Teaching

Teaching Philosophy

It’s a truism that philosophy is a conversation. Still, I find this metaphor a useful organizing principle for my pedagogy. As a result of my classes, I want students to be in a position to contribute insightfully and appropriately to the ongoing, global philosophical conversation. In teaching, I emphasize understanding the context of one’s interlocutor, whether another person or a text. This pedagogical approach also grounds my commitment to a diverse learning environment, which has been shaped through a varied history of teaching experience as well as my research in Indian philosophy.

Current Academic Year (2020-2021)

Note: I will be teaching online for Yale-NUS in Semester 1, due to family responsibilities in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes will be held synchronously through Zoom, and we will make use of educational technology like social annotation and shared documents to stay in touch across the time zone difference.

2020 Fall/Sem 1: Hinduism, Nationalism, and the Bhagavad Gita in the 20th Century

What we call “Hinduism” is a modern, originally Western, concept that aggregates a multiplicity of traditions as a single religious tradition. However, many Indians took on this identity and shaped it as their own, and as they did, the Bhagavad Gītā played an important religious and political role in this emerging self-conception—as it still does today. This course examines the way in which the Gītā is implicated in the history of Hinduism as a religion, through a range of texts (letters, treatises, translations) focusing on the early 20th century independence movement.

  • This course fulfills the Historical Immersion requirement of the Yale-NUS Common Curriculum. Click to see provisional course details below. Syllabus

Course Information

YHU3330: Hinduism, Nationalism, and the Bhagavad Gita in the 20th Century

Meets: Tuesdays/Fridays 1930 – 2100, Classroom 19 / Zoom

Instructor Information

Prof. Malcolm Keating ("Prof K" or "Prof Keating" please)

malcolm.keating@yale-nus.edu.sg (due to time difference, please allow 24 hours for reply weekdays, 48 weekends)

Synchronous virtual office hours will be determined our first week of class. We will hold these office hours using the chat room, though we can use Zoom if it turns out to be necessary. You can always, no matter what time, post an office hours question on the discussion thread: Office hours. I'll answer questions as soon as possible.

Course Description

What we call “Hinduism” is a modern, originally Western, concept that aggregates a multiplicity of traditions as a single religious tradition. However, many Indians took on this identity and shaped it as their own, and as they did, the Bhagavad Gita played an important religious and political role in this emerging self-conception—as it still does today. This course examines the way in which the Gita is implicated in the history of Hinduism as a religion, through a range of texts (letters, treatises, translations) focusing on the early 20th century independence movement.

Course Goals

On successful completion of the course:

  1. Students will understand the emergence of what is known as “Hinduism” in the modern context.
  2. Students will understand the role of the Bhagavad Gītā and philosophical/religious texts more generally in the construction of Hinduism.
  3. Students will attain competence in reading primary source material of a variety of genres: philosophical commentary, letters, theological texts, and newspaper articles.
  4. Students will attain competence in writing papers which (a) engage with a historical source text, (b) argues for the thesis using careful and charitable reading of primary and secondary material, and (c) engage with compelling objections to the position and/or develop further implications of the view.
  5. Students will be able to evaluate claims about the history of Hinduism (a) by drawing upon appropriate resources texts such as Indian philosophical literature and letters and (b) by employing their own reasoning skills.
  6. Students will be prepared to take more classes in Indian philosophy or Indian history.

About Course Delivery

Your instructor for this course is teaching from the United States due family responsibilites during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This means that our class meetings will be through Zoom. Since there are differences between being physically present in a classroom together and talking by webcam, we will be doing work together asynchronously before class meetings to focus our conversations and help stay connected. Our class time will then be focused on addressing questions and ideas you've raised before class.

Weekly mini-lectures via Panopto You’re responsible for viewing the lectures before our class meetings. These lectures will set up the questions we’ll investigate, give you background information, and focus your attention in the readings. Class time will be spent in discussion and activities, not lecture.

Shared documents There will be one for each module. Students can use this to work together to share notes and discussion of secondary source material. You can take notes on the lecture here, notes on the reading, use the comment and chat functions to talk about the materials, and so on.You’ll be required to insert a report on some helpful secondary material at least once during the course. I encourage you to do this more often, though. Please practice good citation practices in the documents and when you rely on the documents.

Discussion board posting Finally, to prepare for class in a structured way, each week, you will be responsible for posting a question you think the class should focus on. You will identify the context for the question, state the question concisely, and say why you think it’s important to answer. These are due before our class meeting Tuesdays and Fridays, at 5pm SGT.

Course Assignments

  • 20% Class “journal club”
    • Each student will, once during the course, be responsible for writing a brief report on helpful secondary material which they used to understand the reading assignment for the week. They will post this to the course Google Doc for the relevant module.
  • 30% Short papers
    • Students will write a short paper (2-3 pages) related to each unit from a selection of assigned essay topics. Each paper will be worth 10%.
  • 25% Final paper
    • Students will write a final paper (4-5 pages) at the end of the term from a selection of assigned essay topics. Completing a preliminary draft and and peer review is part of the paper grade.
  • 25% Participation

Reading and Assignment Schedule

The readings in this course will include primary historical sources, or material such as letters, newpaper articles, and essays. They will also include "secondary" sources, or materials which discuss primary sources, like journal articles and academic books. Each week you will have primary and secondary material assigned. You will also have selections assigned from the Gita or its commentaries. Scans of course material will be available on Canvas, except for the main Bhagavad Gita text which you will need to purchase. You'll be getting a lot of use out of it, so do purchase a hard copy that you can refer to often.

2020 Fall/Sem 1: Classical Indian Philosophy of Language

What do we mean when we speak, and how do we understand those meanings? Explore these questions along with Indian thinkers who were concerned with understanding language in sacred texts, poetry, and everyday speech. We will discuss what words mean, how metaphor works, and how we can use language to do so much: learn things, insult people, make arguments, tell stories, imagine fictional worlds, and more. (3000 level)

  • 2020 syllabus forthcoming, see 2018 Sem 1 for approximation.

Past Courses

Analogical Reasoning & Metaphor

This course considers how we use metaphor and analogical reasoning as a tool for understanding the world. Einstein imagines a beam of light as a a train which he rides. Mengzi thinks of human virtues as growing sprouts. Why is this kind of reasoning so pervasive, and what does it mean to think with metaphor and analogy? Three philosophical traditions will inform our exploration of these questions: Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, and contemporary Anglophone analytic philosophy. In the first part of the course, we will consider what metaphor and analogy are, and the implications for understanding their role in our thought. In the second part of the course, we focus on metaphor’s relationship to culture and language. Finally, we take up ways in which metaphorical reasoning is important in two philosophical questions: what is the nature of reality and how should we live. (300 level)

Classical Indian Philosophy of Language

What do we mean when we speak, and how do we understand those meanings? Explore these questions along with Indian thinkers who were concerned with understanding language in sacred texts, poetry, and everyday speech. We will discuss what words mean, how metaphor works, and how we can use language to do so much: learn things, insult people, make arguments, tell stories, imagine fictional worlds, and more. (3000 level)

Doing Things with Words

With a system of sounds and marks, human beings are able to share knowledge, coordinate actions, prompt emotional responses, and make things like marriages and names come into existence. This course will consider what both Sanskrit and Anglophone philosophers have to say about speech acts. We will start with Mīmāṃsā, known as the “science of sentences”, and think about how commands and exhortations work. We will then turn to J.L. Austin’s seminal How to Do Things with Words, which introduced speech act theory to Anglophone philosophy. The course will close with some contemporary attempts to integrate Mīmāṃsā and speech act theory. (4000 level)

Debate and Reasoning in Indian Philosophy

What does good reasoning look like? What does it aim for? How should we argue with our opponents? Nyāya, a tradition within Brahminical Indian philosophy, presented and defended sophisticated methods of reasoning and norms for debate that are still being studied today. In this course, we focus on sections of the Nyāya-sūtra (Aphorisms on Reasoning) in translation and its early commentaries, along with selections from other Indian texts. Not only will we consider methods and norms, but we will look at how Indian thinkers put them into practice in arguments on topics such as the existence of God. (3000 level)

Philosophy and Political Thought (PPT), Pt 1

Common Curriculum course for first-year students which introduces great works from Chinese, Greco-Roman, and Indian intellectual traditions up to the medieval period. Topics covered include what makes the good life, what it is to be human, what the self is or might be, how it is that we know, what constitutes good government. (1000 level)

Philosophy and Political Thought (PPT), Pt 2

Common Curriculum course for first-year students which introduces great works from Chinese, Greco-Roman, and Indian intellectual traditions beyond the medieval period. Topics covered include what makes the good life, what it is to be human, what the self is or might be, how it is that we know, what constitutes good government. (1000 level)

2MCs/Independent Studies

Students interested in constructing their own course of study with me, please send me an email with a proposal. In the past, I have worked with students on the following topics:

    • Introduction to Analytic Philosophy of Language
    • Fiction and Fictionalism
    • Vasubandhu's Triṃśikā or Thirty Verses (on Consciousness-Only)
    • Sanskrit readings: Nyāyasūtra