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Scottish Orientalists and India

Scottish Orientalists and India: The Muir Brothers, Religion, Education and Empire

Avril A. Powell
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt7zsvfz
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  • Book Info
    Scottish Orientalists and India
    Book Description:

    Structured around the lives and careers of two Scottish scholar-administrator brothers, Sir William and Dr John Muir, who served in the East India Company and the Raj in North-West India from 1827-1876, this book examines cultural, especially religious and educational attitudes and interactions during the period. The core of the study centres on a detailed examination of the brothers' seminal works on Vedic and Islamic history and society which, researched from Sanskrit and Arabic sources, became standard reference works on India's religions during the Raj. The publication of these works coincided with the outbreak of the Indian Uprising of 1857, on the nature of which William's correspondence with his brother and others allows some reconsideration, especially in respect of Muslim participation. Powell also examines the response of Indian Muslim scholars, particularly of Sir Saiyid Ahmad Khan, to William's critiques of Islam and the brothers' patronage of Oriental scholarship, comparative religion and education during their long retirement back in their native Scotland. The study contributes to current debates about the Scottish contribution to Empire with particular reference to India and to cultural issues. AVRIL A. POWELL is Reader Emerita in the History Department at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-882-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS AND MAP
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xii-xiii)
  6. CAREER SUMMARIES
    (pp. xiv-xv)
  7. Muir family networks
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  8. [Map]
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  9. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-20)

    THIS STUDY breaks new ground in several ways. Unusually for a study of empire, it begins and ends in Scotland rather than the imperial metropolis in London. The Indian context is set by following the careers of some Scots serving in the East India Company’s administration of north-west India in the decades following British annexation of the heartlands of the former Mughal empire in the early nineteenth century. The emphasis is not on administration per se, however, but on the after-office pursuits of a pair of Scottish ‘scholar-administrators’ who chose to spend their leisure hours in the study of India’s...

  10. One SCOTTISH BEGINNINGS: COMMERCE, CHRISTIANITY AND SCHOOLING
    (pp. 21-50)

    THE TWO scholar-administrators whose activities in India are the subject of this study joined the East India Company from a modest family background in textile finishing in Scotland’s newly industrialized West Lowlands. They had no longstanding links with any of the many Scottish families that by the late eighteenth century had strong military or commercial connections with India. However, some more recent commercial enterprises undertaken in the Americas, and also in India, by some of their relatives-by-marriage were to create the connections through which the patronage necessary for Company service was acquired. Apart from demonstrating how such social and professional...

  11. Two PREPARATION FOR EMPIRE: HAILEYBURY COLLEGE
    (pp. 51-74)

    ALL FOUR Muirs would leave Haileybury College for India having gained, during less than two years study, the rudiments of the classical learning that would turn the eldest and the youngest into leading ‘orientalists’.¹ Their years at the college in the late 1820s and 1830s coincided with a dispute over the languages required for educational and administrative purposes in India usually known as the ‘Anglicist-Orientalist’ controversy.² Yet even when the substitution of English and the vernacular languages for Persian and the classics was imminent, Haileybury continued to provide Sanskrit and Arabic teaching as well as Persian. Since, in addition to...

  12. Three RELIGION: EVANGELICALS IN NORTH-WEST INDIA
    (pp. 75-99)

    MANY YOUNG civilians relished service in the North-Western Provinces, the region to which John, James, Mungo and William Muir were appointed in their turns.¹ In the late 1820s, prior to the annexation of the Punjab, this was still the ‘frontier’ province of the Bengal Presidency offering, it seemed to such recruits, both excitement and opportunity, and attracting younger to follow older siblings as did the Muir brothers. Remote and ‘backward’ the region might seem from the Company’s capital in Calcutta, yet only just over a century earlier it had been the administrative and cultural heartland, with its capital at Delhi,...

  13. Four EDUCATION: ENGAGEMENT WITH PANDITS, ‘ULAMA AND THEIR PUPILS
    (pp. 100-125)

    THROUGHOUT THEIR Indian careers and Scottish retirements both John and William were deeply involved with education. Their various service roles brought them into contact with many educational projects, but particularly with the teachers and students of some new government colleges in which the teaching of their ‘Oriental’ and ‘English’ departments under one roof was either already happening or planned. Some colleges were recently founded, but others were grafted on to existing or defunct colleges of traditional Hindu or Islamic learning in cities such as Benares, Agra and Delhi. The Muir brothers had connections also with some Sanskrit, Hindi, Arabic and...

  14. Five THE MAKING OF ORIENTALIST SCHOLARS
    (pp. 126-148)

    THE YEAR of Rebellion in north India, 1857–8, saw the completion of the first volumes of each brother’s historicalmagnum opus, by John in Edinburgh, and by William in Agra. By then both brothers had already published, as we have seen, some shorter historical works in Sanskrit and Urdu, choosing to call them works ofitihasortarikh(history).¹ John’s five-volumeOriginal Sanskrit Texts(referred to hereafter as theOST) he defined in the subtitle to the first volume as studies ‘on the origin and progress of the religions and institutions of India’.² In later volumes, but with no...

  15. Six ORIGINAL SANSKRIT TEXTS AND THE LIFE OF MAHOMET
    (pp. 149-172)

    ATTENTION TURNS now from methodology to issues. It was their contributions to the question of ‘origins’ that drew the brothers’ historical works into scholarly debates. John’s treatment of the ‘Aryan origins’ question and William’s of the Prophet’s role in the origins of Islam, together with their evaluations of Vedic and Islamic ‘civilizations’, allow some assessment of their significance in mid-nineteenth-century debates on identities, comparative religion and the meanings of ‘civilization’. Apart from giving some insight into their mindsets on some contemporary issues of great import among European scholars, the discussion in William’s case provides the context for understanding why the...

  16. Seven HIATUS: 1857 AND ITS LESSONS
    (pp. 173-194)

    ON THE last page of William’s most controversial chapter in hisLifeof the Prophet, ‘The belief of Mahomet in his own Inspiration’, he added a dramatic postscript penned in his family’s cramped quarters inside the Agra fort.

    I have received and corrected the proofs of the last fifty-six pages under difficulties. All my MSS. and books of reference have been placed in security from the ravages of our mutineer army, and are inaccessible to me at present.

    (W. M., Fort Agra, 18 July 1857)¹

    Two months earlier, on 10 May, some sepoys stationed in Meerut to the north-east of...

  17. Eight CONTESTATION: AN INDIAN RESPONSE ON RELIGION AND CIVILIZATION
    (pp. 195-220)

    IN 1869 Saiyid Ahmad Khan was to write from London to a Muslim friend in Aligarh: ‘I am reading William Muir’s book, but it has “burned” my heart’.¹ The next year, still in London, he published a collection ofEssays on the Life of Mohammeddesigned to refute William’s damaging representation of the Prophet.² If this episode rightly indicates the depth of his outrage at William’s views, the story is complicated by the need each had for the other’s co-operation in their own separate but intersecting agendas for addressing, mainly through education, what both articulated for different reasons as Indian...

  18. Nine SYMBIOSIS: EDUCATION AND THE IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY
    (pp. 221-247)

    ALTHOUGH THEY disagreed strongly with Hunter’s analysis of the mood of Indian Muslims, both William and Saiyid Ahmad, like Hunter, recognized higher education as the means to redress a widespread sense of ‘backwardness’ relative to other communities and regions.¹ William’s own emphasis, frequently repeated, was on the people of the North-Western Provinces in general, the ‘Hindustanis’, whom he represented as losing out in a ‘race’ being run against Indians of other provinces, particularly Bengal. This image he conjured in almost everydarbarspeech from the late 1860s onwards. A typical speech warned that despite leading Bengal in elementary education, the...

  19. Ten RETROSPECTIVE FROM LATE NINETEENTH-CENTURY EDINBURGH
    (pp. 248-277)

    WHILE SAIYID Ahmad spent the last quarter of the nineteenth century working from Aligarh for the educational advance of India’s Muslims, William, after some years on the Council of India in London, eventually followed John back to Edinburgh, there to continue like his brother before him the religious, historical and educational interests that had marked his Indian career. These active Edinburgh years of the Muirs, belying many popular caricatures of Indian retirement in Cheltenham, or in Scotland’s favoured city of St Andrews, provide a context in which to evaluate from a longer-term perspective some of the issues this study has...

  20. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 278-288)

    Many differences have been observed in the personalities and intellectual stances of two scholars who, though they shared some formative influences from their home and their Scottish and Haileybury educations, finally came to disagree strongly on religious matters. How far such differences were linked to differing understandings of Scottish identity has not been addressed specifically. Neither Muir brother felt inclined to consider publicly at his career’s end whether the markers that George Campbell, William’s younger colleague, associated with Scottish identity, notably language and religious adherence, had been affected in his own case by long years in an Anglicized colonial environment....

  21. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 289-290)
  22. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 291-306)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 307-318)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-319)