Tue

24

Dec

2013

Harvard's South Asian Studies

This department has the nomenclature of "studies," which we have seen in the department of "African and African American Studies," alongside with Committees such as "European Studies" or "Inner Asian and Altaic Studies." Why is it not Languages and Civilizations? 

 

As always, let's look at the courses offered:

  Courses
South Asian Studies 17
Nepali 10
Pali 5
Sanskrit 19
Tamil 6
Thai 7
Tibetan and Himalayan Studies 21
Urdu and Hindi 9
Total 94

Not a big department it turns out. Some observations:

 

1. In the 17 courses for South Asian studies, there is language tutorial, Bollywood, World Mythology, history, religious nationalism, literary cultures, Buddhist literature and philosophy, sociology, Indian beliefs / rituals. Quite broad and unfocused - maybe too much so that it is hard to coalesce towards a Languages and Civilizations department?

 

2. Number of languages offerred are quite modest, compared with say African Studies. Not even Bengali , or Indonesian/Malaysian Bahasa, are offered. On the other hand, the number of courses offerred for Nepali, Thai and Tibetan is quite surprisingly large.

 

3. Also of note is that the courses named under a specific language is actually courses for "language and literature." In Sanskrit, for example, reading courses include Early Vedic literature, Brahamanas/Upanisads, Valmiki's Ramayana, poetic Sanskrit, literary Sanskrit, philosophical Sanskrit, ritual sutras, Kashmir drama/Prahasana texts, etc.

 

4. Already observed is the number of courses for Tibetan studies. 10 courses are for Classical and Colloquial Tibetan in total (roughly equally split), the rest includes readings on Dunhuang documents, epigraphy, bilingual texts, religious literature, archival and government documents, and on Dol po pa Shes rab rgyal mtshan, Shakyashribhadra, Spyan snga Grags pa byung gnas (1175-1255), abbot of Bri gung and Gdan sa mthil. I have to confess I do not know what the last three persons named are.

 

5. It is interesting that the language category of "Urdu and Hindi" rather than the more common designation of "Hindi-Urdu." The reverse order is interesting. (The teacher is Richard Delacy - and I have just bought his "Elementary Hindi" textbook and workbook.) The courses keep teaching both scripts, and do not later diverge into Urdu and Hindi streams.

 

6. It turns out that this is a newly-restructured department: "On July 1, 2011, a broader Department of South Asian Studies was launched, drawing faculty from Sanskrit and Indian Studies as well as faculty from across the humanities and interpretive social sciences." Looking at the catalog, I would think that once they have enough time to expand the department, maybe a decade or two later the department will be called "South Asian Languages and Civilizations."

 

7. Regarding languages, other than what is shown on the course catalog, it is said: "All of the department’s PhD programs emphasize the study of South Asian languages as foundational for scholarly work. Currently, members of the department focus in their own work on Bengali, Nepali, Sanskrit (Vedic, Classical) and Middle Indic (Pali, Prakrit), Tamil (Classical, Modern), Tibetan (Classical, Modern), and Urdu/Hindi (including Avadhi, Braj, and modern dialects) . The Department also supports instruction in Bahasa Indonesia, Gujarati, Sindhi, and Thai. Persian is regularly offered through the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations."

 

8. "It is understood that doctoral students in South Asian Studies will work with members of the department who may make their primary home in Anthropology, History, History of Art and Architecture, Linguistics, Music, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and the Study of Religion and, indeed, with faculty beyond the department."

 

9. Language requirements: 2 South Asian languages, plus two "modern research" languages, generally French and German. 

 

10. BTW, as this Department apparently includes Southeast Asia in its fold, the neglect of the Southeast Asian region is also glaring.

 

 

 

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