Main Research Areas

In the field of South Asian Studies, the history of philosophy and religion of South Asia, the history of literature, and the study of selected scientific traditions of the cultural area as well as the culture and society of modern South Asia constitute the large major research foci at the Department.

Currently, a special focus of research on the history of philosophy and religion is the exploration of the history and conceptual world of, on the one hand, the Brahmanical philosophical traditions of Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṃkhya, and Yoga, complemented by research on the South Indian Vaiṣṇava-tantric tradition of Pāñcarātra, and on the other hand, the philosophical tradition of the Jainas. Research in literary history focuses on ornate poetry (kāvya) in Sanskrit and the Prakrit languages, primarily from the aspects of religious history, transmission, and poetics. Among the scientific traditions of South Asia, classical medicine (Āyurveda) and its literature up to modern times receive special attention from multiple aspects, as do the indigenous grammatical tradition related to Sanskrit, poetics (Alaṃkāraśāstra), and the science of socio-religious norms (Dharmaśāstra). Work with manuscript sources, especially in the preparation of critical editions, in many of the above areas has led to the development of expertise in the paleography and codicology of Sanskrit manuscripts and the elaboration of computer-assisted text-critical methods. In the context of all foci, the combined philological and intellectual-historical approach is cultivated, complemented by further appropriate methodological approaches in each case.

In the field of culture and society of modern South Asia, the main focus of research so far has been on the history and self-representation of ethnic minorities, and the documentation and interpretation of oral and ritual traditions in South Asia, especially in the Himalayan region, using cultural–anthropological methodology combined with methods of Religious Studies and other disciplines within the Humanities. Furthermore, various studies are conducted on the languages and literatures of modern and contemporary South Asia, focusing on Hindi and Nepali as well as languages of the eastern Himalayan region from the large family of Tibeto-Burman Kiranti languages. Modern history and social history of South Asia, particularly of the north of the subcontinent and the central and eastern Himalayas, also receive attention in research. Other current research topics are in the field of religious history and art history of this large geographical area. Special mention should be made of a project to process the scientific estate of the Austrian cultural anthropologist René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz.

In the field of Tibetan and Buddhist studies, a first focus is on the history of philosophy and religion of Buddhism in South Asia and Tibet (in the latter case with special attention to the intellectual-historical relations to South Asia), and its sources transmitted in Sanskrit, Pāli and other Middle Indic languages, Tibetan and Chinese. New foci include research on Buddhist identities in Asia, especially in the context of interreligious confrontation and the exchange of ideas, and on the literary and social history of Tibet, such as the merging of scholarly and practical traditions in the works of Tibetan masters. As a special focus of studies in the field of the history of philosophy and religion – especially of Mahāyāna Buddhism – in its broader intellectual and cultural historical context, research on the Tathāgatagarbha and Buddhanature traditions, which have had an impact far beyond South Asia, deserves mention, as does work on Tibetan philosophical teachings based on mahāmūdra practices, especially gzhan stong philosophy, which are conducted against their South Asian background and from the perspectives of textual, literary, philosophical, and cultural history. These foci are complemented by work on Yogācāra and Madhyamaka in South Asia and Tibet, as well as studies on the translation of Buddhist literature into European languages and on the reception of Tibetan literature and philosophy in Europe. Another important focus is the long-standing basic research on the manuscript tradition of the Tibetan Buddhist canon, especially its Sūtra section, in the Western Himalayas, which has resulted in a related large-scale research initiative (Tibetan Manuscript Project Vienna) aimed at documenting, preserving, and researching endangered manuscript collections of canonical Tibetan literature in the border regions of the Himalayas.

The tradition of Tibetan medicine in its various aspects is to be mentioned as an additional established research focus in the field of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, characterized by the use of diverse complementary disciplinary approaches and under special consideration of current developments.

The Department maintains close research contacts with, among others, the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Vienna as well as with the Institute for Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia and the Institute for Social Anthropology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna.