We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Aryans, Jews, Brahmins

Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity

Dorothy M. Figueira

Publication Year: 2002

In Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, Dorothy M. Figueira provides a fascinating account of the construction of the Aryan myth and its uses in both India and Europe from the Enlightenment to the twentieth century. The myth concerns a race that inhabits a utopian past and gives rise first to Brahmin Indian culture and then to European culture. In India, notions of the Aryan were used to develop a national identity under colonialism, one that allowed Indian elites to identify with their British rulers. It also allowed non-elites to set up a counter identity critical of their position in the caste system. In Europe, the Aryan myth provided certain thinkers with an origin story that could compete with the Biblical one and could be used to diminish the importance of the West’s Jewish heritage. European racial hygienists made much of the myth of a pure Aryan race, and the Nazis later looked at India as a cautionary tale of what could happen if a nation did not remain “pure.” As Figueira demonstrates, the history of the Aryan myth is also a history of reading, interpretation, and imaginative construction. Initially, the ideology of the Aryan was imposed upon absent or false texts. Over time, it involved strategies of constructing, evoking, or distorting the canon. Each construction of racial identity was concerned with key issues of reading: canonicity, textual accessibility, interpretive strategies of reading, and ideal readers. The book’s cross-cultural investigation demonstrates how identities can be and are created from texts and illuminates an engrossing, often disturbing history that arose from these creations.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature (discontinued)


pdf iconDownload PDF

Title Page, Copyright Page

pdf iconDownload PDF


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
p. ix

Iam grateful to several organizations without whose funding this volume would not have been possible. I thank the American Institute for Indian Studies for a Senior Research grant to Poona in 1992–1993. I am also grateful to the Fulbright Foundation as well as the National...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 1-6

The present is fractured; it consists of competing pasts. By positing the past as a special case of the present, one not only remakes the present, but creates a new past and redefines identity (as kin, race, family) through an act of memory. The past thus possesses sociopolitical instrumentality...

PART I The Authority of an Absent Text

read more

CHAPTER 1 The Enlightenment and Orientalist Discourse on the Aryan

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 8-26

Orientalist and postcolonialist criticism has positioned the origin of much that it seeks to critique within the Enlightenment project. Edward Said identified the Enlightenment as a unified trajectory and master sign of both Orientalism and colonialism (Said 1978). Ashis Nandy...

read more

CHAPTER 2 The Romantic Aryans

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 27-49

The development of myth theory in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries primarily contributed two factors to general intellectual and scientific history. It initiated a gradual change in understanding aesthetics from objective and rational imitation to a more subjective and emotional principle...

read more

CHAPTER 3 Nietzsche’s Aryan Übermensch

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 50-63

Much has been written on Nietzsche’s reconstruction of Indian thought.1 Indologists and historians of religion have placed great importance on Nietzsche’s appropriation of Indian themes; and, indeed, the philosopher’s evocation of India is varied and often tantalizing. These evocations...

read more

CHAPTER 4 Loose Can[n]ons

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 64-88

Beginning with the Enlightenment, racial myths of origin sought their justification in science. There was widespread speculation in the research of Cuvier, Linnaeus, and Buffon regarding the fixity of the species and the role of environment in causing human difference. There was but...

PART II Who Speaks for the Subaltern?

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 90-104

In 1828, Raja Rammohan Roy (1774–1833) founded the Brahmo Sabha. Later renamed the Brahma Samaj, this organization sought to effect a purification of traditional Hinduism by promoting the values deemed operative...

read more

CHAPTER 6 Text-based Identity: Dayanand Saraswatı’s Reconstruction of the Aryan Self

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 105-119

In chapter 5, we saw that the founding of the Bra¯hmo Sama¯j in 1828 by Raja Rammohan Roy initiated a religious and political movement for the cultural purification of Hinduism. It was his belief that India had strayed from the true model for Indian culture and religion, the ancient Aryans. As a cure for India’s political subjugation, he proposed a recuperation...

read more

CHAPTER 7 Aryan Identity and National Self-Esteem

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 120-143

The translations of Rammohan Roy and the Vedic commentaries of Dayanand Saraswatı were predicated upon the belief that India had degenerated from Aryan ideals partially because the Aryan texts themselves had decayed. The cure for India’s political subjugation...

read more

CHAPTER 8 The Anti-Myth

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 144-159

In our previous discussions, we have seen how texts possess the power of composing and distributing narratives of space that underlie and organize a culture (Certeau 1986: 67–68). Indian evocations of the Aryan past, like all creations of popular culture, presuppose this unavowed operation of censorship (Certeau 1986: 119–21). Representations must...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 160-164

The Aryan myth defined both the true Hindu community (Thapar 1992: 81) and the origin of the West. We have investigated how myths regarding the Aryan gave value to ancient Indian history, contributed to the ideological concerns of India during the colonial and...


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 165-188


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 189-202


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 203-205

E-ISBN-13: 9780791487839
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791455319
Print-ISBN-10: 0791455319

Page Count: 205
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: SUNY series, The Margins of Literature (discontinued)
Series Editor Byline: Mihai I. Spariosu See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 53956520
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Aryans, Jews, Brahmins

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • India -- Civilization.
  • Vedic literature -- History and criticism.
  • Indo-Aryans.
  • Racism -- Europe -- History -- 19th century.
  • Antisemitism.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access