Translation and Religion: Holy Untranslatable?
This work is a collection of articles that addresses the issues of translating religious texts. Articles document the history of the translation of specific religious texts. The process of scholars drawing from their own experience in the work of translating religious texts is discussed as an influence on the final translation. The contexts that surround the translations of religious text are identified, and by doing so, this contextual influence is illustrated. The range of challenges in the process of translating religious texts is discussed throughout the book, as are the challenges of translation of some specific texts. A prevalent theme in this book is the examination of how the context surrounding original texts is often inaccessible in the final work, due to the process of translation, the background of the translator and the context surrounding the text that is not perceptible to the translator.
The text approaches the topic in two ways - issues of translating religious texts cross-culturally and within tradition and by conveying case studies that illustrate particular problems in translation.
Contributions from various scholars introduce methodologies used to study religion and texts that have developed with consideration to "historicity, linguistics, cultural theory, sociology, theology, and philosophy as well as more specific cases of gender, art, metaphor, humour, status, editing, patronage, and interpretation"(p. 15.) In the recounting of the history of translation of religious text, the political motivation is inherent in the discussion. For instance, K. Onur Toker recounts the move to translate Hebrew and Aramaic texts into more popular languages that had the intention of stripping privileged and the sacred from religious texts. The appropriation and cultural sabotage and the consequential effects of these political decisions are implicit in the discussion, but are not explicitly tied to a notion of hermeneutical ethic and it remains unclear whether these processes are endorsed by the author or criticized.
The influence of the translation of religious texts is noted as significant to the development of translation theory and methodology. Throughout the collection, there are issues in translation that imply an ethic within translation methodologies which includes a relative stance, resulting in a quality differentiation that is contingent upon the absence of the translator's own cultural bias.
In "What Does Not Get Translated in Buddhist Studies and the Impact on Teaching", Kate Crosby articulates insight that the absence of specific texts has as much influence as the availability of translated texts. She bravely voices the influence that Eastern religions and systems have had on Western society - such as the Gutenberg press being influenced by Korean printing and forms of Buddhism being adopted by Christians - influences that are rarely noted.
Leonard Greenspoon discusses that Jewish translation methodology privileges the source language and are "intended to supplement," not replace texts and only recently have Jewish translations have adopted a more "Functional equivalence" due to increased assimilation for Jews in diaspora.
The language of the text relies heavily on the politics of its various authors which undermines some of the central issues identified about the translation of religious texts. Concepts such as "domesticating" the translation, privileging language, and stripping texts of their sacredness are stated without redress or problem by the authors. In one article, a particular 'call' for the production of an enduring literary classic (when referring to a non-Christian text), rather than a religious one reinforces hegemonic ownership of the other and of the holy. This proposal lends the capacity of the translator to shift the meaning - reducing literary rather than treating it as religious and holy. This particular article exhibits a mass exoticisation and a classic portrayal of the politic of Orientalism which is surprising to find in such a recent publication.
The cultural biases presented in some articles in this collection are offensive, while other articles are insightful. An interesting read on the topic.
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