Inspired by the various interviews with philosophers here and on the Internet at large, I’m starting a series here at the Indian philosophy blog. The goal is to introduce readers to a wide range of scholars working on Indian philosophy. Due to time constraints, the series will feature a set list of questions rather than being individually tailored. I hope this will generate an interesting comparison between interviewees.
If you have suggestions for philosophers who should be featured here or wish to participate, please send me an email at malcolm.keating [at] yale-nus.edu.sg. Several of our own bloggers will be represented in upcoming interviews already–but I would like to expand the representation.
Kicking things off, we have Shalini Sinha, who is Lecturer in Non-Western Philosophy at University of Reading. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Sussex, and you can read her most recent work in Jonardon Ganeri’s edited volume, The Oxford Handbook of Indian Philosophy, where her essay, “The metaphysics of self in Praśastapāda’s differential naturalism“, appears.
1. What are you working on right now, and what do you hope to achieve by it?
I’m working on a book on classical Vaiśeṣika metaphysics of the self. I hope to draw out the conceptions of self and agency, reason and causation, order and moral law in classical Vaiśeṣika and demonstrate how this articulates some of the key concerns of ancient Indian philosophy. I hope this work will open up alternative approaches to how we look at the relationship between selves, values and the ‘natural world’.
2. How did you come to study Indian philosophy, and how is it related to your current position?
I originally trained as an economist but came to Indian philosophy via a life-long interest and passion for formulating alternative paradigms for approaching social, economic issues as well as fundamental questions of human freedom and existence. I am currently a Lecturer in non-Western philosophy at the University of Reading where I have developed courses in Indian Philosophy. Currently, I am developing two courses in ‘World Philosophies’, including the application of cross-cultural approaches to issues of global concern (see Question 6).
3. What advice would you give to students wishing to pursue the study of Indian philosophy?
If possible, combine studies in Indian Philosophy with studies in, or approaches to, practical issues – feminism, racism, governance, etc. Increasing demand for this sort of applied philosophy is evident, for example, in the criteria set out in the Oxford Berggruen fellowships in Indian Philosophy.
4. What have your major intellectual influences been, philosophical or otherwise?
Early influences were Marx and Hegel, later influences include Buddhist philosophers from the Buddha, Nāgārjuna, to the Yogācārins, Zen, etc., the Upaniṣads and some 20th c. Advaita Vedānta philosophers.
5. What do you think you’ll do next?
After setting up the courses in cross-cultural/world philosophy, and finishing the book on Vaiśeṣika, I may try to get a research grant or write a book on applications of Indian philosophy, Buddhist and non-Buddhist, but possibly also other cross-cultural philosophical approaches to particular economic and social questions.
6. Where do you think the field should go next, in terms of priorities and projects?
My interests, and I feel the current trend, is towards ‘applied or engaged philosophy’, that is, cross-cultural and cosmopolitan philosophical investigation of contemporary global issues: race and gender; money, debt, and markets; war and terrorism; governance; and more personal considerations such as how to live a good life, and how to die.
7. Finally, a question (originally asked on the 3AM Interview Series): What books do you recommend to help our readers be taken further into your philosophical world?
This is a more difficult question. Philosophically, I find Jonardon Ganeri and Amber Carpenter’s work illuminating. However, there is an abundance of interesting work in ‘World Philosophies’ in the African and Native American traditions, Chinese and Japanese, etc. which I have found very insightful.