From the Emic to the Etic and Back Again: Archaeology, Orientalism, and Religion from Colonial Sri Lanka to Switzerland

in “Masters” and “Natives”


Starting from the classical linguistic and anthropological distinction between “emic” and “etic” (K. Pike), this chapter focuses on the interrelated character of both levels of discourse by examining the example of archaeology in colonial Sri Lanka. Nuancing widespread conceptions about Western scholars “inventing” local traditions, different examples from this context, including that of the German-Swiss scholar Eduard Müller-Hess (1853-1923), demonstrate, on the contrary, the active involvement of local specialists such as Buddhist monks. In this way, “emic” conceptions found their way in “etic” discourses, which in turn were often used to legitimize various positions in local political and religious polemics.

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