In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section German Indology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Histories of Indian Literature
  • Methodological Issues
  • Orientalism Debate
  • German Responses to National Socialist Indology
  • Current State and Future Prospects

Hinduism German Indology
Joydeep Bagchee
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0147


“Indology” is the generic title of a group of disciplines concerned with the study of India. The terms “Indologist” and “orientalist” are frequently used interchangeably within English-speaking countries. In Germany, “Indology” (Indologie) has been used to identify a subfield of “oriental sciences” (Orientalistik); specifically, that part of it concerned with the study of ancient India. There exists a new branch of Indology titled “modern Indology,” which has lately experienced an upswing in its fortunes, but wherever “Indology” is used without a qualifier, the reference is to ancient India. As a rule, German professors have tended to be dismissive of the idea of modern Indian studies, claiming a special expertise in ancient India (see Deutsche Indologie: Vom Niedergang eines Fachbereichs by Oliver Schulz, cited under Current State and Future Prospects). In this article, the expression “German Indology” is used to distinguish the history, development, and practice of this discipline from South Asian studies in other countries. This distinction is justified both in terms of linguistic usage (German scholars have used the term deutsche Indologie to characterize their specific approach to Indian studies) and historical application (German Indology has a distinct history and traditions, and unique concerns that set it apart from other forms of research into India). For the purposes of this article and in general, the expression “German” in “German Indology” does not refer to national origins; many “German” Indologists came from outside Germany’s borders (e.g., the Austrians Moriz Winternitz and Erich Frauwallner or the Norwegian-born, though lifelong citizen of Germany, Christian Lassen), or they established institutions of “German” Indology outside its borders by exporting German ideas and values (e.g., the Americans William D. Whitney and E. Washburn Hopkins; both studied under Albrecht Weber in Berlin). This article focuses on the institution, self-understanding, and historical context of German Indology. It is neither intended as a compilation of German achievements in various subfields of Hinduism nor can it hope to properly assess these achievements in the context of their respective subfields. The reader interested in the specific contributions of German Indology should rather consult the relevant OBO articles (e.g., “Atharva Veda” for German scholarship on the Veda). This article focuses more narrowly on the history of the discipline and critical scholarly treatments of it. Its primary focus is the 19th century, when enduring principles and prejudices of the discipline were first formulated, but it also examines the continuing currency of these principles and prejudices in 20th-century scholarship. Literature on German Indology after 1945 can be found under the section Current State and Future Prospects. Critical engagements with the discipline are discussed under Orientalism Debate and German Responses to National Socialist Indology.

General Overviews

German Indology is a broad field. Compelled by the politics of departmental specialization, Indologists early on branched into manifold areas, each department or each scholar coming to occupy a specific area. Thus, every history of the discipline is necessarily selective, focusing on one or two paradigmatic areas of German research. That said, the following works are good guides to the general tendency of the discipline and cover a broad spectrum of central figures. Myers 2013 takes a broad look at the role played by the idea of India in the culture and political life of Wilhelmine-era Germany. Marchand 2009 takes a wide-ranging look at orientalism in general in 19th-century Germany. Rabault-Feuerhahn 2008 is a careful historical study, using much archival material. The author covers the early phase of interest in India (romanticism and German Indomania), but her emphasis is on understanding how a professionalized discipline emerged out of these early beginnings. Inden 1990 extends Edward Said’s critique of orientalism to India; though it strays into wider areas, it was one of the first works to critique that there was a stable, essential, and value-free domain of knowledge known as “Indology.” Though not specific to German Indology, King 1999 is a provocative study of “orientalist essentialism” that includes an examination of how terms such as “mystical,” “secular,” etc., came to define the discussion of religions, especially non-Western ones. Marchand 2001 previews the approach and style of Marchand 2009 and concludes by insisting that “we are perhaps equally the descendants of German orientalism” (p. 473).

  • Inden, Ronald. Imagining India. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990.

    NNNA landmark study, Inden is still decried today by German Indologists, who took him to be attacking the epistemic roots of their praxis.

  • King, Richard. Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and “the Mystic East.” New York: Routledge, 1999.

    NNNKing shows how the construction of the mystic East was a necessary moment in the West’s construction of itself as nonreligious, scientific, pragmatic, and secular.

  • Marchand, Suzanne L. “German Orientalism and the Decline of the West.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145.4 (2001): 465–473.

    NNNBrief introduction to some names and movements in German orientalism, but not specific to Indology.

  • Marchand, Suzanne L. German Orientalism in the Age of Empire: Religion, Race, and Scholarship. Publications of the German Historical Institute. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    NNNLarge and comprehensive, this book may be difficult reading for someone unfamiliar with the terrain.

  • Myers, Perry. German Visions of India, 1871–1918: Commandeering the Holy Ganges during the Kaiserreich. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137316929

    NNNShows that the interest in the German fascination with India has hardly abated and that there is much to be learned not only from academic scholarship on India, but also from popular views of India.

  • Rabault-Feuerhahn, Pascale. L’archive des origines: Sanskrit, philologie, anthropologie dans l’Allemagne du XIXe siècle. Bibliothèque Franco-Allemande. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2008.

    NNNRabault-Feuerhahn’s book is excellently organized, covering early beginnings, professionalization and institutionalization in universities, comparative grammar and linguistics, religious studies, anthropology, and the relationship to India. The use of letters and archival materials make this book a treasure trove of information. Translated into English by Dominique Bach and Richard Willet as Archives of Origins: Sanskrit, Philology, Anthropology in 19th Century Germany (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2013).

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