, Volume 51, Issue 4, pp 579-580
Date: 06 Oct 2012

Review of Alf Hiltebeitel, Dharma: Its Early History in Law, Religion and Narrative

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In this hefty volume, Alf Hiltebeitel takes on the ambitious task of tracing the history of the concept of dharma in classical Indic literature. In foregrounding the theme of dharma through time, Hiltebeitel seeks to overcome ‘a nebulous, ahistorical conception of the term that many still have today’ (p. 2), a conception that reflects the influence of ideological projections of an eternal dharma. One of the aims of the book is to highlight instances in which both the Brahmanical and Buddhist traditions themselves conceive dharma over time.

This book combines an enormous scope, covering both Brahmanical and Buddhist texts from approximately 300 BCE to 200 CE, with detailed textual analysis. It resists broad generalizations, as evident in the conspicuous absence of a concluding chapter. Accordingly it is a difficult book to summarize in the compass of a short review. All I can do here is describe the overall structure of the work and highlight some of its salient points.

The author tells u ...