Charles S. Preston

2014

Proposed Dissertation title: To Form a More “Samskrita” India: Aesthetics, Politics, and Religion in V. Raghavan’s Twentieth-Century Sanskrit Dramas.

After an intensive year of research in India, I am excited to embark upon a year of intensive writing as a Junior Fellow in the Martin Marty Center, and I hope to complete most of my dissertation.  Since good writing must convey information and make arguments clearly and effectively, I am eager for the chance to discuss my research, conclusions, and writing with my fellow Marty Fellows, and thereby hone my ability to elucidate how my admittedly very focused topic addresses issues within the broader study of religion.  I think my experience in the Marty Center will help me to think, speak, and write myself out of the solipsistic and particularistic holes I might fall into in the process of writing a dissertation. 

My dissertation research centers on the twentieth-century Sanskrit dramatic works by Dr. V. Raghavan, a scholar and proponent of Indian religion and culture.  My project asks how and why Raghavan wrote Sanskrit dramas and attempted to revive the Sanskrit theater tradition in postcolonial India. His dramas brought together his academic research and his religious and philosophical convictions, but also served as instruments in his advocacy for the preservation of Indian culture and the revival of Sanskrit language and literature.  I intend to extrapolate from his dramas to address concerns about the aesthetics of literature written in a language imbued with religious affect, the performance of culture in postcolonial India, and the slipperiness of the categories “religion” and “culture” in postcolonial nationalist Indian rhetoric.

Raghavan’s project presumed that the masses in India could understand the little-known language of Sanskrit and that such an erudite, rarefied, and customarily religious language could be employed to inform, persuade, and uplift such a diverse intended audience.  As such, there is not much difference, on the level of trying to change people’s minds, between his writing Sanskrit dramas in the twentieth-century and my writing an academic dissertation about them.  Thus I hope my interactions in the Marty Center and my experience teaching this year will help me become a more effective communicator so that my research does not fall on others’ ears as incomprehensible Sanskrit.