Making the Argument for Sanskrit : a Real Problem and Directions for a Solution

Antonio Ferreira-Jardim antonio.jardim at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jan 4 12:53:51 UTC 2007

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

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 MCMLXXXIII.

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list