[skip to content]

Department of the Study of Religions

Oriental religions in European academia and imagination, 1815-1945

Course Code:
15PSRC168
Unit value:
1
Year of study:
Any
Taught in:
Full Year

This course will survey the development of the academic study of Indian and Chinese religions in Europe, from the establishment of the first European chairs of Indology and Sinology in Paris in 1815 to the end of World War II. At the same time, it will explore the impact that Orientalist academia had on the broader perception of those religions in European culture.

The former objective will be pursued by reading, with the assistance of recent critical studies, the original works of leading scholars in the period under consideration, including Eugène Burnouf, Hermann Oldenberg, Friedrich Max Müller, James Legge, T.W. Rhys Davids, J.J.M. De Groot, Max Weber, Sylvain Lévi, Henri Maspéro. Special emphasis will be paid to scholarship on those perceived traditions – such as Buddhism, Taoism and varieties of mystical thought – which had the greatest appeal to European imagination.

The latter objective will involve focusing on a few personalities and areas bearing witness to that appeal. For example, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, the Theosophical movement, the European counterculture of the early 20th c., René Guénon and Traditionalism, Carl Gustav Jung and analytical psychology, poets and novelists such as Hermann Hesse.

The course will provide essential historical and critical background to the study of a number of Asian religious traditions within the MA Religions. In view of its focus on the development of European scholarship on Buddhism, it is particularly recommended to students in this programme taking the Buddhist Studies pathway.

A reading knowledge of French and/or German is desirable but not essential, since the greatest part of the course materials will be available in English.

Prerequisites

A reading knowledge of French and/or German is desirable but not essential, since the greatest part of the course materials will be available in English.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • critically understand the development of the study of Indian (notably Buddhism) and Chinese religions in Europe in the 19th c. and the first half of the 20th c.;
  • identify the most influential scholars and relevant studies in the period under consideration
  • demonstrate a critical understanding, focused on selected examples, of the impact and perception of Indian (notably Buddhism) and Chinese religions in European culture in the period under consideration;
  • assess the extent to which contemporary understandings of Indian (notably Buddhism) and Chinese religions rest on the findings, interpretations and biases of 19th and early 20th-century scholarship
  • demonstrate a critical awareness of the study of Oriental religions as a cultural construct;
  • assess the validity and limitations of the contemporary discourse on Orientalism as an interpretative tool for the study of Indian and Chinese religions.

Workload

Two hours lecture and one hour seminar/tutorial

Scope and syllabus

The course will provide essential historical and critical background to the study of a number of Asian religious traditions within the MA Religions. In view of its focus on the development of European scholarship on Buddhism, it is particularly recommended to students in this programme taking the Buddhist Studies pathway.

Method of assessment

2 essays (4000 words each) (40% each),1 oral presentation (10%),1 seminar participation (10%)