Douglas T. McGetchin, UCSD

“An Indo-Germanic Connection?
    By the end of the nineteenth century, Germany had more university
professors studying Sanskrit than all other European countries
combined.  This growth is especially striking, as Germany had no
colonies in or near India, although German Indologists maintained a
strong relationship with the British who did.  This paper analyzes the
development of the academic discipline of Indology (the study of ancient
East Indian texts, literature, and culture) and the parallel cultural
diffusion of knowledge about South Asia within nineteenth-century
Germany.  Indology was able to flourish to the degree it did because it
benefited from Wilhelm von Humboldt's patronage and his educational
reform that led to the rise of new sciences in German universities.
German Indologists pursued scientific activities and made successful
arguments about the cultural and intellectual relevance ancient India
had to modern Germany.  Hyperbolic claims within this discourse have
dominated historical accounts of German Indology (A.W. Schlegel, Das,
Leifer).  Despite many achievements, there were still many barriers
between modern Germans and Indians; German scholars avidly studied
Sanskrit and the ancient cultures of India, but had little interest in
modern Indians.
    In this paper I argue against over-estimating the significance of an
"Oriental Renaissance" (Raymond Schwab) and an "Indo-Germanic
connection."   Archival records in Berlin give several indicators of a
lukewarm modern Indo-German interaction, including the minimal interest
in modern Indian languages at Berlin's Seminar für Orientalische
Sprachen and the mixed reception in Germany of the work of Panini, the
fourth-century CE Indian Sanskrit grammarian.  Furthermore, during the
nineteenth century, the theory of the original location for an
Indo-European (or Aryan) homeland shifted from India to northern
Europe.  The nationalist and racist motivations for this change
discredited assertions of Indo-Germanic unity.  Finally, the
infiltration of ethnological arguments into the discourse about Aryans
erected a color barrier between the European and Indian branches of the
"Aryan family."  This racist divide directly played into the Nazi
contempt for Indians and Germany's minimal support for the Indian
freedom movement during the Second World War.  With the correctives of
this analysis in mind, one can better assess the limited cultural impact
that the study of ancient Indian had within modern Germany.