Making the Argument for Sanskrit

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UCL.AC.UK
Mon Jan 15 20:25:51 UTC 2007

What you say, Lars, suggests to me that one has to distinguish, and win, 
the argument that a knowledge of classical India (with languages) is 
relevant (and important) for understanding modern India.

This is an argument that has been made successfully in many universities, 
especially in America, where Sanskrit has been successfully supported in 
partnership with departments of South Asian Studies, Religious Studies, 
Sociology and Anthropology.

As a classic statement of this view, one might take, e.g., Milton Singer's 
remark, "In and around Madras City, and especially in Mylapore, the author 
found India's Great Tradition of Sanskritic Hinduism still a pervasive 
force in the lives of ordinary people."  (When a Great Tradition 
Modernizes, 1972, p.xiii).

Incidentally, there are several interesting arguments made in

  Milton Singer (ed.), Introducing India in Liberal Education: Proceedings
  of a Conference Held at the University of Chicago, May 17, 18, 1957.
  University of Chicago, 1957.

Some of these essays are obsolete, others could be dusted off and restated 
for contemporary times.  It is interesting to see many of the most 
prominent scholars of India in the mid-20th century -- W. Norman Brown, 
Milton Singer, Robert Redfield, Bernard Cohn, Karl Potter, Ernest Bender, 
Walter Spink, Horace Poleman -- addressing the several of the issues we 
are addressing today, though from the point of view of creating a new 
department, not saving an existing one.


On Mon, 15 Jan 2007, Lars Martin Fosse wrote:

> We have to make a difference between classical Indology and modern South
> Asian studies. As far as Oslo is concerned, there has been an increase in
> students with an interest in modern studies, as far as I can see. The
> problem is Sanskrit as such. Sanskrit has always attracted some students,
> but never many. A good year would see 3-6 students, of whom perhaps 1-3
> would take an examination. A bad year might see no students at all. In Oslo,
> at least, the number of students - or "study points" - matters. The problem
> for Sanskrit seems to be that it is badly integrated into modern studies. (I
> would be interested to know if others here have a different experience). In
> Oslo, the "modernists" don't seem to be much interested in Ancient India,
> whereas the "classicists" have also tended to take an interest in the modern
> stuff. (E.g.: my last student did Sanskrit and Pali very well and then also
> went to India to study some Hindi. On the other hand, an attempt to teach
> Hindi students at least some Sanskrit failed, I believe partly for
> bureaucratic reasons). This imbalance is unfortunate, because it creates the
> impression that ancient India may be dispensed with. We seem to need more
> integration without sacrificing the methods and approaches of classical
> studies.
> Lars Martin Fosse

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list