Glasenapp, Helmuth von

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GLASENAPP, HELMUTH VON (18911963), was a German Indologist. Von Glasenapp was born in Berlin to a "cheerful and gregarious" father who, though a lawyer and banker, was known as an expert on Goethe, and an art-loving mother who "tended to take everything in life seriously" (Glasenapp, 1964, pp. 1112). As a scholar of Indian religions, Otto Max Helmuth von Glasenapp would come to embody these same traits of communicativeness, broadmindedness, and care, and, indeed, to prescribe them as necessary features of Indological research.

An event of such "decisive significance" that he recalled the exact dateJune 30, 1908occurred when von Glasenapp was not yet seventeen years old (Glasenapp, 1964, p. 28). He walked into a bookstore in Berlin and purchased the works of the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860). The impressionable young scholar was so taken by Schopenhauer's high regard for Indian philosophy and religion, especially Buddhism, that he began reading widely in those fields. Although, two years later, von Glasenapp would enroll as a law student at Tübingen, he continued to pursue his interest in Indology, and beyond. In addition to his coursework in law, he visited seminars in Western philosophy and, under the Indologist Richard Garbe, the history of religions (Allgemeine Religionsgeschichte ). Continuing his studies at Munich, von Glasenapp took courses in Sanskrit and Pali, as well as in psychology, economics, literature, classics, and theology. Von Glasenapp's studies culminated in what he called "Benares on the Rhein" (Bonn) in 1914 with a doctoral dissertation under Hermann Jacobi, "Die Lehre vom Karman in der Philosophie der Jainas nach den Karmagranthas dargestellt," and finally, a Habilitationsschrift in 1918, also under Jacobi, entitled Madhvas Philosophie des Vishnu-Glaubens.

Von Glasenapp's subsequent career commenced in Berlin in 1920 as Privatdozent. During this period, he published Der Hinduismus (1922), Der Jainismus (1925), and Brahma un Buddha: Die Religionen Indiens in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwicklung (1926). In 1928 he was called to the professorship of Indology at Königsberg. This productive period saw the publication of nearly a dozen books, including the influential Der Buddhismus in Indien und im Fernen Osten (1936) and a pioneering study of esoteric or Vajrayāna Buddhism, Buddhistische Mysterien (1940). Although the Rektor of the university at Königsberg, one Professor von Grünberg, was an avid Nazi, von Glasenapp was spared the fate of his Jewish colleagues and many others who, like himself, refused to join the party. Von Glasenapp subscribes this good fortune to his "calm demeanor and isolated discipline" (i.e., Indology), as well as to his reputation as an abstracted and "unworldly" (weltfremd ) scholar (Glasenapp, 1964, p. 155).

In 1946 von Glasenapp was called back to where he had begun, the university at Tübingen, for the final phase of his career. By the time he retired in 1959, he had published numerous additional books, including Die Philosophie der Inder (1949), Vedānta und Buddhismus (1950), and Buddhismus und Gottesidee (1954). In all, von Glasenapp's publication record includes a staggering output of 692 books, articles, book reviews, book chapters, Festschrift contributions, editions, and newspaper features. Helmuth von Glasenapp died in June 1963 from injuries sustained in an automobile accident.

The greatest legacy of von Glasenapp remains unfulfilled. In his posthumously published autobiography, Meine Lebensreise: Menschen, Länder und Dinge, die ich sah (literally, "My Life's Journey: People, Countries, and Things that I Saw"), von Glasenapp articulates a vision of Indology that combines the talents of "those who can read the texts, but don't know what they say" and those who "understand the contents, but can't translate them" (Glasenapp, 1964, p. 294). Von Glasenapp saw this as an unfortunate rift in the way that Indology was practiced. On the one side are those scholars for whom the linguistic structure (sprachliche Form ) of a text is the most important matter; on the other side are those for whom the sole matter of scholarly interest is the intellectual-cultural content (geistig-kulturelle Inhalt ). Aware of German Indology's origin in comparative linguistics, von Glasenapp discouraged the philologists of his day from living up to their reputation as practitioners of "the science of the trivial" (die Wissenschaft des Nicht-Wissenswerten ) (p. 298). This reputation, he argued, stemmed from their "preference for things that do not contribute to the realization of the intellectual content" of a work (p. 298). A rich and stimulating Indology, by contrast, is one in which the scholar cultivates various methods of research culled from a variety of disciplines, and then skillfully transmits the results to his readers. As examples of this craft, von Glasenapp cites the "great Indologists" of an earlier generation: Max Müller, Albrecht Weber, Richard Pischel, Hermann Jacobi, and Heinrich Lüders. As these examples indicate, von Glasenapp envisioned an Indology that indeed valued linguistic rigor, but placed it in the service of "the great goalof making comprehensible an alien way of thinking" (p. 302).


In his autobiography, Meine Lebensreise: Menschen, Länder und Dinge, die ich sah (Wiesbaden, Germany, 1964), the interested reader will find a multilayered account of von Glasenapp's extensive travels, studies, career, and personal observations on numerous social and intellectual topics. Zoltán Károlyi's Helmuth von Glasenapp: Bibliographie (Wiesbaden, Germany, 1968) provides an exhaustive list of von Glasenapp's writings, as well as literature, newspaper articles, magazine pieces, and other items, on von Glasenapp. For a summary of von Glasenapp's most important works, see Jacques Waardenburg's Classical Approaches to the Study of Religion: Aims, Methods, and Theories of Research, vol. 2: Bibliography (The Hague, 1974), pp. 8991. Virtually all of von Glasenapp's works are exclusively in German. The English-speaking reader may refer to von Glasenapp's Buddhism and Comparative Religion and Other Essays (Kandy, Sri Lanka, 1967).

Glenn Wallis (2005)

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Glasenapp, Helmuth von

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