Department of Religious Studies

Donald R. Davis, Jr.

PhD, University of Texas at Austin

Professor & Chair, Department of Asian Studies
Donald R. Davis, Jr.


  • Phone: 512-471-5811
  • Office: WCH 4.134
  • Office Hours: Fall 2021: TTH 10-11 or by appt.
  • Campus Mail Code: G9300


Sanskrit; Hinduism; Jainism; Law and Religion; Medieval India; Malayalam


My primary research concerns the interaction of law and religion in medieval India. From one side, I look at the historical evidence for law and legal practice in inscriptions, temple archives, and other dated documents as a way to contextualize the law in earlier periods of Indian history.  I examined records from the regional language of Malayalam to situate notoriously ahistorical normative texts in Sanskrit in a book entitled The Boundaries of Hindu Law: Tradition, Custom, and Politics in Medieval Kerala (2004). From the other side, I study the Dharmaśāstra tradition as a system of religious law and jurisprudence, apart from historical questions. In The Spirit of Hindu Law (2010), I provide a conceptual overview of the Hindu perspective on law and how it can relate to modern questions of policy, ethics, and religion. In support of these interests, I maintain the Resource Library for Dharmaśāstra Studies. Finally, I have a continuing interest in Malayalam language and literature, and I published The Train that Had Wings (2005, now Open Access), a collection of translated short stories by the Malayalam writer M. Mukundan. 

My latest project is an edited volume of articles by my teacher Richard Lariviere entitled Common Sense and Legal History in India: Collected Essays on Hindu Law and Dharmaśāstra to be published by Primus Books in Delhi. In 2017, I published a book entitled The Dharma of Business: Commercial Law in Medieval India (Penguin, 2017), a study of commerce-related titles of law in medieval Hindu law texts.  I also co-edited (with Patrick Olivelle) a volume for the Oxford History of Hinduism entitled Hindu Law: A New History of Dharmaśāstra (OUP, 2018). My current research broadens my interest in the practice of Hindu law in historical perspective, using materials beyond the Dharmaśāstra texts and from many parts of medieval India. At the same time, I continue work on a translation of the Mitākṣarā of Vijñāneśvara, a twelfth-century commentary and compendium on dharma


I am particularly interested to work with graduate students on Dharmaśāstra traditions and their relevance to law, religion, history, politics, economy, etc. in India. Students with broader interests in comparative religious law and/or "jurists' law" (Jewish law, Islamic law, Roman law, etc) are especially encouraged to inquire about graduate study. At UT, I am one of several faculty members interested in various aspects of Hinduism and also classical religions in India.  Thus, I am open to working with students in these areas, though my specialization tends toward normative and "mainstream" areas such as Vedānta, Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā, Epics, and Purāṇas.


SAN 330G • Purva-Mimamsa

33915 • Fall 2021
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM MEZ 1.104
(also listed as SAN 384S)

Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā is the system of hermeneutics developed to interpret the intricate ritual prescriptions of the Brāhmaṇa texts in the Vedic corpus. This ostensibly narrow focus, however, says nothing about the pervasive and highly influential use of Mīmāṃsā for the interpretation of all texts in ancient and medieval India. Along with grammar and poetics, hermeneutics became one of the three great philosophies of language in the Sanskrit tradition, renowned for its contributions to linguistic sciences, the power of speech and word, and the relation of language and reality. This course will introduce students to the system—first, through a careful study of a primer of Mīmāṃsā hermeneutics in Sanskrit and, second, through secondary readings providing context and broader background to the influence of Mīmāṃsā. Students will learn to read the Sanskrit style of this philosophical śāstra, similar to all other philosophical and commentarial texts.



  • 40% Regular preparation of the daily in-class readings and participation
  • 20% Take-home Mid-term Exam
  • 30% Final Exegetical Paper
  • 10% Attendance (mandatory)

UGS 302 • Conservatism: Comp & Critique

62145 • Fall 2021
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM PAR 310

The Signature Course (UGS 302 and 303) introduces first-year students to the university’s academic community through the exploration of new interests. The Signature Course is your opportunity to engage in college-level thinking and learning.

SAN 330 • Bhagavata Purana

32535 • Fall 2020
Meets MW 8:30AM-10:00AM PAR 206
GC (also listed as SAN 384S)


This course consists of close readings in Sanskrit of the important and popular literary text called the Bhagavata Purana. The course will focus on famous episodes from the tenth book of the text, which centers on the life of Krsna, a revered god and hero in many Hindu traditions and tales. Students will gain exposure to the high literary style used in the Bhagavata, as well as its strategic archaic features. Over the course of the semester, students will learn not only the essential story of the Bhagavata, but also how to read its unique combination of poetic and narrative registers.

SAN 330 • Kumarasambhava Of Kalidasa

32540 • Fall 2019
Meets TTH 9:30AM-11:00AM CBA 4.336
GC (also listed as SAN 384S)

In this course, students will read the third canto of the Kumarasambhava of Kalidasa, one of the poetic masterpieces of Sanskrit literature. The course will focus first on the poetics and compositional style of the text and students will try their hand at translations of complex Sanskrit verse into English. The course will also engage the ideas behind the third canto, including mythological assumptions, social perspectives, and cultural concerns that inform the text.

R S 394T • Hinduism

43090 • Spring 2019
Meets T 3:30PM-6:30PM MEZ 1.104
(also listed as ANS 384)

A comprehensive survey of Hindu traditions for graduate students in Asian studies, religion, history, and philosophy. The course will cover substantive topics ranging from ritual, mythology, and institutions to theology, philosophy, and mysticism. Theoretical perspectives and controversies about the nature and history of Hinduism as a tradition will be examined in detail.

SAN 330 • Dharmasastra

33185 • Fall 2018
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM GAR 2.124
(also listed as SAN 384S)

Prerequisite: Sanskrit 312L with a grade of at least C.

R S 341 • Hindu Law

43600 • Fall 2017
Meets W 2:00PM-5:00PM PAR 310
GC (also listed as ANS 372)


This seminar course examines the tradition known as Hindu law and its place in the legal, religious, social, and political history of India and South Asia.  The course will introduce students to the complex, but fascinating legal thought of classical and medieval India and reinterpret the methodologies and theoretical presuppositions of comparative religious and legal studies.  Broad questions concerning the relationship of religion and law, the nature of textual authority, jurisprudential commentary, and the role of customary law will be investigated against the background of India's history. Classic works on Hindu law will be reinterpreted in the light of recent scholarship.  A representative selection of Sanskrit legal texts, called Dharmaśāstras, will be read in translation.  The impact of colonialism on the law in India and the creation of Anglo-Hindu law will be examined for links and discontinuities with earlier legal traditions.  The course will conclude with a consideration of the development and role of modern Hindu law.



Derrett, J.D.M. Religion, Law, and the State in India. London: Faber, 1968.

Davis, Jr. Donald R. The Spirit of Hindu Law. Cambridge UP, 2010.

Galanter, Marc. Law and Society in Modern India. Oxford UP, 1993.

Lingat, Robert, The Classical Law of India. Berkeley, 1973.

Lubin, Timothy, et al (eds.) Hinduism and Law: An Introduction. Cambridge UP, 2010.



SAN 330 • Vedarthasamgraha

32715 • Fall 2017
Meets TTH 9:30AM-11:00AM MEZ 1.104
(also listed as SAN 384S)

Prerequisite: Sanskrit 312L with a grade of at least C.

ANS 302K • Introduction To South Asia

31630 • Spring 2017
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM CLA 0.128
GC (also listed as ANT 310L)


This course introduces students to major thinkers, ideas, histories, issues, and movements of South Asia.  While a clear set of factual information will be integral to the course, the equally important goal of the course is to learn how to engage South Asia on terms similar to other courses in the liberal arts.  Stated plainly, we want to do more than learn about South Asia; we want to learn from it as well.  The institutional and traditional obstacle to this approach stems from the simple fact that most American students, whatever their ethnic origins, are taught that “our” intellectual heritage begins with the Greeks and ends with contemporary European and American thinkers.  The intellectual and cultural histories of East and West connect much more than most people know.  Yet, most of us are simply not taught how and why to understand South Asian (or other area) literatures, art, religion, law, or other cultural expressions as sources for our own humanistic and ethical development.  Thus, the primary goal of this course is to train students in how to “read” South Asia in such a way that it can mean something to them intellectually, professionally, and personally.

ANS 395 • Proseminar In Asian Studies

31770 • Fall 2016
Meets T 2:00PM-5:00PM PAR 214

Core Readings and Methods in Asian Studies. Various theories and methods used in the field of Asian studies, including disciplinary history, controversies, and the diversity of approaches within the field.

SAN 330 • Bhagavata Purana

32500 • Fall 2016
Meets MW 10:00AM-11:30AM WCH 4.118
(also listed as SAN 384S)

Prerequisite: Sanskrit 312L with a grade of at least C.

ANS 340 • Hist Of Hindu Relig Traditn

30775 • Spring 2016
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM BUR 112
GC (also listed as ANT 324L)

Please check back for updates.

SAN 507 • First-Year Sanskrit II

31705 • Spring 2016
Meets MW 12:00PM-1:00PM CLA 0.124

Detailed study of problems of grammar and syntax; reading of extracts from original Sanskrit texts. Five class hours a week for one semester. Prerequisite: Sanskrit 506 with a grade of at least C.

ANS 398T • Supervised Teaching In Ans

31040 • Fall 2015
Meets W 2:00PM-5:00PM CAL 200

This course introduces graduate students to teaching in the field of Asian humanities, examining both theoretical approaches to the field of Asian studies and the theory and practice of university teaching.  The course begins with readings that orient students to Asian humanities and to a viable articulation of the field itself.  The main emphasis of the course will be integrating this wide-ranging vision of excellent scholarship in Asian studies into the tangible practice of excellent teaching.  Assignments will ask students to produce materials and think through issues faced in several types of university courses.  Students will leave the course with a solid foundation of teaching materials and knowledge about the scholarship of teaching sufficient and suitable for use in applying for university teaching positions.

SAN 506 • First-Year Sanskrit I

31745 • Fall 2015
Meets MW 11:00AM-12:00PM GAR 1.126

Course Objectives and Outcomes

This course is the first semester of a complete introduction to the Sanskrit language. You will learn many essentials of Sanskrit grammar including present and past tense verbs, nominal declensions, participles, infinitives, gerunds, and compounds. You will also learn Devanāgarī (a script in which Sanskrit, as well as other South Asian languages, is commonly written). You will learn to recite Sanskrit verses, compose simple sentences, and you will discover the many different types of literary production that are written in Sanskrit (for example, law codes, ritual manuals, medical treatises, and love poems), as well as learn about the cultural contexts that produced them. You will also begin to translate original Sanskrit literature. Some say Sanskrit is a “dead” language, but through this course you will find that this ancient language is very much alive in music, literature, drama, politics, yoga studios, popular culture and in everyday life in South Asia and beyond.

SAN 384S • Sanskrit Scholasticism

31755 • Fall 2015
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM BEN 1.118


In this course, selections from Sanskrit commentarial literature will introduce students to the common scholastic style used for academic commentary in all genres of Sanskrit.  The special idiom and purposes of commentary will be considered in detail.  In addition, challenges in translating Sanskrit commentary into accessible English will be addressed throughout the course.  Readings for each day are tentatively assigned in the course schedule below. Students will prepare an appropriate amount of text for each class by analyzing the grammar, highlighting key concepts, and drafting a translation.  We will not parse each and every term in the text, rather only tricky or uncommon grammatical structures.  Over time, the style of scholastic commentary will become more natural.  By the end of the course, students should be able to use commentaries to elucidate main texts and to discern innovative arguments made through comments.


The purpose of this course being to further students’ ability to read Sanskrit at an advanced level, the major requirement for the course is consistent and high quality preparation of the Sanskrit reading for each day.  This will include additional assignments pertaining to generic style, grammatical forms, and secondary readings.  Two exams, a mid-term and a final, will also be given to ensure students’ progress in these genres of Sanskrit literature. Graduate students in the course will write one exegetical paper (5 pages) in addition to the assignments below.

60%          Regular Class Attendance and Preparation

20%          Mid-Term Exam

20%          Final Exam


TEXT READINGS: (selections; all found in course packet and at Canvas)

Mit?k?ar? of Vijñ?ne?vara (on the Y?jñavalkyadharma??stra)

Brahmas?trabh??ya of ?a?kara (on the Brahmas?tra of B??ar?ya?a)

Sa?j?van? of Mallin?tha (on K?lid?sa’s Raghuva??a)

Recommended Readings

Tubb, Gary and Emery Boose. Sanskrit Scholasticism.

Speijer, J.S. Sanskrit Syntax.

R S 341 • Jainism: Relig Of Non-Violence

43130 • Spring 2015
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM NOA 1.110
GC (also listed as ANS 340)

As one of the world’s oldest religions, Jainism has often been described as an atheistic soteriology, or method of personal salvation alone.  The intense religious, especially ascetic, discipline required of Jain monks and nuns is the most visible symbol of Jainism.  The cardinal virtue in this ascetic regimen is ahi?s?, or non-violence, which characterizes every action performed by Jain monks and nuns and is held as an ideal for Jain laypeople as well.

Given the emphasis on ascetic practice in Jainism, one may not expect many lay Jains to be merchants who own thriving trading businesses in some of India’s largest cities.  The contrast, and seeming contradiction, between ascetic ideals and prosperous lives within the theological, ritual, and social frameworks of Jainism will be the principal subject of this course.  The early focus will be on Jain theology and philosophy, i.e. those concepts and world-views that Jain leaders have expounded and idealized since the founding of the tradition in the 5th century BC.  The second part of the course will shift attention away from the conceptual and theological to the practical and ritual aspects of Jain life in India.  In the end, you will have a solid working knowledge of the basic concepts of Jainism as well as a thorough understanding of everyday life in Jain communities.

SAN 330 • Buddhist And Jain Sanskrit

31895 • Spring 2015
Meets MWF 9:00AM-10:00AM PAR 210
(also listed as SAN 384S)

In this course, selections from important texts of Buddhist and Jain traditions will provide students with an exposure both to the Sanskrit vocabulary and style of these traditions and to their conceptual, doctrinal, and narrative foundations.  Textual genres focused, first, on systematic expositions of religious doctrine (??stra, dar?ana) and, second, on narrative theologies (kath?, carita, avad?na) will serve as two different windows on these traditions.  This twofold approach will also facilitate comparison between the two religious traditions and their respective manners of expressing religious ideas and practice.

Readings for each day are tentatively assigned in the course schedule below. Students will prepare an appropriate amount of text for each class by analyzing the grammar, highlighting key concepts, and drafting a translation. Over time, the style of these genres will become more natural.  By the end of the course, students will be able to read on their own other comparable stories and doctrinal texts in Sanskrit from these and other religious traditions.

ANS 379 • Ethics & Scholarship In Asia

32230 • Spring 2014
Meets W 3:00PM-6:00PM CLA 0.108

Please check back for updates.  Prerequisite: For Asian studies and Asian cultures and languages majors, twelve semester hours of upper-division coursework in Asian studies or Asian languages; for others, upper-division standing.

SAN 384S • Intro To Purva-Mimamsa

33160 • Spring 2014
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM MEZ B0.302

Study of various aspects and periods of Sanskrit language and culture.  Specific offerings are listed in the Course Schedule.  Prerequisite: Graduate standing; and Sanskrit 325L, 330, or the equivalent, or consent of instructor.

R S 321 • Hist Of Hindu Relig Traditn

44179 • Fall 2013
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM BUR 216
GC (also listed as ANS 340, ANT 324L, HIS 364G)

This course examines the principal themes of traditional Hinduism, the dominant religion of the Indian subcontinent.  It gives special attention to the historical development of the tradition and its relation to social and cultural life in India.  To the extent possible, the course will examine different forms of religious expression created within India.  These include written texts which have been significant in the Hindu tradition, but they also comprise rituals that have been central to religious life, patterns of social action that embody Hindu values, and images and architecture that display the form and powers of the world.


Rāmāyaṇa Colloquium

Now in its seventh year, the Rāmāyaṇa Colloquium is an open reading group formed to give students, staff, and faculty at UT additional experience with and exposure to Sanskrit literature. The informal group meets regularly (once per week) to read one of the two classical epics of India, the Rāmāyaṇa of Valmiki. The main purpose of the group is simply to read together a great and beautiful text in the original. We use a bilingual edition so that anyone, including those with little or no Sanskrit, can participate, if desired, but we go through the original text. All Sanskrit students, as well as the Sanskrit-curious, are invited to join us, because the second goal for the group will be to develop and strengthen the community of scholars and students interested in Sanskrit, Indian literature, and classical India. We think that means everybody and hope you find time to join us regularly or from time to time.

As A.K. Ramanujan famously wrote, "In India and Southeast Asia, no one ever reads the Ramayana or the Mahabharata for the first time. The stories are there, 'always already.'" ("Three Hundred Ramayanas," in Many Ramayanas, ed. Paula Richman, California, 1991, p.46). Therefore, everyone should feel free to come at any time, no preparation required, and pick up the reading wherever we happen to be. We use the Clay Sanskrit Library edition, in this case the Ayodhyā Book translated by Sheldon Pollock.  

Until the public health situation improves, we will now meet most Fridays from 1-2pm via Zoom. To receive the Zoom link, please contact Don Davis.

NEXT MEETING DATE: Friday, October 22, 2021 

WHERE WE ARE AT: Ayodhyā 48.17

PDF of the Ayodhyākāṇḍa of the Baroda Critical Edition

PDF of Chapters 40-50 from the Bilingual Clay Sanskrit Library edition

PDF of the Ayodhyākāṇḍa in Devanāgarī with the commentary of Govindarāja