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“The Spirit of the Vedānta”: Occultism and Piety in Max Müller and Swami Vivekananda’s Interpretation of Ramakrishna

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Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Oxford scholar of Sanskrit, mythology, and religion, Friedrich Max Müller, produced two works on a contemporary religious figure, the Bengali Hindu holy man Sri Ramakrishna. Müller was assisted in the second of these efforts by Ramakrishna’s most influential disciple, Swami Vivekananda, who hoped to make use of Müller’s fame to present his master to a wider audience. Rather than measuring their fidelity or lack thereof to Ramakrishna’s teachings, as previous accounts have done, this article takes as its subject matter the late nineteenth-century ideas of Hinduism, religion, and the occult which emerge from Müller’s and Vivekananda’s efforts to make sense of Ramakrishna with a view to better understanding the concepts and attitudes which made such a collaborative work possible.

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