In the academic world it’s often assumed that the acquisition of different languages makes for a better, more valuable scholar. While this often may be the case, it’s not always.
For Bourdieu and other sociologists like Max Weber, social institutions – like universities – tend to legitimize themselves. Western universities, for example, are compelled to justify high tuition fees coupled with boring, run of the mill professors exhibiting mediocre analytical skills and a limited ability to think creatively.
As socially recognized and highly competitive organs of knowledge dissemination, universities strive to produce a certain quota of publications. Meanwhile, many scholars and the reading public tend to uncritically associate the knowledge of original languages with rational, coherent thought and scholarly legitimacy.
This is a book for people, not for scholars. Real scholars will read the Sanskrit; would-be scholars, or scholars from other fields, will fight their way through the translations of Geldner (German), Renou (French), Elizarenkova (Russian) and others; they will search the journals for articles on each verse, and on each word; they will pore over the dictionaries and concordances (Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, The Rig Veda, London: Penguin, 1981, p. 11).
And in footnote:
See appendix 3 for a bibliography of translations into European languages (Ibid).
While O’Flaherty lists noteworthy Asian commentators and Asian translators who render the Veda into European languages, interestingly enough, no mention is made of translations into contemporary Asian languages like Japanese, Korean or Mandarin.
She says the European translations are intended to encourage the “would-be scholar to make a better guess” than her own “educated guess on several problematic points” arrived at “by using the available scholarship” (Ibid., p. 12).
Does O’Flaherty contradict herself by elevating the ability of so-called “real scholars” while conceding that knowledge of an original language does not guarantee “correct” understanding?
If knowledge of original languages did guarantee correct understanding, the meanings of specific words and phrases in most ancient texts would not be continually debated and re-translated. By way of example, there’s no need to try to figure out what Sir Isaac Newton was trying to say with his three laws of motion, because we all get it. Ancient words and phrases, however, are continually being reinterpreted by self-proclaimed experts on the basis of new archeological findings, shifting academic approaches and societal changes.
With the exception of O’Flaherty and a handful of others, most translators go to great lengths to try to justify their particular rendering of problematic terms. They attempt to convince the reader that their ability to discern original meanings is as strong or stronger than all the other ‘specialists.’
And not only that. Many scholars push narrow-minded or far-fetched claims to make their translation of certain terms conform to their own point of view. In short, linguists and translators can disagree quite dramatically. These conflicted meanings arguably arise partly from incompetence, ignorance, ambition, and opinionated or wishful thinking.
Translation is clearly subject to human bias. Even with concerted and informed attempts to offer accurate translations, it’s doubtful that these biases may be eradicated. And even if translators could go through a time machine and be present when the ancient texts were actually written, the central obstacle to a precise and exact understanding of certain terms would persist: The translators themselves did not write the original text.
It seems safe to say that one can, in most instances, never fully understand another person’s mode of thinking and intent. To complicate things, consider contemporary English literature about which English-speaking scholars produce seemingly endless commentaries about the actual or “intended” meanings of certain English words and symbols. These intense debates occur within the very same language as that of the original texts.
Here, the student of religion may argue that religious texts differ from fiction because the former refer to fixed, unalterable truths. But this claim is complicated by the fact that the meaning of some religious terms change over time-such as angel and asura.
Moreover, the religious believer could say they have an advantage over regimented scholars because they possess higher forms of perception-that is, the alleged true meaning of a term is revealed or infused by God, even when reading that term in translation.
The scholar of religion cannot really prove or disprove such a claim. But scholars do point out that many apparently ‘revealed truths’ among believers often seem to contradict one another.
Meanwhile, several postmodern writers intentionally write texts with open-ended, ambiguous meanings. This creates, they say, a living dialogue between writer and reader instead of a dead monologue from writer to reader. The result, they seem to believe, is a ‘literary novel’ of higher value than say, ‘trashy pulp fiction.’ But arbitrary distinctions like this can become ingrained among literary circles, and are often loaded with unsavory, elitist connotations.
Another point to consider is that some believe that writers, themselves, may not be fully aware of their own intended meanings. And this is the underlying basis to a psychoanalytic approach to literature.
Clearly, scholars can and do produce insightful works without much knowledge of original languages. A good example would be John Kerr’s A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein (1993). Kerr openly admits to drawing upon the work of several translators. And perhaps this is a stronger method than merely relying on one’s own particular and possibly idiosyncratic translation of original texts.
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Steiner, Rudolf (1861-1925)
Born in what is now Yugoslavia, Steiner was a mystic philosopher who, after becoming a leading figure in the Theosophical Movement, broke away to form his own branch of Anthroposophy.
Perhaps Steiner’s most enduring influence is found in his Waldorf or “Steiner schools.” Some 400 of these schools populate the globe today, with a diverse curriculum geared toward developing individual potential.
Critics say the Steiner schools encourage paganism, even Satanism, and are out of touch with the realities of contemporary life.
» Ahriman, Akashic Records, Theosophy
On the Web:
- Good entry about Steiner at Wikipedia
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Tagore, Rabindranath (1861-1941)
Indian renaissance man born in Calcutta, W. Bengal.
Tagore is known throughout India and the world for his paintings, folk songs, verse, short stories, plays and novels.
In 1901 Tagore founded a unique open-air school at Santiniketan, West Bengal.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘asram’ at Santiniketan, Tagore’s school integrates Eastern and Western approaches to education and has flowered into Visva-Bharati university, offering a diverse curriculum in the arts, sciences and humanities while hosting international students from around the world.
The school is fully recognized by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission which funds exceptional foreign students, particularly for graduate studies at the M.A. and Ph.D. levels.
In 1913 Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In his Presentation Speech Harald Hjärne, Chairman of the Nobel Committee, said
Tagore’s Gitanjali: Song Offerings (1912), a collection of religious poems, was the one of his works that especially arrested the attention of the selecting critics.
Tagore’s worldly acclaim and societal impact didn’t stop there, however. Knighted in 1915, he shocked India and the British Empire by resigning his knighthood in 1919 in protest over the British colonial presence in India.
On the Web:
“This was a school project in which we had to do a biography of a major poet. I chose to make an interview video with my poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Both are acted by me. Btw, I got an A+. Inspired …”
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Pierre Bourdieu, Karl Marx, Max Weber and other sociologists say that social institutions tend to legitimize and reproduce themselves.
Perhaps a slightly jaded view, some see universities as centers of knowledge dissemination that must justify high tuition fees and the reality of sometimes uninspiring, second-rate instructors.
Critics add that, as part of the process of legitimization and reproduction, universities produce a quota of publications, some of which wouldn’t survive in the free market beyond the confines of the university bookstores. And because textbooks are often keyed in with assignments and exams, students may feel pressured into paying inflated prices for books if they wish to do well in their courses.
The other side of this argument is that universities are specialized training centers, making tailor made textbooks necessary and costly by virtue of their relatively low circulation. Just as a detailed auto repair manual may never be a bestseller but is necessary for the auto mechanic, university books in the Humanities are necessary for the trade of “critical thinking.”
In fields such as history and religious studies, students – some of whom might not readily realize they are, in part, consumers of education – are implicitly or explicitly encouraged to associate the knowledge of original languages with scholarly legitimacy and coherent thinking. This is a fallacy often overlooked by those too easily dazzled by a phalanx of references in foreign languages. And one not need to look too far to find utterly shoddy articles which, perhaps, try to impress readers with a slew of references in various languages.
Along these lines, a postmodernist might argue that scholars should be just as concerned with recent language theory instead of conforming to the age-old tradition of upholding proficiency in languages as an emblem of scholarly legitimacy.
Further to Bourdieu’s claim that most scholarship doesn’t exist in isolation but in institutions laden with cultural connotations by virtue of their being accredited as universities and colleges, one might ask: What are these places really like? How do they function? How effective are they? And how do they connect with other social institutions and practices?
Historically speaking, centers of so-called higher education and their resident scholars vary dramatically. From the Confucian courts, the Old Academies of Plato and Aristotle, the ashrams of Sankara and Gorakhnath, the early Oxford and Cambridge, the University at Salamanca, the Renaissance University of Padua, the New Florentine Academy, to today’s Visva-Bharati and other unique universities around the world, the definition of quality education takes many forms.
Perhaps the relation among language, pedagogy and societal legitimacy is best summed up by Confucius, who in The Analects says:
A gentleman would be ashamed should his deeds not match his words.
» Digital Scanning, Equal Rights, History, Individual Rights, Sociology
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We just finished posting the entire Think Free database!8)
Over the past few months we’ve got all kinds of new ideas and really great suggestions from our visitors.
Now we’ll be focussing on beefing up existing and adding some new entries.
It’s a brand new day at Think Free!
Archaeology [Greek: archaiologia = ancient history] A relatively new science concerned with the excavation and analysis of artifacts, texts, structures and organic material (such as skeletons) from past civilizations.
The birth of archaeology is often associated with J. J. Winckelmann’s Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (History of Ancient Art), published in 1764.
Carbon dating is often upheld as the miracle tool that helps to pinpoint precise dates for discovered objects.
But the accuracy of carbon dating is debated. Almost all agree that the further back we go, the less precise carbon dating becomes.
Others suggest that results can sometimes be misleading due to the hoarding and thus biased interpretation of artifacts and, in some cases, an overzealous desire to advance a career by ‘proving’ a pet theory.
International politics and profit incentives may also come into play with archaeology as ancient remnants are often found in poor, politically sensitive, volatile and even war-torn nations. And local politicians are usually required to authorize certificates for archaeological materials to be investigated or released from a site, which sometimes can slow things down.
The term archaeology was also used by Sigmund Freud. Freud employed the image of an ancient city to portray the relation between the unconscious and the ego (i.e. consciousness).
The French poststructuralist Michel Foucault used the metaphor of archaeology quite loosely to suggest the possibility of ideologically ‘buried’ forms of knowledge.
Foucault’s use of archaeology does not refer to questions like: “Did aliens build the pyramids?” or “What was the location of ancient Atlantis?” Rather, it deals with reconstructing a network of connections, assumptions, expectations, techniques, values and beliefs assumed to exist in a given historical moment.
Foucault’s archaeological metaphor is directly applied to the historical text, which he calls an “open site.” The notion of an open site suggests that the task of reconstructing historical meaning from texts is necessarily incomplete. » Anthropology
Resized “Practical Archaeology Course 8″ by Wessex Archaeology http://www.flickr.com/photos/wessexarchaeology/2036659707/, Creative Commons License
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