South Asia Institute
South Asia Institute

Donald R Davis

Associate ProfessorPhD, University of Texas at Austin

Donald R Davis



Sanskrit; Dharmaśāstra; Law and Religion; Medieval India; Malayalam


I have been at UT-Austin since 2013, having worked previously at Bucknell University, the University of Michigan, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 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.  Finally, I have a continuing interest in Malayalam language and literature, and I published The Train that Had Wings (2005), a collection of translated short stories by the Malayalam writer M. Mukundan. 

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 am beginning 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.

Rāmāyaṇa Colloquium

In the interest of providing additional experience with and exposure to Sanskrit literature for students, staff, and faculty at UT, we have organized an informal Sanskrit reading group that will meet regularly (once per week) to read one of the two classical epics of India, the Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki.   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 Rāmāyaṇa or the Mahābhārata for the first time.  The stories are there, 'always already.'" ("Three Hundred Rāmāyaṇas," in Many Rāmāyaṇas, 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 are using the Clay Sanskrit Library edition, in this case the Ayodhyā Book translated by Sheldon Pollock.  If you need the reading or have other questions, please contact Don Davis.

The group meets most Fridays from 1-2pm during terms in the Meyerson Conference Room, WCH 4.118.

NEXT MEETING DATE: Friday, February 12, 2016

WHERE WE ARE AT: Ayodhyā 16.40

PDF of Chapters 6-22 from the Bilingual Clay Sanskrit Library edition (6.6 MB)

PDF of Chapters 10-14 of the Baroda Critical Edition

PDF of the Entire Ayodhyākāṇḍa in Devanāgarī with the commentary of Govindarāja