Author: Vishwa Adluri

Indology: The Origins of Racism in the Humanities – Part 1

Review of Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn, Archives of Origins: Sanskrit, Philology, Anthropology in 19th Century Germany. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013. Introduction Archives of Origins traces the establishment and expansion of Sanskrit studies in Wilhelmine-era Germany. Rich in archival materials, it is a valuable reference work for scholars of nineteenth-century German Indology. In the first part, titled “Sanskrit and Philological Tradition in Germany,” Rabault-Feuerhahn (hereafter R-F) traces the beginnings of Sanskrit studies in Germany, focusing on Friedrich Schlegel, Franz Bopp, A. W. Schlegel, and Schlegel’s student Christian Lassen. In the second, “The Hegemony of Comparativism,” she focuses on Vedic studies in Germany, especially as they engendered a search for characteristically “Indo-European” forms of religiosity, myth, and historical development. Here her primary interlocutors are August Schleicher, Adalbert Kuhn, Friedrich Max Müller, and Rudolf von Roth. In the third, “The Challenges of Anthropology,” R-F addresses the emergence of a science of race from Indology. Tying the interest in the “Aryan” concept to wider developments in German politics and society (the Franco-Prussian War, Bismarck’s anti-Catholic policies, and the rise of German nationalism), …

Indology: The Origins of Racism in the Humanities – Part 2

Review of Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn, Archives of Origins: Sanskrit, Philology, Anthropology in 19th Century Germany. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2013. Read part 1 here The Attempted Rehabilitation of Indology In The Aryan Myth (1971), Léon Poliakov famously claimed that “the division of the European population into Aryans and Semites was originally based on a confusion about the nature of men (races) and their culture (languages)” (Poliakov 1996 [1971]: 2). He argued that, mediated via comparative philology and Indology, German strivings for nationhood and the Enlightenment’s anthropological discourse had led to the Holocaust. With Archives, R-F has provided the anti-Poliakov, apologetic response. Although she does not cite Poliakov, her book clearly has him in view: “The core of the questioning is the link from Indological philology to anthropology. In the discriminating [sic], lethal uses that have been made of the terms ‘Aryan’ and ‘Indo-Germanic’, what is at stake is indeed the collusion of linguistic and racial typologies” (23). Not only does R-F argue, against Poliakov, that “the link between Indological philology and anthropology does not necessarily take on the …

In Search Of India’s Lost Epic

The beginnings of Western scholarship on the Sanskrit epic, the Mahābhārata, are marked by a great puzzlement at the work. The text does not fit Western canons of literature—too heterogeneous its contents, too abstract its ideas that Western scholars can make sense of it.1 The “confusion” of fact and fantasy—a cosmological narrative that begins with Brahmā, the Creator, and descends through the repeated names of obscure dynastic kings to connect with present-day “history”—violates all Western expectations of narrative consistency and reality. In contrast to the Vedas, considered the earliest documents of “Indo-European” civilization, the Mahābhārata appears a corrupted work, and German scholars are quick to identify the culprits: the “aboriginal” population of India, those from “the darker side” (Garbe). In the German scholars’ view, the aboriginal influence can be seen in features such as the emphasis on gift-giving to the Brahmans, the belief in karma and rebirth, and the “repugnant” cults of Viṣṇu, Śiva, and the Devī—features they consider inimical to the “Aryan” inheritance of ancient India.2 The task of scholarship can only be to …