Jacob Schmidt-Madsen

Jacob Schmidt-Madsen


Current research

Project Title: What's in a Game? Rediscovering the Religious Origins of Snakes & Ladders

Description: The project brings together upwards of 200 unique and mostly unpublished 18th and 19th century cloth and paper boards of the original Indian game of snakes and ladders commonly known as jñān caupaṛ (i.e. the game of higher knowledge). The boards represent cosmological grid maps charting the journey of individual souls through existence towards liberation. The squares are inscribed with legends pertaining to the religious orientation of the individual board (i.e. Jaina, Vaiṣṇava, Śaiva, Advaita Vedānta, or Sufi), and some squares are further connected by snakes and ladders indicating karmic causations between them. While the immediate goal of the game is to move one's pawn from the bottom left square, indicating birth, to the top central square, indicating liberation, the complex terminology used in the legends points to underlying purposes of religious instruction.

The boards will be approached on the levels of philology, history, and anthropology in an attempt to trace their origins, spread, sources, and uses. Their affiliation with related families of board games, such as the Buddhist promotion games found throughout the Asian region from Nepal and Tibet to Korea and Japan, will also be explored. The project not only aims at demonstrating how different religious communities presented their teachings in the highly similar and easily comparable format of a game, but also at raising the important question of what role games have played historically in communicating and propagating religious views in India and beyond.

Fields of interest

Representation of religious and narrative traditions through popular media such as storytelling, theatre, painting, and games. Other fields of interests include Jainism, Vaiṣṇavism, cosmology, soteriology, manuscriptology, and story literature.

ID: 97572404