Discourse Analysis and the Translation of Religions: Re-examining Commensurabilities

Israel, H. (Assessor)

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesOral presentation


My presentation examines what types of discourse analysis might be most useful for studying the encounters between religions in the context of European colonization. I argue that the contact between European and South Asian languages in sacred text translation cannot be studied adequately with a straightforward focus on text-linguistic approaches. Drawing on Foucauldian discourse analysis, I suggest that in translation situations where individual lexical terms are re-assigned new semantic values to distinguish acceptable from non-acceptable forms of religious practice and beliefs, it is important to analyse discourse as a governing structure that informs the conditions within which linguistic translations can be conceived and undertaken. I unpack differences in terminology and metaphors from South Asian languages and religious cultures to examine how translations of sacred texts by European Orientalist scholars, missionaries and by Indian scholars were structurally influenced by Eurocentric translation discourses on commensurability and faithfulness. This conceptual translation question is as important as the linguistic since it is intrinsic to the way religions began to be viewed, compared and categorized, so that whether sacred terms were deemed to be translatable into other languages often determined whether newly encountered faiths were considered a ‘religion’ in colonial India. Referring to the debate on ‘colonial discourse analysis’ proposed along Foucauldian lines by Said (1978), I examine the usefulness of this approach for a study of the translation of sacred texts in colonial contexts and whether some aspects of formal discourse analysis from translation studies can serve as a useful methodology to ground colonial discourse analysis.
Period3 Jul 20186 Jul 2018
Held atBaptist University Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Translation
  • Colonial Discourse
  • South Asia
  • Religion
  • Conversion