German Indology

Robert J. Zydenbos zydenbos at
Wed Feb 26 11:06:42 UTC 1997

Now that the agitation of Feb. 21-22 about "German Indology" has calmed
down, and seeing that this is largely a squibble between German and
Germany-based colleagues and Anglosaxons, I think I will take the
liberty to arbitrate (perhaps unnecessarily by now) with a few thoughts.

At the World Sanskrit Conference a book titled _Sanskrit Studies Outside
India_ published by the Rashtriya Samskrita Samsthana was distributed.
("Outside India", by the way, is eight apparently random countries, not
including any German-speaking country.) Some of the arguments put
forward in this thread suggest that we should condemn such a
publication. The article in this book about the USA, taking up more than
a third of the book, has a bibliography containing e.g. also the thesis
of a Dutchman that was submitted at the Univ. of  Madras, because he
later happened to work in the USA (F. Staal). Should we condemn this
too, as the remarks of one list member suggest?

The cardinal sin of the Germans is that they dared try to colonize the
great colonizers, and the former colonial powers and their allies will
never forgive them for this. Hence, outside Germany, we grow up learning
that villains (as in cheap movies and novels) have German names and
speak with German accents and listen to Wagner's music, and we do not
want to hear anything that can be construed as being remotely positive
about anything German. German people have had enough of this and
occasionally fly into a rage, with good reason. (Please do not leave the
list yet, Ulrike.)

Is nationality (in the sense of a cultural tradition, associated with a
language) a relevant factor in scholarship? Of course it is. Anyone who
has learnt to read German, French and English (e.g. any Dutch high
school pupil) and has done some reading in those languages can tell you
so. There are differences in interest, emphasis, approach / methodology,
standards of thoroughness. And this diversity is a Good Thing.

Let us be frank: Anglosaxons today revel in an ethnocentricity and
language chauvinism that is unprecedented in world history. This is so
strong that they are largely unaware of it. (I invite the list members
to keep their eyes open for publications in which the word "Western"
evidently excludes everything that is not written by Americans or
Britons. Such publications exist; I have seen them.) And this
Anglocentricness has been successfully exported to places such as India.
This is a Bad And Stupid Thing.

I have not seen poor Schlingloff's booklet, but I do have here the late
Valentina Stache-Rosen's _German Indologists - biographies of scholars
in Indian studies writing in German_ (New Delhi: Max Mueller Bhavan,
1981) about colleagues who worked between 1620 and 1980. It makes highly
enjoyable and inspiring reading. I hope similar publications will appear
about colleagues elsewhere, from other scholarly backgrounds. All of us
should know what is going on in the rest of world, and has been going on
in the past.

N.B. I am not a German. My ethnic and religious ancestry is a mess
beyond that of Messrs. Wujastyk and Jonsson; I enjoy this myself, but,
prejudices in our modern, enlightened age being what they are, I prefer
not to publicize the detais.


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