The term Indology (in German) Indologie is often associated with German scholarship, and is used more commonly in departmental titles in German and continental European universities than in the anglophone academy. In the Netherlands the term Indologie was used to designate the study of Indian history and culture in preparation for colonial service in the Dutch East Indies.
Specifically, Indology includes the study of Sanskrit literature and Hinduism along with the other Indian religions, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Pāli literature. Dravidology is the separate branch dedicated to the Dravidian languages of South India. Hindu texts in Dravidian languages are considered disciplines in Indology.
Some scholars distinguish Classical Indology from Modern Indology, the former more focussed on Sanskrit and other ancient language sources, the latter on contemporary India, its politics and sociology.
The beginnings of the study of India by travellers from outside the subcontinent date back at least to Megasthenes (ca. 350–290 BC), a Greek ambassador of the Seleucids to the court of Chandragupta (ruled 322-298 BC), founder of the Mauryan Empire. Based on his life in India Megasthenes composed a four-volume Indica, fragments of which still exist, and which influenced the classical geographers Arrian, Diodor and Strabo. Megasthenes reported that the caste system dominated an essentially illiterate India.
Islamic Golden Age scholar Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad Al-Biruni (973–1048) in Tarikh Al-Hind (Researches on India) recorded the political and military history of India and covered India's cultural, scientific, social and religious history in detail. He studied the anthropology of India, engaging in extensive participant observation with various Indian groups, learning their languages and studying their primary texts, and presenting his findings with objectivity and neutrality using cross-cultural comparisons.
Indology as generally understood by its practitioners began in the later Early Modern period and incorporates essential features of modernity, including critical self-reflexivity, disembedding mechanisms and globalization, and the reflexive appropriation of knowledge. An important feature of Indology since its beginnings in the late eighteenth century has been the development of networks of academic communication and trust through the creation of learned societies like the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and the creation of learned journals like the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society and Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.
One of the defining features of Indology is the application of scholarly methodologies developed in European Classical Studies or "Classics" to the languages, literatures and cultures of South Asia.
In the wake of eighteenth century pioneers like William Jones, Henry Thomas Colebrooke, Gerasim Lebedev or August Wilhelm Schlegel, Indology as an academic subject emerged in the nineteenth century, in the context of British India, together with Asian studies in general affected by the romantic Orientalism of the time. The Asiatic Society was founded in Calcutta in 1784, Société Asiatique founded in 1822, the Royal Asiatic Society in 1824, the American Oriental Society in 1842, and the German Oriental Society (Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft) in 1845, the Japanese Association of Indian and Buddhist Studies in 1949.
Sanskrit literature included many pre-modern dictionaries, especially the Nāmaliṅgānuśāsana of Amarasiṃha, but a milestone in the Indological study of Sanskrit literature was publication of the St. Petersburg Sanskrit-Wörterbuch during the 1850s to 1870s. Translations of major Hindu texts in the Sacred Books of the East began in 1879. Otto von Böhtlingk's edition of Pāṇini's grammar appeared in 1887. Max Müller's edition of the Rigveda appeared in 1849–75. Albrecht Weber commenced publishing his pathbreaking journal Indologische Studien in 1849, and in 1897 Sergey Oldenburg launched a systematic edition of key Sanskrit texts, "Bibliotheca Buddhica".
German indologists arbitrarily identified "layers" in the Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita with the objective of fueling European anti-Semitism via the then popular aryan invasion theory. This required equating Brahmins with Jews, resulting in anti-Brahmanism.
From the late 16th century to the late 18th century, Hinduism was seen as highly on civilization and scholarly basis. But after the 19th century, western scholars often criticized India and Hinduism without ever visiting India or reading Hindu scriptures (i.e. E. M. Forster). As with many academic subjects which seem to have no direct bearing on modern concerns, Indology has come in for criticism. This has prompted a vigorous response from a number of eminent scholars, among them J. Bronkhorst.
Indologists typically attend conferences such as the American Association of Asian Studies, the American Oriental Society annual conference, the World Sanskrit Conference, and national-level meetings in the UK, Germany, India, Japan, France and elsewhere.
They may routinely read and write in journals such as Indo-Iranian Journal, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Journal asiatique, the Journal of the German Oriental Society (ZDMG), Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies (Indogaku Bukkyogaku Kenkyu), Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême Orient, and others.
They may be members of such professional bodies as the American Oriental Society, the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, the Société Asiatique, the Deutsche Morgenlāndische Gesellschaft and others.
The following is a list of prominent academically qualified Indologists.