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Pascale Rabault-Feuerhahn Perry Myers
École Normale Supérieure Paris, France Albion College, Albion MI, USA
Over the past decade a significant “transnational” turn has occurred in German Studies, exemplified by many presentations, journal articles and monographs on the transnational links between various intellectual movements, scientific influences, cultural networks, histories, and political agendas across the entire globe from the Far East, India and the Middle East, South and Central America—all related to Germany in significant ways. In particular, the academic preoccupation with the role of India in German cultural history spans an even longer time frame, dating to Raymond Schwab’s The Oriental Renaissance (published in French in 1950; 1984 in English) and Leslie Willson’s A Mythical Image (1964). Since that earlier era, a considerable number of books have been devoted to the subject, with a renewed interest in the past 15 years. This rich scholarly production has made it possible to move beyond the traditional imagological—even Germanocentric—perspective to a more elaborate and balanced approach that builds on the theoretical-methodological contributions of transnational history and the history of the humanities. The active role of South Asians, for instance, in the history of German-Indian relations has been now well acknowledged.
Yet the preoccupation with India in German cultural history still poses serious challenges to the historian. Although teleological perspectives on India as part of the historical “fate” of Germany appear to be losing ground, the notion of a “German fascination” with India remains central to most approaches. “Fascination,” though, proves to be an elusive concept, and often more descriptive than analytical. But how, then, do we account for the strikingly intensive confrontation with Indian culture in Germany without falling back into general and inadequately nuanced arguments? This volume seeks to explore such questions and open up a more thorough analysis of the German-Indian connection.
That said, in the course of history, German intellectuals and scholars themselves have often claimed their own “fascination” with India and justified it by an alleged affinity between the German and Indian mind. Such assumptions must be taken seriously, given that they often prove to have a profound performative effect. But rather than taking them for granted, it seems fruitful to address them as an object for historical inquiry. What do such self-representations teach us, for instance, about the way Germans positioned themselves in relation to other Western countries? While the “fascination” is part of a discourse, in which the anti-utilitarian German approach to India was juxtaposed to the British colonial one, this kind of stance needs to be considered with historical-critical distance.
With this end in view, we seek to publish a body of essays that employ transnational approaches to German-Indian intersections in any field of interaction—literary, social, political, economic, cultural, religious, and during any era. We encourage contributions reflecting on:
- German and South Asian self-representations that were articulated through intellectual, economic, social, political, cultural or religious interaction.
- the definition of the spaces concerned : not only did the borders of « Germany » and « India » vary greatly over time, but none of these spaces can be considered as a homogenous whole – neither socially, nor linguistically or religiously. Buddhism for instance, certainly did not mean the same to a Catholic as it might to a Protestant interpreter. How did identity influence the thought and perceptions of historical actors?
- the articulation of micro- and macro-history : While global history tends to privilege large-scale phenomena, transnational history invites us to consider both the individual actors and the context and networks in which they were embedded.
- problems in intercultural communication : acknowledging the fact that not everything circulates in equal measure, and that the circulation of ideas, culture, and knowledge is rarely smooth but rather meets with resistance.
- the variable geometry of transnational entanglements : far from being limited to a bilateral relation, intercultural dialogues and encounters often imply a third party. In the early 19th century, for instance, the majority of German Indologists received their training in Paris; later in the century, when German Indology took the lead, students came from Italy, Russia, or North America to study Sanskrit in German universities.
In summary, for this edited volume we seek to publish a body of essays that employ transnational approaches to German-Indian intersections and embrace the complex nature of their interaction. More generally, the volume seeks to assess how German-Indian intersections contribute to a better understanding of the more comprehensive, or systemic questions regarding the practice of transnational history.