Click here return to the Hualin main page.

Click here return to the Hualin E-Journal Vol 1.1 Table of Contents page.


Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 1.1 (2018): 118–141;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhism in the West)

Download full text PDF


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

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.

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


About the Author: Hong Xiuping, Doctor of Philosophy, Fulbright scholar at Harvard University, has received the ‘Government Special Allowance’ for his expertise and has also been elected by the Chinese Ministry of Education as the ‘Trans-century Talent’. Dr. Hong also serves as a member of the Committee of Academic Administration at Nanjing University and as the Library Director of Nanjing University. Currently he is a specially appointed professor both in the Ministry of Education as ‘Yangtze Scholar’ and at Nanjing University where he teaches in the Philosophy Department and Religious Studies Department. He is also the doctoral supervisor and the director of the Research Center for Eastern Philosophy and Religious Culture at Nanjing University, in addition to being a panelist in the review committee for the National Social Science Fund of China. Concurrently, he is an adjunct professor at Fudan University, Wuhan University, Hunan University and Northwest University, and a specially invited researcher in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as well as a visiting researcher at Tsinghua University and an adjunct researcher at the Renming University of China. Dr. Hong is the chief editor of Essential Anthology of Centennial Studies on Buddhism 百年佛學研究精華集成 (200 volumes), the vice-chief editor of Critical Biographies of Chinese Thinkers 中國思想家評傳叢書 (200 volumes), and an editor of Confucian Canons 儒藏 and the Sequel to Chinese Buddhist Canons 中華大藏經•續編. Dr. Hong also serves as a council member for the International Confucian Association, the Chinese Society of Philosophy and History and the Chinese Society of Religious Studies. Dr. Hong has published more than 30 monographs and 200 articles.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.