Indian Philosophy During the Pandemic: A Call for Examples and Ideas

During the current pandemic almost all academic conferences have been canceled or postponed. In my own case, for instance, I was planning to have a busy April and May. I was supposed to present on women philosophers in ancient India last week at a student workshop at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, I was planning to present on impermanence in Buddhist philosophy at the History of Philosophy Society Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah this weekend, and I was scheduled to present on Ratnakīrti’s arguments about other minds at the East-West Philosophers’ Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii in late May. All of these events have been canceled or rescheduled, and wisely so given the current global pandemic.

I was lucky to receive an invitation from Oren Hanner, whom I had met at a workshop on Buddhism and skepticism in Hamburg in 2017. He invited me to present on April 10 on Nāgārjuna for his Buddhist Philosophy course at the University of California, Berkeley. I spoke to his students (via Zoom) about the skeptical of interpretation of Nāgārjuna from my 2018 book Three Pillars of Skepticism in Classical India: Nāgārjuna, Jayarāśi, and Śrī Harṣa. I’ve been missing philosophy conferences, so it was great to interact with these excellent students. Unfortunately we didn’t document the event via photo or video, so you will have to accept our testimony (whether this is a pramāṇa I will let readers decide).

I share all this not merely to inform the blog’s readers of my erstwhile plans and recent online interactions, but I’m hoping we might use this space to share examples for how we as scholars and teachers of Indian philosophy are proceeding during the present worldwide crisis as well as ideas for how we might move into the future.

Are you making use of new technologies to present your work and share ideas with others?

Are there any upcoming online conferences or other online activities you’d like to share with readers of this blog?

How has the pandemic affected your ability to do your research?

What other conferences and events have been canceled? Are there plans to reschedule?

What would you like to see on this blog? What would be most helpful to the field and to a general audience at this time?

(This is also a good chance to remind readers that we are accepting book reviews and are interested in guest posts, so that you can be the change you want to see on the blog.)

Lastly, I hope that you, dear reader, are staying healthy and safe and are as well as can be expected given our difficult circumstances. The intellectual traditions of South Asia often discuss concepts such as loving kindness, compassion, and wisdom, which are all things I think the world could use right now. Take care.

4 Replies to “Indian Philosophy During the Pandemic: A Call for Examples and Ideas”

  1. It’s Western rather than Indian philosophy, but there’s a Boston-area reading group I’m in that normally meets at Harvard every Tuesday to discuss Hegel and other dialectical philosophers. A few weeks ago they announced that the group was suspended until further notice. But a couple of us asked, “hey, couldn’t we hold this group by Zoom?” And so it’s going to restart – we’ll follow the usual practice of reading a selection from the year’s reading (this year it’s the Phenomenology) and then discussing it for two hours, just over videoconference rather than in person.

    A couple years ago I asked what digital technologies have to offer the study of philosophy, and I pointed especially to long-distance communication. I think it’s even more applicable in the current situation – both because of the pandemic, and because videoconferencing software has now got really good. If Plato’s comments in the Seventh Letter are right, we should celebrate tools like Zoom as a way to reinvigorate the oral tradition.

    • Thanks, Amod. The reading group is a great example.

      Thanks for sharing your post from several years ago. As you point out, since then the videoconferencing software has gotten better. While there are still issues of access to sufficient internet speeds for some people, a lot of us are now able to talk with each other in real time. And of course “old” technologies like blogs are still with us as well.

      Like you discussed in your post, I’ve made a lot of connections through this blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc. with philosophers around the world whom I may not have ever met in person. I’ve now had the experience a few times of meeting people in person for the first time after getting to know them online. Hopefully someday I will have those experiences again, but until then I think you’re right, Amod, that we should look to the benefits of newer technologies like videoconferencing even if (as I think most of us would admit) it’s not quite the same as meeting in person.

  2. Agreed entirely about the reading group idea. As Amod notes, it is a way that technology can help the cause of philosophical scholarship (and as importantly, philosophical friendships.)

    Small handfuls of people discussing things that matter to them has usually been seen as the core of philosophy, whether it’s vāda or dialectic. I love this saying from Seneca: “Philosophy is good advice, and you don’t give advice at the top of your lungs” (Letters from a Stoic).

    I’ve been doing Sanskrit reading groups of this sort for the better part of two decades, and they’ve been a core part of my own philosophical formation.

    • Matthew, thanks for the comment. It is interesting that online reading groups have been using this technology for years already.

      That’s great (non-shouted) advice from Seneca.

      Take care.

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