Dr. Martin Christof-Füchsle


Indo-German Intellectual History — Religion and Spirituality in Imperial Germany and the Weimar Republic (1871–1933)


The project aims at fur­ther­ing the analy­sis of process­es of entan­gle­ments between India and Ger­many in the sphere of intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry. The focus is on the devel­op­ments in the era of Impe­r­i­al Ger­many as well as the Weimar Repub­lic. Around the year 1920 on the one hand, there is a pal­pa­ble fas­ci­na­tion of the Ger­man pub­lic with every­thing Indi­an. On the oth­er, from the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry onwards, Indi­an con­cepts as for exam­ple the doc­trine of kar­ma and rein­car­na­tion, as well as cul­tur­al prac­tices like yoga find their way into social and cul­tur­al move­ments belong­ing to the range of Leben­sre­form via the recep­tion of Bud­dhism and the Theo­soph­i­cal soci­eties. While trac­ing these devel­op­ments and the images of India that they pro­duce, it is intend­ed to cap­ture not only the influ­ence of promi­nent pro­tag­o­nists of Indi­an cul­ture in Ger­many (e.g. Rabindranath Tagore), but also that of less known Indi­ans and their inter­ac­tions with Ger­man schol­ars, intel­lec­tu­als and artists in var­i­ous fields. Tak­ing into account the recep­tion of and reac­tions to the Ger­man images of India as well as the dis­cours­es result­ing in the sub­con­ti­nent, an attempt is made to pro­vide a view of Indo-Ger­man entan­gle­ments that goes beyond the dis­cus­sion of imageries of ‘the Ori­ent’ or ‘the Occi­dent’, respec­tive­ly, in ana­lyz­ing mutu­al per­son­al encoun­ters and inter­ac­tions in the sense of a transna­tion­al his­to­ry.

Sources on which the project draws are the writ­ings of the Indol­o­gists of the era under scruti­ny, espe­cial­ly those intend­ed to reach a broad­er pub­lic. With respect to Bud­dhism, the Theo­soph­i­cal soci­eties as well as the var­i­ous groups belong­ing to the range of Leben­sre­form, pub­lished mate­r­i­al has to be con­sult­ed, first and fore­most that to be found in jour­nals, which were impor­tant forums of dis­cus­sion. Fur­ther, per­son­al papers and lit­er­ary estates of pro­tag­o­nists are impor­tant, as e.g. the volu­mi­nous papers of the lead­ing Ger­man theosophist Wil­helm Hübbe-Schlei­den, kept / housed in the Göt­tin­gen State and Uni­ver­si­ty Library. In var­i­ous spe­cial archives (as e.g. that of the Ger­man Youth Move­ment), but also state and com­mu­nal archives there is fur­ther mate­r­i­al to indi­vid­ual move­ments and asso­ci­a­tions. The take of the estab­lished Chris­t­ian church­es on those new reli­gious groups or reform move­ments is to be gleaned from mate­r­i­al in the church archives, as e.g. the files of the Apolo­getis­che Cen­trale kept in the Archiv des Werkes für Diakonie und Entwick­lung, Berlin.

The project pro­vides the oppor­tu­ni­ty to local­ize and make acces­si­ble archival mate­r­i­al relat­ing to the recep­tion of India in the Leben­sre­form and Youth move­ments, Bud­dhism and Theos­o­phy. Fur­ther, it will show that the intel­lec­tu­al exchange was not restrict­ed to a uni­di­rec­tion­al trans­fer or recep­tion of Indi­an con­cepts by Ger­mans and the sub­se­quent pro­duc­tion of author­i­ta­tive inter­pre­ta­tions of those. More often than not, the exchange was based on dia­logue and thus also char­ac­ter­ized by the agency of the indi­vid­u­als and groups on the Indi­an side.

Current Research:

Occultism, Theos­o­phy and the ‚reli­gion of rea­son‘ – Indo-Ger­man entan­gle­ments and reli­gious move­ments in Impe­r­i­al Ger­many (1871–1918).

A cen­tral focus of the cur­rent project is the devel­op­ment of Theos­o­phy in Ger­many, a move­ment show­ing affini­ties to West­ern occultism, Spiritism and eso­teri­cism. On the oth­er hand, it devel­oped into an impor­tant vehi­cle of dis­sem­i­nat­ing Indi­an reli­gious con­cepts as e.g. the doc­trine of kar­ma and rein­car­na­tion. The ini­tial recep­tion of yoga as phi­los­o­phy and spir­i­tu­al prac­tice is also to a great extant hap­pen­ing in the envi­ron­ment of the theo­soph­i­cal move­ment. Final­ly, the height­ened inter­est in Bud­dhism in the last decades of the 19th cen­tu­ry in Ger­many as well as the estab­lish­ment of the ear­li­est Bud­dhist asso­ci­a­tions and com­mu­ni­ties between the turn of the cen­tu­ry and the First World War is also to be seen in rela­tion to the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of Bud­dhism by the first gen­er­a­tion of theo­soph­i­cal lead­ers (esp. Colonel Olcott and his Bud­dhist Cat­e­chism, 1881). Ini­tial­ly, there had been inter­ac­tion and shared orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­tures (as e.g. pub­lish­ing hous­es) between Ger­man Theos­o­phy and Ger­man Bud­dhists, how­ev­er, soon there devel­oped ten­den­cies to high­light the incom­pat­i­bil­i­ties.

For the analy­sis of the com­plex spir­i­tu­al and reli­gious devel­op­ments the research will focus on Wil­helm Hübbe-Schlei­den (1846–1916). He was an impor­tant fig­ure in the his­to­ry and orga­ni­za­tion­al devel­op­ment of Ger­man Theos­o­phy, a for­mer cham­pi­on of the Ger­man colo­nial move­ment, he trav­elled to India in search of spir­i­tu­al progress and prac­ticed yoga even before that. On the one hand, he had affini­ties to Ger­man occultism as well as to the con­ser­v­a­tive ‘völkisch’ milieu. On the oth­er – fol­low­ing his sojourn in India from 1894–1896 – he not only moved in the cir­cles of Indi­an Theosophists, but active­ly sought con­tact with Hin­du reform­ers, pro­po­nents of a Bud­dhist revival in India, as well as Brah­min Gurus and intel­lec­tu­als. In this respect, besides his many pub­li­ca­tions on Theos­o­phy in jour­nals and books as well as region­al stud­ies of South Asia (Indi­en und die Indi­er, 1898), sources of great impor­tance are to be found in his per­son­al papers com­pris­ing let­ters, diaries and unpub­lished man­u­scripts, held in the Man­u­scripts Col­lec­tion of the Göt­tin­gen SUB. From these sources emerges the image of a mul­ti­fac­eted fig­ure embed­ded in a transna­tion­al net­work of intel­lec­tu­al entan­gle­ments, who will be tak­en as a start­ing point for the descrip­tion and analy­sis of the spir­i­tu­al and reli­gious devel­op­ments in Impe­r­i­al Ger­many in its con­nec­tions and inter­ac­tions with Indi­an actors and con­cepts.

It is the inten­tion of the researcher to move beyond the recon­struc­tion of the mutu­al images of the oth­er, i.e. Ger­man images of “the Ori­ent” and Indi­an images of “the Occi­dent”. Instead, Indi­an voic­es and the role of Indi­an agents in for­mu­lat­ing the inter­twined dis­cours­es of Yoga, Theos­o­phy and Bud­dhism will be high­light­ed. This approach aims to go beyond the focus­ing on Ger­man images of India that is char­ac­ter­is­tic for e.g. Per­ry Myers’ mono­graph Ger­man Visions of India, 1871–1918: Com­man­deer­ing the Holy Ganges dur­ing the Kaiser­re­ich. It will be shown that over and above the then preva­lent images of “East and West”, there were inter­cul­tur­al con­tacts based on mutu­al recog­ni­tion that went beyond the mere recep­tion and val­u­a­tion of the respec­tive stereo­types of occi­den­tal ratio­nal­i­ty and ori­en­tal spir­i­tu­al­i­ty.