An International Conference at the German Historical Institute, London, 16-18 April 2015

Collaborating institutions:

Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations, Queen Mary University of London
English Goethe Society
German Historical Institute, London


Friedrich Max Mueller (1823-1900) was one of the most well known academics in Victorian Britain. His popular writings enjoyed a wide readership and acclaim. His public lectures were sell-out events.  He was a prominent figure in the popularisation of evolutionary thinking before Darwin. His theories regarding the origins and development of language served to create a public fascination with the past, with legend and with myth.  His public role in the contexts of imperialism and British understanding of the cultures of the Indian subcontinent brought him notoriety. Good-looking, witty and gifted, Max Mueller was, for many outside academe, the embodiment of the German Professor and a forerunner of today’s media-savvy academic.

Max Mueller’s scholarship is often seen as an important contribution to Victorian knowledge.  When studied today, Max Mueller’s works offer remarkable insights into the preoccupations and parameters of Victorian intellectual life. His translation of ancient Sanskrit scripts was inherently ground-breaking and monumental. His work was absorbed not just by academics but also by an influential cross-section of the Victorian elite. His findings helped raise the profile of so-called ‘Oriental’ cultures in Britain, as well as inspiring interest in philology, a discipline that enjoyed a peculiar popularity and strategic position in Victorian Britain. Max Mueller’s contribution to the development of philology intellectually and through personal intervention was significant. Yet his influence can only be understood through an interdisciplinary lens.  Philology intersected with theology and with the academic study of religion, key areas of sensitive importance in Victorian Britain. It also overlapped with literary scholarship, philosophy, anthropology, and evolutionary thinking in the natural sciences. The first President of the English Goethe Society, Max Mueller actively fostered interdisciplinary discourse. Seen broadly, his scholarship made an important contribution to the dissemination of German-style historicism in Victorian intellectual life.

Historically, Max Mueller’s personal life is highly significant. Through his father, the Romantic poet Wilhelm Mueller, and through his studies Max Mueller was on personal terms with the leading German intellectuals of the time. Identified by the Prussian Ambassador, Bunsen, as an important catalyst of intellectual exchange, Max Mueller came to occupy a position of significance in Anglo-German cultural relations and Victorian life in general, even if his position as a German-born Professor at Oxford carried with it challenges of integration and cultural acceptance. He corresponded widely with prominent and important figures, including Charles Darwin and William Gladstone, and became a favourite guest of Queen Victoria.  He was related by marriage to both J.A. Froude and Charles Kingsley. His scholarship and public engagement in imperial matters extended his impact abroad. His high profile campaigning for better understanding of Indian culture in Europe has left its mark: Goethe Institutes in India today are known as “Max Mueller Bhavan.”

Despite being credited with significance in many fields of Victorian intellectual and public life, Max Mueller’s life and work have not been subjected to sufficient scholarly attention. The relatively recent biography by Lourens P. van den Bosch (Friedrich Max Mueller: A Life Devoted to the Humanities, 2002) has provided an excellent overview that should now enable more detailed evaluations of Max Mueller’s contributions to many facets of intellectual life. By necessity, such evaluations must be biographical, historical and interdisciplinary.  The proposed conference will therefore bring together academics from a range of disciplines. It seeks to recapture, and evaluate comprehensively and rigorously, Friedrich Max Mueller’s significance personally, intellectually, and publicly.


Contributions are sought relating to the following provisional panel themes:

Biography; political and intellectual context; research questions;

Max Mueller’s position within philology; Max Mueller and philology as a discipline in Britain in the nineteenth century;

Max Mueller’s religious position; his influence upon Victorian religious discourse and his founding of religious studies as an academic discipline in the United Kingdom;

Max Mueller and nineteenth-century thinking on evolution; Max Mueller and Darwin;

Max Mueller’s influence upon nineteenth-century anthropology;

Max Mueller’s influence on the theory of myth;

*Translation and Sanskrit Studies*
Max Mueller and the craft of the translator; Max Müller’s impact on Sanskrit research in Britain and internationally;

Max Mueller’s engagement with British imperialism and imperial policy; Max Mueller and the history of British imperialism in India; Max Mueller in relation to current debates about imperialism, intercultural relations and interreligious dialogue.

The conference proceedings will be considered for publication in a special issue of the journal of the English Goethe Society (Publications of the English Goethe Society).

John R. Davis (Kingston University), Email: [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>
Angus Nicholls (Queen Mary University of London), Email: [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>

Abstracts of 500 words should be sent to either of the conference convenors by 30 April 2014.

Dr. Angus Nicholls
Chair of the Department of Comparative Literature and Culture
Queen Mary University of London, London E1 4NS
Co-editor, Publications of the English Goethe Society
Co-editor, ANGERMION, Yearbook for Anglo-German Cultural Relations

The German Studies Call for Papers List
Editor: Stefani Engelstein
Assistant Editor:  Olaf Schmidt
Sponsored by the University of Missouri
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