Philology and Its Dangers: Canonical Texts, Modes of Knowledge, Cultural Crises

Seminar and Discussion Group
Balliol College, Lecture Room 23
1 June 2007, 2:15 pm

For almost as long as there have been written texts, philologists and their practices have been with us, but will they always be? Some scholars have begun to examine the ‘punctuated equilibrium’ that seems to characterize philology. At certain historical moments, after periods of continuity, its practices have been radically reinvented or mortally threatened. Can we compare these moments across Eurasia? Were there developments in the early modern period, in particular, that can be usefully examined cross-culturally? Are we living through another crisis, with the arts of philology in large parts of the world under threat of extinction?

Let philology be described inclusively—and programmatically—as “the discipline of making sense of texts.” How then is a philological tradition constituted, and how does it change? Conversely, what kind of challenge does such a programmatic description pose to contemporary philological practices across areas?

This seminar is intended to begin a new discussion and develop new ideas, not to resuscitate the old quarrels. It will combine historical vignettes drawn from philology’s deep Eurasian past with broad and necessarily inexpert comparative reflection. It supposes that the study of philology’s past might provide guidance for its future.

Polly O’Hanlon (Oxford), Introduction

Christopher Minkowski (Oxford): “Pandits Punched in the Face: Early Modern Sanskrit Scholarship and the Bhagavata Purana as Forgery”

Joanna Weinberg (Oxford), “Forgery and Critical Philology in the Work of Azariah de’ Rossi, an Early Modern Jewish Scholar”

Benjamin Elman (Princeton), “Philology and Its Enemies: Changing Views of Late Imperial Chinese Classicism”

Sheldon Pollock (Columbia), “Future Philology? The Fate of a Soft Science in a Hard World”

This meeting will be the first in a series, organized by the Oxford-Princeton-Columbia Partnership for the Comparative History of Philology in Early Modern Asia.