Max Müller

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Friedrich Max-Müller

Friedrich Maximilian Müller (December 6, 1823 – October 28, 1900), generally known as Max Müller, was a German-born philologist and Orientalist, who lived and studied in Britain for most of his life. Under his direction, the Sacred Books of the East, a 50-volume series of English translations of Asian religious writings, were published.

Müller, who never travelled to India himself, did much for the understanding of Indian culture in the West and thus contributed to the recognition of the intrinsic value of Eastern religions. [1]

Personal life

Müller was a son of the poet Wilhelm Müller. He attended the Nikolaischule in Leipzig and then the University of Leipzig, where he studied philology and philosophy, as well as Arabic and Sanskrit. In 1843, at the end of his time in Leipzig, he wrote his dissertation on the 3rd book of Spinoza's Ethics and was awarded a doctorate.

1844 he went to the University of Berlin, where he studied philosophy with Friedrich von Schelling, Persian with Friedrich Rückert and comparative linguistics with Franz Bopp. In March 1845, he moved to Paris, where, as a student of Eugène Burnouf, he copied and collated Sanskrit manuscripts. Burnouf inspired him to edit the Ṛigveda with the commentary of the Sāyaṇa. In June 1846, Müller went to London, where he studied the Veda manuscripts of the East India House. He was supported by the Prussian diplomat Bunsen, who persuaded the directors of the East India Company to finance this editio princeps. In May 1848 he moved to Oxford to supervise the printing. Since 1850 he read here on modern European languages and literatures (since 1854 as Taylorian professor) and was appointed fellow of All Souls' College in 1858.[2]

He resigned his professorship in 1875, but remained at Oxford University to publish a series of translations of the holy books of the Orient. He died at his home in Oxford on October 28, 1900.[3]

Academic career

Müller was defeated in the 1860 election for the Boden Chair of Sanskrit by Prof. Monier Williams. Müller was far better qualified for the post, but lacked practical first-hand knowledge of India. Also, both candidates had to emphasize their support for Christian evangelism in India, since that was the basis on which the Professorship had been funded by its founder. Müller's broad theological views cast doubts about his dedication to Christianization.

Müller wrote both scholarly and popular works on the subject of Indology. The Sacred Books of the East, a 50-volume set of English translations, was prepared under his direction. He also promoted the idea of a Turanian family of languages and Turanian people.

Praise of Müller's work

Swami Tathagatananda, of the Ramakrisha Mission and the Vedanta Society of New York, wrote in his Journey of the Upanishads to the West:

Müller's lifelong dedication to the study of the Vedas and his scholarly eminence left a legacy of two major works in addition to his other volumes: The Rig-Veda with Sayana's Commentary in six volumes and the famous series, The Sacred Books of the East, in fifty-one volumes, which he edited. The vast corpus of India's scriptural literature that he made available to the world is a profound tribute to Indian thought by this western scholar.[4]

Criticisms of Müller's work

According to Mahatma Koot Hoomi, Müller "was not sufficiently conversant with Indian thought to interpret properly some of the books he translated."[5]

Many modern Hindus take a harsher interpretation. This example is from the Encyclopedia of Authentic Hinduism: "Max Müller was a British agent, especially employed (in 1847) to write the translations of the Vedas in such a demeaning way so that the Hindus should lose faith in them."[6] India Today recently published an article called "Max Muller: The Man Employed to Create a Distorted Translation of the Vedas."[7]


These are some of Müller's major writings:

Chips from a German Workshop. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1867-75. 4 volumes.

The Sacred Books of the East. 50 volumes. Müller edited this series.

  • Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1879-1910. First edition. Most volumes available at Hathitrust.
  • Oxford : Clarendon, 1895. 2nd edition. Some volumes available at Hathitrust.
  • New York, Christian Literature Co., 1897-1898. First American edition. Some volumes available at Hathitrust.
  • Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1962-1966.50 volumes. Volumes available at Hathitrust.

The Hymns of Rig-veda in the Samhita and Pada Texts..

  • First edition - London : Trübner & Co., 1873. Available at Hathitrust.
  • Second edition - London, Trübner, 1877. Available at Hathitrust.
  • Many other editions and printings are available at Hathitrust.

Published lectures

  • Lectures on Buddhist Nihilism.
  • Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religions of India. New York: Scribner, 1879. Delivered in the chapter house, Westminster Abbey, in April, May, and June, 1878. Available at Internet Archive and Hathitrust.
  • The Gifford lectures. London, New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889. 608 pages. Available at Hathitrust and Internet Archive.
    • Natural Religion. 1889. Delivered before the University of Glasgow in 1888.
    • Physical Religion. 1891.
    • Anthropological Religion. London; New York: Longmans, Green, 1892. Available at Hathitrust and Hathitrust.
    • Theosophy, or, Psychological Religion. London, New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1893. Available at Hathitrust and Internet Archive.
  • Lectures on the Science of Language. London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1861. Delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in April, May, and June 1861. Available at Hathitrust and Internet Archive.
  • Three Lectures on the Vedanta Philosophy.
  • What Can India Teach Us? 1883.

Autobiographical works

  • My Autobiography: a Fragment. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1901. Available at Hathitrust, Internet Archive, Google Books, and other online sources.
  • Old Lang Syne. New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1898. Contents: "Musical recollections.--Literary recollections.--Recollections of royalties.--Beggars." A second series was published in 1899.

Other works

  • Comparative Mythology. New York: Arno Press, 1909.
  • Contributions to the Science of Mythology. London, New York and Bombay: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1897. Available at Hathitrust and Internet Archive.
  • Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Müller. New York, Macmillan Co.; London, Macmillan & Co.: 1896. "First edition printed 1881; reprinted with alterations, 1896."
  • A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature. 1859. Subtitle: "So Far As It Illustrates the Primitive Religion of the Brahmans."
  • A Sanskrit Grammar.
  • Ramakrishna, His Life and Sayings.
  • Rg-Veda with Sayana's Commentary.
  • The Philosophy of Vedanta.
  • The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy. 1899.


Müller’s scholarly works were published as an 18-volume Collected Works, all of which are listed above as individual publications. Other editors produced these collections:

  • The Essential Max Müller: on Language, Mythology, and Religion. Collected by Jon R. Stone. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2002.
  • The Life and Letters of the Right Honourable Friedrich Max Müller. London, New York: Longmans, Green, 1902. Published by his wife. Available at Hathitrust and Internet Archive.

Additional resources


  1. Deutsche Biografien. Müller, Friedrich Max. Accessed on 4/16/24
  2. Deutsche Biografien. Müller, Friedrich Max. Accessed on 4/16/24
  3. Deutsche Biografien. Müller, Friedrich Max. Accessed on 4/16/24
  4. Swami Tathagatananda, Journey of the Upanishads to the West (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2002), 63.
  5. George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, eds., Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 240.
  6. "Max Müller" in Encyclopedia of Authentic Hinduism website.
  7. Max Müller in India Today June 12, 2016.