Hi Everyone. Elisa noted that in the Seminar article she recently blogged about, my job title is given as ‘Professor of Indian Philosophy at Ashoka University’, and asked me to write about Indian Philosophy here at Ashoka.
It was not an entirely straightforward decision to leave Harvard, but one of several factors weighing strongly in favour of Ashoka was that I will not just be teaching Sanskrit, but also – in fact mainly – courses on Indian Philosophy. Ashoka University
has only recently come into existence; last academic year was the first year. It’s India’s first exclusively liberal arts University, and it promises ‘An Ivy League education, right here in India’. It has attracted superb faculty and great students; every one of my colleagues and last year’s visiting faculty who I have spoken to about this say that they are the best students they have taught anywhere in the world. It’s surprising that they managed to recruit such good students in their first year, before any reputation could be established. Perhaps part of the reason is that students were attracted to the international faculty; and perhaps another factor was that the admissions team were picky. 1000 people applied last year and 133 were admitted. 2000 have applied for this academic year and somewhere between 160 and 300 will be admitted. The fees are high for India, but the admission process is means-blind, and out of the 133 students in the first year, 88 are on some level of scholarship.
Undergraduates have to take all 12 of the ‘Foundation courses’ regardless of their major. One of these is called ‘Indian Civilizations’ which is sometimes taught by me and sometimes by people in the History department. I’m in the Philosophy department and so am responsible for the Indian Philosophy courses taken by those majoring in Philosophy, in PPE, or in an unrelated subject who choose to take an Indian Philosophy course as an elective. I’m offering six courses in Indian Philosophy. Neither the number six, nor the titles and content of these are in any way set in stone yet. I’ll be rolling them out at the rate of one or two per term for the next two or three years. But the titles (with course descriptions on the website) that I’ve come up with so far are:
Introduction to Indian Philosophy
Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika
Indian Philosophy of Religion
Sāṅkhya, Yoga and Śaivism
As I say, I may decide to divide up the material differently, for example having more courses centered round issues than darśanas. And I want to make room for more Mīmāṃsā and Jainism, which look to be too marginalized by that categorization.
Out of interest, does anyone know of other Philosophy departments where undergraduates can take as many as six courses in Indian Philosophy?
A great feature of Ashoka is that it is new enough and small enough that faculty have complete freedom in designing their courses and the paths that undergraduates in their subject can take. I’ve been reading a lot recently about the ‘destruction’ (yes I’ve seen that word used!) of the academic profession in the UK as a result of takeover by management consultants and business ethos. It feels a long way from that here.
India is obviously a great place to study and work on Indian Philosophy. I intermittently find myself pleasantly reminded of how much expertise in Indian Philosophy exists here. One recent example was the conference at IIAS, Shimla organized by Arindam Chakrabarti on ‘God, No-God and the Argumentative Indian.’
One of the things I’d like to do at Ashoka is organize workshops, seminars and conferences that bring together people working on Sanskrit/Indian Philosophy in India with those working on it in universities outside India. It’s easy to forget how much expertise exists here, because of how rarely the two worlds overlap. To give just one example, I wonder if there is anyone outside India who can read such a wide range of Indian philosophical texts in Sanskrit as quickly and accurately as Mani Dravida?
And Asia, incidentally, affords plenty of opportunity to interact with people working on Western Philosophy as well. I enjoyed a great workshop at NYU Abu Dhabi in April organized by Jonardon and Gabe Rabin at which four members of the NYU Abu Dhabi philosophy department were joined by people working on Analytic Philosophy and History of Western Philosophy from Ashoka (Kranti Saran), Manipal (in Karnataka), Turkey and the Lebanon. I was interested to read Malcolm’s post about Yale-NUS and I look forward to some tie-ups between them and Ashoka.