On Meaning and Mantras: Essays in Honor of Frits Staal
- About the Book
The late Johan Frederik (known as Frits) Staal (November 3, 1930–February 19, 2012), was born in Amsterdam and said of his home country, “There was no religion there.” While his academic interests included philosophy, Staal’s education focused on the study of mathematics, physics, astronomy, and logic. His approach to the study of Vedic religion and ritual was informed by this background, expressed in his assertion that he was not interested in the humanities but in the human sciences. Staal’s studies led him to India, where he completed a dissertation, “Advaita and Neoplatonism: A Critical Study in Comparative Philosophy,” at the University of Madras. In this period he also pursued research on South Indian Vedic recitation, which culminated in the publication of his first book, Nambudiri Veda Recitation. This laid the groundwork for his massive study of the agnicayana ritual conducted in Kerala in 1975, and the 1983 publication of his two-volume Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar. Staal’s research and writings had a wide-ranging influence on many different academic fields, including Vedic studies, Sanskrit studies, linguistics, and ritual studies. In addition to his academic contributions in those fields, he was a founding member of the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He also contributed to the founding of the Group in Buddhist Studies, which from its advent was intended to balance South and East Asian languages and cultures. This reflects Staal’s methodological concern that East Asian Buddhism must be connected to Indian studies, and that Indian studies must also include Buddhism. He said of the Buddha that he “was either India’s greatest son or one of two the other being Pānini” (“There is No Religion There,” in Jon R. Stone, ed., The Craft of Religious Studies).
This collection brings together 32 contributions by personal friends and leading figures in the fields of Vedic, Sanskrit, Indian and ritual studies honoring the life and work of the late Frits Staal. The essays compiled here are by Greg Bailey, Dipak Bhattacharya, Kamaleswar Bhattacharya, Philo Bregstein, Johannes Bronkhorst, Jean Michel Delire, Madhav M. Deshpande, Silvia D’Intino, Finnian M. M. Gerety, Robert Goldman, Sally J. Sutherland Goldman, Phyliss Granoff, Stephanie W. Jamison, Joanna Jurewicz, P. Pratap Kumar, Jeffery D. Long, Thennilapuram Mahadevan, Boris Oguibénine, Carl Olson, André Padoux, Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan, Asko Parpola, Richard K. Payne, Alessandra Petrocchi, Peter M. Scharf, Arvind Sharma, Frederick M. Smith, Romila Thapar, George Thompson, Laurens van Krevelen, Michael Witzel, Hiram Woodward.
- Richard K. Payne is Yehan Numata Professor of Japanese Buddhist Studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies, Berkeley.