SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Ancient and Medieval Indian Philosophy

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

The aim of this course is to provide students with a comprehensive view of the Brahminical philosophical traditions rooted in the texts of the Vedas. It begins by surveying the scope of these traditions, and then examines the philosophically relevant aspects of the Ṛgveda and the Atharvaveda, focusing primarily on speculations regarding the interconnections between thought, reality and truth. The nature of action is examined in relation to the emerging concept of karma (action with reflexive effect), the prospects for the after-life, and the possibility of liberation from the continuous round of birth, death and rebirth. The treatment of the relation between the Self and the Absolute in the early Upaniṣads constitutes the main focus of the study of those texts.

The remaining part of the course will focus upon the interpretation given to the Vedic texts by later thinkers in the traditions of Mīmāṃsā, Vedānta and Vyākaraṇa. After exploring the developing relationship between Vedic exegesis and hermeneutics, the topics of ontology, epistemology, ethics and theory of language will be discussed with reference to specific thinkers, including Bhartṛhari, Śaṅkara, Bhāskara, Maṇḍana Miśra, and Rāmānuja.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of the principal trends of speculative thought reflected in those schools directly related to the Vedic textual tradition.
  • Identify the connections between ontology, soteriology, ethics, epistemology and theory of language as they relate to the schools of thought examined in the course.
  • Critically evaluate the arguments presented in the secondary literature regarding the historical development and philosophical significance of the schools discussed.
  • Critically assess the arguments presented in the primary sources (in translation) regarding the key areas discussed in the course.
  • Appreciate the contributions made by Indian philosophers in the arenas of ontology, ethics, epistemology and theory of language.
  • Describe and critique the various ways in which the Veda, as a text, has inspired a variety of philosophical approaches.


2 hour lecture.

Method of assessment

  • One 3,500 word essay (worth 100%)

Suggested reading

  • Carmen, J.B. The theology of Rāmānuja : an essay in interreligious understanding. 1974. JA294.5512 /313309
  • Frauwallner, E. History of Indian Philosphy, vol. 1. 1973. KC181.4 /316891
  • Hiriyanna, Mysore. Outlines of Indian Philosophy. 1932. JA181.4 /618448
  • Houben, Jan E.M. The Saṃbandha-samuddeśa (chapter on relation) and Bhartṛhari's Philosophy of Language. 1995. KC410 /732969 SCB Change
  • Nakamura, Hajime. A History of Early Vedānta Philosophy. 1990. JA181.48 /495203
  • Potter, Karl. Presuppositions of Indian Philosophies. 1991. JA181.4 /790753
  • Sastri, G.B. The Philosophy of Word and Meaning: some Indian approaches with special reference to the philosophy of Bhartṛhari. 1959. III.3.f.63 /139870


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules