Sanskrit is, as one text calls it, “the gateway to knowledge,” one of the main languages of literature, science, and philosophy in Southern Asia. The earliest Sanskrit texts date back to the middle of the second millennium BCE, making it one of the oldest attested of the Indo-European languages, and — thanks to its cultivation among poets and scholars up until the present day — the Indo-European language with the longest continuous history of use.   Sanskrit is the language of many of the most important texts of Hinduism, including the Vedas and the Purāṇas, as well as a great deal of Buddhist and Jain literature. From the beginning of the common era, Sanskrit came to be used for literary and scientific texts across an incredibly wide range of genres and topics, and over an area stretching from modern Xinjiang to Sri Lanka, and from Afghanistan to Indonesia.  Sanskrit was also a major linguistic and cultural influence on the vernacular languages and literatures of Southern Asia, and Sanskrit words can still be found in the everyday vocabulary of such diverse languages as (for example) Bengali, Kannada, and Bahasa Indonesia. The inheritance of Sanskrit texts is enormous, including around ten million manuscripts and many thousands of inscriptions; its literature includes lyric poetry, stage plays, hymns, novels, and epics, as well as history, theology, law, grammar erotics, medicine, political thought, all branches of philosophy (from epistemology, metaphysics, hermeneutics, and aesthetics to the philosophy of language, action, and time), and “practical” sciences from gemology to veterinary medicine. 

Sanskrit has been offered continuously at the University of Chicago since classes began in 1892. The University of Chicago has been a center for the study of Sanskrit for generations, and dozens of leading scholars have trained here over the years. Our program is characterized by linguistic and philological rigor, equipping students with the skills to read and research a wide variety of texts, spanning the entire history of the Sanskrit language. Students receive a thorough and solid basis in Sanskrit grammar, as well as exposure to real Sanskrit texts, in their first year of the program. The second year is devoted to the careful and deliberate reading of texts in both prose and verse, shoring up students’ grammatical knowledge as well as their vocabulary, and eventually introducing students to Sanskrit commentaries. The reading classes, open to students in their third year and above, teach students how to engage with Sanskrit texts as researchers. These reading classes typically focus on advanced texts in kāvya (belles-lettres, including lyric poetry, stage plays, and courtly epics) and śāstra (knowledge systems, including philosophy and poetics), and often involve the reading of manuscripts. Sanskrit is also the main gateway to several other languages of premodern South Asia, including Prakrit, Pali, and Apabhramsha, which are offered on request.

While we do not offer placement exams for Sanskrit, students can enter the most appropriate level after studying the language at other institutions and programs, including the summer programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s South Asian Summer Language Institute (SASLI), the American Institute for Indian Studies’ program in Pune, Maharashtra, or the Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal. The American Institute for Indian Studies also offers a yearlong course in Sanskrit in Pune.

Our Sanskrit Instructors

Graduate students are given the opportunity to TA for first- and second-year Sanskrit, and in some cases to serve as a lecturer for those classes as well.

Former Sanskrit faculty at the University of Chicago have included Yigal Bronner, J. A. B. van Buitenen, Wendy Doniger, Edwin Gerow, Sheldon Pollock, and Gary Tubb.


  • First-year Sanskrit: MWF 10:30–12:20
  • Second-year Sanskrit: TTh 1:30–2:50; readings have included:
    • Rāmāyaṇa
    • Mahābhārata
    • Saundarananda of Aśvaghoṣa
    • Mūlasarvāstivādavinaya
    • Kathāsaritsāgara of Somadeva
  • Third/Fourth-year Sanskrit and Advanced Readings in Sanskrit (meeting concurrently): MW 1:30–2:50; recently taught courses include: 
    • Tantrāloka of Abhinavagupta
    • Sphoṭasiddhi of Maṇḍanamiśra
    • Abhijñānaśākuntala of Kālidāsa
    • Kādambarī of Bāṇa
    • Pramāṇavārttika of Dharmakīrti
    • Subhāṣitaratnakoṣa of Vidyākara
    • Meghasandeśa of Kālidāsa
    • Vyaktiviveka of Mahimabhaṭṭa


  • Whom should I contact regarding admission process?
    • Please contact the SALC Department Administrator: Isaac Rainey, Office: Foster Hall 212,
  • Can I audit a class?
    • No. SALC does not permit auditors in any of the department’s language classes. Please register for the class.
  • What if I have studied Sanskrit previously but do not know what level at which I should enroll? What if I have a conflict on one or more of the days, can I still take the class?
  • Do you have t-shirts?
    • Yes, but you have to do visarga-sandhi to get one.

Studying Sanskrit at Chicago

SALC's vivid engagement with and historical commitment to Sanskrit were among the primary reasons I came to the University of Chicago, and Sanskrit language study has proven to be the one of the most rewarding aspects of my time here so far. I especially appreciate that our instructors are adroit, enthusiastic, and patient. It is also wonderful to be exposed to a wide range of genres and styles over the quarters and years, especially in the advanced levels. And I cannot fail to mention the truly delightful camaraderie among Sanskrit students at Chicago: our frequent group review sessions, lively debates, and dynamic exchange of ideas (both in class and out) have enriched my academic pursuits and greatly contributed to my happiness here.

–Nell Hawley, PhD student, SALC (currently Assistant Professor at Vassar College)

I've been engaged with the Sanskrit program at Chicago at a number of levels, first as student in the college and lately as a graduate student in SALC. For me, then, it has been nothing short of formative. The breadth of faculty interests (and the great extent of their involvement in teaching) provides us with a solid foundation in the language and literature, while also providing the opportunity for sustained engagement at more advanced levels. One can read anything here. Chicago has been an especially fine place to study the poetic literature that fascinates me. Further, with the range of other South Asian languages offered at the Chicago, the scope of our scholarship is greatly increased: we are not only given the chance but really encouraged to explore Sanskrit's interaction with regional language literatures (such as Telugu in my case). 

–Jamal Jones, PhD student, SALC (currently Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison)

I am interested in the composition -- under the aegis of the Vijayanagara kingdom in the latter half of the 14th century -- of the commentary on the Vedas, and its reception in 19th century South Asia among Western Indologists as well as South Asian thinkers, activists, and intellectuals. The department's comprehensive approach to Sanskrit pedagogy, which aims to expose students to the major genres, styles, and types of Sanskrit is made possible only by the depth and range of training of the members of faculty.  It is precisely this range and depth which ensures that projects such as mine -- spanning several centuries and often radically different intellectual contexts -- are feasible. The spirit of collaboration engendered by the faculty -- most of who carve out time to read with individual students -- extends to the student body as well; every single quarter I have been part of reading groups formed and run by students. I have benefited greatly from reading with and learning from my teachers and colleagues alike. 

–Nabanjan Maitra, PhD student in History of Religions, Divinity (currently Assistant Professor at Bard College)

For me, Sanskrit at SALC has been one of the most rewarding courses of study here at the University of Chicago. First, the quality and diversity of the instruction is unparalleled. Whether highfalutin poetic theory or nitty-gritty Pāṇinian grammatical analysis, whether Mahābhārata or Madhyamaka, the wide range of Sanskrit literature is presented to us alongside the various scholastic arts that make it up—sometimes with near-giddy enthusiasm. Further, the quarter system gives us the opportunity to work with three different instructors each year, each of whom brings his or her own expertise to bear on different genres. While my own studies focus on the Buddhist philosophical tradition, it is invaluable to have the whole multifaceted world of Sanskrit literature presented to me in classes here. And finally, though I come from outside the department, I have found the Sanskrit community—and the SALC community more broadly—to be the most welcoming community at the University of Chicago: I plan to be a part of it for as long as I’m here.

–Davey Tomlinson, PhD student in Philosophy of Religion, Divinity School (currently Assistant Professor at Villanova University)