Claiming India: French scholars and the preoccupation with India during the nineteenth century

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My dissertation examines the image of India which was created by French academics during the nineteenth century. This image of India was distinct from the British image of India as a land of oppressed masses ruled by Oriental despots. The French image of India relied on spiritual and religious aspects of India, with particular emphasis on the antiquity and Aryan heritage of Indian culture. the difference in these images was largely due to the different intellectual and political traditions of Britain and France, but also reflected Anglo-French national and colonial rivalry as well as France's subordinate (subaltern) colonial position in India.

I have looked at French writings on India from the religious writings of early modern missionaries to the secular writing of early twentieth century French academics. I have also examined the interest that French scholars in diverse intellectual fields like philology, anthropology, history and religion had in learning and writing about India during the nineteenth century. My conclusion is that French scholars at the end of the nineteenth century defined India primarily in terms of race, caste and Hinduism.