| Scholarly Review|
|Indology, Indomania, and Orientalism|
Reviewed by: Savannah Jones
|German Romantics in the late eighteenth century recognized echoes of their own concerns for nature, sentiment, and religious transcendence in ancient Indian literature. Intrigued by this distant world, they enthusiastically promoted its antiquity, beauty, and a unique linguistic connection between German and Sanskrit, a language they believed predated Greek.|
Investigating the growth of Indology - the study of East Indian texts, literature, and culture - and the diffusion of this knowledge about ancient India within nineteenth-century Germany, Indology, Indomania, and Orientalism contextualizes approaches to contact by historically grounding them in a contemporary history of German culture, education, and science. The book, written by Douglas T. McGetchin, Assistant Professor of History at Florida Atlantic University, answers the historical anomaly of why Germany had more nineteenth-century experts in the academic discipline of Indology than all other European powers combined despite the lack of German colonies there. German interest in ancient India developed because it was useful for widely varying German projects, including Romanticism and nationalism. German Indologists made successful arguments about the cultural and intellectual relevance of ancient India for modern Germany, leaving an ambiguous legacy including a deeper appreciation of South Asian culture as well as scholarly justifications for the warlike image of a Swastika-bearing Aryan 'master race.'
Indology, Indomania, and Orientalism anaylzes the growth of German Indology (the Orientalist study of South Asian texts, literature, and culture) and the diffusion of this knowledge in modern Germany. Through a comparative examination of Indology in Britain and France to highlight the German case, this study reveals that German Indologists received official governmental sanction and formed a close network of scholarship that performed critical functions within Germany. Germans found Indological knowledge to be malleable, useful for widely varying projects including maintaining its Romantic roots, providing cultural assets for the state, and creating an unintended countercultural undercurrent within German society.
Indology also was able to grow because German Indologists made successful arguments to German governmental ministers about the cultural and intellectual relevance of ancient India for modern Germany. These goals included the pursuit of a narrow, scientific, and positivistic philological approach to Indology to benefit the growth of German science, and a German polity that drew heavily upon the idea of linguistic affinity. Indology promoted nationalism and state power by providing an intellectual basis for German greatness through a linguistic Aryan pedigree, developing alongside colonialism and its articulation of European superiority.
The translations and scholarly work of Indologists created a momentum of their own and became hard to control. The cultural traditions of South Asia, including Buddhism, provided a viable alternative to those who experienced the despair of the fin de siecle and a discontent with what they saw as a European civilization in decline. Part of Indology's ambiguous legacy includes the perpetuation of racism, supplying significant tools that Nazis used later.
The study of Sanskrit contributed to the growth of science and led to the rapid dissemination in Europe of important works of Indian literature and religion. Investigating both the growth of academic Indology and the nonacademic diffusion of that knowledge to answer important questions about the complex interrelationship of academic disciplines, government, and culture, Indology, Indomania, and Orientalism uses hitherto neglected sources, including university and state archives in Berlin and Lepzig, the Prussian ministry of education, and Indological works.
While Indology, Indomania, and Orientalism is limited to the German study of India within a specified period, explaining why there was such an unlikely preoponderance of Sanskrit professors in Germany, the issues and concerns raised in the book are applicable to any cross-cultural encounter. Ultimately, investigating both the growth of academic Indology and the nonacademic diffusion of that knowledge helps to answer important and fundamental questions about the interrelationship of academic disciplines, governement, and culture outside the university.