Friday, December 01, 2006

Early American Indologists - Hindu influence

The Early American Indologists
The American Oriental Society, founded in 1842 though the study of Sanskrit itself, did not start in American universities until some years later. The first American Sanskrit scholar of any repute was Edward Elbridge Salisbury (18114-1901) who taught at Yale (Elihu Yale was himself ultimately connected with India and had profound respect for Vedic philosophy). Another early Sanskritist, Fitzedward Hall (1825-1901) was in the Harvard class of 1846 but left college to search for a runaway brother in-of all places-India, where he continued his studies of Indian languages and even became tutor and professor of Sanskrit at Banaras. He was the first American scholar to edit a Sanskrit text-the Vishnu Purana.
One of Salisbury's students at Yale, William Dwight Whitney (1827-1901) went on to become a distinguished Sanskritist in his own right having studied in Berlin under such distinguished German scholars as Bopp and Weber. Whitney became a full professor of Sanskrit language and literature at Yale in 1854, wrote his classic Sanskrit Grammar (1879) and was the doyen of Indologists of his period. Whitney was succeeded in the Chair of Sanskrit Studies of Yale by Edward Washburn Hopkins (1857-1932). Hopkins was an excellent scholar but made his name principally as an exponent of India's religions. His book The Religions of India (1895) was for many years one of the principal works on the subject available in America and his Origins and Evolution of Religion published in 1923, sold well.
With Yale leading the way, Harvard caught up and beginning with James Bradstreet Greenough (1833-1900), had a succession of great Sanskrit teachers, the most distinguished among them was Charles Rockwell Lanman who taught for over forty years, publishing such works as Sanskrit Reader and Beginnings of Hindu Pantheism. But his greatest contribution was planning and editing of the Harvard Oriental Series. In his time he was responsible for influencing such students of his who were later to achieve literary renown as T. S. Eliot, Paul Elmer More and Irving Babbitt. The tradition of American Indologists has been nobly kept up by those who followed: to mention only a few names, A.V. William Jackson, Franklin Edgerton, W. Norman Brown, and Joseph Campbell.

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