Appropriations of Indian Dharma and Law on the Peripheries


ACLS Fellowship Program




This monographic project proposes a new conceptual model to account for the development and spread of classical Hindu law, and in particular of Brahmin authority (both sacred and worldly), roughly between 300 BCE and 1000 CE. The analysis shows how the doctrinal ideal of the disciplined householder as an ascetic-in-the-world provided a basis for treating Brahmin communities as comparable in holiness and authority to monastic orders. This principle provided a justification for Brahmins to receive patronage in the form of tax-free endowments and helped secure for their lineages high social status by birth. Endowed Brahmin enclaves became centers of learning that propagated the ideals of Dharmaśāstra (religious law) in royal courts and wider society. Over time, such endowments provided an adaptable model for the appropriation and transformation of Brahmanical norms on the peripheries beyond the north Indian “middle country”: in the Himalaya, Bengal, the Tamil south, and Indonesia.