R.I.P. Johan Frederik (Frits) Staal, 1930-2012

Johan Frederik (Frits) Staal

November 3, 1930—February 19, 2012 

The Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California at Berkeley sadly notes the passing of its founder and distinguished Professor Emeritus, Johan Frederik Staal, known to the worldwide community of Indologists simply as “Frits,” at his home outside of Chiangmai, Thailand on February 19th 2012.

Born in Amsterdam, Frits studied mathematics, physics and philosophy at the University of Amsterdam continuing his studies in Indian Philosophy and Sanskrit at Benares Hindu University and the University of Madras at which latter institution he completed his doctorate in 1957.

He served as Lecturer in Sanskrit at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London from 1958-62, Assistant and Associate Professor of Indian Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania from 1961-62, Professor of General and Comparative Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam from 1962-67, Visiting Professor of Linguistics at M.I.T. from 1967-68 and Professor of Philosophy and South Asian Languages at the University of California at Berkeley from 1968-91. He founded the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies (originally called the Department of South and Southeast Asian Languages and Literatures) in 1973 and served as its first Chair. He took early retirement from Berkeley in 1991. He served as a Visiting Professor in many universities all over the world.

Frits was an internationally known authority in the fields of Sanskrit Grammar, mysticism and ritual studies. He was especially highly regarded for his original if often provocative and even controversial studies of Vedic ritual as exemplified by his magisterial 1983 study of the agnicayana rite, Agni. He published widely in all of these areas.

Following his retirement from Berkeley, Frits moved to Thailand where he built a beautiful house a little outside of the northern town of Chiangmai where, with the exception of a very active schedule of travel, he lived with his longtime partner Wangchai. He is survived by his wife Sarasvati of Berkeley, California, and two children.

His loss will be deeply felt by his many friends and colleagues and constitutes a serious blow to Indological Studies.