Dorothy Figueira
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Contested identity
The Veda as an alternative to the Bible
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The Western quest for origins received an initial formulation in the recognition of a philological relationship between Sanskrit, Latin, Greek and other languages of Europe. Already in the Enlightenment, there was much speculation regarding India, its culture, language and peoples. Many of the uninformed assessments of this time would resurface in subsequent Orientalist scholarship, Romantic mythography, nineteenth-century linguistic science, and race theory. Excited by the linguistic affinity between Sanskrit and other languages, Orientalist scholars fostered the comparative science of religion and mythology that developed a vision of an Aryan race as the originator of Indian and European culture. The belief in Indo-European origins further spurred European interest in Vedic Aryan sources. The chapter focuses on the work of Voltaire, Herder, German Romantic mythographers and Max Müller, who established a vision of the Aryan through their reading the Veda and posited Sanskrit scripture as an alternative to the Bible. Speculation regarding the Aryan provided a means whereby Indian history could be used to create a fresh historical tradition that expressed specifically European political and ideological interests. What Europeans sought in India, the chapter argues, was not Indo-European religion but a reassessment of Judaeo-Christianity.

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Chosen peoples

The Bible, race and empire in the long nineteenth century


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