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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

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 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...

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Introduction

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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

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CHAPTER 1 The Enlightenment and Orientalist Discourse on the Aryan

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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...

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CHAPTER 2 The Romantic Aryans

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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...

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CHAPTER 3 Nietzsche’s Aryan Übermensch

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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...

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CHAPTER 4 Loose Can[n]ons

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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?

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CHAPTER 5

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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...

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

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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...

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CHAPTER 7 Aryan Identity and National Self-Esteem

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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...

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CHAPTER 8 The Anti-Myth

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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...

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Afterword

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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...

Notes

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pp. 165-188

Bibliography

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pp. 189-202

Index

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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

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Subject Headings

  • India -- Civilization.
  • Vedic literature -- History and criticism.
  • Indo-Aryans.
  • Racism -- Europe -- History -- 19th century.
  • Antisemitism.
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