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- 7 02 2002 - 19:46 - katatonik

Sanskrit Knowledge Systems on the Eve of Colonialism


“The two centuries before European colonialism established itself decisively in the Indian subcontinent (ca. 1550-1750) constitute one of the most innovative eras in Sanskrit intellectual history. Thinkers began to work across disciplines far more intensively than ever before, to produce new formulations of old problems, to employ a strikingly new discursive idiom and present their ideas in what were often new genres of scholarly writing. Concurrent with the spread of European power in the mid-eighteenth century, however, this dynamism began to diminish. By the end of the century, the tradition of Sanskrit systematic thought-which for two millennia or more constituted one of the most remarkable cultural formations in world history-had more or less vanished as a force in shaping Indian intellectual life, to be replaced by other kinds of knowledge based on different principles of knowing and acting in the world.
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Modern scholarship is silent on just about everything concerning the two central problematics of this project. We do not understand how to account for what appears to have been an explosion of intellectual production in Sanskrit in the seventeenth century. We have no acceptable account of the salient scholarly thematics of the period for individual disciplines, let alone across them; or of the key contributions of the major thinkers, the dominant modes of argument, the criteria of judgment. We know little of the conversations and controversies within and across fields. We have no clear understanding of the personal, educational, or social histories of the intellectuals, particularly of the “groups, networks, and rivalries” that appear to function as structuring principles in the history of intellectual change viewed macroscopically (Collins 1998); or of patronage structures, institutional bases, or circuits of intellectual exchange across the subcontinent.”

A research project

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