As the currents of globalization continue to sweep us in the 21st century, many of its waves continue to be grounded in Euro-American knowledge systems that are based in Greco-Roman civilizations and Abrahamic religions. Knowledge systems inspired by Indic* civilization have a great deal to contribute at a global level but are not yet adequately included in the Western academia. Although Yoga is now popularly practiced across the world, academic study of Yoga shastra and many other Indic knowledge systems of health, arts, linguistics, classics, mathematics, sciences, philosophies, and many other disciplines are not yet available in most Western (and even Asian) universities. The European renaissance was encouraged by Europe’s “discovery” of Asia and the Americas in general and India. Even the colonialist study of India–Indology–influenced Europe in significant ways. The 21stcentury can achieve and experience the second renaissance by learning from various knowledge traditions of Indic civilization, facilitated by the American Academy of Indic Studies that we introduce in this paper.
The academic study and presentation of Indic civilization, as we know it today, is largely the work of scholarship based on Western theories, perspectives, and methods. This raises the question: Would the academic presentation of Indic civilization be significantly different if it had been put in place by scholars whose theories and methods were based on Indic categories? Hitherto, this question has usually been discussed a priori, by formulating the issue in terms of first principles as follows: Is academic objectivity possible? We feel however that a different approach might be more fruitful, in the light of which one asks different kinds of questions, such as: Would the academic presentation of the Indic civilization be different if it had been the work of scholars who did not use Western theories and categories? And if so, then how, precisely, would it be different if it had been the work of scholars whose methodologies were based on Indic theories and concepts?
There are several ways of pursuing this line of inquiry. One way would be to ask Indic studies scholars to produce their own presentations, which could be compared with the Western ones. Another way would be to identify where, precisely, in the judgement of Indic studies scholars, the Western presentation of Indic civilization departs from a putative Indic academic self-understanding. Yet another way would be to identify those features of Western religions and cultures which may have unduly influenced the presentation of Indic civilization.
We feel the need for an academy where deliberations around these issues could be carried out in a regular way so that all the participants could benefit from the resulting synergy of shared insights. We invite you to join us in forming one.
There have been past attempts to study Indic civilization in India and elsewhere. During the colonial period, Indologists interpreted Indic traditions from a ruler’s perspective, resulting in orientalist stereotypes. Several Indian and Western historians have interpreted Indic civilization from a Marxist perspective, leading to different kinds of misrepresentations. Recently, there have been fresh attempts to study Indic religions from theological or practitioners’ perspectives. All the past attempts either came from a non-Indic framework of theories and methods or focused too narrowly on religious, philosophical, or theological phenomena within Indic civilization. We feel that there is a need to develop new frameworks, categories, and methods to study the Indic civilization from several different disciplines, not just a religious or philosophical lens. There are two other kinds of existing similar associations and institutions. The first kind focusses only on classical or philological studies heavily based on research in Sanskrit texts. The other kind takes the other extreme by mostly focusing on the contemporary studies of India instead of classical or Sanskrit-based studies. In the academy that we are proposing, we want to combine many of the past these approaches. We will strive to integrate the classical texts with contemporary issues in religious studies, politics, economics, environmental studies, gender studies, psychology, health sciences, and more.
* The term “Indic” is a reference, not just to India as a modern contemporary country, but to the civilization that has been known internationally and historically by the river Indus. It refers to more than 5000 years of a continuous civilization whose kernel is a unique knowledge system which is beneficial to all humankind.