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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Do you want to work as a Sanskritist? Learn Hindī!

A few weeks ago I posted an advertisement of the University of Vienna, looking for a new employee within their project on the critical edition of the Nyāyabhāṣya. The position has been advertised only very late, there was little time left to gather the papers required, plus it was Summer. Anyway, the result was: a strikingly low number of people applied. This is surprising, given that there seem to be that many bright and unemployed Sanskritists all over the world. Thus, if you want to work as a Sanskritist, you might consider moving to Vienna.
If not, this is my second-best advice:
Free yourself from your self-inflicted time boundaries. 
In the last months, the Indology mailing list has hosted far more announcements regarding positions in Modern and Contemporary South Asia than in Classical India. Why don't "we" apply? Because we figure out we are not qualified nor interested. But this is only due to the contingent fact that we were trained to think of "Indology" as a distinct field (which is not the case, in my opinion). We are, rather, interested in poetry (with Sanskrit poetry as our favourite one), or in history (with Sanskrit manuscripts, etc., being such an interesting witness), or in soteriology (with perhaps a particular predilection for some Sankrit religious works), etc. If we could focus on what really drives us, we could get rid of the time frame we have chosen and start considering it also within a different time setting. And it would be easier to find a job, then…

Are you interested in Literature? Do work also on contemporary Hindī (or Bengalī, or Urdū, etc.) novels. Are you interested in Yoga, Ayurveda, dance? Do not neglect their contemporary evolutions. Are you fascinated by languages? Sanskrit and Vedic are great, but Hindī still awaits its Pāṇini, who can make it look as crystal clear as Sanskrit. "The earlier the better" is just a wrong syllogism (if it were not, we would all have to study prehistorical art and literature only). In my field, i.e., philosophy, I can say that K.C. Bhattacharya is incredibly fascinating and intriguing and it is hard to understand why he is relatively neglected by both scholars working on Western philosophy (who are busy with Heidegger and Analytical Philosophy) and scholars working on Indian one (who do not read anything written in English nor in Sanskrit after the 18th c. at latest).

If you were to object that time is too short to start working within a later scenario, let me rephrase: Life is too short to work on something you do not like or enjoy. But is it really the case that you enjoy all works written in Sanskrit better than all works written in any other Indian language? If this is the case, and you are a "real" Indologist, please leave a comment and explain how it works!

(In case you were wondering: I studied a lot of Hindī and of contemporary Tibetan and a little bit of Bengalī and forgot most of all of them. I wrote a little bit on contemporary Indian philosophy, and I enjoy reading it.)

For my doubts about the label "Indology", see this post and this one (with many interesting comments).

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

[In case you were wondering: I studied a lot of Hindī and of contemporary Tibetan and a little bit of Bengalī and forgot most of all of them.] This is probably the problem of most of us sanskritists. I find that very few of us have a real practical command of a modern Indian language, and even those of us who can actually speak one are nowhere near to being competitive with those who have specialized in them.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Anonymous reader,

I see your point, but please consider the following ones:
1. Interestingly enough, there are not that many people specialising in Hindī etc. and having research as their primary focus (they tend to be more life-centered and to find a "normal" work).
2. Once you have learnt some Hindī,etc., it will not take too long to refresh it. And you will have the considerable advantage of methodological awareness, awareness of the historical background etc.
3. The case of Daud Ali is telling: he initially applied for a position for which he did not have the matching profile. After having met him, the university decided to change the name of the professorship because they wanted him at all costs.

Anonymous said...

[they tend to be more life-centered] This is rather touching. Yes, academic work is not very "life-centred", is it. But I'm still a bit confused. The Hindi teachers at the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge had mother-tongue fluency in the language (despite being European). It is inconceivable that these or any other universities would have hired anyone less fluent and qualified, and small though the field may be, there are certainly enough Hindi MPhils and PhDs around that they would never think of hiring someone with a second-rate command of the language. Or maybe the situation is different on the continent. (Not anonymous by design: it's अश्वमित्रः, of course.)

elisa freschi said...

Hi Aśvamitra!
I am not talking about lecturerships in Hindī, but rather about positions in "Modern South Asian history" or "South Asian Literature and Culture" (recently advertised at the Duke University, Durham NC).
(As for language-positions in continental Europe, Italy, as you might know, traditionally hires 2 people for each language, i.e., someone in charge of the literature (who must not have a mother-tongue-fluency) plus a native speaker. In Austria and in Polen, the two frequently overlap. I do not know well enough the situation in the rest of Europe.)

Anonymous said...

OK, I thought I must be missing just this kind of information. The two professors I was thinking of, Stella Sandahl and Francesca Orsini, are also philologists with training in Sanskrit (Sandahl was indeed a Sanskrit prof when I knew her), and also taught old Hindi literature. My sense of what's out there was limited to those two. I didn't know about this division of labour in European universities, but it makes good sense.

elisa freschi said...

Well Stella Sandahl seems to me a very good example, since I only thought ot her as a Sanskritist.

अश्वमित्रः said...

Her case seems different to me, since she's fully competent to teach both Sanskrit and Hindi at any level, whereas I think you are talking about sanskritists enhancing their saleability by mentioning that they are also able to do a bit of Hindi on the side.

elisa freschi said...

Maybe I chose the wrong title for the post. I did not exactly mean that, but rather: If you are interested in, say, philosophy, include contemporary philosophy within your range of research. You will be able to apply also for positions on contemporary India and your research will benefit of new inputs.

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