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

By Frykenberg, Robert Eric | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, July 2011 | Go to article overview

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


Frykenberg, Robert Eric, International Bulletin of Missionary Research


Scottish Orientalists and India: The Muir Brothers, Religion, Education, and Empire. By Avril A. Powell. Rochester, N. Y.: Boydell Press, 2010. Pp. xvii, 315. $115.

By the time John and William Muir arrived in India for careers in the Bengal Civil Service (in 1826-27 and in 1835-37), the sway of the East India Company's Indian empire already reached across the entire Indian Ocean basin - from Africa and Arabia to China. "Rule of law" within this empire required blending hundreds of local cultures into overarching structures of charters, codes, laws, regulations, and treaties. Since such vast imperial domains could not be administered, much less protected, without enormous inputs of Indian manpower, money, and methodology, the essential stability and strength of this huge empire required loyal service from many hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civil servants from elite communities of India. It was therefore crucial for policies and procedures of governance to reflect a deep respect, sensitivity, and understanding of the manifold moral and religious customs, norms, and traditions held by India's many peoples. Acquisition and accumulation of such understandings required heavy investments of energy on the part of hundreds of individual scholars, Indians and Europeans alike. Those who strove for such understanding came to be known as "Orientalists" - or. for those studying Sanskritic India, as "Indologists."

Both Muir brothers, in turn, became magistrates in the North-West Provinces (NWP) of Hindustan, and both became renowned scholars and educators. John, the elder, was a Sanskritist. Except for a stint as principal of Sanskrit College (Benares), his career of a district officer was mainly solitary. After retiring as judge at Fatehpur, he devoted his last thirty years in Edinburgh to Oriental scholarship and educational causes. William, with his mastery of Urdu, Persian, and Arabic, ranged more widely among circles of high-born (asharfi) Muslim scholars. He ascended to ever higher positions - NWP Board of Revenue, Intelligence, India's foreign secretary, NWP lieutenant-governor, and Secretary of State's Council of India (London).

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