Making the Argument for Sanskrit

JN jneuss at ARCOR.DE
Mon Jan 15 20:11:34 UTC 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.
I agree, that it is necessary to make this difference. But for our  
Institute, which traditionally had and still retains a strong focus on  
Sanskrit the numbers are much better. I think the present beginners course  
for Sanskrit has about 30 or more students regularly attending. Given the  
fact, that this is practically unbearable for reasonable instruction, we  
even would need an additional Sanskrit teacher, which we can only dream  
of. The question how many of these students will take an examination oor  
even a degree is however another one. We have seen and still see many  
students giving up for a variety of reasons. Economic problems were  
certainly a factor of increasing importance during the last years.

> 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.

We have witnessed something similar here in Berlin. While we as  
"classicists" would have been happy to be unite with the "modernist"  
department of the Humboldt University they did not like us to join them.  
One reason may have been that in the process a certain cut-down in posts  
was feared, but I also know, that one particular person wanted to avoid  
being constantly confronted with his own ignorance of Sanskrit. I find  
this pretty fatal, as I consider a certain amount of knowledge of Sanskrit  
and Sanskrit literature indispensable for the understanding of medieaval  
or modern India.

  (E.g.: my last student did Sanskrit and Pali very well and then
> also went to India to study some Hindi.
That's very clever if one has the capability for it and, of course, if one  
can economically afford to do so.
I consider Hindi (or any other modern Indian language, depending on the  
field/region one is interested in) to be an indipensable for any field  

> On the other hand, an attempt to teach
> Hindi students at least some Sanskrit failed, I believe partly for
> bureaucratic reasons).
bureaucratic reasons??? Anyway, Hindi students should be encouraged to  
learn (at least some) Sanskrit as it helps much, not only with regard to  
Hindi vocabulary.

> This imbalance is unfortunate, because it creates the
> impression that ancient India may be dispensed with.
This impression can only grow in people ignorant of the facts.

> We seem to need more
> integration without sacrificing the methods and approaches of classical
> studies.

Yes, certainly. As elsewhere we need tobuilt networks. As I said, we would  
have been happy to unite with the "moddernist" department of the HU and  
the anthropological department of our own university to form an integrated  
department of South Asian Studies. That would have been really attractive  
for students and promising regarding profound and relevant research.


Jürgen Neuß, M.A.

Freie Universität Berlin
Institut für Indische Philologie und Kunstgeschichte
Königin-Luise-Str. 34 a
D-14195 Berlin

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