FAQ on Conference Focus
FAQ for Scholars
ON CONFERENCE FOCUS
1. Why are you targeting Sheldon Pollock personally (i.e. criticizing one man)?
We are never targeting anyone personally, but critiquing and responding to their ideas. We must see these ideas as an influential school of thought and not limited to one person. Before choosing a target for purva-paksha and uttara-paksha, one must ask the following kinds of questions:
- What is the specific harm being caused to us by a given target, which we hope to undermine?
- What further high-value targets become within our range once we have successfully engaged this target?
- What does our team gain through this fight, in terms of learning new sophisticated methods?
- What would be the demoralizing effect on the opponent’s supporters, and how would this boost the morale of our support base?
- How did our tradition respond to similar situations?
Such an inquiry led to the following position regarding the above question.
- Following the purva-paksha system:
- The purva/uttara paksha system of argumentation on behalf of one’s tradition requires naming the opponent (which by no means implies disrespect on a personal level), citing his/her specific works and then giving a sound, logical critique of specific points. It is not done by sweeping generalizations of opponents. It is essentially a “case studies” method in which specific instances of differences get argued with specific opponents (similar in some ways to the famous Harvard business school case studies approach). While a general treatise with critique can be ignored, a direct critique of named opponents who have stature is non-ignorable, which is important.
- There is a difference between doing a purva-paksha and developing a new shastra/siddhanta on a given subject. Before a new shastra can emerge, one must first clear the table of existing theories by doing specific purva-paksha on the major ones. This is how the system of knowledge continually renews and refreshes itself. Ignoring the opponent was not seen as a worthy thing.
- The target should be a leader (and not a junior person) representing an important school of thought, one with lineage, followers and traction. In other words, we like to critique an entire ecosystem.
- Harm being caused that we must remedy: Sheldon Pollock is not just an individual but also the leader of an important school of thought causing the following problems that are very serious, concrete and immediate:
- Harmful content and substance: There are vast and deep problems with Pollock’s positions, and they often remain camouflaged beneath his surface praise and emotional appeals. The book, The Battle For Sanskrit (TBFS), started exposing these. The first Swadeshi Indology conference (SI-1) validated these concerns and added more substance to the criticisms. The next conference is going to take this criticism to a much higher level. For specific issues with his scholarship, the reader is referred to TBFS and the SI-1 web site. But as a sample, he alleges that: (1) the Sanskrit tradition from its beginning has been socially oppressive, (2) shastras by design have prevented creative thinking, (3) Sanskrit texts contained toxins that influenced the Nazis to commit the holocaust, (4) the Ramayana contains seeds of violence and this has been provoked against Muslims, (5), mimamsa was developed in response to Buddhism, as a way to codify biases, (6) rasa entered late in the tradition, and even later it was reinterpreted (by Rupa Goswami) to introduce sacredness, (7) kavya has from the beginning been a device for kings’ projection of power in an aesthetic manner; and so on.
- Hijacking Sringeri: Prior to TBFS, he already had provisional commitment from Sringeri mattha to set up Adi Shankara Chairs in US Ivy Leagues, with Pollock himself in charge of selecting and directing the academic programs.
- Hinduphobic parampara: He has trained and influenced one of the largest and most influential group of students and peers. His importance through his writings is well attested by the Western academic establishment. These followers include many sepoy scholars/journalists whose works are filled with venom against Hinduism. Many who wonder “why bother critiquing Pollock?” must wake up and discover that many individuals they are fighting are trained by him and/or operating under his ideological influence. Rather than fighting isolated instances, we must get to the roots of the system that produces such instances.
- Official recognition & infiltration: His followers have infiltrated the official establishments of higher learning, media and education, and he has received official awards. This has made his positions officially endorsed in India. Hence they need to be examined closely and evaluated objectively.
- Murty Classics Library: A direct and immediate consequence of TBFS was a major petition against the MCLI, which triggered response and counter-response from both sides. This brought to the surface the previously hidden faces of Pollockism. In fact, the recent Vande Mantram Library initiative is an example of a direct result of the awareness created by TBFS.
- Knowledge being acquired by our scholars and further purva-paksha opportunities:
- Because very few of our traditional scholars have done purva-paksha on the latest Western Indology, this work has required them to learn about many areas of Western thought, research methodologies and institutional mechanisms. Some of these insights may help us upgrade our competitiveness in the global discourse. This knowledge better equips us to encounter with many other Western schools besides just Pollock, from a much deeper level than our scholars have done in the past.
- Subsequent purva-paksha targets under consideration include: Romila Thapar, Wendy Doniger, Western(ized) feminists, to name a few. In each case, we wish to adopt a focused and sharply targeted approach in order to maximize the impact on the ground.
- Psychological warfare:
- By toppling the leader of a school, the followers of that school get demoralized. New recruits into their program become harder to attract. This already happened to other intellectual leaders we targeted in the past.
- Simultaneously, we are witnessing a boost to the self-confidence of our young scholars. They are becoming fearless and better skilled at debating in open forums.
- An important quality to cultivate is being non-ignorable. This cannot be achieved by criticizing dead scholars (who will not talk back), dead empires, marginal players, or over abstracted and over-generalized opposing views. To trigger lively debate that can transform the discourse requires one to name names, be direct and sharp – precisely the qualities exhibited in our tradition of debates in the past.
- Waking up some tamasic, lazy and pompous “insiders”:
- It is our experience that many “insider” scholars, including and especially some with big reputations and high society profiles, are pathetically out of touch with the latest scholarship, lazy to do any new reading in a serious manner, and even deficient in analytical/debating experience to engage Westerns with confidence.
- Some of them are also sold out through various forms of patronage. It is common for them to align their positions with those who can influence their personal careers. Hence they tend to be cynical about such attempts as the Swadeshi Indology movement where hard work and original, non-emotional scholarship is being required for membership.
- There are many old-school scholars who have not made much impact outside their personal career management. They spent their energies traveling from one event to another and enjoying the limelight – in effect behaving like “junkies” at flea markets. They claim bragging rights for any positive developments even when there is no tapasya to back it up. Now they feel threatened by a new stock of scholars that are bypassing them. There is also blatant jealousy on display at times. We do not want our scholars to get discouraged by this, and one purpose of writing this is to prepare them for such cynicisms.
- The strategy adopted by SI is to welcome all established scholars on the terms of rigor and objectivity, rather than mental blockages or emotions. Many senior scholars are already solidly in the SI movement and their leadership is given paramount importance.
- The good news is that we find the new, young scholars to be very enthusiastic and competent in this pursuit. This fits well with our goal to develop next generation specialized teams of scholars with different kinds of subject-matter expertise.
1. How long should my abstract be?
Your abstract should be around 250-300 words. Please describe the overall focus of the paper. Also explain specific positions of the purva-paksin that you are examining and/or refuting. In case you are not explaining your position vis-a-vis the purva-paksin – please do so. Else – the focus of the paper will not be clear and it will become difficult for us to assess the quality of paper/scholarship.
2. What should I focus my paper on?
Your paper should focus on specific topics that have been provided as part of the conference “Call for Papers”. Examining specific scholars or schools of thought are to be done in a scholarly and focussed manner. No personal (ad-hominem) attacks or argumentative tones of such nature shall be entertained.
3. How long should my paper be?
Your paper should be a minimum of 7000 words. You should be able to explain your position clearly and explicitly demonstrate your understandings of the positions of the purva-paksin and your critiques/observations on it. Your position will possibly be based on primary and secondary texts – or can be your own synthesis of the subject matter.
4. I know X concept/theory really well, should I include X in the paper?
We are NOT expecting tutorials or textbook-type discursive material. Your knowledge of X – if it needs to be so demonstrated – should be used to examine/critiques the established by the purva-paksin. A generic knowledge-display will be of limited use to the conference referees. Please refrain from unfocused scholarship and exhibitions of genius – however unique or scintillating they might be.
5. I like to know about Y, Should I research Y and write about it ?
If you feel that research of Y, will help you in assessing the positions of the purva-paksin – please do so. Make sure the overall structure and argumentation of your paper is coherent and focussed and not just about your newly acquired knowledge of Y.
6. I think some claims ( Sheldon Pollock’s for example) have implications on topic Z , that I am interested in / have worked on. However, I am not sure on what areas to focus on. Can you help?
7. Can you explain a possible structure of a paper?
Based on your area of expertise and motivations and scholarship goals – the topic that you have chosen should be examined fairly and in an unbiased manner.
- Please examine the established claims /positions of the purva-paksin for its veracity, validity and correctness.
- The argumentation, methods employed and the references used by the purva-paksin, will in general be good guides to unravel and examine the topic.
- The paper should then establish the validity or otherwise of the claims made and then refute / examine the alternative claims/hypotheses uniquely based on texts / references – thereby demonstrating your original scholarship.
Professor K.S.Kannan – The Convener & Editor of the SI conference series has a few words of advice to the participants – View it here
8. How does writing for SI differ from writing for other conferences?
SI scholarship requires deep analytical and synthesis skills – both. It is also not just “your” area/s of expertise but also of the “opponent”. The ability to understand a position, the claims made and the structure of argumentation of the purva-paksin – however convoluted and dense is a primary requirement. In addition – you will need to have your own clarity on the traditional sources and bodies of knowledge. The paper (English, Sanskrit or Hindi) should be able to argue out coherent positions and provide genuinely new ways of examining the purva-paksin’s positions.
9. I don’t like to accuse any person or attack anybody specifically, I am a peace lover – What do I do ?
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः || . We all love Peace too. Please do not attack any person specifically. We are not asking you to do so either. Please examine only the scholarship and the claims made by the scholars of the school. Also read the related FAQ on – Conference focus.
10. Can I explain my feelings and experiences in the paper?
In case you feel that your personal experiences and feelings need to be used to explain your positions – whilst arguing or critiquing positions of the purva-paksin – please do so. Make sure that such experiences are given the proper basis/background and also describe/examine how such a description will help the referees/reader understand the arguments in the paper. First-person empiricism plays an important role in Sanatana dharma and has its place. Make doubly sure, it helps in your arguments and positions – lest it be perceived as an emotional outburst/outpouring/rant.
11. Can I include or cite some aspects that I have learnt (orally) while studying with a guru?
12. I have more questions – What should I do?