Saturday, April 27, 2013

Senior Lecturer in Hindu Studies — Cambridge

I received this announcement through the Indology mailing list, from Audrey Truschke. I can only add that Cambridge is an extremely stimulating environment for Sanskrit scholars (see, for instance, here).

University Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Hindu Studies
Faculty of Divinity
Applications are invited from candidates with relevant expertise in Hindu Religion, Philosophy and Culture for a University Lectureship or Senior Lectureship (Grade 9, ?37,382- ?47,314 and Grade 10 ?50,186- ?53,233) in Hindu Studies.
The successful candidate will be expected to conduct research of the highest quality, to contribute to the teaching and training of both graduate and undergraduate students, and to play a key role in the collaborative development of the field in the University.

Candidates should be able to take up the post on 1 October 2013 or 1 January 2014.  The appointment will be subject to five years? probation.
Further particulars and an application form (CHRIS/6 ) are available from the Administrative Officer in the Faculty of Divinity (tel: (01223) 763002; e-mail:, to whom applications should be
sent by 17 May 2013. Additional information on the Faculty is available at:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

PhD scholarships in Rome "La Sapienza" (Italy)

Are you looking for a PhD scholarship? If you are not an Italian citizen and will attain your MA degree before the 31st July 2013, you might apply for a scholarship in order to study in Rome, "La Sapienza" University. Details can be read in a pdf (in English) available here. The dead line is May the 10th.
"La Sapienza" is also the university where I studied during my PhD (under the tuition of Prof. Raffaele Torella). Further details on the staff (the South Asian section includes at the moment Raffaele Torella, Bruno Lo Turco, Carmela Mastrangelo (classical India), Giorgio Milanetti, Mara Matta, Mario Prayer (modern India), Ciro Lo Muzio (history of Indian art), Donatella Rossi (Tibet), apart from lecturers and people indirectly related to India, e.g. the linguist Artemij Keidan…) can be found here

Please leave a comment or write me if you have additional questions.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Jayanta's Nyāyakalikā: a new edition by Kei Kataoka

Apart from his major work, the Nyāyamañjarī, and of a lost Nyāyapallava, Jayanta dedicated to Nyāya also a short handbook, the Nyāyakalikā. This has the main advantage of being a handy and comprehensive summary of Nyāya topics, and often also of the Nyāyamañjarī itself, with which it has frequent parallels. I have used the Nyāyakalikā to make sense of difficult passages in the last chapters of the Nyāyabhāṣya (see here).

However, until now, the Nyāyakalikā has only been once edited by G. Jhā. After this usual pioneer of Nyāya study (and many other fields of Indian philosophy), the Japanese professor Hiroshi Marui has dedicated to the Nyāyakalikā two studies. Now, Kei Kataoka has finished a critical edition of the first part of the Nyāyakalikā. It is published on The Memoirs of Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, No. 163 (2013) and you can find it here.

As usual with Kei Kataoka's editions (about which, see here), this one has the additional value of two apparatuses of parallel passages, one dedicated to the parallels within the Nyāyamañjarī and the other to parallels within Nyāya in general. I especially appreciate this feature, since it collocates the text within its history (and makes sure that the edition does not only rely on stemmatics or similar criteria).

What do you put/like to read in a critical edition? Do you also value secondary witnesses?

For other posts on Kataoka's editions and methodology see, among others, here (on his edition of Nyāyamañjarī on apoha), here (on his usage of commentaries, which might seem slightly unexpected if one thinks of the importance of the apparatus of secondary witness), here (on his translation technique).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

What is at stake in the introduction of family names?

We are all aware of the problem of "family names" in India: if one looks for family names one runs the risk of having a long bibliography filled of (honorific) titles such as Dvivedi, Trivedi, Caturvedi, Miśra, Bhaṭṭa, Śāstri, Svāmi where one misses exactly the distinctive purpose of family names in the Roman State and, hence, in the West. However, using first names creates conflicts with bibliotecary and similar systems, where the standard has always been the Wester ones. Scholars focusing on other areas of the world will also confirm that they have similar problems.

On Wednesday the 10th of April, the Institute of Iranistic at the Austrian Academy of Sciences has celebrated its first ten years with a great speech by Prof. Houchang Chehabi on the introduction of family names in Iran in the 1920s. It was thought-provoking and entertaining and has shed much light on the major implications of this seemingly marginal point.
Chehabi pointed out that the introduction of family names in Iran was almost simultaneous with the abolition of all titles, in the 1920s. Until that point, one had first names, mostly of Islamic origin (although Persian names never completely disappeared they were an exception). In addition, one could be known through adjectives (such as "the tall" —I will have to skip the Persian equivalent here and in all that follows and I apologize for that), definitions related to one's profession, patronimics (as in the case of the philosopher best known in the West as Avicenna), or place of origin. Poets had noms de plume and people who had accomplished a pilgrimage also had an additional name. There were also special names for people (claiming to) descend from a prophete, for merchants, princes, or for those who could write. Additionally, the rulers might bestow honorific titles. At a certain point the latter could just be purchased. It is, hence, no wonder, that after 1921 the reformistic press started laughing at them and presented titles as remainants of the "Ancient Régime". Moreover, whoever had visited Europe had already experienced the fact that one needed a family name there.

More interestingly, however, Chehabi showed also the political side of the question: before the 1st World War, only a few countries (China, Japan, Abyssinia…and Iran) could claim themselves independent from the West. Thus, having family names was important, in order to be considered "civilised" and be, thus, able to keep one's independence. Chehabi has quoted several interesting studies on family names current at that time, explicitly pointing out the use of family names in Ancient Rome as a sign of civilisation and threateningly underlining their absence in the Arabic and other contemporary contexts.
On top of that, family names are, in fact, useful in a modern state in order to identify every citizen (for instance, for his military service).

The introduction of family names, continued Chehabi, meant that each family had to choose one. This leads to two interesting consequences:
1. one had to define what a family was (narrow family? broad family? household, including servants?). The final decision was in favour of a narrower understanding of it, so that married brothers had to choose different family names.
2. the faculty to choose led to disputes about who had the right of using a certain name (since only one family per town was allowed to have a given family name).

Long story short: Chehabi is able to make one look through a small episode while perceivinig its global significance. Chapeau!

When/in which case did you have the pleasure of perceiving the conjunction of detailed information and general significance?

On the importance of maintaining a double perspective (in-depth investigation on details and global significance of them), see this post.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Workshop on Veṅkaṭanātha's perspective on Mīmāṃsā

When: Wed-Thu, 12–13 June, 9am – 5pm
Where: Institut für Kultur- und Geistesgeschichte Asiens, Seminarraum 1
Apostelgasse 23, 1030 Wien
Organised by: Elisa Freschi, Marion Rastelli, Marcus Schmücker (IKGA)


The workshop will focus on Veṅkaṭanātha's (1269–1370) approach to Mīmāṃsā through the works he dedicated to this school, i.e., Seśvaramīmāṃsā, Mīmāṃsāpādukā and, secondarily, Adhikaraṇasārāvalī.
Veṅkaṭanātha was the foremost systematizer of the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and immensely contributed to its positioning within the Indian philosophical landscape, while still presenting his contribution as doing nothing more than explicating his predecessors' position. In particular, he chose to introduce the Mīmāṃsā within the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta, notwithstanding the fact that the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta is essentially a Vaiṣṇava school, whereas the Mīmāṃsā is usually regarded as atheistic. Veṅkaṭanātha further needed to take into account his predecessors' (chiefly Yamuna and Rāmānuja) sceptical standpoint on Mīmāṃsā.
Parallel passages dealing with selected topics in the three texts will be read and analysed, with a particular focus on Veṅkaṭanātha's innovations in his interpretation of Mīmāṃsā and on his solutions to the problems hinted at above.
The workshop will be conducted by Larry McCrea.

For further posts on Vedānta Deśika's Seśvaramīmāṃsā, see this one and this one (in Sanskrit).

Monday, April 15, 2013

Does God have Free Will? Veṅkaṭanātha's answer

Can God have free will? If He has free will, then He is above everything, including the cosmic dharma, and the Vedas, which he might have chosen to be different than they are, and this patently contradicts the Mīmāṃsā standpoint. If not, than He is not a personal God, but rather the incarnation of Order (dharma), and this patently contradicts the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta standpoint. How can Veṅkaṭanātha, the eminent Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedāntin who wrote also Mīmāṃsā works, find a way out of this impasse?

Larry McCrea will hold a lecture on this fascinating topic in June in Vienna:

Larry McCrea
Does God Have Free Will?
Hermeneutics and Theology in the work of Vedāntadeśika
When: Fr., 14. Juni, 15 Uhr
Where: Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde (ISTB), Universität Wien
Spitalgasse 2, Hof 2, Eingang 2.7, 1090 Wien
Organisation: Elisa Freschi, Marion Rastelli, Marcus Schmücker (IKGA)
Cooperation: ISTB, Universiät Wien

An abstract of the lecture can be read here.

Larry McCrea is Associate Professor of Sanskrit Studies at Cornell University. He received his Ph.D. in South Asian Languages & Civilizations in 1998 from the University of Chicago, and his BA in 1989 from Cornell University and he is among the world's major experts of the Indian scriptural hermeneutics (Mīmāṃsā), especially of its hermeneutical approach. Among his most recent book projects, The Teleology of Poetics in Medieval Kashmir, Harvard Oriental Series (Spring 2009), deals with the conceptual revolution in Sanskrit poetic theory brought about by the work of the ninth century Kashmiri Ānandavardhana. McCrea argues that the most crucial innovation Ānandavardhana introduced in the field of poetics was his application to literary analysis of a teleological approach to text interpretation imported from the discipline of Mīmāṃsā.

What do you think? Can God have free will?

For further posts on Vedānta Deśika's Seśvaramīmāṃsā, see this one and this one (in Sanskrit).


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Do you happen to be in Rome? A conference and workshop by Philipp Maas

Thursday the 11th of April is a busy day for Indologists. Apart from the Buddhist Manuscript Seminar in Cambridge, they should be able to be in Rome for a full-day with Dr. Philipp Maas. Philipp has esited the first pāda of the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra (i.e., the text formerly distinguished into Yogasūtra and Yogabhāṣya, but which probably came into being as such). He is also a talented reader of manuscript and has, among other things, written a fundamental article on the application of computer-aided stemmatics to text criticism.
On 11 am he will deliver a lecture Once again on the authorship of the Pātanjala-Yogaśāstra.
Then, at 4 pm he will lead a workshop on text criticism using as an example The classification of yogis and their spiritual progress in Pātanjala Yogaśāstra 3.51 and 2.27. The nice thing about the seminar is that he will present the collation of various manuscripts and discuss about which reading needs to be chosen.

If you manage to attend the lecture/workshop or to know Philipp Maas' work, don't forget to leave your comment here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The next Coffee Break Conference: call for ideas

We (=I plus the other members of the Coffee Break Project) will be meeting on Friday to do some brainstorming about the over-next Coffee Break Conference, to be held in Rome, 2014. For the ones among you who do not know it, a Coffee Break Conference (CBC) is an informal occasion to exchange ideas, challenge oneself and expose oneself to other approaches and methodologies, though in an atmosphere which is as relaxed as during a Coffee Break in a "normal" conference.
You can find the program of the next CBC (Turin, September 2013) and of the previous ones here.
A CBC is usually organised in panels, which never run parallel (we want to avoid the typical conference effect, where one only listens to one's own things) and which are meant to be trans-geographic (we firmly oppose the idea of areal studies) and trans-disciplinary.

Would like to participate to the organization of the 2014 CBC? Do you have an idea for a topic which needs to be discussed in a CBC-format? Just let me know, either here or by dropping me a line.

The wiki of the CBC is here.  On Coffee Break Conferences in general, see this post, this one (or many others on this blog).

Monday, April 8, 2013

Implicit assumptions: the duty to make them become explicit

Unconscious bias can only be dealt with by making it conscious, by ensuring an instantaneous assessment is backed up by evidence and not just by one’s unthinking gut.

(from Athene Donald,  Systematic Errors of Judgement)

For more on my personal crusade against implicit assumptions, see this post, this one and, more loosely connected, this one.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

varṇa: 'letter' or 'phoneme'? (Or: How to translate Sanskrit technical terms?)

How to translate Sanskrit technical terms? Do we have to keep their technical aspects or make them more readable through non technical translations?
In my opinion, the answer varies according to the target readership and the text one is translating. I remember having translated thali in a Hindi novel with 'plate' because its specificites were irrelevant. By contrast, I would have not acted this way in case I were translating a cooking manual meant for cooks.

Take, for instance the case of akṣara in Indian linguistics. I cannot understand why, after Wezler's illuminating essay Credo quia Occidentale one can still translate it with letter/lettre or any other European synonym. If one translates it with 'letter', one

a) subscribes to the Western prejudice in favour of the written form of a language (although the truth is that each language is pronounced before being written),
b) projects into a Grammatical text something it did not mean to say (several Śabdapramāṇa theorists explicitly maintain that only spoken language communicates knowledge and the few who address the problem of written language say that it can inferentially communicate something because one infers phonemes out of their written form): if one makes an author speak of "letters" a reader aware of the debate might think that he was a sustainer of the possibility of written language to communicate knowledge. Is this really the case?
c) A naïver reader might think that 'kh' is made of two akṣaras/letters.

Long story short: the meaning (artha) is —in Indian linguistics— not conveyed by 'letters'. It is conveyed by phonemes. It is a distinct achievement of Indian linguists to have understood it instead of falling in the trap their Western colleagues felt in (i.e., the one of the superiority of the written system, aptly denounced by Saussure in his Cours). I really do not want to level their achievements down to the average Western level.
Westerners should start to think more about the topic if they find sentences such as "The meaning of a linguistic expression is conveyed by the phonemes composing it'' wired. And is not this (=leading to further thinking) our purpose?

How do you translate technical terms?

The whole discussion has been triggered by Aleix Ruiz Falqués, who dedicated a thought-provoking post to it. Be sure to read also the interesting comments by Jayarava and Aleix' answers. 
UPDATE: Further interesting comments can be found here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why are there so few women blogging/commenting on Indian philosophy?

 What should or could one do to enhance the participation of women to the blogosphere, especially in the blogosphere dealing with Indian philosophy?
In case you think that the appropriate answer is "nothing", you are in good company. I myself used to think that the blogosphere is open enough to everyone and that participating to it is just everyone's personal decision, no special policies needed. Furthermore, personally I never asked for any special treatment because of being a woman. I just want to be considered a human being and not a "special case", in need of protection.

However, if one considers the issue more carefully, one must notice that the absence of women is striking. Already on this blog, it is interesting to notice that, although the main author is a woman, one needs to go back to January 2012 in order to find a comment which can be attributed to a female reader (who, very tellingly, labels herself Lajjikā). And since it is hardly believable that women are just not smart enough to write interesting things about Indian philosophy, one is forced to mourn about how much we are missing by willingly or unwillingly excluding them.

Thus, we are back to the initial question. Given that it would be quite strange to have reserved quotes for women in the blogosphere and that, personally, I would not like having the feeling that I am allowed to write in a prestigious blog only because of my gender, here is my proposal:
Try to engage with all comments written by a woman 
I know, one does not have time/energy/etc. to address all comments, but the male contributors to this and to any other blog might try to make special efforts to answer all the comments by female contributors, holding in mind that the latter might misunderstand the lack of answers as due to their gender and to the typical disregard reserved to women (usually considered to be "shallow").

What do you think? Do we have the responsibility to facilitate the access to the blogosphere of women, given that if we don't we will miss their contributions? Which other ways would you recommend?
And, if you are a woman, why do you/don't you write and comment? What helps and what does not?

On the few women blogging in the field of Indian philosophy (and related fields), see this post. On a parallel discussion (on women blogging about philosophy), see this post (in another blog).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Testimony and the requisites of the witness

What counts in testimony? The witness' beliefs or her statements? If the latter, how do we have to rethink the criteria for a valid cognition derived from testimony?

I just came across this book discussion and can't wait to have the book in my hands. If you have the time to run through it, please pause for a second on the problem of the involvement of the witness' beliefs. The author of the book (J. Lackey) concludes that in the act of testimony they are less important than her/his statements, since even an insincere speaker can communicate knowledge. This reminds me of the Navya Nyāya example of the lier who is himself unaware of the fact that he is telling the truth (i.e., he says that X because he believes that Y is the case and wants to lie, but in fact —unknown to him— X is really the case). Can his hearer claim to know that X?

I tend to think that those claiming that testimony is a kind of inference, with the witness' beliefs playing a major role as inferential probans (as, in India, with Buddhist Pramāṇavāda accounts of testimony) should answer that the hearer does not know that X (although he happens to believe that X on the basis of the lier's testimony and although X is true). However, one might suggest that it is possible to substitute "belief" with "statement" and still have a valid inference…?

Or should we just agree with the contemporary Navya Nyāya-influenced philosopher Sibajiban Bhattacharya and think that all true cognition is knowledge, even if it is not justified (i.e., if it is acquired in a way which does not stand a closer scrutiny, like in the case of the hearer's belief that X, obtained through the lier's testimony)?

Should we, thus, just focus on the witness' expertise as expressed in his/her statements, without taking into account his/her beliefs and his/her honesty?  

For further posts on testimony, check the labels "śabda" and "epistemology". My first Italian blog is completely devouted to an analysis of the philosophy of testimony in Indian and Western philosophy (until Michael Dummett).
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