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Bannergrafik (Indologie)

History of the Department of Indology and Tibetology

The study of Sanskrit and Indian culture was initiated in various German universities at the beginning of the nineteenth century, first of all in Jena (1817) and Bonn (1818). One academic generation later, some of those students who studied in Bonn under August Wilhelm SCHLEGEL (1767–1845) and Christian LASSEN (1800–1876) were to be appointed to the newly opened chairs where Indian Studies began to be pursued. In Marburg the first course in Sanskrit was offered by the philosopher Franz VORLÄNDER, who had studied in Bonn and Berlin, in the winter term of 1843/44.


Johannes GILDEMEISTER (1812–1890)

A year later, in 1845, Johannes GILDEMEISTER (1812–1890), also a student of SCHLEGEL, was appointed in Marburg. As a matter of fact, the reason was not purely academic: when GILDEMEISTER was in Bonn, he denounced in a book the Catholic worship of relics and for this reason was appointed in the Department of Theology of the old Protestant University of Marburg. GILDEMEISTER taught the Old Testament and Oriental languages, including Sanskrit. As a philologist of the Bonn school, he imparted to his students, or sometimes to his only student who strayed to his courses, the »exact philological method« which should lead »to a precise translation and complete understanding of the author of the text« that was being read in each particular case.


Ferdinand JUSTI (1837–1907)

After GILDEMEISTER was recalled to Bonn in 1859, a Chair for Comparative Grammar and Germanic Philology was established in Marburg in 1865. It was headed by Ferdinand JUSTI (1837–1907) who had studied under GILDEMEISTER. Within this position JUSTI had the opportunity to offer courses in Oriental Studies. JUSTI’s interest was particularly in Iranian Studies, but he worked in the field of Indo-Germanic and Germanic Studies as well. During his time there were regular indological courses in Marburg.


Albert THUMB (1865–1915)

From JUSTI’s position a new Chair for Indo-European Linguistics evolved in Marburg. It was was occupied in 1901 by Albert THUMB (1865–1915), a student of BRUGMANN and OSTHOFF. During his time in Marburg THUMB published his Handbuch des Sanskrit which has been revised several times and is still very useful to students of Indo-European Linguistics as an introduction to the Old Indian language. After eight years in Marburg, in 1909 THUMB left for a professorship at the University of Strasbourg.


Karl Friedrich GELDNER (1852–1929)

With the appointment of the fifty-five year old Karl Friedrich GELDNER (1852–1929) in 1907 a very high standard of Indology was established in Marburg. GELDNER laid the foundation of a noteworthy library; after declining the chair in Kiel he requested special funding, dividing it among the then three Departments of Indology, Indo-European Linguistics, and Semitic Studies. The teaching spectrum was broadened considerably, strengthened in addition by the appointment of Max LINDENAU (1885–1980) in the winter term of 1919/20. LINDENAU, however, soon left the university when doubts about his academic qualifications arose, after he gave an esoteric-occult lecture which caused a tumult in Marburg. GELDNER, in the meantime, acquired worldwide recognition as a Vedic scholar, despite being a reserved person. Thus, out of humbleness he declined a felicitation volume dedicated to him, though a congratulatory letter on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday was signed by all well-known Indologists of the time. This document leaves no doubt at all that already during his lifetime GELDNER was regarded as an outstanding Indologist: »in Indian philology, and above all in his special field of interest, Vedic Studies, GELDNER plays a leading role, and his reputation in Germany and abroad as a teacher and a scholar is undisputed.« His colleague JACOBSOHN wrote in the obituary published in the Mitteilungen des Marburger Universitätsbundes (1929) that GELDNER was more well-known in India and America than in Marburg itself.


Hanns OERTEL (1868–1952)

Already in 1921 Hanns OERTEL (1868–1952), who had studied under WHITNEY and had taught in Yale for a long time, was appointed as GELDNER’s successor. With Vedic Studies as his area of expertise OERTEL fitted very well into the profile moulded by GELDNER. After only three years, however, OERTEL was appointed in Munich. Jakob Wilhelm HAUER (1881–1962) succeeded OERTEL in Marburg for a short time from 1925–27. As a welcome partner of the famous Marburg theologian Rudolph OTTO he was given preference over his academically far superior competitor for the post, Helmuth von GLASENAPP. HAUER left Marburg when he was appointed in Tübingen in 1927, thanks to the intervention of his teacher Richard GARBE. In 1928 the emeritus professor GELDNER headed the Indology in Marburg again alone for a short time.


Johannes NOBEL (1887–1960)

Johannes NOBEL (1887–1960) was offered the Chair for Indology on March 26, 1928. He had studied under PISCHEL, SCHULZE, and SIEG. After PISCHEL’s death, LÜDERS became his teacher, under whom he finished his doctorate in 1911 with a thesis on Indian poetics. NOBEL then turned to studies on Indian poetry and Buddhist poetics. He had already learnt Tibetan in Berlin, now autodidactically acquired Chinese and Japanese as well, and wrote exemplary works in Buddhist Studies. Unlike his predecessor HAUER, NOBEL did not collaborate with the NS-Regime and was apparently under observation when he travelled abroad; despite everything NOBEL was able to maintain the continuity of Indology in Marburg. He taught alone for a long time and held lectures on Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, and sometimes even Japanese. During the years 1941–44 he was supported by Junyu KITAYAMA who specialized in the field of East Asian Studies. KITAYAMA was a Buddhist monk who had done his doctorate in Heidelberg under Karl JASPERS, and taught Comparative Religion in Marburg as an honorary professor. NOBEL taught Indology until 1955. In Marburg he prepared his main scholarly works on the »Sūtra of Golden Light«. After retirement, NOBEL still held his position for two further terms until his successor was appointed.


Wilhelm RAU (1922–1999)

Wilhelm RAU (1922–1999) studied in Leipzig under WELLER, then in Marburg under NOBEL, and finally for two years in India. He came to Marburg in 1925 as NOBEL’s successor and taught until 1988. Once again a well-qualified Vedic scholar was appointed, albeit with a vast spectrum within Indology. A further area of RAU’s specialization was the indigenous Indian grammar and the study of realia, on which he did fundamental studies. The Department of Indology in Marburg was further extended through the appointment of Claus VOGEL (1933–2012) who was responsible for Tibetan from 1959 to 1976. In addition, a lectureship for modern Indian languages was given to the Indian scholar Peri Sarveswara SHARMA (1926–2000), who taught until 1991. With almost twenty successful dissertations under the guidance of RAU the small institute distinguished itself as one with an academically solid and stimulating atmosphere.

With RAU’s successor Michael HAHN (b. 1941) a scholar, especially distinguished in the field of Indian literature and Tibetan studies, was appointed, who could further cultivate the intensive academic atmosphere of the institute. A further enrichment for the Department of Indology and Tibetology was Bhikkhu Pāsādika (b. 1939) who was active as an Honorary Professor in Marburg for a long time. Considering its excellent achievements in research and the high reputation the institute has won during the preceding century and a half, it was all the more surprising when plans to close down the Department of Indology and Tibetology after HAHN’s retirement in 2006 were announced. After protests, the state government guaranteed the continuation of the courses of study, and the institute was saved from closure. Since 2007 the position of head of the Department of Indology and Tibetology has been occupied by Jürgen HANNEDER (b. 1964).


Michael HAHN (1941–2014)


Recommended reading: Indologie im Umbruch. Zur Geschichte des Faches in Marburg 1845–1945.  Antrittsvorlesung von Jürgen Hanneder. München 2010. (Indologica Marpurgensia, Band I).


Zuletzt aktualisiert: 31.05.2016 · Dragomir Dimitrov

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