Project Manager: Dr. Martin Christof-Füchsle
Direction: Prof. Dr. Ravi Ahuja
Project Status: running
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.
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.