More than Manu: Trends and Topics in Early Modern Dharmaśāstra
Convenor: Dr. Rembert Lutjeharms
Dharmaśāstra is typically associated with the ‘Laws of Manu,’ with legalistic religious conservatism, with caste prejudice and with patriarchy. Indeed, the tendency is to view Dharmaśāstra as a antiquated, unchanging tradition which has remained stubbornly static since the turn of common era. This paper complicates these misconceptions by giving an overview of the dynamic developments within Dharmaśāstra during the early modern period of South Asia (roughly 1450-1750). I explore three key features of early modern Dharmaśāstra: a) the emergence of dedicated monographs that addressed distinct Dharmaśāstric topics such as caste and inheritance; b) the growing importance of Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya as analytic tools in Dharmaśāstric reasoning; and c) the increasing role of Brahman Dharmaśāstrins in regional religious and legal disputes. The thrust of my paper is that early modern Dharmaśāstra was dynamic, varied, and enmeshed in many of changes and challenges which characterized early modernity in South Asia.
Christopher Fleming is a DPhil Candidate at the Oriental Institute and a member of Balliol College. His research interests include the intersection between Dharmaśāstra, Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya, South Asian legal history and comparative jurisprudence.