Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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(1823-1900) German-born scholar of Sanskrit, philology, and comparative religion who worked in England for over half a century.

Max Müller achieved a fame in his day that rivaled that of even his most eminent Victorian contemporaries. Accordingly, the question, "Who now reads Müller?" darkens any modern assessment of his work. Neglect by sociologists of his vast scholarly outpouring has been an inevitable consequence of Émile Durkheim's devastating critique of "Naturism," while anthropological indifference has even deeper roots in the evolutionism of Andrew Lang and E. B. Tylor.

Although current scholarship is unlikely to subscribe to Müller's version of Nature Mythology (in which historical religion derives from a "disease of language"), it must acknowledge his extraordinary energy and undoubted skill as a writer, researcher, translator, and intellectual popularizer. These qualities are exhibited in such works as Introduction to the Science of Religion (1873), The Origin and Growth of Religion (1878), and Contributions to the Science of Mythology (1897) as well as in his volumes on natural, physical, anthropological, and psychological religion (1889-1993) and his edited multivolume series Sacred Books of the East (1879-1994).

Despite his faults and excesses, Müller deserves recognition as one of the pioneers and founders of the social scientific study of religion. Prone to sweeping generalization in the manner of Frazer, Spengler, and Toynbee, he was often charged with superficiality and dilettantism in his highly ambitious comparative ventures linking language, thought, and religion. His repeated assertion that "he who knows one, knows none" was not always an adequate defense, but it remains nonetheless a mighty maxim for students of Religionswissenschaft in an era of both specialization and globalization.

Roger O'Toole


N. C. Chaudhuri, Scholar Extraordinary (London: Chatto & Windus, 1974)

G. A. Müller (ed.), The Life and Letters of the Rt. Hon. Friedrich Max Müller (London: Longmans, 1902)

J. H. Voigt, F. Max Müller (Calcutta: Mukhopadhyay, 1967).

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