On “Yale’s last Sanskrit expert to leave”

“Yale’s last Sanskrit expert to leave” is plain wrong. In order to be right it minimizes the work of Phyllis Granoff, a religious studies professor, to the point of erasure. Far beyond “proficient,” Granoff’s linguistic mastery is legendary among Sanskritists worldwide. At Yale she revived premodern South Asia and continues to train a vital cohort of scholars.

The article seems too busy lamenting the loss of Yale’s historic “reputation” in Sanskrit to ask: Why has Salisbury’s chair sat vacant since Stanley Insler’s retirement some seven years ago? A question for Linguistics, not Religious Studies. Inaugurated for Sanskrit and Arabic, this chair won fame through William Dwight Whitney, when rededicated to Sanskrit and Comparative Philology in 1869. Accordingly, for nearly five decades, Insler taught Sanskrit within the comparative study of languages — from proto-Indo-European to Old Norse. Currently, Linguistics has turned from this philological-historical project to a presentist, computational model, reflecting broader shifts in that field. Even if the department enthusiastically pursued his replacement, it would struggle to find a scholar today with Insler’s skills.

If we want Sanskrit to continue at Yale, we had better spend more time getting our arguments straight rather than courting disparagement from non-Yale faculty members whose mansplaining comments are best not given published validation.

Sanskrit succeeds as a site of comparative interest. In Granoff’s hands, it’s but one of many languages for art, ritual, narrative and philosophy. To that extent to call her — or Insler —a “mere” Sanskrititst would be a disservice. That is exactly why Sanskrit has thrived at Yale in their care.

Marko Geslani, GRD ’11