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Mary McGee is Associate Professor of Classical Hinduism at Columbia University. As Director of Dharam Hinduja Indic Research Center at Columbia University from 1995-1999, she inaugurated an initiative on Indic Traditions of Environmental Consciousness, which included support of the 1998 Hinduism and Ecology conference at the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University. Her research focuses on ethical, legal, and ritual concerns in classical Hindu texts and contemporary practice.

Abstract of paper given at Hinduism and Ecology conference:
Environmental Consciousness in the Dharmashastras and the Arthashastras

My presentation will introduce preliminary findings based on my examination of selected Dharmashastras (among them, those of Manu and Yajnavalkya) and Arthashastras (among them, Kautilya's and the Shukraniti) and their sensitivity to the environment. In my investigations I have paid particular attention to discussions concerning agricultural practices (farming and animal husbandry), techniques of excavation (mining and well-digging), as well as references to time based on an awareness of seasons and planetary movements. Dharmashastras, treatises on religious, secular, and ethical responsibilities, traditionally deal with customary practices (acara), legal procedures (vyavahara), and expiation (prayashcitta); whereas Arthashastras, treatises designed as handbooks on polity for rulers, emphasize public administration, foreign relations, and civil and criminal law. Taken together, these two types of authoritative treatises provide us with clues for discerning levels of appreciation and awareness, especially among the ruling classes, of the natural environment, on which so much of the Indian economy has traditionally depended.

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Hinduism and Ecology conference participants