[INDOLOGY] Against the petition against Prof. Pollock

Tyler Williams tylerwwilliams at gmail.com
Sun Feb 28 19:33:36 UTC 2016

Thank you, Dominik, for bringing this to everyone's attention.  As you
correctly point out, such misunderstandings, whether willful or sincere,
have long-lasting consequences for the relationships between scholars
working on Indic material and for the potential to collaborate and move
scholarship forward.

Unfortunately, the effort to deliberately misread Pollock's and other's
statements is appearing in several places these days, including the
right-wing #Swarajya blog
in which R. Jagannathan, quoting Malhotra and without actually having read
Pollock, suggests that Pollock is part of a Christian evangelical movement.
As ludicrous as the suggestion sounds to those of us who have read Pollock
(or worked directly with him), to those unfamiliar with Pollock's work it
might seem plausible.

As others have stated more eloquently than I can, this is indeed part of a
larger attack on scholarship being pursued by academics in India and abroad
who are seen as threats to a narrowly-conceived Hindutva ideological
program.  As R. Jagannathan demonstrates, the targets of attacks like those
of Malhotra and Ramasubramanian are not just 'foreign' scholars like
Pollock, but also Indian scholars like D.D. Kosambi who, despite making
huge contributions to the field, occupy ideological positions that the
Hindutva right finds unacceptable.  Thus what a non-Indian like Pollock
writes is 'colonialism', and what an Indian like Kosambi writes is

On that note, scholars outside of India, both Indian and non-Indian, who
have signed positions in support of academic freedom in JNU and across
India have been receiving emails from organizations purporting to represent
Indian nationalist and diasporic interests warning them that signing such
positions could endanger the scholar's ability to do research in India in
the future.  Thus the joint nature of the attacks on 'foreign' and
'indigenous' scholars becomes clear.

If any joint effort is to be made to help clear up the confusion and
maintain good working relationships between Indian and non-Indian scholars,
then I would be happy to contribute.  As a former student and teacher at
JNU (and simply as an academic), I have been heartened to see the
tremendous outpouring of support by scholars around the world for the right
to free speech and debate there (and across India).


Tyler Williams
Assistant Professor
University of Chicago

On Sat, Feb 27, 2016 at 9:52 AM, Dominik Wujastyk <wujastyk at gmail.com>

> I discovered yesterday that there exists a petition
> <https://www.change.org/p/mr-n-r-narayana-murthy-and-mr-rohan-narayan-murty-removal-of-prof-sheldon-pollock-as-mentor-and-chief-editor-of-murty-classical-library>
> launched by Prof. K. Ramasubramanian that asks for Prof. Sheldon Pollock to
> be removed from his editorial leadership role with the Murty Library.
> The argument against Pollock is based on the idea that, "he has deep
> antipathy towards many of the ideals and values cherished and practiced in
> our civilization." The most prominent evidence given to support this
> assertion is a quotation from a 2012 lecture that Prof. Pollock gave at the
> South Asia Institute in Heidelberg, titled, "What is South Asian Knowledge
> Good For?"  Prof. Ramasubramanian states that Prof. Pollock "echoes the
> views of Macaulay and Max Weber that the shastras generated in India serve
> no contemporary purpose except for the study of how Indians express
> themselves."  Unfortunately, Prof. Ramasubramanian has not correctly
> understood these passages in Prof. Pollock's paper, nor the meaning of the
> 2012 lecture as a whole.
> Prof. Pollock cites Macaulay and Weber as पूर्वपक्ष positions to his own,
> opposite view.  Prof. Pollock presents Macaulay and Weber as examples of
> the worst kind of misunderstanding of Indian wisdom.  He does this in order
> to build his own argument that there is a deeper knowledge in India than
> Macaualy or Weber realized, the knowledge that is the "South Asian
> Knowledge" of his title.  This is the knowledge of the Indian शास्त्राणि,
> the Indian knowledge systems that Prof. Pollock is defending.
> Prof. Ramasubramanian then cites a passage in which Prof. Pollock says,
> Are there any decision makers, as they refer to themselves, at
> universities and foundations who would not agree that, in the cognitive
> sweepstakes of human history, Western knowledge has won and South Asian
> knowledge has lost?  ...That, accordingly, the South Asian knowledge South
> Asians themselves have produced can no longer be held to have any
> significant consequences for the future of the human species?
> In this passage, Prof. Pollock is *criticising* the administrators of
> western universities who do not give proper recognition and value to Indian
> knowledge systems, and only view India as a place to make money or to make
> practical applications of knowledge systems of the West.  Again, this is
> the पूर्वपक्ष.  Prof. Pollock's central argument is that the special,
> unique knowledge systems developed in India, mainly recorded in Sanskrit,
> are of great value, and that this fact is not recognized by "universities
> and foundations" who, like Macauley and Weber, think that Indian knowledge
> systems have been superseded by Western ones.   Prof. Pollock's point of
> view is that the शास्त्राणि , representing South Asian Knowledge, are
> precious, worth studying, and still have much to offer modern cultural
> life.  On pages six and seven of his lecture, he gives the examples of
> व्याकरण and the theory of रस as forms of knowledge that were developed to a
> uniquely high degree in early India, and that still have the power to
> enrich thought today.  On the subsequent pages, he begins to make the even
> more difficult argument for finding modern value in even more
> internally-oriented Indian sciences such as मीमांसा, अलङ्कार  and
> नाट्यशास्त्र.
> The larger point of Prof. Pollock's article is that the institutions of
> higher education in America and elsewhere have found it difficult over the
> last fifty years or more to develop institutional structures to support the
> study of *Indian* knowledge systems, and that the South Asia Institute in
> Heidelberg is a model of success in allowing those who develop knowledge *about
> *India to work in harmony alongside those who deepen their appreciation
> of the knowledge that was developed *by *India.
> It would be possible to make similar arguments for the other evidence
> referred to by Prof. Ramasubramanian, e.g., Prof. Pollock's 1985 paper on
> the character and importance of शास्त्राणि, of South Asian knowledge
> systems.  In that paper, Prof. Pollock says that, "Classical Indian
> civilization, however, offers what may be the most exquisite expression of
> the centrality of rule-governance in human behavior" and that śāstra is "a
> monumental, in some cases unparalleled, intellectual accomplishment in its
> own right."  One could discuss this paper further.  But to cite it as an
> example of a criticism of India is the opposite of the truth.
> It is regrettable that Prof. Ramasubramanian has misunderstood Prof.
> Pollock's views by 180 degrees.  Prof. Pollock is a champion for the same
> values of Indian culture as Prof. Ramasubramanian.  That is why Prof.
> Pollock devised and brought into being the Murty Classical Library.
> Many people have signed Prof. Ramasubramanian's petition, presumably
> without having read Prof. Pollock's work for themselves, or having failed
> to undestand it.  The damage done by this misunderstanding is likely to
> last a long time, and hamper the efforts of Prof. Pollock and others who
> seek to bring the glory and subtlety of ancient Indian knowledge to the
> attention of the modern world.
> --
> Professor Dominik Wujastyk* <http://ualberta.Academia.edu/DominikWujastyk>
> Singhmar Chair in Classical Indian Society and Polity
> Department of History and Classics
> <http://historyandclassics.ualberta.ca/>
> University of Alberta, Canada
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