Michaelmas Term 2005 saw the arrival of the new Boden Professor of Sanskrit, Christopher Minkowski, who replaced the eminent and longserving holder Richard Gombrich. Professor Minkowski came to Balliol from Cornell University where he was Professor of Asian Studies and Classics, and Director of the South Asia Program. In addition to Sanskrit language and literature, he taught South Asian philosophy, religion and cultural history at Cornell’s Asian Studies Department.
He has enjoyed making the transition to the Oxford system – a move, he says, which was made easier by his time in India, when he became accustomed to a similar academic system. In particular, he speaks of his admiration for the tutorial system, which he believes is of great benefit to students at the University. Moreover, he is delighted by the strong intellectual atmosphere at Balliol, saying, “I have had some extremely stimulating conversations with Fellows; and the quality of the students, from the undergraduates upwards, is phenomenal.”
Sanskrit is often regarded as a somewhat obscure subject, to the extent that new Fellows of the College report being asked in their interviews what they would talk about if they happened to be placed next to the Professor of Sanskrit at dinner. However, Minkowski believes that the converse is true: “The breadth of subjects opened up by a knowledge of Sanskrit is considerable. As a scholar of the language, I have as broad a remit as would, for instance, a professor of pre-Modern Europe.”
Minkowski’s specific research interests lie within the Early Modern period, from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, predominantly in the fields of intellectual history and the history of science. He is also involved in important collaborative projects such as ‘Sanskrit Knowledge Systems on the Eve of Colonialism’. Together with his new colleague, the Professor of Indian History and Culture, Polly O’Hanlon, he has begun an Oxford-based research team that concentrates on Early Modern South Asia.
Sanskrit has for centuries been regarded as an intellectual language and it is fitting that Balliol, with its historic strength in the classics, should continue to count the Boden Professor among its Fellows, 125 years after first holding the Chair.