“A Disease of Language”

Robert A. Yelle

in The Language of Disenchantment

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199924998
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980444 | DOI:

Series: AAR Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion Series

“A Disease of Language”

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Chapter 2 examines the background of the colonial attack on Hindu mythology, which borrowed from an earlier critique, associated with Francis Bacon and scientific empiricism, of the habit of taking words as things. A deeper historical investigation shows that Protestant iconoclasm and literalism contributed to these polemics against verbal idolatry. A tradition of Christian comparative mythology, which culminated in the Victorian scholar Friedrich Max Müller’s theory of Hindu myth as a “disease of language,” explained pagan idolatry and polytheism as a linguistic confusion. The effort to purify discourse by removing such distortions and creating a transparent, neutral medium for scientific description had theological dimensions, inasmuch as the smashing of verbal idols was identified with the restoration of the true name of God.

Keywords: mythology; Friedrich Max Müller; Francis Bacon; Royal Society; idolatry; iconoclasm; monotheism; Prisca theologia; literalism; translation

Chapter.  16102 words. 

Subjects: Christianity

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