
> necessitate poor levels
> of enrolment. In previous years at my home
> university in Australia,
> enrolments in sanskrit outstripped those in
> Latin, Greek and Hebrew
> combined. The main reason was a really engaging
> lecturer (I won't name
> the person) who used to get out into the Indian
> and Hindu community
> and spruik sanskrit on campus, hand out flyers,
> get up in front of
> senior high school students and encourage
> students to study sanskrit
> and also address first year students in any
> discipline and explain the
> importance and excitement of learning sanskrit.
> This is obviously an
> extreme example of a highly dedicated
> individual - but perhaps we are
> heading into extreme times.
> In summary, I would really favour moving away
> from the hackneyed and
> often ineffective route of letter-writing to
> senior University
> bureaucrats in favour of:
> 1) More heavily and enthusiastically promoting
> sanskrit to relevant groups,
> 2) Forming financial and friendship bonds with
> relevant local communities,
> 3) Making the argument for sanskrit at a
> university level (in
> conjunction with local consuls, religious
> groups etc) based on market
> principles such as the growing financial
> importance of India and the
> centrality of sanskrit to her growing
> mercantile population.
> Feel free to shout these ideas down. I just
> thought a different
> perspective might be useful here.
> Kind regards,
> Antonio Ferreira-Jardim
> University of Queensland
> On 1/4/07, Walter Slaje <slaje at>
> wrote:
> > > In my view, the distortive and illusory
> claims made about the
> > > presumed history of "Orientalism" in
> general and Indology in particular are the
> > > single most corruptive factor for the
> reputation of these fields of learning.
> >
> > Bravo!
> >
> > WS
> >
> > --------------------------------
> > Prof Dr Walter Slaje
> > Hermann-Loens-Str. 1
> > D-99425 Weimar (Germany)
> > Tel/Fax: +49-(0)3643 501391
> >
> >
> > Ego ex animi mei sententia spondeo ac
> polliceor
> > me studia humanitatis impigro labore culturum
> et
> > provecturum
> > non sordidi lucri causa nec ad vanam
> captandam
> > gloriam,
> > sed quo magis veritas propagetur et lux eius,
> qua
> > salus
> > humani generis continetur, clarius effulgeat.
> > Vindobonae, die XXI. mensis Novembris
=== message truncated ===

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