Indology and "the disastrous ideology of the 'pure Aryan race'"

gruenendahl gruenen at MAIL.SUB.UNI-GOETTINGEN.DE
Tue Jan 23 17:36:42 UTC 2007

 [Previous contributions to this thread will be referred to by their date, e.g., Fri, 12 
Jan 2007 03:03:54, in order to facilitate retrieval from the INDOLOGY archives 


Is there a connection between "German indology" of the National Socialist era 
(1933-1945) and "the German government and its disastrous ideology of the 'pure 
Aryan race'", and if so, where is the *EVIDENCE* for it?

[Henceforth referred to as *THE QUESTION* and *EVIDENCE*]

The above wording (in inverted commas) is Jan Houben's, but *THE QUESTION* 
itself harks back to Sheldon Pollock's "Deep Orientalism?..." (1993), where it is 
answered strongly in the affirmative. However, as I have tried to show in a recent 
article (see below), Pollock's discourse is based on conviction, not on *EVIDENCE* 
- a point which necessarily weakens the position of all those who have built their 
own argument on Pollock's discourse.



The misunderstanding characterizing the debate between Jan Houben and me is 
indeed a fundamental one. I have addressed it in various contributions, but 
Houben's latest pronouncements (Fri, 12 Jan 2007 03:03:54) suggests to me that 
my point still hasn't come across, and therefore I'd like to repeat it briefly:

Our present debate was indirectly triggered by my contribution to the Festschrift 
Gustav Roth (2006), entitled: "Von der Indologie zum Völkermord – die 
Kontinuitätskonstrukte Sheldon Pollocks und seiner Epigonen im Lichte ihrer 
Beweisführung" (= "From indology to genocide - the continuity constructs of 
Sheldon Pollock and his epigones in the light of their submission of evidence").
The title of this article clearly states that my focus is on Pollock's "Deep orientalism? 
..." (1993), especially - (1.) its "theorizing" of an alleged complicity of "German 
indology" with the crimes of the National Socialist era (1933-1945), - (2.) the 
*EVIDENCE* Pollock submits in support of this charge, and - (3.) the shape 
Pollock's theorizing takes in the hands of his numerous epigones, illustrated by 
Houben's report of the "Deutscher Orientalistentag" (=German Orientalist Congress) 
The guiding principle of my article, as well as of my approach in general, is to follow 
up as closely as possible whatever Pollock and his epigones present by way of 
evidence, or what could possibly be taken for such. I have no ambition to 
"construct" my own history of "German indology", let alone to liberate "each and 
every German indologist of the 1900-1945 period from any possible association with 
the German government and its disastrous ideology of the pure Aryan race", as 
Houben claims (Fri, 5 Jan 2007 10:13:01), presumably against better knowledge.
I strictly confine myself to a comprehensive evaluation of all *EVIDENCE* 
submitted to prove Pollock's claim of a relation between "German indology" and the 
National Socialist ideology. Speculations, opinions, etc., are outside the scope of 
my evaluation. The same applies to an aspect Houben tries to push to the 
foreground, viz., what he calls the "discontinuity" of the post-1945 era. But as long 
as the "continuity" bit of Houben's stance, i.e., the alleged involvement of "German 
indology" in NS ideology, has not been proven to rest on sound *EVIDENCE*, the 
question of a "discontinuity" simply doesn't arise!
Should it turn out in the course of my evaluation that the submitted *EVIDENCE* is 
invalid, flawed, or illusory, I take the liberty to consider all pronouncements based 
on it misleading - as I have done in the said article.

One more word on *EVIDENCE*: In my article I have chosen to discuss Jan 
Houben's 1995 report as an example of the epigonal wake of Pollock's "Deep 
orientalism?..." - a choice Houben has no "authoritative" say in, although he may 
find that hard to put up with. I chose his report to illustrate the percolation of 
Pollock's "Deep orientalism?..." down to the shallow postorientalist platitudes 
disseminated in countless remarks of similar hue. What raises Houben's above 
many others (to be treated elsewhere), and what attracted my attention, is - (1.) his 
attitude of the "well-informed" indologist handing out authoritative hints to those less 
knowledgeable in the field, and - (2.) his reference to "selected articles and notices 
of the volumes 92-98 (1938-44) and 99 (1945-49)" of the Zeitschrift der Deutschen 
Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (ZDMG) in corroboration of the alleged connection 
between indology and the ideology of the National Socialist regime.

That said, I can understand that Jan Houben is not happy with my choice - although 
he is still "very happy" with his report, as he assures. Nonetheless, he constantly 
tries to draw attention away from it by introducing other material, all of it published 
much later. A few years ago, when I was first led up that path with the same 
summary hints at post-1995 publications, it soon became clear that the post-festum 
material thrown into the debate was irrelevant to *THE QUESTION*, and therefore I 
didn't see any reason to give it further consideration. In view of Houben's recent 
insistence that I must comply with his will, no matter what, in order to prove myself 
qualified to discuss his 1995 report, I have looked into the matter again, and with 
the same result. This will be exemplified below with regard to his 1999 article in 
Asiatische Studien. I have also obediently revisited "Beyond Orientalism ..." ed. by 
E. Franco and K. Preisendanz, a book of 673 pages (without index), in which the 
discussion of pertinent racial theories does not go much beyond occasional 
references (e.g., Pollock's ideas are mentioned, but not discussed at any length). 
Therefore I see no reason to overburden the present discussion with these 
additional materials, unless Houben points out where exactly he sees *THE 
QUESTION* featuring in them.


The bone of contention between Houben and me is the following section of his 1995 
	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 (...)", passages 
    from Halbfass' "India and Europe" [specified by Houben Fri, 5 Jan 2007 
    10:13:01: "Halbfass 1988: 139-140"], and selected articles and notices of the 
    volumes 92-98 (1938-44) and 99 (1945-49) of the Zeitschrift für die 
    Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft. 
As I have pointed out earlier (Mon, 8 Jan 2007 12:43:48), the use of the term 
"Vergangenheitsbewältigung" in the chapter heading inevitably suggests some kind 
of involvement of "German indology" in the crimes committed during the National 
Socialist regime 1933-1945. But after I had pointed that out, Houben simply 
extended his "authoritative exegetical" title to the German language by brushing 
over this "restricted sense" of the term (Fri, 12 Jan 2007 03:03:54). As for the 
accompanying reminder of his introductory appraisal (just leading over from the 
previous section), as well as his pseudo-psychological musings on "fear", 
"punishment" etc., they are all beside the point and will not concern me here.

In the hope that this will preclude further accusations of "distortive reformulation" 
etc., I confine myself to Houben's own words, which unambiguously state that he 
sees the "more problematic aspects" of the history of "German indology" in a 
"positive relations" of "at least some" indologists "with the German government and 
its disastrous ideology of the 'pure Aryan race'". There can be no reasonable doubt 
that Houben's statement (henceforth: *STATEMENT*) answers *THE QUESTION* 
in the affirmative.


As for *EVIDENCE* in support of the above *STATEMENT*, Houben then presents 
a shortlist of "essential reading for a well-informed discussion of this sensitive 
topic", opening with Pollock's "Deep Orientalism?...".
First, there can be no reasonable doubt that the "sensitive topic" Houben refers to is 
*THE QUESTION* of a connection between "German indology" of the National 
Socialist era (1933-1945) and "the German government and its disastrous ideology 
of the 'pure Aryan race'", if only for the reason that there is no other "sensitive topic" 
in sight within miles of his *STATEMENT*.
But supposing Houben would object that his reference to Pollock was not intended 
as an endorsement of Pollock's "theorizing" of that "sensitive topic", it may be asked 
how Pollock then comes to take pride of place in Houben's list of required reading 
on that same topic. 
In addition, it may be asked what purpose Houben's reference to Pollock's "Deep 
Orientalism?..." could possibly serve, other than as *EVIDENCE* in support of 
Houben's *STATEMENT*. The answer is: none - for the simple reason that there is 
no other aspect in Pollock's "Deep Orientalism?..." that Houben could refer to in the 
given context. In fact, the part of "Deep Orientalism?..." that deals with "German 
indology" is about little else than Pollock's "theory" of an involvement of German 
indologists in "the ultimate 'orientalist' project, the legitimation of genocide" (Pollock 
And there is another aspect of Pollock's "theorizing" that has to be considered here 
because it precludes the possibility that Houben may have referred to Pollock with 
regard to the "discontinuity theme", which now seems destined to become Houben's 
preferred escape route: Pollock doesn't even contemplate the possibility of a 
"discontinuity", or rather, his idea of "discontinuity" is a lethal one (Pollock 
    From its colonial origins in Justice Sir William to its consummation in SS 
    Obersturmführer Wüst, Sanskrit and Indian studies have contributed directly 
    to consolidating and sustaining programs of domination. (...) In a 
    postcolonial and post-Holocaust world, however, these traditional 
    foundations and uses of Indology have disappeared, and the current self-
    interrogations within our field may (...) somehow be responding to this new 
    impotence and the loss of purpose in scholarly activity that it implies. In 
    other words, if Indological knowledge has historically been coexistent with 
    vanished institutions of coercive power, then the production of such 
    knowledge no longer serves its primary and defining purpose. Our obsession 
    with orientalism over the past decade might suggest that Indologists, who 
    have begun to realize their historical implication in domination only now that 
    it has ended, no longer know why they are doing what they do".
So much for Pollock's postcolonial funeral sermon. This is not the place to discuss 
his article at length - something I have taken up in my contribution to the FS Roth, 
and shall continue in a separate publication [cf. also Tue, 9 Jan 2007 11:42:48].

The next item on Houben's list is "passages from Halbfass's 'India and Europe' 
(Albany, 1988)", later specified to "Halbfass 1988:139-140" (see Fri, 5 Jan 2007 
10:13:01). Now, in the said passage, Wilhelm Halfass merely lists some 
protagonists of "the Aryan myth and speculative ideas about India", none of whom 
are indologist, and none of whom Halbfass associated with the "ideology of the 'pure 
Aryan race'". Furthermore, no trace of the "discontinuity theme" here either [cf. also 
Tue, 9 Jan 2007 11:42:48]!

Now to the third item on Houben's list, viz., "selected articles and notices of the 
volumes 92-98 (1938-44) and 99 (1945-49)" of the ZDMG. Following up Houben's 
summary hint, I have examined c. 700 pages of indological articles and notices in 
those volumes, with the result that they contain virtually nothing that could be 
related to an ideology of the 'pure Aryan race' (for details see my article).
At closer inspection, even two oft-quoted conference abstracts by Erich Frauwallner 
(1938/1939; roughly 4 pages out of 700) do not fall into this category, although 
Frauwallner's concept of the history of Indian philosophy is based on race theory. I 
have treated that in my article, pointing out the features that distinguish 
Frauwallner's position from other views of that period. By contrast, I'm not aware 
that the writings Houben tries to impose on me as required reading treat this point in 
greater depth, and this alone would be enough to discard his demand as 

But just the same, I'll take a brief look at his essay entitled "Why Did Rationality 
Thrive, But Hardly Survive ...?" (Asiatische Studien 53, 1999, pp. 491-512), where 
Houben shows that Frauwallner's 1953 concept of the development of Samkhya 
from "scientific, presuppositionless" (1999:493) to "a period in which rationality 
steadily decreased" (1999:498) is basically the same as his argumentation in his 
abstracts of 1938 and 1939, with the significant difference that "the ethnic part was 
amputated from an earlier explanatory model" (1999:507; cf. Thu, 4 Jan 2007 
00:36:07). However important this observation may be for the "discontinuity theme", 
it is of no immediate relevance to *THE QUESTION*. And as for Frauwallner's 
earlier views on race, Houben himself observes that "in pre-second world-war 
Europe, explanations for such large cultural phenomena commonly involved the 
notion of races and their inborn propensities and capacities" (1999:507). As shown 
in my article, Frauwallner's race theory, so far as it emerges from his two short 
conference abstracts published in the ZDMG in 1938 and 1939, as well as the full 
conference paper published in the Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des 
Morgenlandes, remains within these "commonly" held views and show no special 
affinity with NS ideology - in fact, they were in conflict with those of Alfred 
Rosenberg, chief NS ideologue, and Walther Wüst. That Frauwallner later revised 
them just the same is sufficiently explained by the fact that, after 1945, theories of 
race in general, and "the Aryan" in particular, had fallen into disrepute, irrespective 
of their possible affinity with the NS ideology.
[NOTE: Houben's himself points to his article in Études de Lettres, 2001.3, as 
another example of his "grappling with this problem" of phenomena that remain 
"unexplained" because former explanations drawing on race theory have later been 
"amputated". As in the previous case, this relates to the "discontinuity theme", but 
not to *THE QUESTION*, and therefore this article can be left out of consideration 


Summing up, vols. 1938-1944 of the ZDMG yield no *EVIDENCE* that could in any 
way substantiate Houben's *STATEMENT* of a relation between German 
indologists and "the disastrous ideology of the 'pure Aryan race'", especially not in 
the sense implied by Pollock's "Deep Orientalism? ...", the primary point of 
reference in the pertinent part of Houben's report.
As for ZDMG 99 (1945-49), one may be tempted to think that Houben included this 
post-war volume in order to corroborate the "discontinuity theme" because the 
volume closes with the proceedings of the 1948 Mainz session of the DMG, 
convened to reorganize the Society and give it a new statute, according to which 
former NSDAP members are allowed to join only if they can produce a clearance 
certificate from the Allied authorities. But Houben mentions the Mainz session 
separately in the next paragraph of his report, without reference to vol 99. Therefore 
- if I'm allowed a bit of "unauthoritative" speculation - the inclusion of vol. 99 in the 
list of "essential reading" on the "sensitive topic" of "the disastrous ideology of the 
'pure Aryan race' may as well be intended to serve a different purpose, viz., to 
insinuate some kind of "continuity" beyond the end of the NS regime, because the 
proceedings of the Mainz session mention a number of indologists who also feature 
in Pollock's illusory "NS indology".

Meanwhile, Houben may have realized that his reference to the ZDMG was 
somewhat inappropriate. At least I observe a remarkable change of discourse 
strategy in his recent attempt (Fri, 12 Jan 2007 03:03:54) to minimize the wholesale 
implication of the ZDMG in his report to - (1.) "notices of Wüst (...), references to his 
organizational DMG activities explicitly in connection with the then current political 
situation" and - (2.) "articles of Frauwallner" (Houben leaves it to his readers to find 
them for themselves) - which, as shown, do not fall into that category, and will not 
concern me here any further.

As for Houben's ominous "notices of Wüst" (also no reference provided), there is 
only one that I know of, viz. in ZDMG 96 (1942), pp. *13*-*15*, reporting that Wüst, 
in his capacity as "Beauftragter im Kriegseinsatz der Geisteswissenschaften" 
("commissary of the war effort of the arts/humanities") was authorized by the 
ministry of education to convene a conference of German orientalists (see the 
references to the 1942 proceedings, ed. by H.H. Schaeder, in my article). Things 
must be very desparate if one has to catch at this three-liner to support one's 
theorizing of ZDMG 92-99!
(For the only indological contribution to that volume, Frauwallner's "Die Bedeutung 
der indischen Philosophie" (1942:158-169), cf. my article).

Meanwhile, Houben concedes that these data may reduce the number of "at least 
some" to just two indologists, viz., Walther Wüst and Erich Frauwallner, but he still 
seems to find the wholesale reference to ZDMG 92-99 fully justified, although the 
three items he actually draws on amount to no more than roughly 5 pages out of c. 
700 dealing with indological topics.
As indicated in my article, I see this gross exaggeration in the context of Pollock's 
impressive metaphor of a post-1933 "flood" of indological writings "that, without any 
overt commitment to National Socialism, fully embrace the terms of its discourse by 
their unchallenged participation in and acceptance of the Fragestellungen, the 
thematics, of NS Indology" (Pollock 1993:91). While Pollock is wise to avoid 
concrete references, his epigones sometimes show a tendency to expose 
themselves with all too courageous assertions.

In later stages of the present debate, Houben tried to build his stance on 
circumstantial evidence of sorts, arguing that "those who explicitly keep positive 
relations with the then German government are automatically keeping sufficiently 
positive relations with the government's ideology of the pure Aryan race" (Fri, 12 
Jan 2007 03:03:54) - an automatism that conveniently exempts his "authoritative" 
pronouncements from the usual procedure of verification.
Now, it is reasonable to assume such "positive relations (...) with the German 
government" in general for the six or so indologists Pollock lists as members of the 
NSDAP (Alsdorf, Breloer, Frauwallner, Hauer, R. Schmidt and Wüst). However, 
Houben goes much further when he specifies these "positive relations" with regard 
to the "disastrous ideology of the 'pure Aryan race'". In my article I have tried to 
show that indications of the endorsement Houben presupposes here can only be 
found in the political speeches of Walther Wüst. But whatever conclusions one 
draws from that, they cannot automatically be extended to other indologists, not 
even to those other members of the NSDAP, let alone to "German indology" as a 
Hypothetically assuming that the six or so NSDAP members endorsed the 
"disastrous ideology of the 'pure Aryan race'", at least tacitly (as long as there is no 
evidence of public endorsement, except in Wüst's political speeches), what 
conclusion would that allow beyond their personal political convictions, especially 
with regard to indology? Is indology in any way determined by the political 
convictions of indologists?
Furthermore, I find it hard to imagine how anyone can recommend Pollock's "Deep 
Orientalism? ..." as "essential reading" without in some way approving the theory 
that Pollock's piece is all about, viz. that German indologists played an active role in 
the formation (or at least the dissemination) of that ideology with the 
"epistemological instruments of Indologie" (Pollock 1993:84) - which brings me back 
to the question of *EVIDENCE* ...

More on this elsewhere.

Reinhold Grünendahl


Dr. Reinhold Gruenendahl
Niedersaechsische Staats- und Universitaetsbibliothek
Fachreferat sued- und suedostasiatische Philologien
(Dept. of Indology)

37070 Goettingen, Germany
Tel (+49) (0)5 51 / 39 52 83
Fax (+49) (0)5 51 / 39 23 61
gruenen at

In English:

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