The Columns

Timothy Lubin Receives Two National Fellowships

— by on May 15th, 2009

Timothy Lubin, associate professor of religion at Washington and Lee University, has received two national fellowships for work on his research project “Authority, Law and the Polity in India, 300-1700.”

He will spend 2009-2010 in India supported by a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Fellowship, from the U.S. Department of Education, which is aimed at strengthening area and foreign language expertise among U.S. educators.
While in India, Lubin will review documents and materials that reveal how law was practiced in India before the French and British colonized the country and changed the legal system to reflect the European model.

The following year, Lubin will continue his work back in Lexington, with the support of an American Philosophical Society Sabbatical Fellowship. During this period, he will visit archives in the U.S. and Europe, do the final analysis and begin writing on his findings.

While India has a rich tradition of scholastic texts in Sanskrit that explore the principles of justice, Lubin said it’s not always clear who followed those rules or even who was expected to follow them. “It’s always been difficult to find any evidence of how justice was actually practiced, and this has been a neglected area mainly because the documents are inaccessible and difficult to understand,” he said.

Lubin explained that for the earlier periods, available records of law in practice are restricted to surviving inscriptions on temple walls and on copper plates (often copies of palm-leaf documents). But from the later years, 1200 to 1700, a wider range of actual legal documents have been preserved.

“One goal of this project is to recover an area of India’s cultural history that has been a bit of a terra incognita for a long time because the materials are scattered, hard to use and hard to correlate with the Sanskrit scholastic tradition,” he said. “Part of my job is to try and bridge that gap. But then there’s the larger question of how to draw out the big picture from that and bring it into conversation with religion and law and comparative legal theory beyond India.”

Lubin said one of the most enjoyable aspects of his work is the opportunity to go out in the field. “With this research project, I can commit a sizeable amount of time to looking at evidence of what people have done in the past and the bearing that has on the present,” he said.

For the most part, Lubin’s research will be a solitary activity, but he will be working at the Department of Indology at the French Institute of Pondicherry and will have colleagues there and at the Pondicherry Center of the École française d’Extrême-Orient whom he can call upon. Lubin has been an affiliated researcher at the Institute since 2003. “I read Sanskrit and Classical Tamil, but I’m always improving my skills, and it’s good to have scholars here I can consult with,” he said.

Lubin also lectures in law and religion at W&L’s school of law.