The antique Christian “appropriation” of Hebrew by the Early Church Fathers was succeeded historically by a kind of scholarly appropriation that resulted in the emergence of a “ready-made India” founded on a new discourse about Sanskrit. In a world governed by romanticist visions undergirded with colonial aspirations, in a historical period between a Christianity weakened by Enlightenment philosophers and the advancement of scientistic secularism, certain scholarly fables about a primordial India came to resemble the fables about Hebrew. In this race toward the discovery of human origins, the new “Aryan Bible” required a new language of paradise: Sanskrit. Can one then say that India was appropriated within a scholarly environment that was being pulled between Christianity, secularism and scientism? Since our investigations have allowed us to demonstrate that this hypothesis is plausible, it is necessary to test this hypothesis through the clarification of the historical contexts, intellectual dynamics, and theological and political fields of action in which myth and reason mutually reinforce one another. While underlining the political stakes of the comparative method of anthropology, this article also recalls that not so long ago, knowledge of ancient and modern humanities often bore the mark of racial sciences that influenced all university disciplines from the early 19th century to the late 1940s.
The contributions assembled in this special issue were originally presented at a conference entitled Semitic Philology within European Intellectual History: Constructions of Race, Religion and Language in Scholarly Practice, which was dedicated to examining the constructions, contestations, genealogies and workings of discourses about Semites, Semitic languages, religions and literatures in European scholarship.
Held in Berlin at the Freie Universität Berlin and Forum Transregionale Studien on 19-21 June 2013, the conference was the outcome of a year-long seminar devoted to revisiting the histories and politics of discourses on race, religion and language in European scholarship. The academic field of