CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

CESNUR 2005 International Conference
June 2-5, 2005 – Palermo, Sicily
Religious Movements, Globalization and Conflict: Transnational Perspectives

New Religious Movements, Religious Plurality, and the Bengal Renaissance

Mark Sedgwick (American University in Cairo)

A paper presented at the 2005 CESNUR Conference in Palermo, Sicily. Preliminary version – do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.
New religious movements, religious plurality, and the Bengal Renaissance

 Many major new religious movements, from the Theosophical Society to the 1930s, have important features in common. They generally emphasize the individual search for God and truth, rejecting the acceptance or imposition of dogma. They are also generally pluralistic, drawing heavily on non-Western religions such as Hinduism and Sufism.

            Some of these characteristics may be explained in terms of the general religious and intellectual environment of the West during this period. The emphasis on the individual search for God, for example, fits easily with the Romantic Movement’s general emphasis on individual intuition and experience. The rejection of dogma, especially Christian dogma, can be explained in terms of the general crisis of Christianity–the well-known consequences of the challenges presented by natural science from Darwin to geology, and the less well-known consequences of the challenges presented by the conclusions of “higher criticism” of the Old and New Testaments. Religious pluralism and the use made of Hinduism and Sufism, however, are less easy to explain, and are the subject of this paper.

            Somewhat different varieties of religious pluralism are present in the Theosophical Society, in Guénonian Traditionalism, and in Gurdjieff, and also in the interwar neo-Sufism of Inayat Khan. The underlying assumption of all these new religious movements, however, is much the same. Firstly, all are fundamentally monotheistic. Secondly, all see religious truth as having an existence independent of any particular religious tradition, but accessible–either individually or collectively–through certain non-Western religious traditions. Those selected are Hinduism and Sufism, and–by the Theosophical Society alone–ancient Egypt.

            This approach to religious plurality, which remains popular today, has a number of origins. One is the Renaissance Hermetic perennialism of Ficino and Steuco, an origin that is compatible with an interest in Ancient Egypt and works well for the Theosophical Society and Guénon. It is harder to link Gurdjieff to Hermetic perennialism, however, and almost impossible to link Inayat Khan to it. Hermetic perennialism, also, had no interest in Hinduism or Sufism.

            Other origins, then, must exist, and one of the most important is eighteenth-century Deism. The underlying approach to religious truth of new religious movements from Guénon to Inayat Khan may be found, for example, in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise, first produced in 1779. This play is presented in most standard accounts of the emancipation of Western and Central European Jewry as the earliest major manifestation of the new spirit that was emerging in Enlightened Europe and would soon produce emancipation of the Jews. Nathan, a “rich Jew,” is the hero of the play; Athanasios, the “Patriarch of Palestine,” is the villain. Lessing seems to many to be preaching toleration.

            This is doubtless how many of those who saw or read the play understood it. “I have heard criticisms and malicious remarks in quantities,” wrote one of Lessing’s friends to the playwright. “To have made a Jew the best of mankind, and a Christian, the worst. What a crime! Furthermore I have heard that the Christians at Dresden have banished [Nathan] from the country.”[1] There is, however, more to Lessing’s play than a Jewish hero. As well as Jews and Christians, the play also has Muslims, and the Muslims come out of the play quite as well as the Jews do. More importantly, it seems clear to me that Nathan is “the best of mankind” not because he is a Jew, but because he is a Deist. In fact, the leading and most sympathetic Christian character, Conrad the Templar, is also a Deist, as are Saladin and his sister Sittah.



This is somewhat curious, and not only because there were almost certainly no Deists in Jerusalem in the thirteenth century. Lessing himself was not a Deist either.[2] He wrote Nathan, however, in the course of a controversy caused by his publication in 1773 and 1778 of some previously unpublished “Fragments” by a deceased Orientalist, Professor Hermann Samuel Reimarus of the University of Hamburg. Reimarus had been a friend of Lessing’s, and the character of Saladin’s sister Sittah is thought to be loosely based on Reimarus’s widow Elise, who had become a close friend of Lessing’s after the death of Lessing’s own wife. The controversy surrounding Reimarus’s “Fragments” (which some wrongly supposed to have been written by Lessing himself) was so great that Lessing was deprived of his license to publish without prior censorship.[3] As a result, Lessing explained in a letter to a friend, he decided “to preach from my old pulpit, the stage,”[4] and “in that way, play the theologians a worse prank than I could with ten more ‘Fragments.’”[5] It seems reasonable, then, that it was Reimarus’s perspective that Lessing was defending in the play more than his own.

            Reimarus was a Deist, in the line of Gottfried Leibniz and Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, a line going back to Edward Herbert in seventeenth-century England and crossing the line of Hermetic perennialism.[6] Since, as the Encyclopædia Britannica remarks, Deism is sometimes confused with Theism, and both are confused with Atheism, a definition of Deism is called for. Herbert’s original Deism may be understood as the conviction that five religious truths are innate in humans independently of revelation, these being that (1) there is a Supreme Being, that (2) He should be worshiped, that (3) we should live virtuously and (4) repent of our sins, and that (5) we will be rewarded or punished in the next world. Subsequent Deists hold that these religious truths are entirely compatible with reason, and may be arrived at by reason alone, though not all subscribe equally to each of Herbert’s five points. Deists also differ with regard to the status of other aspects of religion, which derive not from reason but from revelation. Moses Mendelssohn, the Jewish thinker and friend of Lessing who is seen as the model for the character of Nathan himself in Lessing’s play, was happy to accept the additional authority of revelation.[7] Not all Deists, however, accepted this authority. Reimarus, for example, rejected it on historical grounds, and saw Jesus as “a Jewish reformer who became increasingly fanatical and politicized; and he failed . . . The disciples fell back on a different model of Messiahship . . . and waited for their god to bring the end of the world. They too were disappointed.”[8]

            The Deists, then, were convinced that monotheism was the natural and rational form of religion, but were in many cases far from convinced by Christianity, often agreeing with Mendelssohn that many aspects of it were repugnant to reason. Those to which Mendelssohn most objected on these grounds were the trinity, the incarnation, and Christ’s “vicarious satisfaction for he sins of men.”[9] Many non-Jews agreed with him, including Reimarus.

            During the eighteenth century, Deism was found in important but restricted intellectual circles, especially perhaps among Freemasons (Lessing was a Mason,[10] and Nathan is seen as a distinctively Masonic work by some modern Masons).[11] Deism does not, however, seem to have spread far into the general population of Europe. During the nineteenth century, however, Deism seems to have become more widespread. The Unitarian Church, established in 1825 as the American Unitarian Association, is probably the single most important institutional expression of something close to Deism.[12]

            The nineteenth century is not thought of as the century of Deism but of the Romantic Movement, which pointed not toward rational monotheism but toward the supremacy of individual religious experience. This is an element of extraordinary importance in the construction of modern religiosity, finding its classic expression in William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), and also visible in many later new religious movements.

            The Romantic movement, however, was compatible with Deism, as well as an alternative to Deism, and the origins of the two currents were related. The Romantic emphasis on feeling–Gefühl– derives from Johann Gottfried von Herder, for example. Herder was a Mason and an Illuminatus,[13] an acquaintance of Lessing, and a friend of Johann Gottfried Eichhorn, an Orientalist after the pattern of Reimarus who analyzed not the New Testament but the Old Testament. Though a French scholar had made the same point a few years earlier,[14] it was Eichhorn who was responsible for bringing to other scholars’ attention the implications of the alternate uses of “Elohim” and “Jehova” in the Pentateuch.

            The intersection of the Romantic Movement and Deism gave rise to a search for “simple primitive monotheism” that was characteristic of the early nineteenth century and lies at the root of many new religious movements.


Bengal and Persia

Inspired by Deism and the early Romantic Movement, the early nineteenth century found “simple primitive monotheism” in two places where, arguably, it did not exist: Hinduism and Sufism. This “discovery,” if such it can be called, resulted in two of the most important streams of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century new religious movements: Neo-Hinduism and Neo-Sufism.

            Simple primitive monotheism was discovered first in Hinduism by the British. The British occupation of India falls into three distinct periods. The most recent of these periods was the classic Raj of parasols and polo, familiar from memoirs, films, and television series. The stereotypical British administrator of this period was self-consciously Christian and fundamentally racist. The first of these periods was largely innocent of both racism and religion, a period of frantic self-enrichment by the East India Company and its servants, which ended in 1772 with famine and financial crisis and a shocked awareness in Britain that, in the words of Horace Walpole, “we have outdone the Spaniards in Peru. They were at least butchers on a religious principle.”[15] The intervening period, from 1772 to the 1830s, was characterized by a form of enlightened despotism. While none were of the stature of Lessing or Herder, the leading Company servants of this period were the products of a similar intellectual milieu, interested in learning about India as well as in ruling and exploiting India.

            There were also practical reasons for investigating India. Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of this intervening period, was conscious that his administrators needed to be competent in local languages and familiar with local culture.[16] Judges needed reliable information when questions relating to religious law came before them. This led to the Company’s first major foray into Oriental studies, the commissioning of a number of Brahmins to compile in Sanskrit the Viv~dabha½g~rÃava [Sea of Solutions of Legal Disputes]. Since no Company servant then knew Sanskrit, a Brahmin was commissioned to translate the Viv~dabha½g~rÃava into Persian, which the Moghuls had established as the general administrative language of India. A translation from Persian into English was then produced by Nathaniel Halhed, and published in part in 1776. Halhed found himself obliged to learn some Sanskrit while producing this translation,[17] and this inspired his colleague Charles Wilkins to study Sanskrit himself. Wilkins then went further than the strict requirements of administration, and produced the first two major translations into any European language of Hindu religious texts.[18] One was the part of the Mah~bh~rata that deals with akuntal~, an ancient epic drama of love and dharma, which appeared in English in 1784. The other was of the Bhagavad G§t~, published in 1785.[19]

            More such investigation followed as a result of the appointment to the Calcutta Supreme Court, in 1783, of Sir William Jones. Jones was an internationally renowned as an Orientalist, though he himself preferred the term ‘Asiatic’ to ‘Oriental.’ He had taught himself Arabic while at school and then Persian at university, for which purpose he had imported his own tutor. A fellow of the Royal Society, he become famous after translating a life of Nadir Shah from Persian into French for King Christian VII of Denmark. He had also published translations of Persian and Arabic poetry into English before turning to the law for financial reasons, and continued his Oriental studies even after being appointed a judge in the London bankruptcy court.[20] On his arrival in India, as well as carrying out his legal duties, Jones set about organizing and disseminating Indian studies. He established a learned society, the Asiatick Society of Bengal, in 1784, and then a scholarly journal, Asiatick Researches, in 1789. Asiatick Researches was aimed mainly at a European readership.[21] In it, Jones brought the researches of men such as Wilkins before a wider audience, as well as publishing work of his own on every aspect of India, including the Sanskrit language, his own translations from that language, and a new translation of the akuntal~.[22] In 1786 Jones advanced the thesis that Sanskrit was the mother of all human languages. Hebrew had previously been thought by Europeans to be the oldest human language; under Jones’s influence, Sanskrit came to be seen as the original human language instead. This thesis was widely accepted until 1826, when it was shown that Sanskrit too had antecedents.[23]

            During the 1790s, European intellectuals became fascinated with Sanskrit, and also with the akuntal~. Jones’s translation of this epic was rendered into German by Georg Foster, and read with enthusiasm by Herder and also by Goethe, who was like Herder an Illuminatus.[24] Herder then wrote a number of essays on India as the cradle of mankind, while Goethe wrote of the excellences of the akuntal~.[25] Friedrich von Schlegel went so far as to learn Sanskrit himself, from a member of the Asiatick Society who was being held as a prisoner of war in Paris.[26] In England, Asiatick Researches was so popular that pirated reprints were produced.[27]

            European interest in Hindu religion cannot be ascribed solely to Deism, Freemasonry, or the Illuminati. These currents, however, evidently determined how Hindu religion would be understood–as a “simple primitive monotheism.” Sir Henry Colebrooke’s Essay on the Vedas and the Sacred Writings of the Hindus, published in 1805, was “for a long time the standard work on the subject”[28] of Hindu religion. In this book, Colebrooke (a Company servant) argued that contemporary Hinduism was a deformed and decayed form of an ancient monotheistic tradition.[29]

            Following Colebrooke, the Vedas were evidently widely seen as ‘pure’ religion, both in the sense that they were unadulterated (as was implied by their great antiquity) and in the sense that they were associated with neither hierarchy nor dogma. Certainly, there were Brahmins in India, and the Brahmins had something that might be seen as dogma, but the Vedas arrived in the West without either the Brahmins or their dogma. Such views are to be found in the work of Victor Cousin, the leading French philosopher, who translated two chapters of the Bhagavad G§t~ in his Cours de l'histoire de la philosophie (1829).[30] In America, Emerson and Thoreau read the Vedas through an English translation of Cousin, adding a Hindu element to Transcendentalism, an important movement within Unitarianism, and an important influence on Theosophy.

            Hindu religion read was read through Deist glasses not only in the West, but in India itself. This reading was found first at the College of Fort William, established in 1800 as a local institute for training Company servants in Indian languages and culture, staffed by British scholar-administrators and Bengali scholars. After an uncertain start marked by the production of an Urdu grammar that tried to make Urdu correspond as much as possible to English grammar,[31] the College of Fort William was responsible for both a rebirth of Sanskrit studies among the British and non-Brahmin Bengalis, and for the transformation of the Bengali dialect into a regular written language. This, and the new understandings of Hindu religion discussed below, came to be known as the “Bengal Renaissance.” What is generally regarded as “the first piece of original prose writing in any modern Indian language,” Ramram Basu’s Prat~p~ditya Charitra [Life of Raja Pratapaditya], was written for use in the Bengali classes at Fort William, and published in 1802.[32]

            Four probable or possible Deists were to be found at Fort William. One was Colebrooke himself, appointed there in 1805, the year of publication of his Essay on the Vedas and the Sacred Writings of the Hindus. A second possible Deist, preceding Colebrooke, was Ramram Basu, the author of the Prat~p~ditya Charitra, who in a second book published in 1802–the ~noday [Dawn of Knowledge]–argued that the Vedas were fundamentally monotheist, and that the departure of Hindu society from monotheism to idolatry was the fault of the Brahmins.[33] This view may have been inspired by Deism, or may alternatively have been developed independently in response to the attempts of the Christian mission in Serampore to convert Basu to Christianity.

            The third Deist was Rammohun Roy, who taught at Fort William 1801-03, and who was later described as “the father of modern India” by no less a person than Robindranath Tagore.[34] In ancient times, Roy wrote in 1816, Indians had been well aware of the “unity of the Supreme Being as the sole Ruler of the Universe.” However, “when literature and philosophy decayed,” “absurdities and idolatrous notions” crept in. These views were further explored in 1817 in Roy’s Second Defence of the Monotheistical System of the Vedas.[35] Roy even carried his Deism into Europe, writing two books (published in Bombay in 1820 and 1821 and reprinted by the Unitarian Society in London in 1824) in which he argued against the trinity, the crucifixion, and the Christianity of his time in general.[36]

            A fourth possible Deist was Roy’s best-known Bengali critic, Mrtyunjay Vidyalankar, who conceded original monotheism, though he defended the worship of images as a legitimate means to an end, also–he claimed–practiced by the ancient Greeks and by contemporary Roman Catholics.[37]

            Contemporary Hinduism, many agreed, needed reforming to restore its ‘original’ nature, and to this end Roy established the strictly monotheistic and modernist Brahmo Sabha in 1828.[38] Put very simply, the Brahmo Sabha is the origin of religion of today’s educated Hindus, and owes much to Deism.

            By the 1830s, then, neo-Hinduism had been well established in both Bengal and the West, as a “simple primitive monotheism” that delighted European Desists and American Transcendentalists–as indeed it should have, given that it contained such a major element of their own ideas.

            In contrast to Hinduism, Sufism is undoubtedly monotheistic, though the veneration of saints that is associated with it is seen by some hostile Muslims as polytheistic. Sufism is not, however, either simple or primitive in the sense that the terms were understood by nineteenth-century Romantic Deists. Sufism as it then existed in the Muslim world was an integral part of Islam both doctrinally and organizationally. Sufism was not free of dogma: Sufis generally followed the Sharia and the authority of the Ulema just as other Muslims did, except perhaps more so. The Sufi hierarchy of Shaykh and khalifa (or muqaddam) and murid is more elaborate than anything found elsewhere in Islam. Something of the true nature of Sufism seems to have been understood in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to judge at least from scattered references in early travel writings, where Turkish Sufis (often called “dervishes”) are distinguished as “devout” (1585) or even as “puritans” (1650).[39]

            A new understanding of Sufism that was distinctively Deist began to emerge in Europe after 1815, the date of publication of Captain Sir John Malcolm’s monumental History of Persia.[40] This seems to have been an indirect result of the forces that produced the Bengal Renaissance, and the direct result of a misunderstanding between Malcolm, a soldier-diplomat from Bengal,[41] and Agha Muhammed Ali, a senior member of the Persian ulema[42] with whom Malcolm discussed Sufism in about 1800. Persian Islam was at that time torn by a struggle between Usulis and Akhbaris, the former favoring rationalistic interpretation of Islam by the Ulema, and the latter favoring inspirational interpretation and being much associated with Sufism. Malcolm was talking to an Usuli, and so to a confirmed enemy of Sufism, and what he had to say about Sufism was uncomplimentary in the extreme. Sufism, he told Malcolm, was a dangerously undisciplined sect that had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam and contained elements of various pre-Islamic religions.[43] This is a condemnation with which Muslims are familiar, and which mixes charges that have a grain of truth to them with judgments that are essentially a matter of opinion. A critic of Sufism will say that Sufism has nothing to do with Islam, for example, just as a certain sort of Protestant might once have said that Catholicism has nothing to do with Christianity.

            Malcolm does not seem to have spoken to any Sufis. Although he referred to an unidentified Persian manuscript (which he said was in part difficult to understand), to a translation of Rumi’s Masnawi by Jones, and to a paper given at Bombay by an unknown Captain Graham,[44] Malcolm’s overall interpretation derives mostly from Agha Muhammad Ali. What condemned Sufism for an Usuli member of the Persian Ulema, however, did not necessarily condemn Sufism for Malcolm. Sometimes he clearly disapproves, writing of “the wild devotee, who, giving himself up to all the errors of a heated imagination, conceived he approached God, by departing from all that was deemed rational among men.”[45] At other times, he seems to admire “the Sooffee doctrine” which, he wrote, “is to be found in the most splendid theories of the ancient schools of Greece, and in those of the modern philosophers of Europe.”[46] He mentions four possible origins for this doctrine: Hinduism, Christianity, the ancient Sabaeans, and the ancient Greeks, supporting his last supposition with the philologically dubious derivation of sufi from the Greek sophoi [“wise men’].[47]

            Such a description would have been anything but a condemnation for many of Malcolm’s European readers. Mysterious and ancient origins might suggest a religion that bore the same relation to religion in general as Sanskrit was then thought to bear to language in general. For those who disliked dogma and the constraints of formal religion, it was no disadvantage that Sufis’ “free opinions regarding [Islam’s] dogmas, and their claim to a distinct communion with the Deity, are all calculated to subvert that belief for which they outwardly profess their respect”[48] and that at a certain stage in their spiritual development Sufis would “abandon all observances of religious forms and ceremonies.”[49] None of this, of course, is really true–or at the least, all of this requires major qualification. Not knowing this, certain Europeans might well wish that they too could be “invited to embark on the sea of doubt, under the guidance of a sacred teacher.”[50]

            Westerners had more than Malcolm’s misunderstanding to feed their conception of Sufism, a view which has been endlessly repeated since, and is probably more widespread even today than the alternative understanding that Malcolm might have obtained had he spoken to some actual Sufis, especially to some Arab ones. Just as the Vedas were being translated into European languages, so were some Sufi works. Sufi works fall into two main categories: dogmatic works (which were not really available in European languages until relatively recently) and poetry. Sufi poetry is never overtly didactic, and is often deliberately equivocal, delighting in the use of risqué metaphors of drunkenness and sexual love. It was this poetry that was translated into European languages, evidently starting with the Jones translation of Rumi referred to by Malcolm, but first reaching wider attention with Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall’s translation of divan of Hafez, published in 1812.[51] This translation was received with delight by Goethe, who was inspired to publish in 1819 his Westöstlicher Diwan. Many other translations of similar works followed, and even today the poetry of Rumi is extraordinarily popular in the West. Such poetry will be read one way by a Muslim Sufi, and read very differently by a Romantic-Deist Westerner convinced that Sufism is as Malcolm described it.

            While a Deist understanding of Hinduism spread in Bengal as well as the West, no Deist understanding of Sufism spread in the Muslim world. This was partly because there was no equivalent of the College of Fort William outside India. On the one hand, there was no need for it, as the study of Arabic, Turkish and Persian were already established in Europe. On the other hand, when European powers began to establish control over the Arab world and Persia, the late eighteenth-century attitudes found at Fort William were no longer current among European officials. Arabs, Turks and Persians were of course influenced by European discourse, but turned their attention to Islam as a whole, not to Sufism, which was in general rejected as superstition and subsequently ignored.



Deism, present in restricted if important circles in Europe in the 1770s, had become widespread in Europe by the 1830s, not in its original form, but in the form of Romantic-Deistic mis-readings of Hinduism and Sufism. The activities of pioneer Orientalists such as Sir William Jones in Calcutta and Sir John Malcolm in Persia brought Hinduism and Sufism before the European public. Deists such as Sir Henry Colebrooke and Rammohun Roy promulgated an understanding of Hinduism as a “simple primitive monotheism.” The understanding of Sufism in these terms seems to have been partly a result of Malcolm’s lack of a deeper and wider background for understanding what he was told by Agha Muhammed Ali, and partly of the desire of European readers to see Sufism as another “simple primitive monotheism.” Later Orientalists corrected these mis-readings, but the corrections never reached as wide a public as the initial mis-readings.

            The characteristic position on religious plurality of new religious movements of the 1920s and 1930s, then, had become established some time before other elements of the general religious and intellectual environment of the West of that time. The general crisis of Christianity that helps explain the rejection of dogma, for example, is more of a late-nineteenth-century phenomenon. Darwin’s Origin of Species was not published until 1859. Even though the techniques of “higher criticism” of the Old and New had started with Lessing’s Orientalist friend Reimarus and Herder’s Orientalist friend Eichhorn, the full force of this criticism did not develop until 1866, when the Grafian development hypothesis proposed that Hebrew religion had developed from polytheism around the fifth century BC. This hypothesis was given its final form in 1883 and 1889 by another Orientalist, Wellhausen, and by 1893 had become sufficiently widespread for Pope Leo XIII to condemn them in the encyclical “Providentissimus Deus.” 1893 was also the year of the Chicago Parliament of Religions was held, where Neo-Hinduism was well represented. Neo-Sufism was not, but Inayat Khan was soon to arrive in America.       


[1]Letter from Gleim, July 22, 1778, quoted in Gustav Gruener, “The Genesis of the Characters in Lessing's 'Nathan der Weise,'” Transactions and Proceedings of the Modern Language Association of America 7 no. 2 (1892), p. 86.

[2]Lessing’s attitude was more complex. See Edward S. Flajole, “Lessing's Attitude in the Lavater-Mendolssohn Controversy,”  Transactions and Proceedings of the Modern Language Association of America 73 (1958), p. 208.

[3]Gruener, “The Genesis of the Characters,” p. 77.

[4]Letter to Karl Lessing August 11 1778, quoted in Gruener, “The Genesis of the Characters,” p. 77

[5]Letter to Karl Lessing, October 20, 1778, quoted in Gruener, “The Genesis of the Characters,” p. 78.

[6]Both Leibniz and Cooper, for example, read Ralph Cudworth, a seventeenth-century Cambridge Platonist who drew–somewhat cautiously–on Hermes Trismegistus. Sarah Hutton, “Cudworth, Ralph,” Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff (Leiden: Brill, 2005), pp. 292-93. Leibniz is advanced as the link between the modern conception of the philosophia perennis and Steuco. Wouter J. Hanegraaff. “Tradition,” Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, p. 1130.

[7]Flajole, “Lessing's Attitude,” p. 205.

[8]N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), pp. 16-17.

[9]Flajole, “Lessing's Attitude,” p. 206.

[10]He entered Lodge No. 56 in 1775 under the number 23. Internetloge.de (Hamburg), available http://www.internetloge.de/arst/lessing.htm (April 25, 2005).

[11]See the page on Lessing at internetloge.de (Hamburg), available http://www.internetloge.de/arst/lessing.htm (April 25, 2005).

[12]The relationship between Deism and Freemasonry falls beyond the scope of this paper.

[13]Monika Neugebauer-Wölk, “Illuminaten,” Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff (Leiden: Brill, 2005), p. 591.

[14]Jean Astruc, in 1753.

[15]Speech quoted in Cambridge History of India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929), vol 5, p. 187. Quoted in D. Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Pres, 1969), pp. 13-14.

[16]Previous officials had also been aware of this need, and the Company had been paying for instruction in local languages since 1671. Alfred Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones upon Sanskrit Studies,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 11 (1946), p. 800. Results, however, seem to have been patchy, and of little importance outside India.

[17]Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” p. 800.

[18]There had been earlier translations: a rather dubious one of the Yajurveda made in Pondicherry for Voltaire and published in 1778, a better one of the Bhagavata Purana (made from Tamil) published in French in 1788 and in German in 1791. The first translation of any Sanskrit work into a European language had appeared in 1651, in Abraham Roger, De Open-Deure to het verborgen Heydendom, a translation into Dutch of a Portuguese translation. Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” pp. 798-99.

[19]Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” p. 800.

[20]Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” p. 801, and “Jones, Sir William,” Encyclopædia Britannica 1911 edition, available 1911encyclopedia.org.

[21]Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” p. 801.

[22]Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” p. 803.

[23]Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” p. 802. 1788 according to Kopf, British Orientalism, p. 38, and Raymond Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe's Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680-1880 (1950; transl. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), p. 62. Similar suggestions were made by others before him, notably by de Chézy, who Master suggests was more important to Schlegel’s Über die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier than Jones. Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” p. 804.

[24]Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” p. 803. Neugebauer-Wölk, “Illuminaten,” p. 591.

[25]Friedrich Wilhelm, “The German Response to Indian Culture,” Journal of the American oriental Society 81 (1961), pp. 396-97.

[26]This was Alexander Hamilton. Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” p. 803.

[27]J. M. Steadman, “The Asiatick Society of Bengal,” Eighteenth Century Studies 10 (1977), p. 477.

[28]“Colebrooke, Sir Henry,” Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911 edition, available 1911encyclopedia.org.

[29]Kopf, British Orientalism, pp. 40-41.

[30]Victor Cousin, Cours de philosophie (Paris: Pichon et Didier, 1828).

[31]Kopf, British Orientalism, p. 110.

[32]Kopf, British Orientalism, p. 123 and Master, “The Influence of Sir William Jones,” p. 800.

[33]In his Jñanodoy [Dawn of Knowledge]. Kopf, British Orientalism, p. 123.

[34]Kopf, British Orientalism, pp. 196-97.

[35]Kopf, British Orientalism, p. 200.

[36]Kopf, British Orientalism, p. 202.

[37]Kopf, British Orientalism, pp. 206-07.

[38]Kopf, British Orientalism, p. 202.

[39]Oxford English Dictionary, quoting Nicolay’s Navigation into Turkie, trans Thomas Washington (1585) and John Greaves, ed., Wilker’s Description of the Grand Signior’s Seraglio (1650).

[40]The earliest major European work on Islam, George Sale’s “Preliminary Discourse” to his translation of the Quran (1734) make no reference to Sufism. Sufism is not mentioned among “the principal sects” in George Sale, The Koran, Commonly Called the Alcoran of Mohammed (London: William Tegg, 1867), pp. 107-32, or elsewhere. There were evidently alternative views before Malcolm, however, since the Sufi (or “dervish”) in Lessing’s Nathan has come from and returns to the Ganges, a river more associated with Hinduism than Islam. I do not know what Lessing’s source was.

[41]Described as “late minister plenipotentiary to the Court of Persia from the Supreme Government of India” on the frontispiece to John Malcolm, The History of Persia, From the Most Early Period to the Present Time, Containing an Account of the Religion, Government, Usages and Character of the Inhabitants of that Kingdom (London: John Murray, 1825).

[42]Described by Malcolm as “the late Mooshtâhed, or high priest, of Kermanshah.” History of Persia, p. 388.

[43]Malcolm, History of Persia, pp. 382-409.

[44]Malcolm, History of Persia, pp. 386 and 399.

[45]Malcolm, History of Persia, p. 409.

[46]Malcolm, History of Persia, p. 383.

[47]Malcolm, History of Persia, pp. 384 and 389.

[48]Malcolm, History of Persia, pp. 382-83.

[49]Malcolm, History of Persia, p. 387.

[50]Malcolm, History of Persia, p. 384.

[51]Von Hammer-Purgstall was an Austrian diplomat and scholar who had spent the years 1799-1807 in Constantinople.