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The Language of DisenchantmentProtestant Literalism and Colonial Discourse in British India$
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Robert A. Yelle

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199924998

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199924998.001.0001

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“A Disease of Language”

“A Disease of Language”

The Attack on Hindu Myth as Verbal Idolatry

(p.33) 2 “A Disease of Language”
The Language of Disenchantment

Robert A. Yelle

Oxford University Press

Chapter 2 examines the background of the colonial attack on Hindu mythology, which borrowed from an earlier critique, associated with Francis Bacon and scientific empiricism, of the habit of taking words as things. A deeper historical investigation shows that Protestant iconoclasm and literalism contributed to these polemics against verbal idolatry. A tradition of Christian comparative mythology, which culminated in the Victorian scholar Friedrich Max Müller’s theory of Hindu myth as a “disease of language,” explained pagan idolatry and polytheism as a linguistic confusion. The effort to purify discourse by removing such distortions and creating a transparent, neutral medium for scientific description had theological dimensions, inasmuch as the smashing of verbal idols was identified with the restoration of the true name of God.

Keywords:   mythology, Friedrich Max Müller, Francis Bacon, Royal Society, idolatry, iconoclasm, monotheism, Prisca theologia, literalism, translation

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