Is the only alternative one faces while speaking about South Asia that between an etic (i.e., Western) and emic approach?
Have you ever read Madeleine Biardeau’s Theory of knowledge and philosophy of language in Classical Brahmanism (the original is written in French, 1964)? I have a very positive opinion about it, but one must say that it presents the philosophical systems as if they had always existed, i.e., devoid of an inner development, as pure systems. Eli Franco, in his introduction (called On the Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy) of the volume he recently edited, Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy, individuates this attitude and blames for it the influence of an only emic approach, i.e., the adherence to the Indian ahistorical model.
More interestingly, however, Gérard Colas in “Histoire, Oralité, Structure. À propos d’un tournant dans l’oeuvre de Madeleine Biardeau” (Journal Asiatique 2012), reconstructs the cultural milieu in which Biardeau was working and recognises the influence of French structuralism, as shown by Biardeau’s own words in Biardeau 1964, where she declares that she wants to formulate “a structural study of the Indian thought”.
In other words, there is more than just the emic vs. etic contraposition, since even within the West (if this category at all makes any sense) different trends have developed and historicism was only one among them. Although historicism was perhaps the dominant trend in the German cultural milieu, the situation was completely different in France, where historicism has never be the rule (and, I will argue in future posts, in the UK, Italy, etc.).