Making the Argument for Sanskrit

Chris Haskett chrishaskett at YAHOO.COM
Mon Jan 15 21:22:10 UTC 2007

  Following some of the comments from earlier today, I ask you to consider a somewhat profane idea from a naïve upstart--Shaw's treatment of the 'fuddy-duddies'  points out a point that I don't think we've taken explicit note of yet:
    Sanskrit remains, for most people, something distant, exotic, or mystic.  How many times has each of us had to explain to an otherwise well-educated acquaintance that it was never written onto dunes, for example?  That is in part the problem we are confronted with in proving Sanskrit’s importance.  However, that very fact should work in Sanskrit’s favor.  To my eyes, at least, the presence of a trained Sanskritist on the faculty of any university greatly increases its prestige and credibility.  

When I tell people I am an Indologist, I get a glazed look.  When I tell people I teach Sanskrit (and here in middle America at a state university we had 9 students, 3 undergrad, finish beginning Sanskrit last semester, this after initial enrollment reached the maximum 20) I get almost instant, and totally undeserved, awe and respect.   Many may regard Sanskrit as a pedantic oddity of the university, something they do not understand the reasons for studying, but not in the same way that they cynically look at “underwater basket-weaving” and the like.  Most people may not know much about what Sanskrit is, but they do have the sense that it is quite profound and difficult—something with real gravitas. The point is, there is a degree of respect and veneration accorded to Sanskrit in the quotidian public eye that we may have lost sight of, and that should be somehow capitalized upon.   There may be drawbacks to that approach, but I don’t think its something that should be
  Chris Haskett
PhD candidate, LCA, UW-Madison

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