[INDOLOGY] Sources on Relationship btw Oral/Literary Traditions

dermot at grevatt.force9.co.uk dermot at grevatt.force9.co.uk
Fri Nov 3 09:59:32 UTC 2017

Dear Mark,

I think your student would benefit from some clarification or problematization of the pair 
oral-literary -- especially if she understands the phrase "textual sources" as referring to the 
same things as "written texts". Her last question shows she is aware of the possibility of 
nuances and cultural differences.

In the South Asian context, orally transmitted texts can have greater prestige, and be more 
stable, than written texts. This is true of Vedic texts, and perhaps also the Pali canon. The 
technique of memorization applied to such texts is very time-consuming and laborious, so it 
depended on a body of people whose status depended on applying it. I've discussed this, 
with some reference to theories about oral and written literature, in `Svadhyaya: An Ancient 
Way of Using the Veda´, Religions of South Asia, 8.1 (2014), pp. 109130.  

Best wishes to you, and to Emma and her project.

Dermot Killingley

On 2 Nov 2017 at 17:21, Mark McLaughlin via INDOLOGY wrote:

Dear Indology mind-hive,
I have an undergraduate student who is interested in writing a paper on questions of oral and literary 
traditions. I would like to solicit your opinions on potential sources for her. Please see her message 
below for a more detailed delineation of her questioning.
Many thanks in advance!
Professor McLaughlin,
I read through a little more of the Pollock book last night to get a better feel for some questions. I think 
generally this is what I'm thinking: 
What is the difference and relationship between the oral and literary tradition? How has that 
relationship evolved with the emergence of written texts, vernacularization, and the subsequent 
privileging of textual sources by the colonial West and the Academy? Who is excluded and/or included 
by the privileging of one kind of knowledge over the other? For scholars, what kind of nuanced 
understanding of literacy should be sought or acknowledged given that "to be literate" can mean 
different things in different cultures? 
Let me know if this sounds like what I was talking about the other day! 

Mark McLaughlin
Visiting Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions
Department of Religious Studies
College of William and Mary
Williamsburg, VA

Dermot Killingley
9, Rectory Drive,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 1XT
Phone (0191) 285 8053

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