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Our Master's Voice: F. Max Müller after A Hundred Years of Solitude

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Although recognized as a nineteenth-century champion of comparative methods and leading figure in the founding of the science of religion, F. Max Müller has been paid surprisingly little attention since his death a century ago. In 2002, a substantial scholarly biography by Lourens P. van den Bosch and an anthology of Müller's representative works edited by Jon Stone were published. Through a review of these two publications, this article first retraces the familiar contour of the "life and work" of Müller as a progenitor of Religionswissenschaft, an image that both these texts help resuscitate. In the second part of the article it is suggested that, when the voluminous extant material is viewed from another angle, a considerably different portrait of Müller comes to the foreground, especially if his life-long engagement in comparative philology is taken more seriously, rather than treated as a merely preliminary or technical aspect of his scholarly profile. In this alternative perspective, it appears that Müller was generally indifferent to theology, and that he saw religious concerns and worries more as a propensity of other people around him that continually came to disturb his scholarship from without, rather than as something that motivated his own work from within.


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