Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies: E-journal, Vol 1.1, Hong

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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 1.1 (2018): 118–141; https://dx.doi.org/10.15239/hijbs.01.01.04
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhism in the West)

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Regarding the Research and Translations of Buddhist Scripture by Nineteenth Century European Religious Studies Scholars: Using Max Müller as an Example

HONG Xiuping
Nanjing University
hongx@nju.edu.cn

Keywords: European religious studies scholars, Max Müller, translation and research of Buddhist scriptures

Abstract: Max Müller is a representative nineteenth century European scholar of the ‘Science of Religion’ who strove to break free from the fetters of traditional Christian theology in Europe, by studying Eastern languages, translating Eastern religious scriptures, and using comparative religious studies as a method. He hoped to perform an ‘impartial’, objective study upon the varied and complicated phenomenon that is religion. His efforts not only promoted the establishment of religious studies as an academic discipline, but also revealed Buddhism’s place in the world, opened a door for the Buddhist religion—which had been ‘otherised’ in the context of the west—to enter Europe, promoted the dissemination of Buddhism in Europe, and deepened Europeans’ understanding of Buddhism. At the same time, Müller used comparative linguistics as a model to construct comparative religious studies. He wrote and compiled a series of writings related to Eastern religions, and he regarded translating Buddhist scriptures as a way of recreating the religion’s early culture. This promoted the research of Buddhism in Europe and exchanges among Eastern and Western academics. Over the course of translating Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures into English, Müller emphasised performing textual analysis to determine the etymology of concept presented by nouns within these scriptures. He also emphasised performing cross-sectional comparisons involving Buddhism and other religions in order to reveal the cognition of the unique qualities of Buddhist culture. This formed an academic trajectory within European Buddhist studies that placed equal weight on philology and philosophy. Looking back over the translations of Buddhist scriptures and research regarding the religion carried out by nineteenth century European religious studies scholars, it is clear that this has had a significant impact on understandings and dialogues between different religions. It also paved the way for significant exchanges across Eastern and Western academic culture.