Dr. Arvind Sharma’s Appointment
as the Infinity Foundation Visiting
Professor at Harvard University
The Infinity Foundation
53 White Oak Drive
Princeton, NJ 08540
Phone: 609-683-8161 Fax: 609-252-0480
New Visiting Position in Indic Studies at Harvard
The Infinity Foundation, based in Princeton, New Jersey, is pleased to announce the establishment of a visiting position in Indic Studies at Harvard University, in its Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies for the appointment of the Infinity Foundation Visiting Professor of Indic Studies. It has subsequently been decided that the appointee will teach courses on (1) Interpretations of Common Conceptions About Indic Traditions and (2) Contributions by Indic Traditions to World Civilizations. The first appointee to the position is Professor Arvind Sharma.
Arvind Sharma (B.A. Allahabad, 1958; M.A. Syracuse, 1970; M.T.S. Harvard Divinity School, 1974; Ph.D. Harvard University, 1978) is a former I.A.S. officer, who also trained as an economist for a while. He currently holds the Birks Chair in Comparative Religion in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He taught earlier in Australia, at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, and the University of Sydney and moved to McGill in 1987. He has published extensively in the fields of Hindu Studies and Comparative Religion. His latest book: Classical Hindu Thought: An Introduction, was published by the Oxford University Press in India earlier this year.
The course “Interpretations of Common Conceptions About Indic Traditions” will be offered by him in the spring term (Jan-June 2001). It will take A. L. Basham’s widely used book The Wonder That Was India (along with Renou’s L’Inde Classique and Bechert’s Einfuehrung in die Indologie), as representing some of the more recent summaries of modern scholarship in the presentation of Indic civilization and pose the post-colonial question: How successful has modern scholarship been in accurately and adequately re-presenting ancient Indic civilization?
About the Appointee
Arvind Sharma (B.A. Allahabad, 1958; M.A. Syracuse, 1970; M.T.S. Harvard Divinity School, 1974; Ph.D. Harvard University, 1978) currently holds the Birks Chair in Comparative Religion in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
He was born in Varanasi in U.P. India and educated at Modern School in Delhi and Allahabad University, Allahabad. He then served as a member of the I.A.S. (1962- 1968) before he began training as an economist at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at the University of Syracuse in upstate New York.
His interest in the role of religious and cultural factors in influencing economic development finally led him into the field of religious studies, in the course of pursuing which he first obtained a Masters in Theological Studies (with concentration in Comparative Religion) and subsequently a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies (with concentration on Hinduism). His doctoral dissertation involved the translation of Abhinava Gupta’s commentary on the Bhagavadgita into English for the first time.
He subsequently commenced his formal academic career in Australia, when the teaching of Hinduism and Comparative Religion was first introduced there at the tertiary level, at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. He then moved to the University of Sydney and subsequently moved to McGill University in Canada in 1987.
He is the author of several books, and two books edited by him, Women in World Religions (1987) and Our Religions (1993), are widely used for teaching courses in world religions. His latest book, Classical Hindu Thought: An Introduction, was published by Oxford University Press in India earlier this year.
Rationale for the Course Entitled:
Interpretations of Common Conceptions About Indic Traditions
The contemporary global reality is marked by the presence of different civilizations in different parts of the globe, as exemplified by the Japanese and Chinese civilization in the East, the Islamic in the Middle-East and elsewhere, the Western in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand, and so on. The Indic civilization belongs to this club as well.
One salient fact, however, distinguishes the Indic civilization from these. The present self-understanding of each major civilization is based, by and large, on the work of scholars who belonged to these civilizations, but such self-understanding as the Indic civilization possesses today is the work, to a much larger degree, not of its own scholars but the result of the work of Western scholars. This fact sets Indic civilization apart from other civilizations.
If the self-understanding of one civilization is thus mediated through another tradition, then the question naturally arises: to what extent does the work of the scholars belonging to another civilization correctly reflect the assumptions of the civilization they are writing about? For instance, non-Muslims writing about Islam may not accept the Qur’an as the word of God, which is a foundational Islamic belief. To the extent they do not do so, their presentation of the civilization, of which it is a central text, will reflect their own views about Islamic civilization, rather than the civilization’s own view about itself. If, therefore, future members of Islamic civilization relied on the work of non-Muslims for their own understanding of Islamic civilization, their self-understanding of their own civilization will have deviated from what it would have been had it not been mediated in this manner.
So a unique question now arises in the case of Indic civilization in a way it does not arise to that extent in the context of other civilizations: to what extent has its foundational self-understanding been affected by the intellectual intervention of another civilization? If such a civilization wants to form a concept of its true identity, then there is no escaping this question.
The purpose of this course is to carry out such an exercise and to determine where and when the Western presentation of Indic civilization does not seem to conform to the civilization’s own understanding of itself based on its own sources and resources. There is no assumption here that Western scholarship in general necessarily misrepresents Indic civilization; there is the assumption however that this could have happened in some and even many cases. If it has, then the purpose of the course is to identify where this has happened and to try to figure out why it might have happened. For it is only at the end of such an exercise that members of the Indic civilization can place due confidence in the scholarly representation of their identity.
- L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India
- Renou, L’Inde Classique
- Bechert, Einfuehrung in die Indologie