SOAS University of London

SOAS World Languages Institute

Passwords to Paradise Book Launch


Date: 26 April 2016Time: 6:00 PM

Finishes: 26 April 2016Time: 8:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: Brunei Suite

Type of Event: Book Launch

The SOAS World Languages Institute is pleased to host the launch of Passwords to Paradise, the latest book by Nicholas Ostler.

The event includes a reading by the author and a book signing.

If you are able to join us please RSVP here.

Passwords to Paradise (how languages have re-invented world religions) is a book which examines the results of a predicament for global missionary religions: how to project a single faith across a multilingual world? This has been a necessary issue for Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. All of them aspired to global validity, but how  have the creeds, liturgies and self-identities of these religions, been affected by the need to present themselves afresh to new populations in new languages?

The outcomes of these translations provide a test for linguistic relativity. If, as B.L. Whorf suggested, abstract thought is conditioned by the structures of a language, what could be more abstract than theology?

How was the content of scripture affected, when Buddhism’s sutras changed from Sanskrit to Chinese, or Christianity’s doctrinas from Spanish to vernacular languages in the Americas?

Later, the Reformation gave new importance to translation: a requirement for authentic sources to be traced in the original, coupled with a zeal for new versions, to make the scriptures available in every language known.

And how awkward was Islam’s notorious ban on translating the Qur’an?

Above all, Passwords to Paradise reveals that a speech community is the bedrock of a faith community: when a new people is converted in its own language, it places itself at the centre of its concept of the church.

About the author

Nicholas Ostler, now a Research Associate at SOAS, has been closely involved with its Endangered Language Documentation Programme here since its foundation in 2002. He has been Chairman of the independent charity, Foundation for Endangered Languages, since 1996. He holds an MA in Classics and PPE from Oxford, and a PhD in linguistics from MIT. After a career of consultancy in language technology, he has focused in the last 15 years on writing books about language history: Empires of the Word (a language history of the world) 2005; Ad Infinitum (a biography of Latin) 2007; The Last Lingua Franca (rise and fall of world languages) 2010.

Organiser: SOAS World Languages Institute

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