Sunday, May 23, 2010

Areal studies: the conundrum of "Indology" or "South Asian studies"

Since many years, I am quite upset with the definition of my chief field of study as "Indology". In fact, I am not interested in whatever has been thought/done/performed/etc. in India. I am, for instance, more interested in Western philosophy than I am in Indian agriculture. "South Asian studies" does not make any significant difference, from this point of view. It is just a politically correct evolution of the older label.
The definition of "Indology"/"South Asian studies" identifies a field of study on a geographic basis. Hence, scholars in this field are supposed to be able to cover/be interested in covering whatever has to do with this area. This implies a major disadvantage: Indian linguistics, to name just one example, has to do with Indology. Hence, scholars of Chomsky, etc., are justified in ignoring it. As far as I am concerned, my concern with "Indology" started exactly because I understood that such areal definitions could be an excuse for this omission. I would like Indian philosophy to be part of philosophy tout court, to be examined in books about philosophy and not in ones about a certain area of the world (which happens to be South Asia). I would like, in sum, Indian philosophy to be dealt with from a philosophical point of view (and not just a geographic one).
I discussed my dissatisfaction about these terms many times with many people. Dagmar Wujastyk suggested that "Indology" as a label was invented in Germany, due to the alleged similarity with ancient corpora, such as the Ancient Greek or Latin one. One thought that Sanskrit literature (I intend here "whatever has been written in Sanskrit", not just belles lettres) was a not so wide extended corpora and that, hence, one could master it all. This makes sense, as a historical explanation, but does not justify the intrinsic sense of "Indology" once one has realised that what has been written in Sanskrit largely exceeds what one can possibly even see in one's life.
However, some days ago I mentioned the issue with a colleague who is not himself a scholar of Indology, Francesco Zappa. He made me reflect about the fact that states of affairs in the world are not born as belonging to "history" or "anthropology". Hence, areal studies may be well suited in order to understand the complexity of a certain phenomenon.

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