Last Friday I was in London for the annual conference of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies, which this year was a one-day affair at SOAS. Although I missed parts of some papers due to organisational duties, I thoroughly enjoyed the day. The papers were of very high quality – three established scholars and three post-graduate students on a wide range of topics. The highlight for me, though, was Jan Westerhoff’s presentation about his Śāstravid project, an online tool for presenting and researching Indian philosophical texts.
Jan is an interesting scholar in that he bridges several disciplines – his early training was in Western philosophy, and his first book was on Ontological Categories (OUP 2006), but he is also a highly competent scholar of Sanskrit and Tibetan, and he has published widely on Indian Buddhist philosophy in recent years. He is about to move away from posts in Philosophy to take up duties in Oxford’s Faculty of Theology and Religion.
The Śāstravid tool is quite an impressive gift to the scholarly community. Although designed with the specific structure of Indian philosophical texts in mind – that of root verse and several layers of commentary – in principal the tool could be used in a variety of ways. Basically the site allows the viewer to choose which parts of a cluster of texts to view – just the root, or the root and translations, or mix in selected commentaries… It also allows browsing of texts according to conceptual categories, which are themselves very carefully selected and arranged for ease of use. I can only encourage everyone to go and take a look: http://www.sastravid.net.
We are, inevitably, moving towards having more and more resources online. In many ways we all feel the benefits of this, yet some online tools and databases are poorly conceived or user-unfriendly. This one sets a standard for the future development of scholarly resources that really could change the way we work for the better.