Shailaja Sharma

Areas of Interest & Expertise

  • Theories of knowledge
  • Indian knowledge tradition
  • History and philosophy of mathematics
  • History and philosophy of statistics


After high school and undergraduate studies in Palakkad, Kerala, I took my MSc and PhD degrees from IIT Bombay and joined the World Bank in New Delhi as a statistician on the District Primary Education Programme in 1991, traveling across India to collect qualitative data and supervise field surveys. My engagement with the development sector in this role continued for several years. I then moved into the corporate world, working for over a decade in the global oil and gas industry. My return journey to academia was triggered by encounters with some contemporary writings on the history of mathematics. Since about 2015 I have occupied myself with questions like what is mathematics, does the Indian Ganita tradition count as mathematics, what is computation, and how do we model (our knowledge of) the world.

I am currently Visiting Professor at the National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, where I am developing a programme on the mathematical heritage of India. In this programme, I am most interested in understanding the concepts of knowledge, hypothesis and evidence in different philosophical systems, and in particular, from the standpoint of computational positivism’. Focus upon the empirical vs the ideal has guided the shape of science historically into largely two distinct scientific cultures and the interaction between the two remains a central issue in modern science. The question of incomplete knowledge inevitably brings forth the question of probability. In that case, how should probability be defined? What about causality? What sort of exogenous information enters into causal inferencing, whereby correlation by itself cannot establish causation? I am curious about these questions of modern philosophy of science. I try to dig out the insights into the nature of knowledge as discussed (and debated) in ancient Indian works and link them to insights from the modern world. I find grist for my mill in diverse sources, from ancient Sanskrit and Malayalam texts to modern literary prose, classical music and developments in computer science. 

Apart from this, I am very interested in statistical methods, and in extracting meaning from data. I pursue this interest through student projects. My teaching interests are also centred on the subjects of probability and statistics and allied topics.

Research Publications

  1. Gopinath, K. & Sharma, Shailaja D. (Eds). (forthcoming). The Computation Meme: Computational Thinking in the Indic Tradition, IISc Press.

  2. Sharma, Shailaja D. & Nagaraj, Nithin (2021). On the NIAS Logo by Roddam Narasimha (edited and annotated), NIAS Special Report no. NIAS/HUM/MHI/U/SP/08/2021. http://​eprints​.nias​.res​.in/​2158/

  3. Sharma, Shailaja D. (2019). Vedic Mathematics and Science in the Vedas (book review), Ganita Bharati, 41(1 – 2),191 – 196.

  4. Anitha, B.K. & Sharma, Shailaja D. (2020). Math Curricular Framework for the Gifted, NIAS Report No. NIAS/​SSc/​EDU/​U/​RR/​22/​2020

  5. Sharma, Shailaja D. (2018). A visual method for fraction multiplication. At Right Angles, 7(2), 55 – 58

  6. Anitha, B.K. & Sharma, Shailaja D. (2015). Future of Education: Schools of the Future, NIAS Report No. R32-2015

  7. Patwardhan, G.A. & Sharma, Shailaja (1989). A new class of partially balanced ternary designs, Ars Combinatoria, 25, 189 – 194.

  8. Patwardhan, G.A. & Sharma, Shailaja (1988). Incomplete block designs obtained by the generalised row-juxtaposition and generalised column-concatenation of incidence matrices, Indian Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics, 19 (5), 415 – 422.

  9. Patwardhan, G.A. & Sharma, Shailaja (1988). Some new classes of binary and ternary designs, R. C. Bose Memorial International Conference on Combinatorial Mathematics and Applications, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India.

  10. Patwardhan, G.A. & Sharma, Shailaja (1987). Partially balanced binary and ternary designs from a 4‑design, Proceedings of the Ramanujam Centennial International Conference, Annamalai University, India, 147 – 150.