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C h a p t e r 1 Voltaire’s Veda François Marie Arouet—better known as Voltaire (1694–1778)—was a superstar in eighteenth-century Europe and for a time one of its most read and translated authors. His plays were performed across the continent, and his view of world history was so influential that the Russian Czar, upon reading Voltaire’s Essai sur les moeurs, sent an embassy to China to verify some of its claims. This chapter will highlight a little known side of this multifaceted man. Though current histories of Orientalism barely mention him,1 Voltaire played an important role in the genesis of modern Orientalism. Since some of Voltaire’s sources and his particular approach are deeply connected with the missionary discovery of Asian religions and mission literature, relevant facets of this missionary basis will first have to be examined in some detail. In Voltaire’s time, much of Asia was still called ‘‘the East Indies,’’ and the focus of previous scholarly discussion on India proper and on religions that are today associated with the Indian subcontinent must be widened in order to understand eighteenth-century views and images. The influence and staying power of old ideas have hitherto been underestimated. Not just the study of the Orient in Voltaire’s time but even modern Orientalism is shaped by earlier impressions and approaches in profound and sometimes pernicious ways. It is a mistake to regard—in the manner of Schwab (1950), de Jong (1987), and many others—the onset of modern Orientalism as a clean break from a ‘‘nonscientific’’ past. As the examples of William Jones (App 2009) and Anquetil-Duperron (see Chapter 7) show, the pioneers of modern Orientalism raised the curtains and set a new stage; but much of the stage set seems recycled from earlier productions, and many actors in this play wear costumes of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries while expressing ideas that fit those times. The lack of appreciation regarding some of the crucial PAGE 15 ................. 17751$ $CH1 05-21-10 15:28:05 PS 16 chapter 1 underpinnings of Voltaire’s venture—particularly of missionary approaches and sources—gave rise to misunderstandings not only concerning his use of India-related sources but also the role he played in the genesis of modern Orientalism. Hence, the first task will be to discuss in some detail a number of facets of the missionary discovery of Asian religions that came to influence Voltaire’s views and sources. Valignano’s Catechism Partly due to the summary dismissal of missionary portrayals of Asian religions as biased, some of the basic events of the missionary discovery of these religions are still ignored even by today’s Orientalists. It is, for example, a fact that the first systematic exploration of non-Islamic Asian religions happened not in India or some other land at a manageable distance from continental Europe but at the very end of the world as it was known at the time, namely, in sixteenth-century Japan. From the beginning of the sixteenth century , Catholic missionaries had settled in India and subsequently in various parts of Southeast Asia; but these were regions where even knowledge of the local vernacular did not yet entail access to sacred literature. Besides, the heathen cults were regarded as works of the devil to be exterminated rather than studied. In Japan, by contrast, the need for study arose from the fiasco of St. Francis Xavier’s Jesuit mission.2 Francis Xavier (1506–1552) and his Jesuit companions had arrived in the summer of 1549 in Japan with high hopes and accompanied by Anjirō, a Japanese man of modest education who served as their interpreter. He had translated ‘‘God’’ as ‘‘Dainichi’’ (the SunBuddha , the principal Buddha venerated by the Shingon sect of Buddhism), ‘‘heaven’’ and ‘‘paradise’’ as jōdo (the Pure Land of Buddhism), and ‘‘Christianity ’’ as buppō (the Buddha dharma or Buddhist law); consequently, the Japanese were convinced that the Jesuits were Buddhist sectarian reformers from India. They had indeed come to Japan from Goa in India, and the Japanese (whose world at the time ended in India alias ‘‘Tenjiku’’) consistently called Xavier and his companions ‘‘Indians’’ (‘‘Tenjiku’s’’ or ‘‘Tenjikujin ’’) (App 1997a:55–58). The Japanese Shingon priests were so delighted with their new cousins from India that the Jesuits became suspicious; but even after Francis Xavier’s departure toward the end of 1551, the missionaries were still viewed as a bunch of zealous Buddhist sectarians...


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