UF Establishes Nation's First Center For The Study Of Hindu Traditions

April 20, 2005

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To encourage the research, teaching and public understanding of Hindu culture, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Florida has established the nation’s first Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions. The only other center of its kind in the world is Oxford University’s Centre for Hindu Studies, with which UF will have collaborations.

“Many universities in this country are just opening up to the idea of Hindu studies,” said Vasudha Narayanan, a religion professor who will serve as the center’s first director. “Since our program is interdisciplinary and we are not just looking at it through one set of lenses, I believe we will create new interest.”
Drawing from UF’s diverse resources, CHiTra will offer a series of interdisciplinary courses and lectures to UF students focusing on Hindu traditions and the arts, Hinduism and environmental concerns and Hinduism and health-related issues. It also will offer regular instruction in one of the oldest Indo-European languages, Sanskrit, which remains an official language of India. The acronym for the center, CHiTra, is the Sanskrit word for “beautiful work of art.”

The center will not initially offer an undergraduate major or minor, but will work toward offering a certificate program. Its first three courses will be offered in the fall — an honors course, Introduction to Hindu Culture, taught by Narayanan; Beginning Sanskrit, taught by graduate student Michael Gressett; and Second-Year Sanskrit, taught by Govinda Rangarajan, an adjunct professor who holds a doctorate in Sanskrit from Madras University in India.

The center will bring together faculty from across campus, collaborating extensively with the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, the Department of African and Asian Languages and Literatures, the Asian Studies Program and the School of Theatre and Dance. It will have strong ties with Oxford and plans to co-host a series of lectures and programs for the research community, as well as possible faculty and student exchanges. The center also will collaborate with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi to pursue joint research projects in India and the possible exchange of visiting scholars.

The Gainesville community will benefit from CHiTra by attending sponsored art exhibits and dance and musical performances offered in conjunction with the Center for World Arts, the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art and Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The center also aims to help expand the Hindu studies collection at UF’s Smathers Library.

“The center promises to provide important intellectual and artistic leadership in the internationalization of the university,” said Joan Frosch, an associate professor and assistant director of the School of Theatre and Dance who is serving on the new center’s advisory committee. “No U.S. institution, as far as I know, has such a center in place. I would expect CHiTra to play an increasingly national, if not international, role in the understanding of Hindu culture, its traditions and innovations.”