Di, 07.12.2021 17:00

Searching for the hidden “One”: Muslim and early European interpretations of the Upanishads

Online lecture by Franz Winter (University of Graz) in the lecture series "Method and Region"


One of the most distinctive aspects when dealing with religious history from a transnational and transcultural perspective is the history of translations of religious texts. Particularly core texts of religious traditions were often in the centre of activities to present them in a different language from the original and in differing cultural contexts, either for the purpose of communicating its content to prospective new believers or to get first-hand access to a “foreign” religious tradition and its content. The present talk is dealing with two famous cases of the second kind, namely the first translations and interpretations of the Indian Upanishads in a Muslim and a Christian cultural setting. Both enterprises are closely related to each other by a fascinating history of textual transmission. The first case is the Persian treatise Sirr-i akbar (literally, “the greatest secret”) which was initiated and supervised by the ill-fated Mughal prince Dārā Shukūh (1615–1659). It formed the basis of the first translation of the Upanishads into a European language, namely the famous Oupnek’hat, which was composed by the eminent philologian and “first Orientalist” Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron (1731–1805). The talk will provide an in-depth analysis of the two approaches by comparing the respective “introductions” to these translations (the dībācha, “preamble”, in the case of the Persian text, and the dissertatio, “treatise”, of the Oupnek’hat). Although raised and educated in different cultural contexts both interpreters were motivated by a common search for a “lost book” that would convey the ultimate expression of religious truth or the idea of the absolute “oneness” of the first principle, viz. “Allah” or “God”.  Their quest found its peak in the “discovery” of the Upanishads.


Franz Winter, Univ.-Prof. DDr., Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Graz in Austria. He has received PhDs in Classics (1999) and Religious Studies (2005) from the University of Vienna, and a Habilitation in Religious Studies (2010) from the same university, and has studied and done research at the Universities of Graz, Salzburg, Vienna, in Rome, at Boston University (Fulbright), and in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nizwa (Oman) and in Qom (Iran). Among his major areas of interest are the history of contact between Europe and Asia from antiquity to modern times, new religious movements in East and West, history of Buddhism, history of Islam, Western Esotericism, religion and the media. For further information, see http://homepage.univie.ac.at/franz.winter/.


Register in advance for this meeting using the following link: https://oeaw-ac-at.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0rf-yurzMjHtV1URdVu30SPtq-NeJKcEcg. After registering, you will receive a confirmation e-mail containing information about joining the meeting.

Lecture series "Method and Region"

To celebrate its 30th anniversary the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia (IKGA) is hosting a series of lectures titled "Method and Region." Contributing scholars will reflect on the relationship between method, comprising the entire apparatus that enables us to conduct scholarly studies, including non-European theories and concepts, and region, standing for what is contextually specific, such as language, history or thought. The aim of the initiative is to foster intellectual exchange and promote cross-fertilization on topics relevant to the fields represented at the IKGA – Buddhist Studies, Indology, Japanology, Sinology, and Tibetan Studies – as well as to neighboring disciplines.



7 December 2021, 17:00–18:30 CET

Online Zoom event

Bernhard Scheid