South Asian philosophy on twitter — and how to persuade your colleagues that there is philosophy in South Asia

You might have noticed it already (since I am well-known for being a late adapter), but there are now several scholars of South Asian philosophy on twitter, such as “our” Malcolm Keating, Amod Lele and Ethan Mills, as well as Jonathan Duquette, Marco Ferrante, Marzenna Jakubczak, Birgit Kellner, Cat Prueitt, Evan Thompson… Please feel free to mention the many I am missing in the comments.

I am, as already said, a late adapter, but twitter made me get in touch with interesting people coming from outside my direct field and I enjoyed several insightful conversations. One such conversation is directly relevant for many readers and I would be glad to read your opinion about it.

Short premiss: Someone (teaching in another institute) writes me explaining that their university would like to open a position on “Indian philosophy”, but that some colleagues are against it, claiming that “it is all religion”. Now, it might at times be disheartening to hear such opinions coming from colleague philosophers, but how would you react after a few deep breaths?

Here below comes my first reaction:

There will always be people who think they know what there is even in places they never visited, and I guess it must be hard for you to be patient and try to explain your reasons without getting angry. Usually, books like Matilal’s and Ganeri’s ones are really helpful here. Perhaps, you might also point them to the podcast by Ganeri and Peter Adamson on the history of Indian Philosophy? […] Many philosophers (especially historians of philosophy) know and trust P. Adamson and might be convinced by his opinion.

Also, perhaps you might try to understand where these people come from. Are they historians of philosophy? Analytic philosophers? Phenomenologists? Using Matilal and Mohanty for the latter two groups respectively might really help… Ch. Ram-Prasad’s books are also great to reach people working in the so-called “continental philosophy”.

Last resort: Give them a book which looks “religious”, like Parimal Patil’s Against a Hindu God and ask them what they think of the Buddhist syllogisms and their refutations of the Brahmanical ones.

P.S. I know that your colleagues meant “religion” in a derogatory way, but South Asian philosophy that engages with religion is intellectually extremely stimulating, too (and would they really want to cancel Thomas Aquinas or Augustinus from their philosophical syllabi?)

How do you react in such cases? I have strong hopes in young colleagues (like many of the ones I mentioned above) and in the positive effect their contribution will have, especially once added to the tasks which have already been accomplished by their forerunners. Till that moment comes, however, we will have to think of convincing and polite answers. What will your answer be?

This is a collective endeavour and we’ll need each other’s help. Please check also the interesting answers I got on my blog and on twitter.

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog:, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

6 Replies to “South Asian philosophy on twitter — and how to persuade your colleagues that there is philosophy in South Asia”

  1. I’m not an academic, so my reaction might not be helpful. But it is a commonplace in religious studies to note that “religion” is a construct. The comment “it is all religion” tends to reify “religion,” and should be challenged on that basis alone. And there is also anachronism at play here: referring to something from, say, a thousand years ago as “religion” is applying a fairly recent intellectual construct to a past where that construct would be alien.

    However, perhaps within the politics of academia trying to challenge other academics on the basis of insights from outside their field might possibly be less than helpful.

  2. Any Indian philosophers that wrote about the nature of science that aren’t too shackled by empiricism or religious explanation? I understand that the evocation of religious themes doesn’t necessarily make an argument nonsense, and that there are shades of grey here.

    I know just about nothing about Indian philosophy currently.

  3. I’d start (interchangeably) with Jonardon Ganeri’s ‘What is Philosophy?’ essay that shows Indian philosophy with a monstrous Buddhist tale of personal identity, or HOPWAG India’s first episode. For someone who’s taught or taken intro philosophy, this Eastern Ship of Theseus offers an international exchange program!

    For Western metaphysics or self specialists, Jan Westerhoff’s Non-Existence of the Real World, and Ganeri’s own Inwardness and ‘Virtual Subjects, Fugitive Selves’ might work. The latter is on Fernando Pessoa, but in dialogue with global thinkers, inclluding Sankara and the Upanishads. This is also for philosophers of mind.

    For nonphilosophers—academics or any interlocutor who reads English—Raja Rao’s The Meaning of India. This book isn’t academic philosophy, but it uses the same fusion/cosmopolitan philosophy method Jonardon Ganeri uses in his writings! Rao draws on some stars of classical Indian philosophy: Upanishads, Buddha, Nagarjuna, Sankara, Bhartrihari, and Gandhi. His use of Indian and Western philosophies in his exploratory essay-tales sure must convince one that classical Indian philosophy is ‘philosophy’, not merely religion or mysticism. And isn’t there religious philosophical thought in the West too?! And aren’t such thinkers (Aquinas, Augustine, Ockham, Anselm) studied in philosophy departments, not just religion?


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