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Friedrich Max Müller and the Sacred Books of the East$

Arie L. Molendijk

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198784234

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198784234.001.0001

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Intellectual Impact

Intellectual Impact

(p.162) 6 Intellectual Impact
Friedrich Max Müller and the Sacred Books of the East

Arie L. Molendijk

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

In Chapter 6, ‘Intellectual Impact’, the edition of the Sacred Books of the East is compared with other contemporary grand editorial projects, such as the Oxford English Dictionary and the Migne edition of the church fathers. Can the series be seen as a token of the founding of ‘big science’ around 1900? Did it define a new approach to the study of religion? Did the series contribute to the emergence of a new discourse of ‘world religions’ and ‘comparative religion’? It is argued that the series is a monument in the history of the comparative study of religion. The edition of the Sacred Books of the East is the powerful expression of the wish to gather the main religions of the world under one umbrella—in one prestigious and costly edition.

Keywords:   big science, Adolf Harnack, religion as text (textualization), world religions, comparison, orientalism

In order to have a solid foundation for a comparative study of religions of the East, we must have before all things complete and thoroughly faithful translations of their sacred books.

(Max Müller)1

The edition of the Sacred Books of the East is said to provide the ‘facts’ for the comparative study of religion. Max Müller explicitly made this claim, and occasionally he used and referred to the translations in his later studies on religion.2 Contemporary reviewers thought along the same lines.3 This claim seems rather modest, especially when compared with how historians of religious and oriental studies nowadays see the significance of the series. According to Norman Girardot, for instance, the translations ‘ratify a whole taken-for-granted taxonomy of concepts, categories, and procedures that will characterize the academic study of religion well into the twentieth century’.4 Tomoko (p.163) Masuzawa surmised that the series ‘played not an insignificant role in the development of the world religions discourse in the twentieth century, and perhaps even in its persistence’.5 This is a more tentative formulation, but generally it is assumed that such huge editorial projects have quite some impact. Bernard and Picart’s seven splendidly illustrated folio volumes of the Religious Ceremonies of the World, which appeared in the first half of the eighteenth century, allegedly helped create the field of the comparative history of religion.6 Other historians, however, tell us that the comparative approach gained prominence only in the nineteenth century.7 How are such claims to be weighed and substantiated? In this chapter I will explore these questions by careful contextualization. To which other grand projects we may compare Müller’s edition? What impact did the series have in the history of religious studies? Was a new form of discursivity implied in the edition? Did it indeed change the game of the discipline?

Big Science and Grand Projects

Grand editorial projects such as the Oxford English Dictionary, the Migne edition of the church fathers, the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, and the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (under supervision of the influential Old Testament scholar William Robertson Smith) are important subjects of study. They signal the emergence of large-scale scholarship in the humanities as well as the importance of entrepreneurship and the stamina of individual leaders, who initiated and conducted these cooperative ventures with great personal effort and dedication. Not all editors had the (p.164) commercial genius of the abbé Jacques Paul Migne, who published according to his biographer a book every ten days for thirty years,8 but a solid financial basis was crucial for success. Just as big industries, big science (Großwissenschaft) needs working capital, to quote the German historian and Nobel Prize winner Theodor Mommsen, at the occasion of the inauguration of Adolf von Harnack (1850–1931) to the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1890.9

The church historian Harnack was one of the most successful organizers in the history of modern scholarship. He was not only director of the Royal Library in Berlin, but also of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft, which was founded in 1911 to further the sciences (including the humanities).10 This society initiated large-scale projects and research institutes, from which the famous Max Planck Institutes emerged. The natural sciences were predominant in this organization, but the idea of large scholarly enterprises actually began with the great text editions in the humanities, especially in classical studies (Altertumswissenschaften) in the late nineteenth century.11 Research in the history of such ventures concentrates on the development of the institutions, the research programmes and projects, and the young scholars who did the work—most of the time for relatively small pay. Characteristics of what is nowadays termed ‘big science’, such as team work, a steady flow of publications and editions, specialized techniques, and international cooperation, can already be discerned in these early stages.

(p.165) In his memorandum on the foundation of research institutes, which Harnack sent to the German emperor Wilhelm II in October 1909, he pointed in particular to the large instruments and machines that are needed in the hard sciences, but cooperation and division of labour are also necessary to promote the advancement of scholarship.12 To study the universe and the microcosm we need the ‘large enterprise of the sciences’ (Großbetrieb der Wissenschaften).13 Harnack also noted that the scale on which the humanities work is much enlarged—by the huge editorial projects such as the edition of the Greek church fathers. Notwithstanding its dangers, such as the mechanization of the work of scientists, the overrating of collecting data, and the undervaluation of intellectual understanding, the advancement of big science is a beneficial development in his view. Without telescopes, large-scale expeditions, and editions, to name just a few examples, modern science and scholarship is unthinkable. The international character of research as well as of education is stressed by Harnack. He was proud of the fact that in 1905 the Berlin University counted more than one thousand students from abroad (from a total number of 7,700), and he welcomed the international exchange of students and scholars.14

The Sacred Books of the East: a Specimen of Big Science?

Harnack is one of the few contemporary authors who reflected on the emergence of big science.15 Although Max Müller explained the idea behind the edition of the Sacred Books of the East, he did not address the (p.166) structural changes involved in this transition. His edition of the Rig-Veda still was basically the project of one man (although he got help from younger Sanskritists), whereas the series of the Sacred Books of the East involved a team of professional scholars. Given the scope of texts and languages even Müller could not have done this work alone. For the Chinese texts, for instance, he had to rely on his Oxford colleague James Legge. In contrast to the great editorial projects of the Berlin Academy, which were primarily financed by the Prussian state, the edition of the Sacred Books of the East was partly funded by the private money of Oxford University Press. The other donor was the India Office of the British empire, which contributed substantially to the edition.

Yet no people were employed in the strict sense of the word in this huge project. The—often distinguished—scholars were paid a small amount per page, which bears no relation to their time-consuming work. Only Müller as editor-in-chief received a substantial emolument from the Press. The series remained a source of income for Oxford University Press and the university for many years to come. Scholars from different nations were recruited by Müller, and in this respect the series was a token of the ongoing internationalization of (oriental) scholarship. For Harnack this was an important aspect of the process of scientific change, but international cooperation has a much longer history and in itself is in my view not a distinguishing element of the emergence of big science. The contributors all worked in their own studies or libraries, and did not cooperate closely. Of course, there were all kinds of relationships—they met at conferences, and corresponded with each other, and, of course, even more frequently with the editor-in-chief—but they did it all on an individual basis and did not meet as a team. There was no local concentration of work, no staff members who managed the edition. Yet the series was a collective effort by an international group of scholars, funded by extra financial means, and involved a steady flow of publications. In these respects the series is an important step in the establishment of big science, which emerged in full form around 1900.

Like the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1857–1928) the Sacred Books of the East were a remarkable model of large-scale production of knowledge.16 James Murray’s task of collecting, (p.167) assembling, and evaluating the myriad of slips of paper with English words, gathered by many thousands of informants, was even more a labour of Hercules than Müller’s coordinating role, but both men worked incessantly in realizing their magnum opus and established some form of procedural objectivity.17 They wanted to present the evidence as cleanly as possible and overcome partiality. These attempts may be criticized, and it is indeed not hard to find prejudice and bias in their work,18 but there is no doubt—in Müller’s case—that key texts of the ‘religions of the world’ were presented to an educated audience, who were encouraged to enlarge their horizons of knowledge. Müller’s example was followed, and many series of sacred books were published in the twentieth century.

One publication deserves special mention here, because it more or less copied Müller, and that is Horne’s edition of the The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East in fourteen volumes, which appeared in 1917.19 Charles F. Horne (1870–1942) was a professor of English at the City College of New York, whose venture was clearly inspired by Waldo Emerson’s praise of the ‘Bibles of the world’ and Müller’s edition. Although he included fewer texts, his selection is broader than Müller’s, as he presented Egyptian texts and the ‘Great Rejected Books of the Biblical Apocrypha’, such as the books of Adam and Eve, the Apocalypse of Baruch, and the Gospel of Thomas. He used partly translations of texts made available by Müller, but seems to have aimed at a somewhat broader audience. Horne’s goal was to ‘enlarge our mental horizon’ by the ‘stupendous finds’ of ‘wisdom of the East’, ‘and so add all their wealth of knowledge to our own’.20 The recent discovery and deciphering of ancient texts from the East is in this view a major event, which shows the beginnings of ‘mankind’s eternal struggle to pierce the infinite’.21 This formulation again recalls the (p.168) thought of Max Müller, given his well-known definition of religion as the perception of the infinite.22

Textualization of Religion

Although editions, encyclopaedias, big research institutes, and funding are seen as important or even crucial in the development of the sciences and the humanities, it is less clear what their role exactly consisted of. I have looked in vain for studies that address this question for similar grand projects. In her careful study of the editions of the German theological encyclopaedia Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Ruth Conrad appears to demonstrate that the famous first edition that appeared between 1909 and 1913 is to a large extent the work of the so-called German History of Religions School.23 Prominent members such as Hermann Gunkel, Wilhelm Bousset, and Ernst Troeltsch did hold key positions in the process of the production of the volumes and left their mark on them. But did the encyclopaedia really define the work of this group of scholars? Did it, for instance, ratify a specific taxonomy of concepts, categories, and procedures? These questions are not asked by Conrad, and it would be difficult to substantiate such claims, as other work by these men was no less important in establishing a thoroughly historical approach of religions, in particular of Christianity.

Nevertheless, both the Sacred Books of the East series and the first edition of the RGG, as the encyclopaedia is commonly abbreviated,24 are doubtless landmarks in the establishment of the modern scholarly study of religion. But in which respects can they be called a landmark? As far as Müller’s project is concerned, the most obvious argument is probably its prominent role in the so-called textualization of Eastern religions. Western scholars and oriental officers—often there is no more than a very thin line between the two—went on a hunt for manuscripts and foundational texts of Eastern religions, or what they (p.169) thought to be religions. The study of Buddhism, for instance, started rather late in the Oriental Renaissance.25 The Sanskrit manuscripts that Brian Hodgson of the British East Asia Company discovered in the 1820s and 1830s and sent to various learned societies, among these the Société Asiatique in Paris, formed the basis for Eugène Burnouf’s Introduction à l’histoire du Buddhisme indien from 1844.26 Müller claimed that his teacher’s book ‘laid the foundation for a systematic study of the religion of Buddha’.27 Burnouf established India as the birthplace of Buddhism, where it had actually almost disappeared at the time, as it had spread through other parts of Asia. Thus Buddhism was constituted primarily as a textual object existing from the time of Gautama.28 Buddhist studies had become ‘a history of master texts’, a form of orientalism criticized by Edward Said and others because it is allegedly ‘based on the finality and closure of antiquarian or curatorial knowledge’.29

Presently, there are many studies on the ‘invention’ of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, et cetera, which demonstrate that these ‘religions’ and their ‘sacred texts’ were produced—as the preferred metaphor runs—in the West.30 If you would have asked the believers or even the religious specialists, they would have given in many cases varying answers as to what their most important religious scriptures were. This is not because of religious ignorance, ‘but because there (p.170) does not appear to be a wholly accepted body of scripture that is of equal value to the entire community’.31 Thus Müller’s edition did not only contribute to the process of textualization of religion as such, but also played a significant role in selecting and highlighting particular texts as representative of particular traditions. This does not mean that the editor and his co-workers did not rely on local knowledge. It is evident from Müller’s correspondence that the selected canonical texts were not created out of nothing, but were based on older Eastern traditions and informants. The involvement of local specialists in this co-production of texts is an important field for further study.32

A rather extreme example of the process of ‘canonization’ is how the Jain scriptures were selected for the series. I follow here an illuminating article of Kendall W. Folkert, who draws our attention to the fact that the corpus of forty-five Jain texts that would define this ‘religion’ for some time was presented as such by one scholar, the orientalist Georg Bühler.33 Bühler had obtained his information from a single informant within the Jain community. This selection of texts did only partly match with other oral and written sources. ‘Yet he put it forward, and lived to see it perpetuated by other scholars.’34 Not everyone, however, committed himself to this canon. When Hermann Jacobi was asked to translate Jain texts for the Sacred Books of the East, he selected the Kalpa Sutra, which did not belong to the corpus that Bühler had put forward. Yet he chose this text because of its enormous popularity and value to the community, which is attested by its ‘overwhelming presence’ in manuscript collections.35 Thus the series contributed to a break with and a renewal of a presumed Jain canon. This way a Protestant model of scriptural canonicity was superimposed by orientalists on a religious community, in which texts had mainly a ritual function and no independent authority in themselves.

(p.171) In this sense the edition of Müller’s Sacred Books indeed ratified the idea that religious texts of oriental religions function as scriptures in ways analogous to the Hebrew and Christian Bible. Müller has recently been taken to task for ‘the absence of probing analysis’ in these matters, as he did not reflect very much on the nature of scripture and the presumptions and implications of the series in this regard.36 Scripture, however, was not a key notion for Müller, as he termed the series the ‘sacred books’, under which rubric he included the Christian Bible. It is sometimes argued that the term ‘sacred books’ obscures the distorting, hidden assumptions derived from biblical analogies.37 In my view it is somewhat anachronistic to target Müller in this respect. The reproach of obscuring things is not justified, because Müller makes it very clear that he defines the series by texts that have final authority. No doubt, the Protestant idea of the normative character of scripture plays an important role in choosing this criterion. As this leads to a distorted understanding of various traditions, it is important to explore how these ‘books’ were and are actually used. How did the indigenous specialists deal with Müller’s strong authoritative claims? The focus of this book is on Müller’s intentions and performance, which were powerful, but not accepted per se in the East.

The notions of sacred books as well as of scriptures are by no means innocent terms to refer to the foundational documents of religious traditions, or what are supposed to be ‘religions’.38 The textualization of foreign religions is a token of cultural imperialism, by which scholarly Western authority is imposed on Eastern cultures.39 Actual imperial and cultural power are intertwined here. (p.172) Without colonial expansion these ancients texts would never have been ‘discovered’ and subsequently translated. The monumental series itself exhibited oriental culture, produced by supreme Western scholarship. Textualization is not just an unintended consequence of the inclusion of foreign cultures in the comparative studies of cultural phenomena. Max Müller and others were rather explicit in this respect. In his ‘Sketch of Buddhism’ (1828), Brian Hodgson explained how he procured in Nepal ‘large works relating to Buddhism’ from an old man, the Pâtna Bauddha, whom he presented with ‘a set of questions, which I desired he would answer from his books’.40 His information is to be corroborated by the texts that he had acquired for Hodgson. In this procedure texts which actually play a more subordinate role in practical life get authority over the religious specialist, whose authority is redirected and redefined by the textual evidence.

In the same vein Müller claimed that—notwithstanding its shortcomings—the translations of the Sacred Books of the East are to be accepted ‘for the present as a sufficient authority’. On one occasion Müller invited the ‘learned natives’ to give their opinion about their own traditions, on the condition, however, that they should always support their statements by reference to their own sacred texts. This way they can ‘hold their own against the best oriental scholars of Europe, nay, even correct their views by their own more intimate acquaintance with their sacred texts, and their more living knowledge of the present working of their religion’.41 The (p.173) tacit implication, of course, is that it could also be the other way around. Seemingly authority is handed back to the ‘natives’, whereas structurally it is in the hands of Western scholars, who produced and constructed these texts as the only sources of authority. This movement of reversal of authority is performed in Müller’s texts, which does not mean, of course, that the original religious informants, specialists, and ‘natives’ have simply accepted these claims.

World Religions

According to Tomoko Masuzawa the collection of the Sacred Books of the East ‘effectively defined the parameters of the “major religions of the world”’.42 The main argument to underpin this statement is—if I understand her correctly—that previously there was no established, self-evident list of ‘great religions’. Norman Girardot posits that the series ratified ‘a particular grouping of “world religions”’.43 Terminology is important here, as Masuzawa shows in her study of world religions, and in this respect the first thing that has to be noted is that the term does not play an important role in Müller’s work. Masuzawa writes that the term ‘world religions’ is generally absent from his writings.44 Strictly speaking this is correct, but one should not overlook the fact that Müller spoke incidentally about the ‘(principal) religions of the world’.45 In the introduction to the series and in his lectures on the science of religion from 1870, however, the terminology is absent. Müller spoke here about ‘book-religions’, and the ‘great and original religions which profess to be founded on Sacred Books’.46 In Müller’s phrasing there were eight of such religions (Brahmanism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Mosaism, Christianity, (p.174) Mohammedanism, Confucianism, and the religion of Lao-tse).47 As the biblical texts could not be included, only six of these religions were represented in the Sacred Books of the East. In this numerical sense the texts assembled in the series did not sum up all the presumed great or world religions.

The specific terminology of ‘world religions’ emerged in German and, especially, Dutch debates about the classification of religions in the late nineteenth century. In this context the use of the term originates—as far as we know—with the Dutch scholar C. P. Tiele (1830–1902), professor in the history and philosophy of religion at the University of Leiden.48 Masuzawa refers to Tiele’s famous contribution ‘Religi­ons’ to the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1886,49 where he distanced himself from the concept, whereas in earlier work he had wholeheartedly embraced it. She traces the term back to Tiele’s Outlines of the History of Religion to the Spread of the Universal Religions, which appeared in 1877.50 But already in 1864 in his book on the religion of Zoroaster, Tiele had used the term wereldgodsdiensten frequently.51 Here he made an (p.175) attempt to determine the place of Parsism in religious history in general by means of classification. The last phase is constituted by the triad of Buddhism, Christianity, and ‘Mohammedanism’, ‘which we could call the universalistic or world religions’.52 In his later work Tiele actually dropped the term, but in the 1870s and 1880s he used it to refer to what were seen at the time as the most advanced forms of religion.

Given Tiele’s criticism of the usefulness of the term ‘world religion’ in his contribution to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, it comes somewhat as a surprise that Jonathan Z. Smith has repeatedly claimed in various handbooks that we find here Tiele’s ‘most sophisticated formulation’ and defence of the notion.53 Tiele employed—as Smith writes—‘blunt imperialistic language’ to defend his use of the term ‘world religions’. Thereupon Smith quotes Tiele, who was aiming

[to] distinguish the three religions which have found their way to different races and peoples and all of which profess the intention to conquer the world, from such communities as are generally limited to a single race or nation, and, where they have extended farther, have done so only in the train of, and in connexion with, a superior civilization. Strictly speaking, there can be no more than one universal or world religion, and if one of the existing religions is so potentially it has not yet reached its goal. This is a matter of belief which lies beyond the limits of scientific classification.54

In the course of global capitalist and imperial expansion Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam would have indeed ‘conquered’ the world in this view. But what is curious or—probably more precise—misleading is that Smith left out the beginning of the paragraph, where Tiele dismissed the term and qualified the above quotation by stating: ‘Without serving longer to determine the character of certain religions, the term “world religions” might [sic] still be retained for (p.176) practical use, to distinguish’, etc. Is this really a defence of its usage? Even a critical reading should give a fair representation of what Tiele actually said.

If we look at the usage of the actual term ‘world religions’, it is not at all clear that Müller’s series defined the discourse, as there was no consensus at the time about which particular religions were to be included in this ‘top’ category. Tiele spoke only about Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam in this context. In his influential studies of the economic ethos of world religions from a later date, the sociologist Max Weber used a purely numerical definition of the term:

By ‘world religions’ we understand the five religions or religiously determined systems of life-regulation which have known how to gather multitudes of confessors around them. The term is used here in a completely value-neutral sense. The Confucian, Hinduist, Buddhist, Christian, and Islamist religious ethics all belong to the category of world religion.55

Taoism and Zoroastrianism are missing in this listing. Weber, however, also included Judaism in his analysis, because of its importance for the understanding of Christianity and Islam on the one hand, and the development of the Western economic ethos on the other.

Here is not the place to discuss the vicissitudes of the use of ‘world religions’ throughout the last 150 years, but to assess the importance of Müller’s series in this respect. Although the edition of the Sacred Books of the East did not directly promote the spread of the term ‘world religions’, it surely was a defining moment in establishing what in other contexts were called ‘world religions’. The edition presented to a relatively wide range of scholars and educated laypeople the main religions of the East—not only nominally, but in their textual richness. However, its precise importance and impact are hard to measure. A case can be made that the many reprints and translations of Müller’s Introduction to the Science of Religion were as influential in this respect. As the examples of Tiele and Weber show, it did not immediately set the agenda for the range of the comparative study of religions. Handbooks did not automatically follow Müller’s selection, and other ancient and more modern religions were included in the (p.177) discourse of ‘world religions’. The connotation and denotation of the term ‘world religions’ were contested right from the start.56 Did ‘world religions’ refer to quantitatively large religious communities, which go beyond the nation, or more specifically to a proselytizing or universalizing tendency in some religions? The aggressive character of such wide-ranging religions was acknowledged at the time. A contentious issue was also whether their ‘success’ was due to an innate quality, such as their presumed universalism, or was caused by the expansion of colonial power, at the time often cast in terms of the spread of a superior civilization.

Although Müller’s series did not literally define the extension of (what were supposed to be) the big, respected religions, it did sum up a certain idea of the main religions represented by sacred texts that mattered or should matter to a Western audience—scholarly and practically. Only scholarship could give us reliable and comprehensive information about Eastern wisdom. No anthologies were called for, but translations of the foundational texts in their entirety. Like the Christian Bible these texts had to be read and understood, not just memorized and recited by an educated caste. It is probably not too far-fetched to see at work here the Protestant ideal of the individual reading the whole sacred text(s) and not being satisfied with cherry-picking. In promoting the idea that major religions that are of interest to ‘us’ had to be represented by authoritative texts, Müller did contribute to a textual understanding of what may called ‘world religions’, but a precise definition is missing in his work, as is the specific term itself.

The Comparative Way

The discourse of ‘world religions’ implied notions of classification, comparison, and development. Even where this exact terminology was not used—as in the case of Max Müller—a certain way of doing ‘comparative religion’ (an utterly misleading term, as Müller already (p.178) noted)57 is implied. The early practitioners of the science of religion wanted to outline development as well as progress in the history of religions. Classifications and classificatory schemes were used in the cultural sciences in general to map the vast territories of research—mostly in an evolutionist vein. Cultural anthropologists and historians of religion even looked for ‘laws’ of development.58

After the paradigm of development had been abandoned it was hard to understand how it could have been so influential. As Evans-Pritchard said in his 1950 Marett Lecture: ‘It will readily be seen how a combination of the notion of scientific law and that of progress leads in anthropology, as in the philosophy of history, to procrustean stages, the presumed inevitability of which gives them a normative character.’59 The outspoken normativity of this approach is a thorn in the flesh of present-day scholars of religion. For its early practitioners the discourse of world religions, classification, and progress was an important way to enlarge their field of work and to come to grips with it. One of the big methodological issues was how to deal with the plurality of religions. A purely historical approach would not do, as these early scholars of religion did not want to limit their research to the history of various religions and cultures, but aimed at writing the history of religion and understanding religion as such.

Methodologically, the idea of comparison lies at the root of the new discursivity. In Müller’s view the study of the East has provided ‘us with parallels, and with all that is implied in parallels, viz. the possibility of comparing’.60 The most promising way to argue that the edition of the Sacred Books of the East ‘publicly defines and authoritatively establishes the new comparative science of religion at the end of the [nineteenth] century’61 is that it provides the (p.179) ‘parallels’ for comparison. Of course, the series also set the parameters for a textual approach of religion, but this aspect is not quintessential for the rise of the comparative study of religion. Thus it may be argued the series inscribed a new comparative way of doing the study of religion, by putting these texts together in fifty volumes.

This line of argumentation finds—to some extent—support in the writings of Max Müller himself. Knowledge that deserves this name begins in his view with comparison. He would have firmly rejected the idea—as later formulated within the Baden school of Neo-Kantianism—that the humanities would study unique events, whereas the hard sciences would formulate laws. One of its main representatives, the philosopher Wilhelm Windelband, made famous the distinction between ‘idiographic’ (typical for the humanities, which focus on the unique) and ‘nomothetic’ (typical for the sciences). Diametrically opposed to such a view, Müller claimed that all human knowledge begins with ‘the comprehension of two single things as one’.62 Single events thus cannot really be understood. Therefore, the sacred books ‘had to be placed side by side with perfect impartiality, in order to discern the points which they share in common as well as those that are peculiar to each’.63 Nevertheless, Müller talked in terms of applying the comparative method to the study of religion and their writings in particular. In this sense he would not have claimed that the series as such defined the new approach.

It is not my intention here to say that Müller himself has the last word in this matter, but it is difficult to gather independent evidence that the series really did define or even ratify a whole taxonomy of concepts and methods in the emerging science of religion. That is why I wrote that the edition inscribed a new approach, which is developed and explained elsewhere by Müller.64 It is not a manifesto that publicly announces new methods and concepts, but somehow the series incorporates these. Most translators were learned specialists of specific oriental cultures, languages, and religions, and did not themselves—perhaps with the exception of Rhys Davids and James Legge—contribute much to the comparative study of various (p.180) religions.65 But Müller himself, of course, had this in mind in conceiving the series and made major contributions to the new field. The series did not only envision a method, but also specific results, a theology of religions, as we would call it nowadays. The series presents—he claimed in his lecture to the Oriental Congress of 1874—hard evidence that ‘all religions spring from the same sacred soil, the human heart’, that the infinite is the very condition of the finite, and that man ‘yearns for something the world cannot give’.66 Some contributors had intellectual, emotional, and religious affinities with the religions they studied, and wanted—although they remained truthful to their own Christian religion—to transcend the boundaries of old-time orthodoxy. The majority of them—as we have seen—were on the fringes of established Christianity.67

Power, Texts, and Language—Translations for Whom?

The edition is somewhat of a mixed bag. The Sacred Books of the East are scholarly translations that aim to do justice to the original texts, which are presented in their entirety, but to which readers in particular is the series addressed? On the one hand, it is suggested that it aims at educated readers in general, but are they really expected to buy and read all the fifty volumes? I did not find anything in the archives about subscriptions to the whole series, and even libraries often ordered only specific volumes. Given the fact that the first editions of the volumes comprised 1,500 copies, there must have been a serious interest among an educated elite. On the other hand, the series aimed at scholars of religion, who finally had reliable texts on which they could base their comparisons. To the best of my knowledge there is not much evidence to support the idea that the translations were actually used in many cases for this purpose. The (p.181) reception of the volumes seems to have mainly taken place within specific disciplines and less in ‘comparative religion’. No doubt, the series is a monument in the history of the comparative study of religion, because it is the powerful expression of the wish to gather the main religions of the world under one umbrella—in one prestigious and costly edition. The set was presented to the leaders of the world, not only to Queen Victoria, but also to the Sultan of Turkey and the Pope in Rome.68 In this respect it is an imperial edition, which establishes authority by representing authoritative sacred books and presenting these to authorities with religious and worldly power.

The achievement of editing and completing fifty volumes—including a powerful index, which rubricizes and categorizes the other forty-nine volumes—gives the edition a monumental character. This fact—which is further strengthened by the reprints and the inclusion in the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works in the 1960s—contributes much to its prestige. Like physical monuments celebrating or commemorating big events in the history of the nation, it still reminds us of Müller’s power to assemble his international team of scholars to present the sacred books of the East to mankind (to phrase it in a Müllerian way). It was financed by British institutions and the texts were—as a matter of course—translated into English. This is by no means a minor factor.

The following anecdote, told by Müller’s widow, is telling in this respect. A friend of Müller remembered his meeting with ‘distinguished Indians’, having tea at Balliol. One of them said:

[Müller] has done more than any living man to spread the knowledge of English in India. It is difficult for English people to realize the variety of languages in India, and how little one part of India knows the language of the other part. But we all want to be able to read our Sacred Books. We now widely study English, in order to read our Sacred Books; though there have been imitators since, the praise must belong first to Max Müller, who invented and worked out the idea of translating our Sacred Books into English.69

(p.182) This story is, of course, a typical example of ‘framing’, and taken at face value the statement is doubtless an exaggeration, but the fact that these texts, or at least some of them, came to India in English translation testifies to the close relationship between scholarship and empire. This way the knowledge of their own religious past is mediated to educated Indians in a language that is foreign to them and loaded with symbolic power.70 This type of Indian ‘reception’ is a token of imperial power, in the sense that the metropolis dominates its colony not only by its military and administration, but also by education and language, which are deemed necessary for the self-understanding of the colonized. The irony here is that this point of view is not presented as being imposed on the ‘distinguished Indians’, but accepted by them in their praise for Müller’s work. The interiorization of English education and knowledge by the Indian elite is, of course, deeply entangled in hard economic and political forms of colonial power.

The story quoted above even suggests that the English language may transcend the variety of languages in India, and thus help to unify the colony. There exists, as Benedict Anderson has shown, not only a close connection between print capitalism and nationalism, but also between scripture and nation.71 By his edition of the Rig-Veda Müller had contributed to the identity of the colonized Indian nation. Peter van der Veer has pointed to the fact that the orality of Hindu traditions ‘was a “national” embarrassment for Indian scholars who were confronted with the comparison with the West’.72 It is one thing to textualize oral Hindu traditions in their original language, another to present translations of these sacred texts in the language of the colonial power. The English translations became in the course of history more easily accessible for many Indians than the Sanskrit originals. Both by the edition of the Rig-Veda and that of the Sacred Books the status of India as a civilized country was re-enforced, as writing was and is seen as proof of civilization. ‘Book religions’ certainly ranked higher than religions without scriptures. Being able (p.183) to write and read is one of the key markers of civilizational progress. The idea that illiterate people have to be educated, also for their own sake, is deeply engraved in Western modernity.

Part of the critique of nineteenth- and twentieth-century (oriental) scholarship concerns the ideal of objectivity or—in Müller’s terms—impartiality. This idea is nowadays often judged to be at least out of date, unattainable, or even right out suppressive. A remedy that is often suggested is to recognize and asseverate one’s own interests and value judgements. There is no consensus about the question if this can really be achieved. The whole ideal of (attaining) ‘truth’ is much discussed, and some authors such as Sheldon Pollock claim that ‘in the last analysis the fundamental question is not the “truth” of the human sciences but their relationship to power, whether as forms of knowledge that sustain illegitimate force or challenge it’.73 In a discussion of German Indology during the Nazi regime such questions may be rightly asked.

In the same essay, however, Pollock writes (with reference to Max Weber’s work) that ‘a vision of science as value-free seems to have enabled, or certainly was spectacularly unable to prevent, the easy coexistence of scholarship and state violence’.74 The more pressing problem at that time ‘seems’ to have been the extremely value-loaded support for the regime by scholars, who defended for instance a Germanisierung of their specific disciplines. Of course, scholars—including Indologists—could have stood up more frequently and firmly for their Jewish colleagues, but the key issue in sustaining the Nazi terror was not the production of critical editions or an ideal of impartial scholarship. To take Max Müller’s work as an exemplar of things done wrong in the process of producing a textualized—original and religious—East75 does not seem helpful and even counterproductive in understanding the vicissitudes of nineteenth-century historical, philological, and oriental scholarship. (p.184)


Did the Sacred Books of the East define the discourse of ‘world religions’? Did it change the game of the comparative study of religion and culture? Strictly spoken, these claims cannot be upheld. It is better to see the edition as a crucial marker of these developments than to claim that in itself the series wrought these transformations. This being said, it must be acknowledged that this costly and prestigious edition of fifty volumes carried some weight—literally and symbolically. More than other classical texts—introductions, handbooks, and encyclopaedias—it was a monument of the comparative study of the religious Orient. This monumental character gives the series its distinction and gives rise to the claim that it defined a new method in religious studies.

Certainly the edition inscribed a certain way of looking at cultures, in particular religions. Religion and culture could be seen as closely connected. Müller’s friend Matthew Arnold proposed the idea that religion epitomized culture. Religion is the greatest effort ‘by which the human race has manifested its impulse to perfect itself’.76 This idea involves a particular understanding of religion as being interiorized. Arnold claimed that religion (just like culture) ‘places human perfection in an internal condition, in the growth and predominance of our humanity proper’.77 Arnold saw the Bible as an excellent means to stimulate the imagination of the people.78 In an anti-ecclesiastical vein he claimed that only ‘true culture’ can give us ‘the right interpretation of the Bible’.79 By this particular understanding of religion and culture the two are closely intertwined. Thus an edition of sacred books could give both a broader cultural orientation and a deeper sense of what religion and culture basically are about. Given such presumptions the objection made by critical scholars nowadays (p.185) that the edition presents only a highly selective view of oriental culture had not the same weight at the time Müller edited the series.

Nevertheless, from a more distant perspective we must say that the series textualized and religionized (if this word is permitted) the East. In this sense the term ‘sacred books’ is well chosen and revealing at the same time. The subtext was that these cultures can and must be compared. The construction of the sacred texts was a streak of imperial power. In a deeper sense the series did not only incorporate a certain way of looking at things, but made them appear in the first place, because the oriental cultures were framed according to Western schemes of understanding and interpretation. Müller and his co-workers needed texts, which were to be ‘discovered’ and brought under the power of Western scholarship. In this way the oral character of religion as practised was ‘translated’—and thus could be deformed—into a textual mode by scholars, who looked for ‘origins’ as documented by manuscripts.80

In many cases ‘educated orientals’ were estranged from their own practices and presented with a presumably more original and thus authoritative version of their religion. Apparently Müller accepted them as intellectual partners, but the authority of pundits and other religious officials was transferred to the texts, which were produced in the West. Only if they could back up their insights by textual reference was their voice to be heard. This type of orientalism was no one-way street, but the conditions of the conversation were determined by the discursivity of a textualized understanding of religion. Despite all goodwill which oriental scholars such as Müller certainly had towards the people and cultures of the East, imperial power and the concomitant discourse enforced their understanding on these cultures.

The aim of this chapter was to sketch and measure the importance and impact of the edition of the Sacred Books of the East—in particular in relation to the contemporary study of religions and cultures at the end of the nineteenth century. To recapitulate: in my view the series is best considered to be a marker and not a definer of the (p.186) ongoing changes in these fields of study. Much depends—as always in such cases—on one’s view of what were the most important developments at the time. In my perception the comparative method defines the rise of ‘science of religion’. On another occasion I have described this transition as follows:

Compa­rison was thought to be the golden road to a scienti­fic appro­ach to phenome­na at the time. From a methodo­lo­gical point of view, the rise of science of religion can be descri­bed in terms of the encoun­ter of the comparative approach, which in a more speculative fashion had been the prerogative of the philosophy of religi­on, and the histori­cal-em­pi­rical methods of the cultu­ral sciences of the nine­teenth century.81

Max Müller and scholars such as the historian Edward A. Freeman defined the comparative method as thoroughly historical, to the point that on some occasions these terms seem to have been used interchangeably.82 If one wants to argue that the series epitomizes this approach, then indeed it marks a breakthrough in the emergence of the scholarly study of religion.


(1) Müller, ‘Preface’, The Upanishads, SBE I, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879, second edn 1900, pp. xi–xii.

(2) Müller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion (Gifford Lectures, Glasgow, 1892), London and New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1893, esp. pp. vi and 542.

(3) Archibald H. Sayce, ‘Review of the First Three Volumes of the SBE’, Nature 21 (1879) 77–8, p. 77: ‘It is intended that the scientific student of religion should possess in them [SBE] trustworthy materials on which to found his generalisations and build his conclusions’; cf. [T. W. Rhys Davids], ‘Sacred Books of the East. Translated by Various Oriental scholars, and Edited by F. Max Müller’, Quarterly Review 163 (1886) 180–203, p. 203: ‘the very greatest possible aid to the comparative study of the history of ideas, especially of religious ideas’.

(4) Norman Girardot, ‘Max Müller’s Sacred Books and the Nineteenth-Century Production of the Comparative Science of Religions’, Religions 41/3 (2002) 213–50, p. 220; cf. pp. 219f.: ‘It is…the editorial production [of the series]…that publicly defines and authoritatively establishes the new comparative science of religion at the end of the century’; p. 231: ‘summed up for better or for worse the accomplishments of the new discipline in the nineteenth century’.

(5) Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions. Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. 265.

(6) Lynn Hunt, Margaret C. Jacob, and Wijnand Mijnhardt, The Book that Changed Europe. Picart & Bernard’s ‘Religious Ceremonies of the World’, Cambridge and London: Belknap Press, 2010, p. 19.

(7) Cf. Chapter 4.

(8) R. Howard Bloch, God’s Plagiarist. Being an Account of the Fabulous Industry and Irregular Commerce of the Abbé Migne, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994, p. 1.

(9) Theodor Mommsen, ‘Erwiderung [auf Adolf Harnack]’, ‘Antrittsrede in der Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften’ (1890), in: Harnack, Adolf von Harnack als Zeitgenosse, edited by Kurt Nowak, 2 vols, Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1996, vol. II, pp. 976–82, p. 982.

(10) The German term ‘Wissenschaft’ (literally translated as ‘science’) comprises both the (hard) sciences as well as the humanities.

(11) Rüdiger vom Bruch, ‘Mommsen und Harnack. Die Geburt von Big Science aus den Geisteswissenschaften’, in: Alexander Demandt, Andreas Goltz, and Heinrich Schlange-Schöningen, eds, Theodor Mommsen. Wissenschaft und Politik im 19. Jahrhundert, Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2005, pp. 121–41; Stefan Rebenich, ‘Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Großwissenschaft. Altertumswissenschaftliche Unternehmungen an der Berliner Akademie und Universität im 19. Jahrhundert’, in: Annette M. Baertschi and Colin G. King, eds, Die modernen Väter der Antike. Die Entwicklung der Altertumswissenschaften an Akademie und Universität im Berlin des 19. Jahrhunderts, Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009, pp. 397–421.

(12) Harnack, ‘Zur Kaiserlichen Botschaft vom 11. Oktober 1910. Begründung von Forschungsinstituten’ (1909/1910/1911), in: Adolf von Harnack als Zeitgenosse, edited by Kurt Nowak, 2 vols, Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1996, vol. II, pp. 1025–49.

(13) Harnack, ‘Vom Großbetrieb der Wissenschaft’ (1905), in: Adolf von Harnack als Zeitgenosse, vol. II, pp. 1009–19.

(14) Harnack, ‘Vom Großbetrieb der Wissenschaft’, p. 1014. Including the German-speaking students from Switzerland and Austria there were some 1,150 foreign students enrolled at the time. Here Harnack referred also to Max Müller’s teaching in Strasbourg as an example of internationalization.

(15) The classic book on this subject, Derek J. De Solla Price, Little Science, Big Science…and Beyond (1963), New York: Columbia Press, 1986, does not take any notice of the humanities.

(16) K. M. Elisabeth Murray, Caught in a Web of Words. James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary (1977), New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995.

(17) Kelly Kistner, ‘“A Word Factory Was Wanted”. Organizational Objectivity in the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary’, Social Studies of Science 43 (2013) 801–28.

(18) John Willinsky, Empire of Words. The Reign of the OED, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 177: ‘betrayal of its [own] historical principles’.

(19) Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East. With Historical Surveys of the Chief Writings of Each Nation, 14 vols, New York and London: Parke, Austin, and Lipscomb, [1917].

(20) Horne, The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, vol. I, ‘General Introduction’, p. vii.

(21) Horne, The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, vol. I, p. vi.

(22) See Chapter 5.

(23) Ruth Conrad, Lexikonpolitik. Die erste Auflage der RGG im Horizont protestantischer Lexikographie, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2006.

(24) The fourth—and probably last—edition of the RGG has recently been brought out in English under the title Religion Past and Present by publishing house Brill in Leiden.

(25) Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance. Europe’s Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680–1880, New York: Columbia University Press, 1984 [French original 1950].

(26) Philip C. Almond, The British Discovery of Buddhism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988; J. W. de Jong, A Brief History of Buddhist Studies in Europe and America, Durga Kund, Varanasi: Bharat-Bharati, 1976 (first published in The Eastern Buddhist 7/1974); Donald S. Lopez, Jr, ‘Introduction’, in Lopez, ed., Curators of the Buddha. The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995, pp. 1–29. Donald S. Lopez, Jr, Buddhism and Science. A Guide for the Perplexed, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2008, chapter 4.

(27) Müller, ‘Buddhism’ (1862), in: Müller, Chips from a German Workshop, vol. I, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1867, pp. 182–231, p. 200.

(28) Eugène Burnouf, Introduction à l’histoire du Buddhisme indien, Paris 1844, p. 9. A product of the process of textualization was the emergence of the historical Buddha (Gautama); Almond, The British Discovery of Buddhism, p. 139.

(29) Lopez, ‘Introduction’, p. 7, the second quotation referring to Edward W. Said, ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’, Cultural Critique 1 (1985) 89–107, p. 106.

(30) P. J. Marshall, ed., The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970. Anna Sun, Confucianism as a World Religion. Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013. See also the literature mentioned in previous footnotes.

(31) Kendall W. Folkert, ‘The “Canons” of “Scripture”’, in: Miriam Levering, ed., Rethinking Scripture. Essays from a Comparative Perspective, New York: State University of New York Press, 1989, pp. 170–9, p. 175.

(32) Cf. Michael Bergunder, ‘Indischer Swami und deutscher Professor. “Religion” jenseits des Eurozentrismus’, in: Michael Stausberg, ed., Religionswissenschaft, Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2012, pp. 95–107; Hans Martin Krämer, ‘Bringing the Pure Land to Europe. Max Müller and His Japanse Interlocutors’ (unpublished paper, workshop, Heidelberg, 14–15 November 2014).

(33) Bühler was a good friend of Müller and contributed to the SBE.

(34) Folkert, ‘The “Canons” of “Scripture”’, p. 175.

(35) Folkert, ‘The “Canons” of “Scripture”’, p. 175.

(36) Folkert, ‘The “Canons” of “Scripture”’, p. 170; cf. William Graham, ‘Scripture’, in: Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, New York: Macmillan, 1986–7, vol. XIII, pp. 133–45.

(37) Mirjam Levering, ‘Introduction: Rethinking Scripture’, in: Levering, ed., Rethinking Scripture, pp. 1–17, p. 6. The whole volume is inspired by the work of Wilfred Cantwell Smith; cf. Smith, What is Scripture? A Comparative Approach, London: SCM Press, 1993, which includes two chapters published earlier in Levering’s collection.

(38) Timothy Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Because of the inadequacy of the term ‘religion’, Fitzgerald even makes a plea for its abolishment. The best one can say about such a proposal is that it comes too late, as in the process of imperalism and globalism the term has spread over the world and has become even ingrained in foundational, constitutional documents of non-Western states.

(39) Cf. Chapter 3, ‘Concepts and Ideas’, especially the section on orientalism.

(40) Brian Houghton Hodgson, ‘Sketch of Buddhism, Derived from the Bauddha Scriptures of Nepal’ (1828), in: Hodgson, Essays on the Languages, Literature and Religion of Nepal and Tibet (London 1874), reprint Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1972, pp. 35–65, here pp. 35f. These ‘questions and answers form the text of this paper. Having in his answers quoted sundry slokas in proof of his statements; and many of the scriptures whence these were taken being now in my possession, I was tempted to try the truth of his quotations. Of that, my research gave me in general satisfactory proof. But the possession of the books led to questions respecting their relative age and authority; and, tried by this test, the Bauddha’s quotations were not always so satisfactory. Thus one step led to another, until I conceived the idea of drawing up, with the aid of my old friend and his books, a sketch of the terminology and general disposition of the external parts of Buddhism, in the belief that such a sketch, though but imperfectly executed, would be of some assistance to such of my countrymen as, with the books only before them, might be disposed to enter into a full and accurate investigation of this almost unknown subject.’

(41) Müller, ‘The Principles of the Science of Religion, or Comparative Theology’, in: Edmund Buckley, ed., Universal Religion. A Course of Lessons, Historical and Scientific, on the Various Faiths of the World, prepared by The University Association, Chicago: The University Association, n.d. [1897], pp. 17–29, p. 29.

(42) Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions, p. 260.

(43) Norman Girardot, ‘Müller’s Sacred Books’, p. 220. In a footnote he refers to the—at the time—unpublished work of Masuzawa.

(44) Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions, p. 217, n. 15. The irritating qualification ‘generally’ is taken from Masuzawa’s footnote.

(45) Müller, ‘The Principles of the Science of Religion’, p. 23; Müller, ‘Lecture on the Vedas or the Sacred Books of the Brahmans [Leeds, March, 1865]’ (1865), in: Müller, Chips from a German Workshop, vol. I, pp. 1–49, p. 20.

(46) Müller, ‘Preface’, SBE I, p. xli.

(47) F. Max Müller, Introduction to the Science of Religion (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1873), reissued: London and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1899, pp. 54f. I use here Müller’s terminology.

(48) The term ‘Weltreligion’ was already used in 1821 by Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre (1821), in: Goethe, Sämtliche Werke nach Epochen seines Schaffens, Münchner Ausgabe, edited by Karl Richter, volume XVII, Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1991, pp. 7–237, p. 89. Dieter Lamping, Die Idee der Weltliteratur. Ein Konzept Goethes und seine Karriere, Stuttgart: Kröner, 2010.

(49) J. Z. Smith, Kippenberg, and Masuzawa all date the entry wrongly one or two years earlier in 1884 or 1885. In a letter of 2 October 1884, Robertson Smith had asked Tiele to write this article. The letter is kept in the Tiele Collection, Leiden University Library, BPL 2710.

(50) C. P. Tiele, Geschiedenis van den godsdienst tot aan de heerschappij der Wereldgodsdiensten, Amsterdam: Van Kampen, 1876, translated as: Outlines of the History of Religion to the Spread of the Universal Religions, London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1877.

(51) C. P. Tiele, De Godsdienst van Zarathustra van haar ontstaan in Baktrië tot den val van het Oud-Perzische Rijk, Haarlem: Kruseman, 1864; cf. Jonathan Z. Smith, ‘A Matter of Class. Taxonomies of Religion’ (1996), in: Smith, Relating Religion. Essays in the Study of Religion, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2004, pp. 160–78, pp. 166–73; Jan N. Bremmer, ‘Methodologische en terminologische notities bij de opkomst van de godsdienstgeschiedenis in de achttiende en negentiende eeuw’, Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift 57 (2003) 308–21, pp. 317f.; Christoph Auffarth, ‘“Weltreligion” als ein Leitbegriff der Religionswissenschaft im Imperialismus’, in: F. von der Heyden and Holger Stoecker, eds, Mission und Macht im Wandel politischer Orientierungen, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005, pp. 225–43.

(52) Tiele, De Godsdienst van Zarathustra, p. 275: ‘universalistische of wereld-godsdiensten’.

(53) Smith, ‘Classification’, in: Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon, eds, Guide to the Study of Religion, London and New York: Cassell, 2000, pp. 35–44, p. 41.

(54) C. P. Tiele, ‘Religions’, in: The Encyclopaedia Britannica, ninth edn, vol. XX, Edinburgh: Adam Black, 1886, pp. 358–71, p. 368. Jonathan Z. Smith, ‘Religion, Religions, Religious’, in: Mark C. Taylor, ed., Critical Terms for Religious Studies, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 269–84, p. 279 (with the quotation).

(55) Weber, ‘The Social Psychology of World Religions’ (original edition 1920), in: H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds, From Max Weber. Essays in Sociology, New York: Oxford University Press, 1958, pp. 267–301, p. 267.

(56) Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions; Molendijk, ‘“The Light of Asia”. Buddhism as a “World Religion”’, Workshop Formation Religious Studies in Asia, IKGF Bochum, 4 February 2011 (unpublished paper).

(57) Müller, ‘The Principles of the Science of Religion, or Comparative Theology’, p. 21, note: ‘No one would use comparative bones in the sense of comparative anatomy.’

(58) Molendijk, The Emergence of the Science of Religion in the Netherlands, Leiden: Brill, 2005. I have used some passages from chapter 6 of the book.

(59) E. E. Evans-Pritchard, ‘Social Anthropology. Past and Present’ (1950), in: Evans-Pritchard, Essays in Social Anthropology, London: Faber & Faber, 1962, pp. 13–28, p. 17.

(60) F. Max Müller, ‘Address [to the Aryan Section]’, in Transactions of the Second Session of the International Congress of Orientalists (London, September 1874), London, 1876 [Nendeln: Kraus Reprint, 1968], pp. 177–204, p. 184. The text is reprinted in Chips of a German Workshop, vol. IV (first series), pp. 317–58.

(61) Girardot, ‘Müller’s Sacred Books’, pp. 219f.

(62) Müller, ‘Address [to the Aryan Section]’, p. 184.

(63) Müller, ‘Address [to the Aryan Section]’, p. 185.

(64) See Chapter 4, where I show that Müller is mainly interested in the comparison of cognate phenomena and that this type of comparison is deeply embedded in a historical understanding of the world.

(65) The argument here is that the other translators did no major work in the field of the comparative study of religion; cf. Norman J. Girardot, The Victorian Translation of China. James Legge’s Oriental Pilgrimage, Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 2002, p. 179.

(66) Müller, ‘Address [to the Aryan Section]’, p. 185.

(67) See Chapter 2.

(68) LLB II, 187, 300, 354, 358; LLA II, 196, 316, 373, 378. LLA and LLB refer, respectively, to the American and British edition of [Georgina Müller], The Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Max Müller, 2 vols, London, New York, and Bombay: Longmans, Green and Co., 1902.

(69) LLB II, 364; LLA II, 384.

(70) Richard King, Orientalism and Religion. Postcolonial Theory, India and ‘The Mystic East’, London and New York: Routledge, 1999, p. 93.

(71) Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (1983), revised edn, London and New York: Verso, 1991.

(72) Peter van der Veer, Imperial Encounters. Religion and Modernity in India and Britain, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2001, p. 120.

(73) Sheldon Pollock, ‘Deep Orientalism? Notes on Sanskrit and Power Beyond the Raj’, in: Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer, eds, Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament. Perspectives on South Asia, Philadelphia: University of Virginia Press, 1993, pp. 76–133, p. 114.

(74) Pollock, ‘Deep Orientalism?’, p. 113.

(75) Pollock, ‘Introduction’, in: Pollock, ed., Literary Cultures in History. Reconstructions from South Asia, Berkeley etc.: University of California Press, 2003, pp. 1–36, p. 4, n. 2.

(76) Matthew Arnold, Culture and Anarchy (1869), in: The Complete Works of Matthew Arnold, vol. V, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965, pp. 85–256, p. 93.

(77) Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, p. 94 (emphasis in the original).

(78) Cf. Jonathan Sheehan, The Enlightenment Bible. Translation, Scholarship, Culture, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005, pp. 256f.

(79) Matthew Arnold, Literature and Dogma (1873), in: The Complete Works of Matthew Arnold, vol. VI, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968, pp. 139–411, p. 162.

(80) This does not mean, of course, that the ‘sacred books’ were pure Western constructions without any basis in ancient Eastern traditions. Müller and his co-workers looked for texts and manuscripts in the East which they could use for their series. Some ‘sacred books’—for instance the Chinese texts—already had an established status before they were translated. The language of ‘construction’ and even ‘invention’ refers predominantly to the unequal power relations between the translators and their Eastern informants; cf. Chapter 3.

(81) Molendijk, The Emergence of the Science of Religion in the Netherlands, p. 13.

(82) See Chapter 4.