Berlin Indology (2)

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Tue Jan 2 02:41:58 UTC 2007

Dear List members,

Before Christmas, I have written to you about the planned closure of 
the Berlin Indology department.

Many of you have already written to the Berlin authorities then.

However, a second push may not hurt, as the case is by *no means* 
closed yet.

So, please, those of you who have not yet written, do so now during the 
New Year break!

As you know, we have set up an email address to which you can send your 

       berlinindology at

If you want to write *directly* to the various authorities concerned, 
please let me know, and I will then send you the proper addresses.

[[ By the way, someone (the World Sanskrit Association?) should 
organize such efforts worldwide, as cutbacks in all classical fields, 
from Latin and Greek to Chinese, are and will be with us for a while. 
Eventually, even administrators and  politicians will recognize that 
you have to know a bit more about the world's civilizations than just 
current elections and economics... ]]

With many thanks
and best wishes for 2007,
Michael Witzel


Please select from the following or compose a letter yourself.

Just a  few lines will do!


To whom it may concern:

A few days weeks we have learned, worldwide, that Indian Studies in 
Berlin are to be abolished. I therefore write to you to request to 
preserve the world famous Institute of Indology.

This does not only concern modern South Asian Studies, that still are 
well represented, but also „Classical Indology“ or „Indian Philology“.

Classical Indian Philology has existed at Berlin since 1821, and the 
discipline has been continued at Humboldt University even after 1945 by 
Professors Ruben and Morgenroth, as well as at the new institute of the 
Freie Universitaet (Prof.s Bruhn and Falk). Indology prominently deals 
with the indigenous weltanschauung, religion and history of thought, as 
they are represented in Sanskrit and other texts. Without this kind of 
background modern India cannot be understood.

The study of the Sanskrit language, that was one of the official 
languages in India until 1835, is essential for any understanding of 
the immense number of Indian texts, from c. 1500 BCE until today, for 
example in fields such as traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda) or 
indigenous Indian linguistics (Panini), a field that has supplied 
important stimuli to western linguistics.

As is obvious even from this minimal discussion, modern India can only 
be understood -- just as any other important civilization – if one 
studies its foundational texts and their impact during the medieval and 
modern periods.  (I have constantly experienced that myself during my 
five years stay in South Asia.) Indian history, spanning some 5000 
years, is becoming ever more important even in the political arena, for 
example during the past elections of 2004, which had the effect that 
even classical philologists were drawn into the fray, whether they 
wanted or not.

Consequently, both modern as well a classical Indology are essential.  
We appeal to you to continue both branches of our discipline.

Berlin Indology can look back, as mentioned, to a tradition spanning 
some 200 years. Many internationally famous scholars have emerged from 
Berlin. In the early 19th century, the study of India belonged to one 
of the major points of Humboldt’s reform of the German Universities. 
This should not be forgotten now that India receives great attention 
worldwide, as it grows economically and politically.

Finally, it may be added that German Indology has a very good name in 
India, as Indologists have seriously endeavored to study Indian culture 
without prejudice. This long-standing and continuing attitude of German 
intellectuals towards Indian civilization has made Indology the best 
ambassador in India. It will be met with disbelief both in India  and 
worldwide if the German capital will have to do without an Indian 

The preservation of the internationally highly regarded Indology of 
Berlin therefore is important also for the reputation of Berlin as a 
place of research.  The demolition of Indology would also  be 
unreasonable in view of the large collections of manuscripts of the 
Prussian State Library and the Academy, as well as the rich holdings of 
the Museum of Indian Art. It would bring 200 years of a great tradition 
to an end.

We therefore sincerely appeal to you to preserve the discipline and its 
BA., M.A., and PhD. courses. Anything but this would be a disaster, a 
waste of material and human capital.

Yours faithfully,


(official position)
Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies, Harvard University
1 Bow Street , 3rd floor, Cambridge MA 02138
1-617-495 3295           Fax: 496 8571
direct line:       496 2990

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