[INDOLOGY] question for European Indologists

Paul Gerstmayr paul.gerstmayr at googlemail.com
Fri Jun 28 10:27:31 UTC 2013

Richard is probably in a better position to talk about the historical
changes and processes, but to flesh out some of the current details (I came
up/arrived in Oxford in 2009, and finished the BA in Sanskrit last year):

- The BA in Sanskrit (with a secondary focus on Iranian languages, Pāli,
Bengali, Hindi, Prakrit, Tibetan, or another language currently being
offered by a member of staff) is three years. There are three terms per
year (8 weeks each, starting in October). After two terms (late March), one
sits three three-hour exams - "Prelims". Papers include Texts, Grammar, and
General (essay). Grammar/Texts are based on Coulson (from day 1), Lanman
(Nala story et c., in our year from week 3/4), and 3/4 books from the Gītā
(end of first and second term). Topics for General derive from tutorials
with your Sanskrit teachers and/or specialists in their respective fields
who are currently at Oxford. There are also lectures and introductions,
say, on General Indian History, The Study and Nature of Religions, Buddhist
Studies et c.

- The second part of the degree (Final Honours School, 7 terms) is based on
9 three-hour papers/examinations at the end of the 9th term/3rd year. 7 in
Sanskrit, 2 in your subsidiary language/tradition. The Sanskrit ones are:
Unprepared Translation, Essay Questions on the History of Classical Indian
Civilisation, Indian Linguistics, Historical Philology of Old Indo-Aryan,
Chosen Area Unprepared Translation, Chosen Area Essays, Special Subject (or
BA dissertation).

Again, the pool of essay questions is influenced by tutorials,
lectures/seminars, and readings during the BA. The idea is to get a good
cross-section of different traditions, genres, and themes.

For your subsidiary language/tradition, there are: X Texts and Questions on
X Language and Literature.

Only two papers (Linguistics, i.e. mainly Pāṇini; and Old-Indo Aryan) are
set texts = more or less based on a fixed syllabus.

Regarding Chosen Area and Special Subject, these can be, as far as I know,
fairly flexible and tailored to the student's interests and available
expertise (as outlined by Dominik). My fellow Sanskritist chose Buddhist
Philosophy and Āyurveda, I opted for Epic Sanskrit, History of Śaivism, and

In addition, people are encouraged to attend Richard's Pāli Summer School
or Sadānanda's Spoken Sanskrit Course.

- The same criteria apply, to a certain extent, to the Sanskritic master's
degrees (MSt in Oriental Studies, MPhil in Classical Indian Religion). The
2-year MPhil for example does have a core syllabus of set texts, but one
can choose between some of the major traditions, e.g. General Brahmanical,
Śaiva, Vaiṣṇava, Bauddha, and so forth. In the one-year MSt, one can
read/work on pretty much everything, assuming there is someone who can
guide/supervise you. This year, we had people working on
paribhāṣa-sūtras/the Ṛg-veda, History of Śaivism/Aiśa Sanskrit, and
Brahmanical/Śaiva topics, but there were also readings in Bauddha, Buddhist
Chinese (with Sanskrit/Tibetan comparison), and Bauddha Tantra texts.

Hope that helps.

Best wishes,

On 28 June 2013 08:58, Dominik Wujastyk <wujastyk at gmail.com> wrote:

> There was a big change in Sanskrit pedagogy in the 70s.  Thomas Burrow had
> taught Sanskrit from the same syllabus for for 32 years.  By "syllabus," I
> mean the printed, published Oxford schools syllabus that gave the editions
> and even page numbers of what the student would do in each term of each of
> the three years of the BA.    You could look a head and say to yourself,
> "ah, in October next year, I'll be reading page three of the Mudraraksasa."
> When Richard Gombrich became lecturer in Sanskrit, and responsible for the
> lion's share of u/g teaching, he stopped the use of Perry at Oxford.  He
> hated that book with a passion.  When I arrived in '74, Richard had already
> introduced Coulson, though it was only in photocopied typewritten sheets at
> that time.  (But the same was true of Mr Gray's famous Sanskrit course book
> at SOAS.  It was never published, so I don't know what this<http://books.google.at/books/about/First_year_Sanskrit_course.html?id=bz7DQwAACAAJ>is.)
> When Richard became professor, he began the bureaucratic Oxford process of
> changing the syllabus.  He said that if he had to teach the same pages of
> the same books for the rest of his life, as Burrow had done, he would go
> mad.  His idea was to make the u/g as śāstrika as possible, to make it more
> similar to a traditional pundit's education, but while still keeping it in
> the general mould of a European university course.  Also, because no one
> Sanskritist can master all the śāstras, he wanted the flexibility to be
> able to have guest teachers, people like David Pingree, who could give a
> course out of their special knowledge that would still count towards the
> undergraduate course credit.
> Richard got the changes through committee, and the new u/g course was born
> (after my time).  I'll leave it to others to describe it in detail if they
> wish, but it contained fixed core components such as readings from Panini,
> and the Asokan inscriptions, plus other components that were decided
> year-by-year according to who was in town or what Richard, Bimal, Alexis,
> Margaret Cone or others wanted to read.
> Richard, any comments, corrections?
> Best,
> Dominik
> Dear All,
>> On a related note, I would be interested to know to what extent
>> traditional Sanskrit grammars have been/are being taught at various
>> universities - this would include the use of Sanskrit terminology to the
>> citation and discussion of sutras. I know Oxford has a regular course on
>> Panini as part of the Sanskrit BA and that Professor Ingalls used to teach
>> a course on Panini at Harvard with some regularity. I'm also familiar with
>> Goldmans' use of Sanskrit terminology. Additional information would be of
>> great interest.
>> Many Thanks,
>> Victor D'Avella
>> PhD Candidate
>> University of Chicago
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Paul Gerstmayr
Oriental Studies - Tantric Sanskrit
Balliol College, Oxford
Clarendon - Boden/Sanskrit - Santander Graduate

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