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Max Müller

Friedrich Max Müller (December 6, 1823 - October 28, 1900), more commonly known as Max Müller, was a German Orientalist and was one of the founders of Indology and of the discipline of comparative religion. He was the son of the Romantic poet Wilhelm Müller, whose verse had been set to music by Schubert in his song-cycles Die Schone Müllerin and Winterreise. Müller inherited many of the ideas associated with his father's Romanticism, which coloured his account of ancient religions.

An accomplished linguist, Müller studied languages at a time when scholars were beginning to see language development in relation to cultural development. The recent discovery of the Indo-European (IE) language group was leading to much speculation about the relationship between Greco-Roman Classical cultures and those of more ancient peoples. In particular the Vedic culture of India was thought to have been the ancestor of European Classical cultures and scholars sought to compare the genetically related European and Asian languages in order to reconstruct the earliest form of the root-language. The Vedic language, Sanskrit, was thought to be the oldest of the IE languages. Müller therefore devoted himself to the study of this language, becoming one of the major Sanskritists of his day. Müller believed that the earliest documents of Vedic culture should be studied in order to provide the key to the development of Pagan European religions, and of religious belief in general. To this end Müller sought to understand the most ancient of Vedic scriptures, the Rig-Veda.

For Müller, however, the study of the language had to be related to the study of the culture in which it had been used. He came to the view that the development of languages should be tied to that of belief-systems. At that time the Vedic scriptures were little-known in the West, though there was increasing interest in the philosophy of the Upanishads. Müller believed that the sophisticated Upanishadic philosophy could be linked to the more primitive Vedic paganism from which it evolved. He had to travel to London in order to look at documents held in the collection of the British East India Company. While there he persuaded the company to allow him to undertake a critical edition of the Rig-Veda, a task he pursued doggedly over many years. He supported himself with creative writing, his novel German Love being popular in its day. Müller’s connections with the East India Company and with Sanskritists based at Oxford University led to a career in Britain, where he eventually became the leading intellectual commentator on the culture of India, over which Britain was in imperial control. This led to the development of links with Indian intellectuals, notably the leaders of the Brahmo Samaj, and to attempts to unite Christian and Hindu traditions. These activities have been both praised and vilified in modern India.

For Müller, the culture of the Vedic peoples represented a form of nature worship, an idea clearly influenced by Romanticism. The gods of the Rig-Veda were active forces of nature only partly personified as imagined supernatural persons.

, Dyaus = Zeus Dyaus Pitar becomes ‘deus-pater’ or ‘Jupiter’