New fund to expand Department of Philosophy’s scope, highlighting Tamil text

A recent $100,000 gift to Rice from Malar Selvan and his family will establish the Thirukkural Fund for Philosophy in the School of Humanities. The Thirukkural Fund is named after the Tamil philosophical text, often referred to as The Kural, the first secular body of work on life and ethics, to emerge from India. The Thirukkural is made up of 1,330 short couplets divided into three books written sometime between the 5th century BCE and 500 CE.

The Tamil language is one of the longest-surviving classical languages, with more than 77 million speakers worldwide today. The largest population of Tamil speakers live in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, and today there is a thriving community of Tamil speaking people in Houston. The Selvan family hopes that this gift will help to educate generations of students on the Tamil people and their enduring culture around the world.

This fund, Malar explains, will enrich the pursuit of fundamental questions about existence, ethics, reason and more: “‘Birth is alike to all; distinction in their deeds creates diversity,’ says Thirukkural. All of the 133 themes presented in Thirukkural attempt to address a simple question: What is a good life?” Malar said. “I hope this Thirukkural endowment enriches the programs at Rice Philosophy.”

Robert Howell, the Yasser El-Sayed Professor and Department of Philosophy Chair, says that this fund will play a pivotal role in expanding the department’s offerings.

“Our emphasis in ethics has been largely focused on Anglo-American traditions, and this gift will help us broaden our horizons to incorporate ethical frameworks and customs that are outside of those concepts,” Robert explained. “In addition to exploring this particular text, I think that it's important that we are exploring the themes to understand the views that the text represents and the arguments for them.”

The Thirukkural Fund will provide support to the department as it expands programming and activities that explore the Thirukkurral and its secular concepts of Virtue, Love, Non-violence and obligation to others. The Selvan family, with the support of other generous donors, plans to support the creation of a Thirukkural chair in Philosophy.

“It really is an extremely generous gift, and we feel very privileged to be a part of Mr. Selvan’s project,” Howell said.


Thiruvalluvar Statue

Photo of Thiruvalluvar, author of the Thirukkural, situated in Kanyakumari seas. CC BY-SA 3.0

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