[Advaita-l] wilhelm halbfass

Shrisha Rao shrao at nyx.net
Mon Sep 28 09:38:23 CDT 2009

On Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 5:27 PM, Stig Lundgren <slu at bredband.net> wrote:

> I have also found the works of Wilhem Halbfass useful and interesting. However, apart from that I would like to
> make a few observations on indology and it´s "scientific" approach:

I don't think Indology is particularly scientific; in fact, one of the
frequent responses made by Indologists to objections to their style of
study by Indians is that those whose training is in the sciences
(which is true of most educated Indians) cannot understand the methods
and conclusions of Indology!  There are any number of postings on the
Indology list saying this.  Indologists swear allegiance instead to
philology, which in its proper sense means they claim support from
historical linguistics, which is anyway in the humanities and not a
science, and furthermore in Indological practice can be a fig leaf to
cover just about any kind of false posturing and intellectually
dishonest scholarship that may exist.

I think those of us who have some exposure to academic Indology, as
well as to the research culture and practices current in the sciences
and engineering today, will agree that the standards in the former are
pitifully low by comparison.  Just compare the standards of peer
review and the quality of the journals, for one thing.  It is also not
that scientists never make mistakes, but by and large they at least
have the good sense to be deeply ashamed when they do; Indologists on
the other hand can go on and on after even after having been shown to
have made elementary mistakes of fact.

In my opinion, a proper critique of Indology, à la "Fashionable
Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science" by Alan Sokal
and Jean Bricmont, is seriously pending.

> Unfortunately, the institutions did not agree. Several departments of Indology and history
> of religion replied over  phone by saying that they where not interested in inviting any traditional
> scholar since he was not "scientific" in his approach, and did not adhere to a conventional
> academical method of religious studies etc.

I do not know of this scholar, but it would not surprise me in the
least if he is indeed much more scientific (in the proper meaning of
scientific scholarship) than his critics.

> Apparently, according to the German "school" of indology, it is a bad and harmful thing
> to actually study Indian and hindu topics from the original source.

Academic Indology tends to be an echo-chamber where work must be
reported in the German language in order to be considered
authoritative; work in English is less valued, and that in Indian
languages (including Sanskrit!) is axiomatically dismissed as

Of course, all this is hurting Western Indology itself more than
anything else; the Indian diaspora is least interested in supporting
such scholarship, for one thing.  Indologists complain that Indians
build temples in just about any city where they are in numbers but
never give money for Indological scholarship, but does this surprise
anyone, seriously?  Indology departments are closing or cutting down
all over (especially in Europe), and those that remain are obliged to
venture into Buddhist scholarship to tap into that source of funding.
(Buddhists also have, thanks to the flamboyance of the Japanese and
the Dalai Lama, been able to keep the Eurocentrism of academic
Indology at bay when it comes to their field, something that we
Vedantins should carefully note and emulate.)

> If I remember correctly, the well-known indologist prof. H. von Glasenapp never went to India
> during his lifetime, in spite of writing several books and countless articles on India and Indian
> religion.

I have not heard this about Glasenapp, but it is true of the late Jan
Gonda (cf. the obituary of Gonda that appeared in the BORI journal).


Shrisha Rao

> Stig Lundgren

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