Laudatio durch Prof. Dr. Jürgen Hanneder
Your Holiness, dear President, dear Dean,
dear colleagues and students, dear guests,
First of all I would like to emphasize that as the faculty confering this honorary degree we are ourselves honoured by His Holiness, who, despite his various obligations has found time to attend this academic ceremony. And especially as a relative newcomer to the department of Indology and Tibetology I must confess that I feel somewhat like the Indian proverbial dwarf gesturing with raised arms among giants.
Nevertheless, I shall try to explain the background of today's degree. His Holiness will receive an honorary doctorate of the University of Marburg from the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Culture, while the department responsible is that of Indology and Tibetology within this faculty. Since its inception in 1845, the Department of Indian and Tibetan studies in Marburg has always been fairly small, but quite productive. In the beginning the chairs were responsible not only for Indian languages, but for an extremely wide range of fields, from Christian theology, oriental languages up to Germanic languages. In 1928 Johannes Nobel came to Marburg to take up the post of Indian Philology and became increasingly involved in editorial projects concerning Buddhist works. As a consequence, he started offering courses in Tibetan and even Chinese. Eventually, Chinese was transferred to another department, recently and quite unfortunately to another university, but the study of Indian culture from then on included Buddhism and especially the study of translations of Indian, mostly Buddhist texts into Tibetan. Thus, the foundations of Indo-Tibetology were laid in Marburg, which since then has remained one of the main research interests in our department.
It is not by chance that a department of philology is awarding this degree. Philology is the study of language, of texts, and the ideas they express. For historical reasons there was initially, when our field of Indology was founded almost two hundred years ago, no question of nationalities and boundaries, but only of world literature. But this unbiased interest in foreign cultures was seldom widely accepted, sometimes criticism came from a colonial, sometimes from a nationalistic background. Shortly after World War II, for instance, the Marburg philologist Spitzer, who had to flee the NS regime, felt that he had to defend his interest in the literature of the then enemy France. Fortunately, boundaries have widened since, but – looking at the press of last week – it seems that we still have to explain that the academic study of other cultures is not an epiphenomenon of positive or negative public perception. In a cultured society it would be absurd not to do so.
Especially in a faculty devoted to foreign languages, we are regularly reminded of the fact that our artificial division of the world into East and West is not supported by the philological disciplines we teach, and I think that there is no better way to express this to a wider audience than with the degree we are awarding today.
It is also no secret that especially in our time with its peculiar notions of academic success, effectivity and financing, our subjects of Indian, Tibetan, and Buddhist studies have suffered significantly. This is despite the fact that, within its almost two hundred years of existence, Indology including the study of Buddhism in Germany has been crucial to an unbiased understanding of South and Central Asian cultures and religions. The outcome, however internationally acclaimed, has never entered the public mind as much as to allow a substantial growth of the field itself. Only few larger universities have been able to put more emphasis on South and Central Asia, while the small universities would continue to leave the responsibility for almost anything beyond the Near East to a single chair.
From the perspective of a scholar of foreign cultures this is most deplorable. As it is obvious that we cannot do without economics, it is obvious that a cultured society cannot do without a cultural memory. That this memory cannot just cover a few decades is only too clear, especially in this country. But beyond a certain point cultural memory is not national, but global. Our own earlier history, as Goethe once said, is actually not nearer to us than the history of a foreign culture or nation. The academic contribution to this preservation of cultures is realized by making their records accessible and by explaining them to later generations. This is one definition of the term philology in the denomination of our faculty. The results are often economically irrelevant, as are the small subjects when compared with many others in the university, but their contribution to society, to education, "Bildung'', are significant and lasting. These results can, however, not be counted, only weighed.
What is, I think, quite unknown in this context, is that His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, himself made the first contact to Marburg in the seventies to change the situation, that is, by offering to send lecturers of Tibetan to Marburg. As we can see from the files of the faculty in the university archive, the offer unfortunately had to be turned down at the time because of a lack of funds. But His Holiness has been invaluably instrumental in supporting academic research on Tibet in a variety of ways, as for instance through the foundation of an academic institution in North India, the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, with which my colleague and predecessor, Professor Michael Hahn, has had a long-standing relationship. We will now hear more about this in the laudatio by my colleague Bhikkhu Pāsādika, Professor emeritus of our department.