Essential Reading on Nazi-time Indology

gruenendahl gruenen at MAIL.SUB.UNI-GOETTINGEN.DE
Fri May 11 10:45:32 UTC 2007

[For the prehistory of this controversy see the INDOLOGY archives of 
January 2007 at,
s.v. "Indology and the disastrous ideology of the 'pure Aryan race'", 
including related threads. My assessment can be found under

Jan Houben has a serious problem, and in deflecting from it, his latest 
postings bring it out even more clearly. In his 1995 report he has made a 
claim which he could not prove then, and has been unable to prove 
since, viz., that there were "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" (Houben 1995)
[NOTE: It is here where I picked up Houben's phrase "some indologists 
at least"; cf. his last posting.]

His only attempt to produce primary evidence of sorts was a hint at 
"selected articles and notices of the volumes 92-98 (1938-44) and 99 
(1945-49) of the Zeitschrift für die Deutsche Morgenländische 
Gesellschaft" [sic]. As I have shown in an article for the Festschrift 
Gustav Roth (2006), the ZDMG yields virtually no evidence that could 
support Houben's claim, and additional hints he came up with in January 
have done nothing to help him out of that problem (cf. my above-
mentioned assessment). 

If his suggestive hint at the ZDMG can count as an original idea, it would 
be the only one Houben could take credit for. As his recent postings 
show once again, all his other pronouncements on "German indology" 
etc. merely mirror secondary sources - which may, or may not, support 
Houben's 1995 claim (a point to be examined elsewhere). In my view, 
this fully qualifies Houben for the term I chose in my article, viz., 
"Epigone" (Duden: "Nachahmer, ohne eigene Ideen" = echo/copier, 
without own ideas).

Houben's primary source of inspiration is Sheldon Pollock's 1993 article 
"Deep Orientalism? ...", designed to implicate "German indology" in the 
National Socialist ideology, and the crimes committed in its wake. Here 
are Pollock's claims in a nutshell:

"The case of German Indology, a dominant form of European 
orientalism, leads us to ask whether orientalism cannot be as powerfully 
understood with reference to the national political culture within which it 
is practiced as to the colony toward which it is directed (...). We usually 
imagine its vector as directed outward - toward the colonization and 
domination of Asia; in the case of German Indology we might conceive 
of it as potentially directed inward - toward the colonization and 
domination of Europe itself" (Pollock 1993:76f.).

Pollock's "outward-vector" stance clearly is a carbon copy of Edward's 
Said's "Orientalism" (1978), and three titles by Said feature in Pollock's 
bibliography, all of which goes to show that Pollock's theorizing is base 
on Said's - and that's how this "dead horse" found its way into my article. 
Some, like Houben, may meanwhile find it opportune to publicly distance 
themselves from Said, but implicitly, their own theorizing holds on to 
Said's baseless tenets just the same.

Now on to Pollock's "inward vector":
"In German Indology of the NS era, a largely nonscholarly mystical 
nativism deriving ultimately from a mixture of romanticism and 
protonationalism merged with that objectivism of Wissenschaft earlier 
described, and together they fostered the ultimate 'orientalist' project, the 
legitimation of genocide" (Pollock 1993:96).

This is the central theme of Pollock's article, from which I derived the title 
for mine, "Von der Indologie zum Völkermord : Die 
Kontinuitätskonstrukte Sheldon Pollocks und seiner Epigonen" (="From 
Indology to Genocide : The continuity constructs of Sheldon Pollock and 
his epigones").

Pollock's theorizing clearly presupposes a "German indology", although 
he never defines what he means by it (neither does any of Pollock's 
epigones, and that's why I put the term into inverted commas). Without 
the premise of a "German indology", Pollock's entire theory would 
collapse. By implication, this applies to the pronouncements of all those 
who have followed Pollock's rationale (if that's the word for it), among 
them Houben. 

As for *EVIDENCE*, Pollock is wise enough to steer clear of this vexed 
problem altogether, except for a few hints which, however, turn out 
illusory at closer inspection. 

Here is the example from my earlier posting, dated Tue, 9 Jan 2007 
11:42:48 +0100; see


Pollock corroborates his musings on the would-be problematic side of 
indology with the following quote from "the proto-fascist Houston Stuart 
Chamberlain" (whom no one will seriously consider an indologist, I hope):

"Indology must help us to fix our sights more clearly on the goals of our 
culture (...)" (quot. Pollock 1993:86; no reference provided). 

However, Chamberlain's exercise in opacity actually reads (1905:25):
"(...) der Indoarier muß uns helfen, die Ziele unserer Kultur deutlicher ins 
Auge zu fassen."

I leave it to the discretion of the reader whether this switch from "the 
Indo-Aryan" to "Indology" at the beginning of Pollock's "quote" should be 
attributed to ignorance, charlatanry or whatever, but I, for one, cannot 
see anything "healthy" in this, as Jan Houben has argued.


[NOTE: "Charlatanry", according to the OED, is an "action which 
bespeaks a charlatan, and for "charlatan", the book has the following 
definition: "An assuming empty pretender to knowledge or skill; a 
pretentious impostor".
Alternatively, see s.v. "forgery": "The making of a thing in fraudulent 
imitation of something; also, esp. the forging, counterfeiting, falsifying of 
a document".]

None of this has found its way into Houben's assessment of Pollock's 
piece, nor into that of other members of this list who expressed similar 
views. Quite to the contrary. Following Houben's logic, my article, in that 
it examines Pollock's and Houben's claims about "German indology" and 
proves them false, qualifies for being denounced as "an enthusiastic, if 
not desperate, apologetic of nazi-time german indology" (Houben's last 
posting). I have no intention to enter into Houben's distortions any 
further, although readers who cannot check them against my article may 
feel somewhat puzzled.

Anyway, it should be quite clear by now that Houben's narrative is as 
dependent on the concept of a "German indology" as Pollock's. Take it 
out, and both constructs will collapse. But, inadvertently perhaps, that's 
exactly what Houben does in his recent postings.

Houben now decides that "Indology was (...) mainly 'European' in 
character with intensive cooperations between French, British and 
German specialists, and has thus not only been sharing Oriental dreams 
but also a Nazi-nightmare". In what follows thereafter, the term "German 
Indology" is unceremoniously dropped in favour of Houben's new buzz-
word: "Nazi-time European Indology". Should that imply that he plans to 
extend his (hitherto unsustained) claims to a "European Indology" of 
sorts, his debt in evidence would rise accordingly.

However, Houben's position is somewhat incoherent: His 1995 report 
explicitly presupposes a distinct "German indology", as does Pollock's 
1993 article, which provides its basis. As I said, without this assumption 
Pollock's entire edifice would collapse, and Houben's replica en miniature 
along with it. Should he now give up that position, it may be asked how 
this squares with his sustained endorsement of Pollock's piece, and of 
his own 1995 report, of course.

If a third opinion should be called for, here is what Houben had to say 
about this in 2002: "Rather, there are several distinct Western European 
Indological discourses, namely French, German, British, Dutch, Italian, 
Polish and other ones, (...) which all have both local aspects and global 
aspects" [from S. Bhate (ed.), Indology : Past, Present and Future, p. f.].

Should this change of tune indicate that Houben has now realized the 
untenability of his former position, there would be hope that all this could 
be sorted out in a rational manner. But I for one entertain no such hope, 
and would not be surprised if Houben reinvented the issue once again, 
tomorrow or in a few month's time. The very last thing I expect is that he 
will leave behind his epigonal dependence on Pollock and a host of other 
writers, and come up with a genuine case, based on primary and 
verifiable *EVIDENCE*. That is in fact the only point I would have to 
discuss with Houben.

Reinhold Grünendahl

[P.S.: In the second instalment of his "bilbiographie raisonnée", Houben 
feigns to prepare "readers of this list (...) for a book on this subject matter 
announced by Reinhold Grünendahl". This presupposes an acquaintance 
with a book that Houben actually can know very little about, and what 
little has come to his attention so far was thoroughly misinterpreted by 
him, be it deliberately or because he simply didn't get my point. At best, I 
can take his tendentious pronouncement as a sorry travesty of the 
"detached scholarship" he ventured to claim on earlier occasions.]

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