Sunday, August 21, 2011

Should we just write in English?

English native speakers have the undoubtful advantage of having the chance to write in their own language while writing in a sort of lingua franca, understood by the whole Academia. But what about the rest of us?

  • Should we just write in English —since, after all, we address a public which is supposed to read English well enough?
  • Should we write in English while addressing an academic public and in our mother-tongue while addressing a more general one, one which could still need introductory works on, e.g., the Bhagavadgītā or the Yoga system?
  • Should we write in English our essays and in our mother-tongue our translations? (This seems to be the policy adopted in Vienna by E. Steinkellner, H. Krasser, their students and colleagues.)

In favour of the idea of writing in English speak many compelling reasons, one for all is the wider accessability of essays written in English. However, against it, I can find at least two interesting points:
  1. 1. It is hardly the case that one's English is good enough to master all nuances of the English language. Translating in English, hence, entails translating in a less-refined way.
  2. 2. We all work on Indian topics, because (among other things) we are convinced of the importance of keeping alive the lore of Indian thought, safeguarding its différence within the process of homologation of thought. Doing it through a single medium —does not this entail a contradiction?

Which languages do readers use while blogging/writing/translating? Which different readerships do you address? And, if you are an English Native Speaker, how do you feel about "our" use of English?

You might read here and here some interesting comments on translating from Sanskrit into English (especially if one has not English as one's native tongue).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Applied (Indian) Philosophy

Out of the last weeks' news: 1. debate about the Danish terrorist Breivik: how could one defend one's society from hatred? 2. the number of people depending on pain-killers increases and pain-killers alone are often not enough to sedate pain. They would also need a psychological assistance.
From one point of view, it is way to easy to see that an increase in the general level of self-awareness, critical thought and intellectual resources in the society would be badly needed. As explained in the Kāmasūtra, even those who cannot read benefit of the general level of culture, because society as a whole so to say oozes with śāstra.
I am absolutely in favour of financing pharmaceutical research or computer sciences, but I wonder whether humanistic studies are really that useless. After all, does not society itself benefit of a general increase in its culture? Of course, scientific culture should also increase. But are we really sure that only the latter deserves funding? It should also be taken into account that humanistic studies are in comparison much cheaper. One does not needs labs, rats, expensive materials or the like. Why do not governments feel it is a good investment to have more people studying, e.g., Indian philosophy and resisting racism, or studying the Western philosophical bases of psychoanalysis and understanding how much of pain is culturally dependent?
But this leads me to a further question: how much do humanities scholars contribute to the misunderstanding of their disciplines as useless? Should we just stop caring about footnotes and bibliography and focus on the essential? Or is careful reading itself essential?

What do readers think? And what do they actively do?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why using poetry to convey a theological or philosophical content?

There seem to be three ways a thinker could use (also) poetry:

  1. 1. just as a formal device (e.g., for mnemotechnical purposes): Dharmakīrti, Kumārila, Bhartṛhari…
  2. 2. as a way to convey in a dramatic way a philosophical content: Jayanta's Āgamaḍambara, Utpaladeva's stotras… In this case, the full-fledged form of one's reasoning will still be found in one's philosophical works.
  3. 3. insofar as poetry and narrative allow one to integrate time within one discourse, to go beyond the logic of the principle of non contradiction, etc., : Vedānta Deśika, many Yogācāra and Mahāyāna Sūtras. In this case, one's narrative texts will be closer to one's ultimate purpose.

Do readers see further cases?

On Philosophy and Poetry and o Vedānta Deśika, see (among many other posts), here (please note also Vidya's comment). On Jayanta, see here. On Utpaladeva, see here. On a Mahāyāna Sūtra and its philosophical significance, see here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Coffee Break Conference — 2

As last year, we organized a new edition of the Coffee Break Conference. The title means that the whole conference aims to be relaxed and stimulating, like the discussions taking place during the coffee breaks (and never during the actual conferences).
For further details on the concept, please check our web-site,

The Study of South Asia: between Antiquity and Modernity: Parallels and Comparisons.

The Coffee Break Conference — 2

(8-10 September 2011)

Where: Institute of Oriental Studies, Caserma Sani, via Principe Amedeo 182b (Underground “Vittorio"), Rome


1.1 Language as a Way of Salvation

Thursday the 8th, 8.30-13 sine tempore

chair: Marco Ferrante

• 8.30-8.35, Camillo Formigatti and Elena Mucciarelli, General Introduction.

• 8.35-8.40, Marco Ferrante, Introduction to the Panel.

• 8.40-9.20, Paolo Visigalli (University of Cambridge), How can I get a cow just by saying “cow"? an exploration into the power of language in ancient India.

• 9.20-10, Enrico Giulia, The Japanese Polyglots of Salvation: Miwa-ryū and its multilinguistic approach.

• 10-10.40, Marco Ferrante, Language, Salvation and their Relation: the soteriological goal according to the ancient Indian grammarians.

• 10.40-11, coffee break

• 11-11.40, Marco Lauri, Three ways to happiness. Arabic language and its paths to salvation.

• 11.40-12.20, Priya Darshini Swamy (University of Leiden), One Language is Not Enough: The Use of Sanskrit Among Hindus in Amsterdam.

• 12.20-13, Roberta Amato (Archivio di Stato di Venezia), Language as a sign of the times in Timor-Leste. The perception of the Portuguese language as salvation between politics and religious belief.

13-14.15: Lunch

1.2 The Development Question in South Asia: Policies and Processes

Thursday the 8th pomeriggio 14.15-17.20

chair: Matilde Adduci

• 14.15-14.20, Paola Cagna, Introduction to the Panel.

• 14.20-15, Daniela Bevilacqua, Divine Enterprise, the intime relationship between new Hindu religious organisations, Hindu nationalism and power élites.

• 15-15.40, Paola Cagna, The Self-Help groups movement between poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment: a case study from South India.

• 15.40-16, coffee break

• 16-16.40, Valentina Prosperi, Casual migrant workers in the construction industry in India. Gender dimension.

• 16.40-17.20, Simona Lanzoni, Women, empowerment and microcredit.

17.20-17.30: coffee break

1.3 Round-table on History and Historiography

Universalist theories in past, present and research. Or: How autopoietic was primitive communism?

Thursday the 8th, 17.30-19.30

chair: Mark Schneider (University of Hamburg)


2.1 “Indigenous" grammars

Friday the 9th 8.30-13

chair: Giovanni Ciotti (University of Cambridge)

• 8.30-8.35, Giovanni Ciotti Introduction to the Panel.

• 8.35-9.25, Philomen Probert (University of Oxford), Underlying forms and derivations in ancient Greek theory of prosody.

• 9.20-10.15, Maria Piera Candotti (University of Lausanne) and Tiziana Pontillo (University of Cagliari), Linguistic layers and their role in structuring Pāṇini's grammar.

• 10.15-10.30, coffee break

• 10.30-11.20, Christian Pallone, Japanese grammatical traditions.

• 11.20-12.10, Stefano Seminara (Pontificio Istituto Biblico, Rome), Sumerian grammatical traditions.

• 12.10-13, Carlo Vessella, Greek grammatical traditions.

13-14.15: Lunch

• 14.15-15, Artemij Keidan, The Syntax of the simple sentence.

2.2 Round table on Borrowing representational devices across language speculation

What happens when representational devices developed by a tradition to describe a language A are employed to describe a language B?

Friday the 9th 15-17

chair: Giovanni Ciotti

• 15-15.30, Introductory speech, Luca Alfieri, A Contribution to the History of the Concept of Root.

• 15.30-17, Open Discussion

17-17.15, coffee break

2.3 Narratives in South Asian philosophical texts

Friday the 9th 17.15-19.30

chair: Daniele Cuneo

• 17.15-17.20, Daniele Cuneo, Introduction to the Panel.

• 17.20-18.10, Robert Leach (University of Edinburgh), Textual Deference: Philosophy in the Spandapradīpikā.

• 18.10-19, Kate Wharton (Research Assistant to the Revd Canon Guy Wilkinson), The Teacher as Mother of Midwife? A Comparison of Brahmanical and Socratic Methods of Education.

• 19-19.30, Open Discussion


3.1 The relevance of texts for the study of art

Saturday the 10th 8.30-11.20 chair: Elisa Ganser

• 8.30-8.35, Elisa Ganser, Introduction to the Panel.

• 8.35-9.25, Ciro Lo Muzio, Written sources versus material record: some views on a thorny issue.

• 9.25-10.15, Felix Otter (University of Heidelberg), Vastuvidyā between text and practice: Some considerations.

• 10.15-10.30, coffee break

• 10.30-11.20, Anna Tosato (University of Mysore), The Use of Traditional Texts in the Interpretation of Dance Sculptures (Nāṭyaśāstra-s, Śilpaśāstra-s and Vāstusūtra Upaniṣad).

11.20-11.35, coffee break

3.2 Round Table on Present Results and Further Goals

Saturday the 10th, 11.35-12.35

chair: Elena Mucciarelli and Cristina Bignami

For further info, abstracts and additional bibliography:

If you feel the project appealing, please consider donating here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Nothing is self-evident

There are some stylistic devices I just cannot stand. One of them is to label something as "self-evident" or obvious. If something is that easy to demonstrate, take the time to do it —it will not take long. If you do not do it, it is likely that you just would not know how, and in this case stating that no demonstration is needed does not strengthen your argument. Unless, of course, one aims at creating an interesting delusion rather than convincing someone in an epistemologically sound way.
Further, if one is genuinely convinced that a given statement is self-evident, she might herself be under a similar delusion. Everyone used to believe that the earth was flat and that this was "self-evident". To assume an unreflected statement as self-evident is not appealing to common sense, it is just using a faulty method.
It all becomes even more ironical if what is said to be obvious is, in fact, a controversial issue!

Do readers have words which just drive them crazy?

On the risks of denying a methodology, see here.
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