Making the Argument for Sanskrit

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at CHELLO.NO
Mon Jan 15 20:42:12 UTC 2007

Dominik Wujatyk wrote:
> 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 precisely my point, Dominik. Exactly how this is done, is another
matter. We have to remember that our intended audience (in the end,
politicians who decide university funding) has lost all traces of "Geist"
(at least in my part of the world), if I may be cruel. I don't have much
faith in the DWM argument (the average Scandinavian politician wouldn't know
who they were anyway), a carefully reasoned argument based on the concept of
"instrumental knowledge" seems more promising to me. My own attitude towards
knowledge is primarily philosophical, not instrumental, but I know I won't
go far with that. However, we are not the only ones with this problem - the
university of Oslo practically closed down Italian because there were too
few students. This shows how far the "market thinkers" are willing to go.
The humanities and the social sciences in this country have become a
meat-grinder for people who would otherwise end up in the unemployment

Lars Martin 

From: Lars Martin Fosse 
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114, 
0674 Oslo - Norway 
Phone: +47 22 32 12 19 Fax:  +47 850 21 250 
Mobile phone: +47 90 91 91 45 
E-mail: lmfosse at


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Indology [mailto:INDOLOGY at] On Behalf Of 
> Dominik Wujastyk
> Sent: Monday, January 15, 2007 9:26 PM
> Subject: Re: Making the Argument for Sanskrit
> 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.
> Dominik
> 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

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