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The Birth of Orientalism

The Birth of Orientalism

Urs App
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 568
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  • Book Info
    The Birth of Orientalism
    Book Description:

    Modern Orientalism is not a brainchild of nineteenth-century European imperialists and colonialists, but, as Urs App demonstrates, was born in the eighteenth century after a very long gestation period defined less by economic or political motives than by religious ideology. Based on sources from a dozen languages, many unavailable in English, The Birth of Orientalism presents a completely new picture of this protracted genesis, its underlying dynamics, and the Western discovery of Asian religions from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. App documents the immense influence of Japan and China and describes how the Near Eastern cradle of civilization moved toward mother India. Moreover, he shows that some of India's purportedly oldest texts were products of eighteenth-century European authors. Though Western engagement with non-Abrahamic Asian religions reaches back to antiquity and can without exaggeration be called the largest-scale religiocultural encounter in history, it has so far received surprisingly little attention-which is why some of its major features and their role in the birth of modern Orientalism are described here for the first time. The study of Asian documents had a profound impact on Europe's intellectual makeup. Suddenly the Bible had much older competitors from China and India, Sanskrit threatened to replace Hebrew as the world's oldest language, and Judeo-Christianity appeared as a local phenomenon on a dramatically expanded, worldwide canvas of religions and mythologies. Orientalists were called upon as arbiters in a clash that involved neither gold and spices nor colonialism and imperialism but, rather, such fundamental questions as where we come from and who we are: questions of identity that demanded new answers as biblical authority dramatically waned.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0005-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    When a dozen years ago I began to study oriental influences on Richard Wagner’s operas in the mid-nineteenth century, I had no idea where my investigations would lead. Having done some research on theWestern discovery of Japanese religions in the sixteenth century, it did not take me long to find traces of this discovery in the nineteenth century. But Raymond Schwab’s La renaissance orientale and studies on the history of the Western encounter with Asian religions such as Henri de Lubac’s La rencontre du bouddhisme et de l’Occident presented an utterly confusing mass of data arranged according to modern notions...

  6. Chapter 1 Voltaire’s Veda
    (pp. 15-76)

    François Marie Arouet—better known as Voltaire (1694–1778)—was a superstar in eighteenth-century Europe and for a time one of its most read and translated authors. His plays were performed across the continent, and his view of world history was so influential that the Russian Czar, upon reading Voltaire’s Essai sur les moeurs, sent an embassy to China to verify some of its claims. This chapter will highlight a little known side of this multifaceted man. Though current histories of Orientalism barely mention him,¹ Voltaire played an important role in the genesis of modern Orientalism. Since some of Voltaire’s...

  7. Chapter 2 Ziegenbalg’s and La Croze’s Discoveries
    (pp. 77-132)

    Studies about the European discovery of Buddhism tend to belong to one of two categories. The first depicts a gradual unveiling of what we today know about Buddhism (its founder, history, geographical reach, texts, rituals, art, and so forth) in form of a three-act play. Act 1 deals with antiquity and the Middle Ages, act 2 with the missionary discovery until about 1800, and act 3 with the “scientific” discovery of Buddhism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Such a three-stage scenario characterizes, for example, the studies of de Lubac (2000) and Batchelor (1994). Lately this kind of scenario came...

  8. Chapter 3 Diderot’s Buddhist Brahmins
    (pp. 133-187)

    In the first volumes of the central monument of the French Enlightenment, the Encyclopédie, there are several articles about Asian religions that are either signed by or attributed to Denis Diderot (1713–84). The most important ones in the first volumes are entitled “ASIATIQUES. Philosophie des Asiatiques en général” (1751:1.752–55), “BRACHMANES” (1752:2.391), and “BRAMINES” (1752:2.393–94). Today, these articles have such a bad reputation that they are often criticized and held up for ridicule. For example, Wilhelm Halbfass wrote,

    In the article “Brachmanes,” Diderot discusses what he calls “extravagances tout-à-fait incroyables,” stating that the persons who had referred to...

  9. Chapter 4 De Guignes’s Chinese Vedas
    (pp. 188-253)

    The “invention,” “discovery,” or identification of major Asian religions (in particular, Hinduism and Buddhism) is often situated in the “longer” nineteenth century during which, as a recent book claims, “the Invention of World Religions” took place. Its author states that toward the end of the nineteenth century Buddhism “had only recently been recognized as ‘the same’ tradition existing in diverse regions of South, South-east, East, and Central Asia,” and that until that time European observers had not “thought of these divergent rites and widely scattered institutions as constituting a single religion” (Masuzawa 2005:122). The discovery of Buddhism is characterized as...

  10. Chapter 5 Ramsay’s Ur-Tradition
    (pp. 254-296)

    When D. P. Walker wrote about “ancient theology” or prisca theologia, he firmly linked it to Christianity and Platonism (Walker 1972). On the first page of his book, Walker defined the term as follows:

    By the term “Ancient Theology” I mean a certain tradition of Christian apologetic theology which rests on misdated texts. Many of the early Fathers, in particular Lactantius, Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius, in their apologetic works directed against pagan philosophers, made use of supposedly very ancient texts: Hermetica, Orphica, Sibylline Prophecies, Pythagorean Carmina Aurea, etc., most of which in fact date from the first four centuries...

  11. Chapter 6 Holwell’s Religion of Paradise
    (pp. 297-362)

    An Internet search for John Zephaniah Holwell (1711–98) produces thousands of references, most of which contain the words “Black Hole.” The back cover of Jan Dalley’s The Black Hole: Money, Myth and Empire explains:

    The story of the Black Hole of Calcutta was once drilled into every British schoolchild: how in 1756 the Nawab of Bengal attacked Fort William and locked the survivors in a tiny cell, where over a hundred souls died in insufferable heat. British retribution was swift and merciless, and led to much of India falling completely under colonial domination.¹

    Dalley’s book tells the story of...

  12. Chapter 7 Anquetil-Duperron’s Search for the True Vedas
    (pp. 363-439)

    In 1762, after his return from India, Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron (1731–1805) wrote to one of his former classmates at a Jansenist seminary in Utrecht, Holland:

    To deepen the understanding of the history of ancient peoples, to elaborate the revolutions which peoples and languages undergo, to visit regions unknown to the rest of the people where art has preserved the character of the first ages: you will perhaps remember, with distress and sighing about my follies, that these subjects have always been the focus of my attention. (Schwab 1934:18)

    From his youth, Anquetil-Duperron’s interest in the world’s first ages was...

  13. Chapter 8 Volney’s Revolutions
    (pp. 440-480)

    “Orientalism” has been portrayed by Edward Said in his eponymous book, first published in 1979, as a very influential, state-sponsored, essentially imperialist and colonialist enterprise. For Said, the Orientalist ideology was rooted in eighteenth-century secularization that threatened the traditional Christian European worldview. That worldview had been reigning for many centuries and was based on the “Biblical framework.” Said held that “modern Orientalism derives from secularizing elements in eighteenth-century European culture” (1979:120) and pointed out the all-important role that the discovery of Oriental religions and languages played in the birth of Orientalism:

    One, the expansion of the Orient further east geographically...

  14. Synoptic List of Protagonists in This Book
    (pp. 481-482)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 483-502)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 503-536)
  17. Index
    (pp. 537-550)