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Indology or South Asian studies is the academic study of the history and cultures, languages, and literature of India and as such is a subset of Asian studies.[1][2]

The term Indology or (in German) Indologie is often associated with German scholarship, and is used more commonly in departmental titles in German and continental European universities than in the anglophone academy. In the Netherlands the term Indologie was used to designate the study of Indonesian history and culture in preparation for colonial service in the Dutch East Indies.

Specifically, Indology includes the study of Sanskrit literature and Hinduism along with the other Indian religions, Jainism, Buddhism and Pāli literature, and Sikhism. Dravidology is the separate branch dedicated to the Dravidian languages of South India.

Some scholars distinguish Classical Indology from Modern Indology, the former more focussed on Sanskrit and other ancient language sources, the latter on contemporary India, its politics and sociology.



The beginnings of the study of India by outsiders date back at least to Megasthenes (ca. 350–290 BC), a Greek ambassador of the Seleucids to the court of Chandragupta (ruled 322-298 BC), founder of the Mauryan Empire.[3] Based on his life in India Megasthenes composed a four-volume Indica, fragments of which still exist, and which influenced the classical geographers Arrian, Diodor and Strabo.[3] Megasthenes reported that the caste system dominated an essentially illiterate India.[4][5]

Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī (973–1048) in Tarikh Al-Hind (Researches on India) recorded the political and military history of India and covered India's cultural, scientific, social and religious history in detail.[6] He studied the anthropology of India, engaging in extensive participant observation with various Indian groups, learning their languages and studying their primary texts, and presenting his findings with objectivity and neutrality using cross-cultural comparisons.[7]

Academic discipline[edit]

In the wake of 18th century pioneers like William Jones, Henry Thomas Colebrooke or August Wilhelm Schlegel, Indology as an academic subject emerges in the 19th century, in the context of British India, together with Asian studies in general affected by the romantic Orientalism of the time. The Asiatic Society was founded in Calcutta in 1784, Société Asiatique founded in 1822, the Royal Asiatic Society in 1824, the American Oriental Society in 1842, and the German Oriental Society (Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft) in 1845, the Japanese Association of Indian and Buddhist Studies[8] in 1949.

Systematic study and editorial activity of Sanskrit literature became possible with the St. Petersburg Sanskrit-Wörterbuch during the 1850s to 1870s. Translations of major Hindu texts in the Sacred Books of the East began in 1879. Otto von Böhtlingk's edition of Pāṇini's grammar appeared in 1887. Max Müller's edition of the Rigveda appeared in 1849–75. In 1897, Sergey Oldenburg launched a systematic edition of key Sanskrit texts, "Bibliotheca Buddhica".

Fueling anti-Semitism[edit]

German indologists arbitrarily identified "layers" in the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita with the objective of fueling European anti-Semitism via the Indo-Aryan migration theory.[9] This required equating Brahmins with Jews, resulting in anti-Brahmanism.[9]

Indology and the modern world[edit]

As with many academic subjects which seem to have no direct bearing on modern concerns, Indology has come in for criticism. This has prompted a vigorous response from a number of eminent scholars, among them J. Bronkhorst.[10]

Indology and orientalism[edit]

Rajiv Malhotra in 'The Battle for Sanskrit' identifies three stages in the historical context of orientalism: European Orientalism, American frontier view and American Orientalism. He argues that American orientalism is different to European orientalism due in part to the unique experience of the 'American frontier' that shaped the American mindset. Atrocity literature was also instrumental during the American frontier period. Atrocity literature often consisted of portraying the other side as 'dangerous savages', attributed a lack of aesthetics, morality and rationality to the other side, justified violence against the 'savages' and stereotyped 'savage' culture as being oppressive towards women, children and lower social strate ('subaltern' groups).

Some scholars have criticized this stereotyping of India:

  • The social sciences used in India today have developed from thought about Western rather than Indian cultural realities... [11]
  • American selves, operating largely within the categories of sexuality, race, and illness, projected onto Indian Others traits that seemed loathsome or illicit...[12]
  • Even after the advent of freedom, official Indologists have remained prisoners of the colonial past which in my opinion has only a bleak future.[13]

After Independence, Indian Marxist historians under Soviet patronage used Marxist discourse to rewrite Indian history along the framework of class warfare. They depicted Muslims as victims and Mughals as benevolent rulers, and blackened the Hindu period. But when the Soviet Union collapsed, starting in early 1990s, the USA decided to appropriate the Marxist historians. This was partly also done through support from the CIA and the Ford Foundation. At that time the field of post-colonial studies also gained ground.

Rajiv Malhotra argues that the social science approach to India has become dominated by 'subaltern' studies, which may be seen as the Indianization of atrocity literature as a genre. This lens does not see Sanskrit and Hinduism in a positve light as resources for Indians, nor does it recognize the negative effects of Islamic, Christian, and Marxist ideologies.

Professional literature and associations[edit]

Indologists typically attend conferences such as the American Association of Asian Studies, the American Oriental Society annual conference, the World Sanskrit Conference, and national-level meetings in the UK, Germany, India, Japan, France and elsewhere.

They may routinely read and write in journals such as Indo-Iranian Journal,[14] Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society,[15] Journal of the American Oriental Society,[16] Journal asiatique,[17] the Journal of the German Oriental Society (ZDMG),[18] Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens,[19] Journal of Indian Philosophy,[20] Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies (Indogaku Bukkyogaku Kenkyu), Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême Orient,[21] and others.

They may be members of such professional bodies as the American Oriental Society, the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, the Société Asiatique, the Deutsche Morgenlāndische Gesellschaft and others.

List of Indologists[edit]

The following is a list of prominent academically qualified Indologists.

Contemporary Indologists with university posts in Indian Studies[edit]

Other contributors to Indology[edit]


  • For example, Cambridge University established a prize named for an essay competition on the topic: 'The best means of civilizing the subjects of the British Empire in India, and of diffusing the light of the Christian religion throughout the eastern world.'
    • Indras Net by Rajiv Malhotra, p 133

Indology organisations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. Pattanaik, Devdutt (21 February 2016). "Devdutt Pattanaik: Four types of Indology". mid-day. 
  2. Indology - Oxford Dictionary
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bosworth, A. B. (April 1996). "The Historical Setting of Megasthenes' Indica". Classical Philology. The University of Chicago Press. 91 (2): 113–127. JSTOR 270500. doi:10.1086/367502. 
  4. Panthapalli A. Augustine: Social equality in Indian society: the elusive goal, Concept Publishing Company, 1991, ISBN 9788170223030, p. 40
  5. John Duncan Martin Derrett: Essays in Classical and Modern Hindu Law: Consequences of the intellectual exchange with the foreign powers, Brill 1976, ISBN 9789004048089, p. 1
  6. Khan, M. S. (1976). "al-Biruni and the Political History of India". Oriens. Brill. 25/26: 86–115. JSTOR 1580658. doi:10.2307/1580658. 
  7. Ahmed, Akbar S. (February 1984). "Al-Beruni: The First Anthropologist". RAIN. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 60: 9–10. JSTOR 3033407. doi:10.2307/3033407. 
  8. English Summary Archived 15 September 2009 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 20 November 2011.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Vishwa, Adluri. Bagchee Joydeep (2014). The Nay Science: A History of German Indology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 289–426. 
  10. Bronkhorst, Johannes. (2011). "Indology, what is it good for?" Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 161.1: 115-122. Available online:
  11. Marriot 1990
  12. Rotter 2000
  13. L.M. Singhvi. Indology and the Future of our Past, 2006
  14. |description&changeHeader=true& International Publisher Science, Technology, Medicine[dead link]. Springer. Retrieved on 20 November 2011.
  15. R A S – Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Archived 22 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 20 November 2011.
  16. JAOS Front Matter Archived 7 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 20 November 2011.
  17. (in Dutch) Journal Asiatique. Retrieved on 20 November 2011.
  18. "Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft (ZDMG)". Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft (DMG). 
  19. Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens (WZKS) Vienna Journal for South Asian Studies. Retrieved on 20 November 2011.
  20. Journal of Indian Philosophy Archived 25 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine.. Retrieved on 20 November 2011.
  21. Bulletin de l'EFEO. Retrieved on 20 November 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Halbfass, W. India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding. SUNY Press, Albany: 1988
  • Edmund Leach. "Aryan Invasions Over Four Millennia". In Culture Through Time (edited by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Stanford University Press, 1990)
  • Gauri Viswanathan, 1989, Masks of Conquest
  • Pollock, Sheldon. Deep Orientalism?: Notes on Sanskrit and Power Beyond the Raj. In: Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia, eds. Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
  • Servan-Schreiber, Catherine & Vuddamalay, Vasoodeven (éd.). Diasporas indiennes dans la ville. In hommes et migrations n° 1268–1269 (2007)
  • Trautmann, Thomas. 1997. Aryans and British India, University of California Press, Berkeley.
  • Balagangadhara, S. N. (2012). Reconceptualizing India studies. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Windisch, Ernst. Geschichte der Sanskrit-Philologie und Indischen Altertumskunde. 2 vols. Strasbourg. Trübner, K.J., 1917–1920
  • Zachariae, Theodor. Opera minora zur indischen Wortforschung, zur Geschichte der indischen Literatur und Kultur, zur Geschichte der Sanskritphilologie. Ed. Claus Vogel. Wiesbaden 1977, ISBN 3-515-02216-3.

External links[edit]


Library guides[edit]