Making the Argument for Sanskrit : a Real Problem and Directions for a Solution

Jan E.M. Houben j_e_m_houben at YAHOO.COM
Thu Jan 4 12:31:24 UTC 2007

Dear Reinhold,
With "few years ago" you are really referring to
my report of the DMG meeting in 1995, more than
TEN years ago? 
It follows below. If you read it in a detached
scholarly mind you will see that I refer to 
"selected articles and notices of the volumes
92-98 (1938-44) and 99 (1945-49) of the
Zeitschrift für die Deutsche Morgenländische
Gesellschaft" NOT to support the claims made in
any article (the one to which I refer in that
article I called and considered provocative and
it has proven its healthy provocative character
ever since) but to illustrate the promising
continuity with a discontinuous past which was
one of the topics of that memorable meeting in
Leipzig -- the first DMG meeting in Leipzig after
WWII, and a kind of Neugründung for the
all-Germany DMG after decades of interruption. 
Let me cite one of the "notices of the volumes
92-98 (1938-44) and 99 (1945-49) of the
Zeitschrift für die Deutsche Morgenländische
Gesellschaft" namely the one in Band 99 for the
years 1945-1949 which appeared in 1950:
"Bericht über die Neugründung der Deutschen
Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (Mainz e.V.): Als
Folge der Besetzung Deutschlands im Mai 1945
musste die Deutsche Morgenländsische
Gesellschaft, die ihren Sitz in Leipzig hatte,
und deren Geschäftsführung sich in Berlin im
Gebäude der (ehemals Preussischen) Akademie der
Wissenschaften befand, ihre wissenschaftliche
Tätigkeit unterbrechen ... " 
To the "essential reading for a well-informed
discussion on this sensitive topic" I now propose
to add 
Beyond Orientalism: The Work of Wilhelm Halbfass
and its Impact on Indian and Cross-Cultural
Studies, ed. by Eli Franco and Karin Preisendanz;
See also my review article of Beyond Orientalism,
ed. by K. Preisendanz and E. Franco, Amsterdam
1997): Orientalism, its critique, and beyond."
IIAS-Newsletter, no. 15 p. 16. International
Institute for Asian Studies, 1998.
Further my two articles on Samkhya which I
mentioned earlier. 
And as an article with useful bibliographic
references but otherwise marred by distortive
readings we may now also add Reinhold
Gruenendahls article.
Jan Houben 

*** from IIAS Newsletter no. 7 Winter 1996 ***  
25-29 September 1995
Leipzig, Germany
Indology at the 26th Deutscher Orientalistentag 
Promising continuity with a discontinuous past.
On 25-29 September 1995 the 26th Deutscher
Orientalistentag (German Orientalist Meeting)
took place in Leipzig, the city which, with
neighbouring Halle, became the seat of the newly
founded German Oriental Society (DMG, Deutsche
Morgenländische Gesellschaft) exactly 150 years
ago. The aim of the DMG to which the founders in
1845 agreed was "to promote all aspects of the
knowledge of Asia and of the countries closely
related to it in every aspect, and to propagate
participation of this in wider circles. Hence the
Society will deal not only with oriental
literature ('morgenländische Literatur') but also
with the history of these countries and the
research of their situation both earlier and more
recent times." 
By Jan E.M. Houben 

This and other information about the history of
the DMG can be found in a recently published
booklet on the history of the Society (Die
Anfänge der Deutschen Morgenländische
Gesellschaft, 1995). Another booklet also
published last year by the society, Die Deutsche
Morgenländische Gesellschaft, is devoted more to
its present activities. According to this second
booklet (p. 7), the 'knowledge' of Asia and
related countries which the Society has
traditionally sought to promote concentrates on
the knowledge of languages, literatures, history,
religions and philosophies, forms of law and
society, archaeology, and the art and material
culture of the people living in these areas.
Nowadays, however, social and political
scientific problems from the past and present are
tending to receive the bulk of the attention. The
booklet mentions 21 disciplinary areas, ranging
from Japanology to Africanistics. Since its
inception, many non-Germans have become members
of this learned society, just as the founding
fathers of the Society themselves were often
members of other Orientalist societies such as
the Asiatic Societies in Paris, London, and
Calcutta. The first learned Orientalist society
without explicit missionary intentions,
incidentally, was the Dutch Bataviaasch
Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen
(Batavian Society of Arts and Sciences), founded
in 1779 in Batavia (present-day Jakarta) in what
was then the Dutch colony of the East Indies. The
British followed in 1784 with the foundation of
the Asiatic Society of Bengal. The next Asiatic
Societies were founded after the Napoleonic wars
in Paris (1822) and London (1823). 

The German Tradition of Indology
The present meeting of the German Oriental
Society was the 26th in a series of meetings
which started in 1921, also in Leipzig, and which
have taken place regularly since then at
intervals of a few years. The meeting opened on
25 September with an address by Professor
Annemarie Schimmel (Prof. Em. Harvard
University/Bonn), after which the conference was
split into different disciplinary areas
(Fachgruppen) and work groups (Arbeitskreise). As
far as my own area of indology is concerned, the
contributions of the participants were, generally
speaking, qualitatively and quantitatively
impressive. Attention was directed mainly towards
the above- mentioned traditional concerns of
languages, literatures, history, religions and
philosophies, to a lesser extent to forms of law
and society in the South Asian past. The
contributions shed light on the progress of
solid, mainly philological, research in the areas
of Sanskrit etymology, Vedic literature and
culture, manuscriptology, Indian medicine, Indian
and Buddhist texts and philosophies, as well as
on early German missionaries in South India. 

The concentration on the languages and
literatures, especially the emphasis given to the
ancient sources, may seem esoteric to
non-indologists, but is in itself justified in
view of the enormous amount of important material
of which a great part is still to be made
accessible on the basis of manuscripts. Several
of the contributions by indologists at the
'Orientalistentag' concerned texts and
manuscripts of the so-called Turfan Collection,
with which German indologists have had a special
bond since Heinrich Lüders and Albert Grünwedel
von Le Coq started their expeditions to the
Turfan Oasis in Chinese Turkestan in 1902-1914.
The lexicographic particularities of these texts
are the subject of a German project, now in
progress, for a special multi-volume dictionary
of the Sanskrit texts in the Turfan Collection.
Another enormous collection of material has been
made in a cooperative enterprise between Germany
and Nepal. Since 1970 more than 150,000
manuscripts comprising almost 5,000,000 pages
have been filmed in this project under the
guidance of Prof. Albrecht Wezler (Hamburg). The
original microfilms are kept in Nepal, copies of
the films have been sent to Berlin. None of the
c. 30 contributions at this 26th meeting dealt
directly with recent modern political or social
themes, nor did modern theoretical developments
in linguistic sciences attract much interest.
Nevertheless, the rich material which generations
of German indologists have been making available
for scholarly research will be of great value for
providing historical dimensions to modern
theories in the fields of social, linguistic,
political, and religious sciences. The continuity
between German indology and its glorious past --
Böhtlingk and Roth's Petersburger Dictionary
(1850-1875) and Wackernagels Altindische
Grammatik (1896) are still standard works for
Indologists as well as for linguists, to mention
just two examples -- was physically visible in
the presence at the conference of two senior,
leading scholars of German indology -- indeed of
indology in general -- namely Profs. Wilhelm Rau
and Paul Thieme, both actively participating in
the discussions (the latter even presented a

Vergangenheit Bewaltigung
To the extent that indology in general owes a
great debt to the contributions of German
indology, it also has to come to terms with some
of the more problematic aspects of the history of
the latter. I am referring here, of course, to
the positive relations which some indologists at
least maintained with the German government and
its disastrous ideology of the 'pure Aryan race'
before and during the period of the Second World
War period. Essential reading for a well-informed
discussion on this sensitive topic should
comprise S. Pollock's provocative "Deep
Orientalism: Notes on Sanskrit and Power Beyond
the Raj" (in Van der Veer and Beckenridge, The
Postcolonial Predicament, Philadelphia, 1993),
passages from Halbfass' India and Europe (Albany,
1988), and selected articles and notices of the
volumes 92-98 (1938-44) and 99 (1945-49) of the
Zeitschrift fr die Deutsche Morgenl„ndische
Besides the discontinuity of the years 1945-48
(on 4-6 June 1948 the German Oriental Society was
re-founded in Mainz), another hiatus in the
history of the Society was clearly felt in
Leipzig: East German (DDR) indologists and
orientalists were never officially represented in
the refounded Oriental Society. The September
1995 DMG meeting in Leipzig was the first held on
former DDR territory since the foundation of this
state in 1949 and its collapse forty years later.

Under the theme of continuity and the
discontinuous past of Germany and German
indology, two contributions concerning the
historiography of indology deserve a special
mention. Dr. Luitgard Soni (Univ. of Marburg)
reported on her investigations into the scholarly
and personal career of a remarkable personage in
German indology, Charlotte Krause who went to
India as a young woman to do research on the
Jaina tradition in the 1920s, and remained there
till her death in 1980; the other contribution
was the presentation of the plans to publish a
"Who's Who in Western Indology" by Dr. Klaus
Karttunen (Univ. of Helsinki, Finland), who has
already collected a huge amount of data on
well-known and less well-known Western
indologists of the past. Contributions such as
these show that Indology is reaching maturity; it
is only to be hoped that a well-informed
discussion of the above-mentioned, more
problematic sides of its history, and more
generally of the problems of Orientalism and of
indology "beyond Orientalism" (a book with this
title in honour of Prof. W. Halbfass is now being
edited by Drs. K. Preisendanz and E. Franco),
will not be shunned either.

Prof. Dr. Jan E.M. Houben,
Directeur d'Etudes,
Sources et Histoire de la Tradition Sanskrite
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes,
A la Sorbonne,
45-47, rue des Ecoles,
75005 Paris -- France. 
J_E_M_Houben at

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