Ramakrishnan Professorship to support study of Sanskrit

As the University of Chicago prepares to celebrate two major anniversaries in South Asian studies, a new gift will help to ensure UChicago’s continued leadership in the study of the Indian subcontinent.

The Anupama and Guru Ramakrishnan Professorship in Sanskrit Studies, established by a $3.5 million gift from Guru and Anupama Ramakrishnan, supports a faculty member whose work focuses on the ancient classical language. Gary Tubb, professor in South Asian Languages and Civilizations and faculty director of the University of Chicago Center in Delhi, will be the first scholar to hold the new position.

The announcement of the Ramakrishnan Professorship comes as the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations celebrates its 50th anniversary, and the Committee on Southern Asian Studies marks its 60th year. An April 28-30 conference, “Sites of South Asian Studies,” will bring together top scholars in the field, including many distinguished UChicago alumni. A related exhibition, “Envisioning South Asia: Texts, Scholarship, Legacies,” is on view in the Library’s Special Collections Research Center throughout Winter Quarter.

“The University of Chicago is world renowned for its excellence in the scholarship of South Asia,” said Martha T. Roth, the Chauncey S. Boucher Distinguished Service Professor and dean of the Division of the Humanities. “Guru and Anupama Ramakrishnan’s generosity allows us to sustain that tradition and makes possible continued rigorous study of the cultural heritage of South Asia through its literary, religious and philosophical texts.”

Sanskrit is the language of the scriptures of the Hindu religion, as well as much of the literature of the Jains and Buddhists. In addition, many important works of poetry, philosophy, science, history, law, political theory, medicine and aesthetics were written in Sanskrit, the oldest literary language of South Asia. Sanskrit is also the longest continuously taught South Asian language at UChicago, having been offered since the first classes were held at the University in 1892.

Tubb first encountered Sanskrit as an undergraduate at Harvard University. He said he was attracted to the language because it provided “access to a long and rich history of human thought. Sanskrit really stands out among the world’s languages—alongside other classical languages—as being a single language that provides access to an extraordinarily broad range of texts and histories.”

A leading Sanskrit scholar, Tubb examines the tradition’s poetics, grammatical forms and commentarial traditions, and draws insights across the culture’s philosophy, religion and literature. Tubb is the author of Scholastic Sanskrit: A Handbook for Students. He is an editor and primary contributor in the book Innovations and Turning Points: Toward a History of Kavya Literature (Oxford University Press, Delhi). Another book, On Poets and Pots: Essays on Sanskrit Poetry, Poetics and Philosophy, is also forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Tubb praised the Ramakrishnan family for its support of Sanskrit scholarship. “It’s fortunate this professorship carries the name of people who have serious interest in and respect for the way Sanskrit is studied,” he said.

The Ramakrishnans’ gift is part of The University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact, which will raise $4.5 billion and engage 125,000 alumni by 2019. To date, the campaign has raised $2.82 billion and engaged more than 59,000 alumni.

Guru Ramakrishnan, MBA’88, is a founding partner at Meru Capital Group; Anupama Ramakrishnan is on the advisory board of the Agastya Foundation, a Bangalore-based NGO that funds and operates educational programs in rural India. The couple also supports a scholarship program for Indian students at Chicago Booth, the Guru and Anupama Ramakrishnan Endowed Scholarship Fund.

“We are delighted to fund this chair in Sanskrit—one of the oldest languages that has given the world the Vedas, Upanishads and other exceptional works of spirituality, poetry, music and dance. We are thrilled that Professor Tubb will be the first chair, especially in light of his lifelong dedication and passion for Sanskrit. Most importantly, the University of Chicago’s long-term commitment to scholarship in Sanskrit made it our institution of choice to partner with on this important initiative,” the Ramakrishnans said.

The University of Chicago is home to a rich array of resources for the study of the Indian subcontinent, including its Center in Delhi. Currently, more than 60 faculty members are engaged in the study of South Asian history, culture and language. The University offers instruction in nine modern and two classical Indian languages, including advanced instruction in less commonly taught languages such as Marathi and Telugu.

In 2012, a gift from the Indian Ministry of Culture established an annual one-quarter visiting professorship, the Indian Ministry of Culture Vivekananda Visiting Professorship, which brings to campus distinguished scholars in subjects such as Indian philosophy, politics and social movements.

The University of Chicago Library’s Digital South Asia Library provides access to research and reference materials on South Asia worldwide, and its celebrated South Asia collection holds more than 720,000 volumes.