“Max Arthur Macauliffe and The Sikh Religion”
Prof Tadhg Foley (Professor of Irish Studies, NUI Galway)
5.15 Friday 25 May 2012, Boole Lecture Theatre, University College Cork, Cork
Max Arthur Macauliffe (1838-1913), author of the monumental six-volume work, The Sikh Religion, began the preface to his magnum opus with the words: ‘I bring from the East what is practically an unknown religion’. Though regarded by Sikhs as perhaps the most important western figure in the history of their religion, Macauliffe himself is all but unknown in the west. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography does not notice him and he is unknown in his native country, Ireland. He was born as common or garden Michael McAuliffe in Monagea, Co. Limerick and educated at Queen’s College Galway, graduating in modern languages in 1860. In 1862 he was appointed to the Indian Civil Service and was posted to the Punjab, becoming Deputy Commissioner in 1882 and two years later a Divisional Judge. Based in Amritsar, he developed an intense interest in the Sikh religion, producing the classic English translation of its holy book, the Granth, and, it seems, eventually converting to it. In 1893 he resigned from the Indian Civil Service to devote himself fully to the work of translation. In 1909, Oxford University Press published The Sikh Religion which incorporated his translation of the Granth. He died in London in 1913.
This paper will first address some inaccuracies in existing scholarship concerning Macauliffe’s date and place of birth and indeed the religion into which he was born. It will consider his conception of Sikhism, particularly in relation to Hinduism but also in the context of Christianity, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. He was also a reformer of the Sikh religion, being a leading member of Tat Khalsa, the radical section of the Singh Sabha reform movement, founded in Amritsar in 1873. But he saw his primary role as that of an evangelist for the Sikh religion in the west. He opposed ‘caste exclusiveness’ and ‘sati’, which he called the ‘concremation of widows’. He defended the translation of sacred scripture into vernacular languages and he saw himself as a pioneering figure in his systematic consultation with indigenous Sikh scholars. Indeed he saw his work as, in part, giving the permanency of writing to what had formerly been the orally transmitted wisdom of the gyanis. The paper will conclude with a discussion of Macauliffe’s views on how religion, especially Sikhism, should relate not only to the state as such but also to the British Empire.
The lecture will be followed by an informal Reception for all attending sponsored by the School of Asian Studies, Study of Religions Department and College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences, University College Cork (UCC).
Enquiries to Prof Brian Bocking, Study of Religions, UCC, email: b.bocking[at]ucc.ie
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