The Role of Stories in Indian Culture

Prof. S.N. Balagangadhara discusses the role of stories in Indian culture at the Symposium on Stories about India and Indian Stories, The University of Tartu, Estonia, 15 May 2009. He argues that stories preserve patterns without saying what these patterns are. They depict partial aspects of an order without specifying what the order consists of. That is, they simply model a set of circumstances. The representational aspect of stories makes them continuous with other representational products known to us, such as philosophy, scientific theory, etc. In the second place, by describing a way of going about the world, they are also a way of going about the world. They are models in a practical sense, i.e. they can be emulated. Stories are pedagogical instruments par excellence because of this. They are oblique instructions disguised as representations that depict actions. One learns, while being unaware that one is learning. The proposal: Stories are learning units and they embody action knowledge. Action Knowledge (or Practical Knowledge) is a species of knowledge. The process of acquiring this knowledge involves mimetic learning, i.e. learning through exemplars. Exemplars are different from examples and, therefore, the process of learning through exemplars is not the same as learning through examples. That is, it is not a kind of inductive learning. Action Knowledge is not knowledge about actions; neither is it identical to acquiring some skill or another.

keynote speaker

Balagangadhara S.N.


Tartu, Estonia




University of Tartu

organized by

Plenary talk

meeting name

Symposium on Stories about India and Indian Stories; Expressive Culture and the European Understanding


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