Sanskrit is the oldest literary language of southern Asia and the earliest well-preserved example of the Indo-European family of languages. It is also the South Asian language with the longest continuous record of being taught at the University of Chicago, having been offered ever since the founding of the University in 1892. For millennia, Sanskrit has provided the irreplaceable medium through which the literate civilizations of Southern Asia have been expressed: it is the language of the scriptures of the Hindu religion, as well as much of the literature of the Jains and Buddhists, the medium of poetry, philosophy, science, history, law, political theory, medicine, aesthetics and much else besides. The language’s astonishing productivity and longevity is owed in large part to the grammar attributed to Pāṇini, who lived in what is now Afghanistan in the fourth century BCE. This formed a description of a refined register of Pāṇini’s own spoken dialect in less than 4000 algebraic rules, which provided the unwavering standard that enabled Sanskrit to act as a timeless, placeless language throughout a region extending far beyond the borders of India, into Southeast and Central Asia.
The study of Sanskrit at the University is characterized by linguistic and philological rigor, and by the broad spectrum of faculty and student interests. There are at present four professors whose teaching and research focus extensively on Sanskrit, with four other members of the faculty also deeply engaged in the area; the SALC Department also frequently hosts visiting scholars from India and elsewhere. Sanskrit students at the University have frequently pursued their interest in the language over the summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s South Asian Summer Language Institute (SASLI) or the American Institute for Indian Studies’ program in Pune, Maharashtra; in addition, advanced students of the language from Chicago have frequently served as the SASLI instructors.
Our Sanskrit Instructors
- Professor Gary Tubb (SALC)
- Professor Wendy Doniger (SALC, Divinity)
- Associate Professor Whitney Cox (SALC)
- Associate Professor Dan Arnold (Divinity)
- Neubauer Family Assistant Professor Andrew Ollett (SALC)
In addition, advanced graduate students are given the opportunity to teach several quarters of Sanskrit a year, at all levels of instruction
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
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
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
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
There are multiple levels of Sanskrit offered every quarter
- First year Sanskrit
- Second year Sanskrit
- Third/Fourth year Sanskrit
- Advanced Readings in Sanskrit
- The upper level courses (third year and above) meet concurrently, and their subject matter is typically chosen with reference to student interests.
- First year Sanskrit: MWF 11:30-12:20 + weekly review with a teaching assistant
- Second year Sanskrit: TTh 1:30-2:50 + weekly review with a teaching assistant
- Third/Fourth year/Advanced Sanskrit MW 1:30-2:50
- Whom should I contact regarding admission process?
- Please contact the SALC Department Administrator: Tracy L. Davis, Office: Foster Hall 212, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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?