On the History of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies in Vienna

The Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (ISTB) of the University of Vienna originated on December 15, 2000, with the merging of the former Department of Indology and the former Department of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies. The merge was facilitated by the 1998 move of the two departments from separate locations in the city to adjoining premises on the newly established University Campus, the converted historical Old General Hospital of Vienna.

The major stages of the historical development of the two respective academic disciplines in Vienna are sketched below.

South Asian Studies

The designation "South Asian Studies" in the Department's name supplants the previous "Indology," the term used since the nineteenth century in the German-speaking world to refer to academic research into the intellectual and cultural history of South Asia, the geographical area extending from the Himalayas to Sri Lanka whose cultures also exercised considerable influence westward to Iran and throughout South-East Asia. Indology's focus was the exploration of the manifold cultural formations of earlier periods that bore the linguistic stamp of Sanskrit. The change in terminology intends, on the one hand, to circumvent the misunderstanding that a "science of India" is restricted to the investigation of culture within the political boundaries of present-day India, and, on the other, to draw attention to the fact that the Sanskritic culture of the subcontinent is not the only, nor indeed a monolithic, cultural tradition of South Asia. The Sanskritic Great Tradition developed in interplay with, or even in opposition to, the various other cultural traditions that had arisen in South Asia or found their home there; and it did not affect the surrounding regions in a one-sided manner, in the sense of being the decisive "civilizing" factor, but was instead in continuous exchange with their traditions. The new terminology "South Asian Studies" further signals the expansion of research into the intellectual and cultural history of South Asia to include the modern period (sixteenth c. and onwards), and the addition of research into the culture and society of modern South Asia.

Any occurrences of "Indology" in the following take into account both the historical use of an increasingly outdated designation for academic South Asian research and the fact that until a few decades ago, many persons concerned with South Asian Studies understood "India" not as a political term, but as referring to a rich cultural complex.

The Beginnings (from 1845 onwards)

Austrian academic research on South Asia began in 1845 when Sanskrit was taught for the first time at the University of Vienna by Anton Boller, who in 1855 became the holder of the Chair for Comparative Linguistics and Sanskrit. Boller's most important contribution in the field of South Asian Studies was his "Ausführliche Sanskrit-Grammatik für den öffentlichen und Selbstunterricht" ("Comprehensive Sanskrit Grammar for Public and Self-Instruction"). After Boller's death, Sanskrit became the domain of Friedrich Müller, Professor of Comparative Linguistics and Oriental Studies.

The Chair for the Philology and Antiquities of Ancient India (from 1880)

On October 10, 1880, Georg Bühler, one of the greatest Indologists of the nineteenth century, was appointed to the newly created Chair for the Philology and Antiquities of Ancient India. He had previously been employed as a Professor of Oriental Languages at Elphinstone College, Bombay. There, while conducting research on a "Digest of Hindu Law" for the Bombay High Court, he prepared numerous first editions and translations of early Indian legal treatises. His further research interests included Indian poetical and historical literature. Bühler was also the most outstanding expert of his time on Indian epigraphy and palaeography; commissioned by the colonial government, he investigated and collected manuscripts from traditional local libraries and private collections. He was the co-founder of the important Bombay Sanskrit and Prakrit Series.

With Bühler's appointment, Viennese Indology began to flourish. His ability to attract young students and other scholars is documented by a colleague who reports that when he visited Bühler's Sanskrit course at the University he counted some fifty persons in the room (cf. Jolly 1899: 9).

Bühler strove to develop Oriental Studies in Vienna and was decisively involved in the founding of both the Department of Oriental Studies of the University of Vienna, which included the discipline of Indology, and the "Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes" ("Vienna Journal of Oriental Studies"). In addition to his numerous research projects, Bühler also took on the editorship of the monumental and in many respects still valuable "Grundriß der indoarischen Philologie und Altertumskunde". Throughout his life, he endeavoured to maintain a personal connection with India.

Bühler's tragic death in 1898, when he drowned during a boat trip on Lake Constance, resulted in a reorientation of Vienna Indology. One year later Leopold von Schroeder, a specialist in Vedic studies, took over the Chair. (On an annotated list of his publications see Griffiths - Werba 2006). While still employed as a Dozent (Reader) in Livland, he prepared the first edition of the Maitrāyanī-Saṃhitā, and later, of the Kāṭhaka-Saṃhitā (finalizing work on it in Vienna), both based on then newly discovered manuscripts. His study of the dialogue hymns of the Ṛgveda, interpreted as mystic plays and early dramatic performances, resulted in the publication of his monograph "Mysterium und Mimus im Ṛgveda". Von Schroeder also applied himself to the study of comparative mythology and folk studies, with special consideration of the Vedic period, as well as to the interpretation of Vedic religion and religiosity (cf. von Schroeder 1921:158). His cycle of fifty public lectures on Indian literature and cultural history was published in book form as "Indiens Literatur und Kultur in historischer Entwicklung".

The Period of the Chair's Vacancy (from 1920)

After von Schroeder's death in 1920, intensive efforts were made to appoint the German Indologist Otto Schrader to the Chair, but these ultimately failed in 1925. During this time and in the following years Bernhard Geiger was in charge of Indological teaching in the Department of Oriental Studies. Geiger had completed comprehensive studies in Oriental Philology in the department and written a doctoral thesis in the field of Semitic Languages and Literatures. After supplementary studies in Indology at several German universities, he achieved his Vienna Habilitation for the field of Philology and Antiquities of Ancient India and Iran with a work on indigenous Indian grammatical science. Shortly before von Schroeder's death, he was appointed Extraordinarius. Even though Geiger's scholarship was primarily within Iranian Studies, his nearly thirty years of extensive Indological teaching attest to his impressively broad grasp of the discipline. Starting with the academic year of 1928/29 Erich Frauwallner, who worked as a teacher in a secondary school, began to offer courses in Indology. Frauwallner had turned to Sanskrit philology already at the commencement of his studies in Classical Philology at the University of Vienna; he concluded with a thesis on the synonyms used to refer to the motions of the soul. His first studies in the history of Indian philosophy, in which he innovatively dealt with Upanishadic and Epic sources, were published in the early 1920s and eventually led to his Habilitation for the field of Indian Philology and Antiquities in 1927, which would be followed by his trail-blazing contributions to the study of the logical-epistemological tradition of Buddhism. After the ascent to power of the National Socialists in 1938, Geiger, who was Jewish, was dismissed from service and forced to take exile in the USA, where he would eventually continue his career at the Asia Institute and Columbia University in New York (cf. Frye 1963/64), and Frauwallner was appointed Extraordinarius for Indian and Iranian Philology (as "Reader of/within the New Order") by the Ministry of Science, Schools and Popular Education in Berlin. (For Geiger as a suspended scholar in times of Nazism see: https://gedenkbuch.univie.ac.at/index.php?id=435&no_cache=1&L=2&no_cache=1&person_single_id=33039&person_name=Geiger&person_geburtstag_tag=not_selected&person_geburtstag_monat=not_selected&person_geburtstag_jahr=not_selected&person_fakultaet=not_selected&person_kategorie=not_selected&person_volltextsuche=&search_person_x=1&result_page=1). This was followed by his appointment as Head of the Department of Oriental Studies in 1942. During the war years, Frauwallner was thus responsible, in addition to his teaching in Indology, for teaching Iranian Studies in the Department. In this period he also broadened his research to include the Brahminical philosophical traditions. In 1943, Frauwallner was drafted into military service and Indological teaching was suspended.

In 1945, after a hiatus of slightly more than two years, Vienna Indology made a new start. Since Frauwallner had been dismissed from his University position immediately after the war because of his membership in the National Socialist Party (a sanction which was changed to his being given early retirement some three years later), Indology in the Department of Oriental Studies came to be represented by Herbert Günther, a young Privatdozent (Private Reader) from Germany, whose main area of research was to become Buddhist tantrism in India and Tibet (ein list of his publications can be found at the Buddhistischer Studienverlag, menu item "Downloads"). Just as Geiger before him, Günther offered courses in many areas of Indology. When Günther left Vienna for India in 1951, another Private Reader, Karl Ammer, whose research interests were in Indo-Iranian and Old Indian Linguistics, replaced him. Shortly afterwards Frauwallner's venia legendi, following the positive evaluation of his case by the Personnel Committee of the University, was re-awarded by the Ministry of Education. He was therewith able to become active once again in the Department, and did so with an even stronger emphasis on the history of Indian philosophy, his special area of research, indeed the area in which he had continued to work intensively during the preceding years of forced retirement. The results of this endeavour are documented in the first volume of his ground-breaking "Geschichte der indischen Philosophie" ("History of Indian Philosophy") published in 1953. Frauwallner's great scholarly achievements in this area were soon to be acknowledged by way of his appointment as Extraordinarius for Indology and the simultaneous creation of a separate Department of Indology with Frauwallner as its Head. In 1960, he was finally appointed Ordentlicher Professor (Ordinary Professor) for Indology.

The Department of Indology (from 1955)

The "Department of Indology" was founded in 1955. In his inaugural speech Frauwallner gave the following programmatic explanation for the orientation of Viennese Indology:

"I see here ... only one way to make a claim for ourselves internationally, in that we choose an area of Indology as the special working area for our Department and cultivate it in such a way that we will be equal to and possibly superior to others. I have chosen it to be Indian philosophy, not only because it is my own research area, in which I can offer the most to my students, but because it is an important area, which can also reckon with further interest in Europe ...' (Frauwallner 1961).

Frauwallner also launched the Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens ("Vienna Journal of South and East Asian Studies") - with its Archive for Indian Philosophy - that today enjoys an excellent international reputation under the name "Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens" ("Vienna Journal of South Asian Studies").

Frauwallner's importance for academic studies is based particularly on a rigorous method which had been encountered before only in exceptional cases: a pronounced philological approach combined with the exploration of the historical development of Indian philosophy, with special consideration of Buddhist philosophy and the interaction between the philosophical traditions. This method bore as result - hereby surpassing mere serial doxographies or isolated ahistorical philosophical observations - his almost entirely source-based historical presentations of essential areas and aspects of Indian philosophical thinking. (On Frauwallners life and work, with a list of publications, see Franco - Preisendanz 2010, and Stuchlik 2009).

In 1964, Gerhard Oberhammer replaced Frauwallner as Chair-holder and Head of the Department of Indology. Oberhammer, who initially conducted research in classical Indian philosophy following Frauwallner's method, broadened Viennese Indology's research area by introducing hermeneutics of religion and the aspect of dialogue between Indian religions, primarily the Hindu traditions, and Christianity. In this connection, he was able to found, with the financial support of Cardinal Franz König, the "Sammlung De Nobili" Library, which is kept on permanent loan from the Austrian Academy of Sciences in the current South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies Library. He also instituted the Association Sammlung De Nobili - Association for Indology and the Study of Religion, which concerns itself with dealing with fundamental questions of the interreligious and intercultural encounter of India and the West, primarily in the framework of symposia and the series Publications of the De Nobili Research Library, comprising 37 volumes and 9 Occasional Papers to date (2017). Oberhammer's numerous contributions towards a history of Viśiṣṭādvaita-Vedānta from the point of view of philosophy of religions also deserve mention, as well as his studies in the area of Vaiṣṇava tantrism. (A list of Oberhammer's writings can be found in Oberhammer, Kleine Schriften.)

During Oberhammer's Ordinariat, an Indological Branch Library of the Library of the University of Vienna was established, which now, as the South Asian division of the University Library's South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies Library, has grown to over 50,000 volumes. The bequest of Frauwallner's personal library is contained within it.

In 1990, the Department of Indology organized the VIIIth World Sanskrit Conference, at which 600 researchers participated, including 300 from India. The focal points of the research carried out in the Department included, additionally through the work of Associate Professor Roque Mesquita (1937-2016), the history of philosophy and religion of the classical and medieval periods, and Indo-Iranian linguistics, the research interest of Associate Professor Chlodwig H. Werba (1955-2019).

The Department of Tibetology and Buddhist Studies (from 1973)

The Department of Tibetology and Buddhist Studies was founded in 1973 and was under the direction of Ernst Steinkellner until 2000. Steinkellner, who like Oberhammer studied under Frauwallner, is above all renowned for his work in Buddhist logic and epistemology in the tradition of this "founding father" of the Vienna school of Indology. The Department developed into an international centre for this area, attracting numerous guest researchers and students from throughout the world, in particular from Japan. In 1989 the Department, in cooperation with the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, organised the Second International Dharmakīrti Conference, which provided essential impulses for research into Buddhist logic and epistemology in India and Tibet. The seventh "Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies" held in Seggau in 1997, again cooperatively organised with the Asia Institute of the Academy, attested to the active involvement of the Department in research and international cooperation in Tibetology. In 2000 Associate Professor Helmut Tauscher, a specialist in the area of Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka, succeeded Steinkellner as Head of the Department, an office he held until the founding of the Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies later the same year.

The Department further distinguished itself through its work on the sources of Tibetan religious and intellectual history, thus extending the range of Frauwallner's methods beyond South Asia.

The art-history of the Indo-Tibetan sphere came to form a more recent additional focus, concentrating on Indo-Tibetan monastic art from the tenth century onwards. The comprehensive slide collection developed for this focus was moved to the Department of Art History in 1997, where from 1996 to 2013, Deborah Klimburg-Salter has held the post of Professor for non-European Art History.

In the 1990s, Tibetan Cultural and Social Anthropology established itself as another important research interest of the Department, which resulted in several research projects being conducted cooperatively with the Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology (formerly Department of Ethnology) of the University of Vienna.

The association Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien ("Tibetan and Buddhist Studies Study Group"), founded in 1977, functions primarily as the publisher of the internationally renowned series Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde ("Vienna Studies on Tibetology and Buddhist Studies"). The series comprises, as of 2018, some ninety-four monographs and anthologies, many of which deal with research areas beyond those of Vienna's Tibetan and Buddhist Studies.

In 1999, a guest professorship for Buddhist Studies of the Numata-Foundation could be established; it enriches the curriculum of the institute since then.

The library of approximately 20,000 volumes, now a division of the comprehensive South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies Library, contains, in addition to its core holdings on Tibet and Buddhism, collections on Mongolia and Himalayan countries (e.g. Nepal). Furthermore, smaller collections of microfilm (e.g. Tabo manuscripts) and maps, an offprint collection and the Singhalese library bequeathed by Heinz Bechert exist in the institute's holdings.

The Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (from 1999)

In the autumn of 1999, after a two-year vacancy following Oberhammer's retirement in 1997, Karin Preisendanz, a scholar of the history of Indian philosophy with special emphasis on epistemology and philosophy of nature as well as early Āyurveda, who stands by way of her training in the Frauwallnerian tradition, took over the Chair for Indology. The amalgamation of the Department of Indology with the Department of Tibetology and Buddhist Studies was achieved under her and Ernst Steinkellner's direction. In October 2006, Steinkellner retired from his long and highly productive university career for which he received - after many other awards - the "Wittgenstein-Prize" of the Österreichischen Forschungsgesellschaft in 2008. (On Steinkellner's work and a list of publications, see Kellner et al. 2007). In March 2010, Klaus-Dieter Mathes replaced him as Chair-Holder for Tibetology und Buddhist Studies; his research interests lay in the philosophical and religious history of Tibet against its South Asian hermeneutical background, specifically in the area of mahāmūdra teachings and philosophical doctrines based on them, as well as in the cultural history of Tibetan Buddhist enclaves in Nepal. As of August 2023, he will be succeeded by Jim Rheingans as professor of Tibetology, while Buddhist Studies will be represented by Christopher Jones as part of a newly created tenure track professorship starting in October 2023. Thus, after long years of effort, it was possible to achieve that Tibetology and Buddhist Studies, although they have numerous points of contact and overlap, will be represented as separate disciplines at the Institute.Professor Martin Gaenszle joined the Department in January 2007 as Professor for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Modern South Asia. His research interests, which were new to the Department, include religious pluralism in modern South Asia, ethnic minorities and ethno-history, oral traditions, linguistic anthropology of modern South Asia and colonial history. Since his retirement at the end of September 2022, this professorship has been vacant, but will soon be filled again under the title "Languages and Cultures of Modern South and Central Asia."

In the winter semester 2011/2012, a visiting professorship in South Asian Studies was established at the Institute, financed by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the Faculty of Philological and Cultural Studies, under an agreement extended until the academic year 2024/2025. From summer term 2014 to winter term 2018/2019, a second guest professorship of the Numata foundation was introduced. It enriches the teaching programs both in Tibetology and Buddhist Studies. In 2013, a program supported by the Khyentse Foundation to encourage competence in translating Buddhist texts was founded in the Department.

The Institute has hosted many international conferences including "Yoga in Transformation. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on a Global Phenomenon", the conference "Negotiating Ethnicity. Politics and Display of Cultural Identities in Northeast India" (in cooperation with other institutions), both in 2013, the 17th Congress of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (IABS) in 2014, and the 26. European Conference on South Asian Studies in 2021. A number of subject-specific conferences, symposiums and workshops as well as a variety of guest lectures have further contributed to the lively climate of scholarly exchange at the institute.

Our Newari and Nepali summer schools, first organised by the institute during summer 2010, as well as summer schools in Buddhist text translation (2014), continue to attract students from all over the world. In collaboration with the Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, two international summer schools on the cultural and intellectual history of Asia were held (2022 and 2023), devoted to the history of philosophy in pre-modern South Asia, with a focus on the epistemology of the various traditions.

The Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia of the Austrian Academy of Sciences

The Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia has its origins in the "Kommission für die Sprachen und Kulturen Süd- und Ostasiens" (Commission for the Languages and Cultures of South and East Asia), which was established on Frauwallner's initiative by the Austrian Academy of Sciences in 1956, This was soon followed by the founding of the Institute for Indology. The Institute was founded in 1991 as a result of Oberhammer's efforts; Oberhammer served as its Director until shortly after his retirement, upon which Steinkellner took over the office. Under the ensuing directors - Helmut Krasser (2007-2014), Vincent Eltschinger (2014-2015) and Birgit Kellner (since 2015) -, a close and fruitful cooperation has existed between this Institute and the Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, making Vienna a unique centre for academic research and dialogue concerning the culture and intellectual history of Asia.

Readings on the History of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies in Vienna

Franco – Preisendanz 2010

Eli Franco – Karin C. Preisendanz: Preface. In: Erich Frauwallner: Die Philosophie des Buddhismus. Berlin 2010, pp. XI–XXX.

Frauwallner 1961

Erich Frauwallner: "Geschichte und Aufgaben der Wiener Indologie." Anzeiger der phil.-hist. Klasse der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Jg. 1961, Nr. 10. Wien 1961, pp. 77–95.

Frye 1963/64

R.N. Frye: Bernhard Geiger (April 30, 1881 - July 5, 1964). Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 59/60 (1963/64) 224–226.

Griffiths – Werba 2006

Arlo Griffiths - Chlodwig H. Werba: Leopold von Schroeder: Eine annotierte Bibliographie. Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 50 (2006) 5–25.

Jolly 1899

Julius Jolly: "Georg Bühler 1837–1898." In: Grundriss der Indo-Arischen Philologie und Altertumskunde I. Band, 1. Heft, A. Strassburg: Karl J. Trübner 1899.

Kellner et al. 2007

Birgit Kellner – Helmut Krasser – Horst Lasic et al. (ed.): "Ernst Steinkellner – Imprints and Echoes; Publications of Ernst Steinkellner." In: Pramāṇakīrtiḥ. Papers Dedicated to Ernst Steinkellner on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday. (Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde 70.1). Wien 2007, pp. xi–xxxvii.

Oberhammer 1976

Gerhard Oberhammer: Erich Frauwallner (December 28, 1898 – July 5, 1974). Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens 20 (1976) 5–17.

Oberhammer, Kleine Schriften

Utz Podzeit et al. (ed.): Gerhard Oberhammer. Ausgewählte Kleine Schriften. (Publications of the De Nobili Research Library 33). Wien 2007.

Stuchlik 2009

Jakob Stuchlik: Der arische Ansatz. Erich Frauwallner und der Nationalsozialismus (Sitzungsberichte der philosophisch-historischen Klasse der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 797). Wien 2009.

Von Schroeder 1921

Leopold von Schroeder: Lebenserinnerungen. Hrsg. v. Felix von Schroeder. Leipzig: Haessel 1921.