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Wintor Scott

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My dissertation – Critical groundwork for a decolonial philosophy of ritual: the originary palimpsest of politeia in 19th century discourses of ritual sacrifice – poses the possibility of epistemic rupture in the wake of 19th century European colonialism in a dazzling, albeit heretofore philosophically neglected, light: sacrificial slaughter. In the course of several chapters, I show how the 5th century C.E. political philosophical discourses on politeia (Gk. ‘polity’, ‘constitution’) become reinscribed in theories of the alterity of sacrificial slaughter for the 19th century colonial polity. The dissertation not only traces the intellectual palimpsest (i.e. ‘history’) of the concept of sacrificial slaughter in its originary, orientalesque inscription in the monastic philosopher Pseudo-Nilus’ Narratio (5th c. CE) up till its diverse reinscriptions and erasures in the theoretical discourses of major 19th century sociologists and indologists such as William Robertson Smith, Sylvian Lévi, Marcel Mauss, Henri Hubert and Émile Durkheim, but it also reveals the intimate relationship of these 19th century colonial discourses with the theories of classical graeco-roman political and ethical philosophy. The dissertation proposes that the political philosophical concept of politeia served as the basis for theorizations of the alterity of sacrificial slaughter as well as the exteriority of the compelled (Urdu/Hindi majboor), i.e. those excluded from the internal discursive consensus of the colonial polity. Besides engaging in decolonial critique, one of the central aims of the dissertation is to highlight the relevance of philosophical study of ritual to contemporary philosophers of religion, ethics and historians of philosophy in the academy. 

Ongoing research includes: the classification of fixed and elective rituals in Pūrva Mīmāṁsā, or the Nityakāmyaviveka; the presence of Stoic rule-based deliberative reason in the monastic works of Evagrius Ponticus;  editing of the manuscripts of Prabhākara’s Bṛhatī and Śālikanātha Miśra's Ṛjuvimalāpañcikā for future publication.  

Some remarks on my training. After completing a B.A. in Classics (minor contemporary philosophy) at the University of Texas with summe cum laude, I continued my studies in Graeco-roman ancient philosophy in the Ancient philosophy and Classics program at Princeton University, where I am currently in my sixth year as a Ph.D candidate. Side by side with my classical and philosophical training, my training in Sanskrit formally started in Pune, India (2018) through the institution of American Institute of Indian studies (AIIS). Since then I have continued studying Śastric Sanskrit philosophy together with professors of Sanskrit philosophy who generously offered me their time, as well as with graduate colleagues in the reading groups. My particular focus in Śastric Sanskrit is Pūrva Mīmāṁsā philosophy of ritual. Methodologically, I endorse a combination of analytic, critical and critical-comparative approaches to texts and discourses. 

Other projects/interests: after some years of Hindi/Urdu language studies, in the academic year of 2022-3, I took a leave of absence to study Urdu for the entire academic year in the Mughal Persian and Urdu program in Lucknow, India hosted by the American Institute of Indian studies. My interests in Urdu literature focuses on the philosophical-political discourses of decoloniality from the perspective of Urdu literature during the 19th century period of transition from late Mughal rule to the colonial rule of the British. Besides providing archival material on the decolonial discourses of the Urdu-ahl-e-zaban of the subcontinent, this research also contributes documentary evidence on the politics of power involved in the appropriation and dissemination of the Sanskrit language among the intelligentsia of the colonial polity.