Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

New Perspectives on the History of Indian Studies in Continental Europe

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

New Perspectives on the History of Indian Studies in Continental Europe

Article excerpt

There has been of late a spate of works from France which focus on the development of Indian studies on the continent of Europe. They are not primarily concerned with the accretion of European knowledge and understanding of India, as was Ernst Windisch's Geschichte der Sanskrit-Philologie und Indischen Altertumskunde (1917-20), or with the effect it had on European literature and culture, as was Raymond Schwab's Renaissance Orientale (1950), or with constructing it as an essentializing, hegemonic discourse, as was Ronald Inden's Imagining India (1999). They aim to study the social milieus and institutional settings in which the study of India evolved on the European continent.

Several works by the sociologist Roland Lardinois, alone or with colleagues, span the polar figures of Indologist and Buddhologist Sylvain Levi (1863-1935) and the anthropologist Louis Dumont (1911-98). First came in 2002 the Correspondances orientalistes entre Paris et Saint-Petersbourg, which testifies to close exchanges between French and Russian scholars, primarily Levi and Sergej F. Ol'denburg, between 1887 and 1935, which were renewed in the joint support by the French Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres and Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique with the Russian Academy of Sciences for this edition under the co-editorship of Lardinois with Gregorij M. Bongard-Levin and Aleksej A. Vigasin. All letters were written in French, but, since the repository in which most have been preserved is the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, they overwhelmingly represent the writings of French scholars (54 to 1 for the Levi-Ol'denburg correspondence). Exemplarily edited and contextualized, and handsomely illustrated, the Correspondances throw welcome light on the collegial assistance and friendship that developed between Levi and Ol'denburg, and, in a minor register, with and between other scholars, Alfred Foucher, Emile Senart, and Paul Pelliot, and Fedor I. Scerbatskoj, Vasilij M. Alekseev, "Basilij V. Radlov, and Fridrih A. Rozenberg.

In content and in style, as well as in direction, language, and date, these correspondences differ greatly from the recently published letters Russian Otto Bohtlingk wrote, in German, to Rudolf Roth between 1852 and 1885. (1) Bohtlingk's missives focused on specifics of his and Roth's joint work on their monumental dictionary of Sanskrit, with occasional snide comments on some of their colleagues. Levi's communications brimmed with news of his circle, students, colleagues, visiting scholars, teaching, missions overseas, symposia, conferences and congresses, and academies and other national and international bodies that supported scholarship and archeological explorations, particularly in Central Asia, while most of his barbs were directed at Germans and Germany. Issued from a Jewish family that stemmed from "beloved Alsace," annexed by Germany after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, Levi was hostile long before the First World War, in which his sons served at the front. Although correspondence was sparse in times of war and revolution, it gives evidence that, as the war was impeding international collaboration, it made Levi, and yet more actively Senart and Foucher, anxious to erect as early as 1916 a Franco-Russian scholarly alliance as a bulwark against German hegemony. A lifelong fervent nationalist, Levi claimed a post at the University of Strasbourg after France regained it from Germany. As the Bolshevik Revolution threatened Ol'denburg's position as permanent secretary of the Russian Academy of Sciences, he wrote in 1921 of his admiration for his friend's devotion to his homeland, which made him overlook all other considerations, and, after Ol'denburg's dismissal in 1929, of the heroic serenity with which he had accepted any sacrifice to serve his "dear Russia" and the cause of scholarship.

If Bohtlingk was a paragon of exactitude, Levi thought in grand humanistic vistas. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.