About this Project

The Sanskrit word śāstra, from a verb meaning “to discipline, to govern,” supplies a blanket term for a vast and heterogeneous spectrum of Southern Asian texts and the social forms in which these have been propagated. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the very basis of South Asian conceptualization and practices of knowledge was founded on the idea of śāstra. With antecedents available throughout the recorded history of India, by the middle of the first millennium CE śāstra had attained something like its recognizable “classical” form: the Laws of Manu are one instance of śāstra, as is the Kāmasūtra or the grammar of Pāṇini; so too are works of philosophy, texts on elephant lore, magical grimoires, or commentaries on literary classics. To pass as codified knowledge in early India (and beyond), was to be framed as śāstra of some sort. Despite this centrality, little sustained reflection has been devoted to understanding what śāstra was and what it did, such that it could have such a formative capacity in shaping cultures and histories throughout Asia. This project will bring together philologists and intellectual historians specializing in Sanskrit and those working in other adjacent linguistic cultures with linguistic anthropologists, historians of science, and specialists of East Asia and the classical West to understand how this package of cultural and cognitive technologies functioned across a range of specific historical and regional contexts, with the intention of better understanding the internal logics and historical instantiation of these practices of knowledge.

IMAGE: Architectural detail from Borobudur, a ninth-century Mahayana Buddhist temple in Central Java, Indonesia. Courtesy Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.


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