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Introduction

From: Philosophy East and West
Volume 51, Number 4, October 2001
pp. 449-451 | 10.1353/pew.2001.0054

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Introduction

There is a monument to Sir William Jones, the great eighteenth-century British Orientalist, in the chapel of University College, Oxford. This marble frieze shows Sir William sitting on a chair writing something down on a desk while three Indian traditional scholars squatting in front of him are either interpreting a text or contemplating or reflecting on some problem.

It is well known that for years Jones sat at the feet of learned pandits in India to take lessons in Sanskrit grammar, poetics, logic, jurisprudence, and metaphysics. He wrote letters home about how fascinating and yet how complex and demanding was his new learning of these old materials. But this sculpture shows—quite realistically—the brahmins sitting down below on the floor, slightly crouching and bare-bodied—with no writing implements in their hands (for they knew by heart most of what they were teaching and did not need notes or printed texts!) while the overdressed Jones sits imperiously on a chair writing something at a table. The inscription below hails Jones as the "Justinian of India" because he "formed" a digest of Hindu and Mohammedan laws. The truth is that he translated and interpreted into English a tiny tip of the massive iceberg of ancient Indian Dharmaśāstra literature along with some Islamic law books. Yet the monument says and shows Jones to be the "law-giver," and the "native informer" to be the "receiver of knowledge."

What this amply illustrates is that the semiotics of colonial encounters have—perhaps indelibly—inscribed a profound asymmetry of epistemic prestige upon any future East-West exchange of knowledge.

For over half a century now, Philosophy East and West has been quietly but firmly working at rectifying this Eurocentrism of philosophy, not by trying to show that the Eastern folks were as rich or richer in philosophical wisdom and complexity as their Western counterparts, nor by trying to prove that there is either an underlying unity or a fundamental radical difference between Eastern and Western philosophies, but by demonstrating that a symmetric dialogue between the unessentialized plurality of Eastern philosophical arguments and insights on the one hand and ancient, modern, and contemporary Western philosophical movements on the other is not just possible but is immensely rewarding for the global philosophical community. And in that dialogue no one needs to sit higher or lower than the other.

During the summer of 1997, the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hawai'i received a grant from the Infinity Foundation, based in Princeton, New Jersey, for infusing Indian philosophy into the mainstream philosophy curriculum. This grant has since supported one, two, or three graduate students per semester over the last eight semesters and about thirteen distinguished speakers and three cosponsored conferences (in Los Angeles and Varanasi). Its original mission was to promote [End Page 449] research and teaching of Advaita Vedānta, Yogavāsiṣṭha (which is a uniquely syncretic school of philosophy in its own right), Mādhyamika Buddhism, Bhartṛhari's linguistic Nondualism, and Abhinavagupta's Kashmir Shaivism from a point of view that is informed by the contemporary philosophy of physics, analytic philosophy, phenomenology, and philosophical psychology.

The names of the speakers whom we have been able to invite, thanks to this Infinity Foundation grant, along with the titles and dates of their lectures, are given at the end of this introduction.

Each speaker spent three to five days at the campus, usually giving one or more workshops for interested graduate students and faculty besides the formal public talk listed below, sometimes making an appearance in a class or seminar that was running at the time. As project director I must thank my wonderful colleagues who, in spite of their widely divergent philosophical interests—and this wide diversity of interests, from Mead to Medical Ethics, Ficino, Feminism, the Analects, al-Ghazali, Dewey, and Daoism, is what we are so proud of—have attended these talks and interacted with the internationally reputed speakers on Buddhist metaphysics, Bhartṛhari, Yogavāsiṣṭha, or Idealist interpretations of Quantum Physics with equal cordiality and alertness!

The Infinity projects on Nondualistic Indian philosophy would also be impossible to conduct without our hardworking graduate...