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History of the department

The field of South Asian Studies (formerly "Department of Oriental Languages and Cultures") was created in 1971, when the Faculty of Arts at the University of Lausanne was divided according to departments. But Sanskrit was already being taught at Unil as far back as 1903 by the German linguist Hans Schacht. After an interruption between 1933 and 1945, the teaching of Sanskrit resumed with the arrival of Constantin REGAMEY, who held a doctorate in Indian Philology and Comparative Grammar of Indo-European Languages from the University of Warsaw. From 1949, C. Regamey held an “ad personam” chair of Oriental and Slavic languages. The University of Lausanne has therefore a considerable debt to Prof. Regamey as far as Oriental Studies are concerned.

In 1968, the Swiss National Science Foundation created a Chair in Buddhist Philology for Jacques MAY, who had been one of Prof. Regamey’s students and had returned from a long sojourn in Japan. His teaching will follow his important researches on Indian Buddhist philosophies. When Prof. Regamey retired in 1977, the Orientalist half of his position was converted into a part-time professorship dedicated to the study of Sanskrit and Indology. In 1977, this chair was attributed to Heinz ZIMMERMANN (who got his PhD from the University of Basel). A full professorship was created in 1981.

After Prof. Zimmermann’s untimely demise in 1986, Johannes BRONKHORST, PhD from the Universities of Poona (India) and Leiden (the Netherlands), took his chair over a year later. The Tibetan language, which had been periodically taught by Profs Regamey, May and Zimmermann, was officially introduced in 1989, when Tom Tillemans became privat-docent. Prof. May retired in 1992. A full professorship of Buddhist Studies was subsequently created, to which Tom TILLEMANS acceded, following in the footsteps of his teacher. Both Profs Johannes Bronkhorst and Tom Tillemans retired in 2011. Besides these main topics, Buddhism of Eastern Asia (mainly Japan) has also been taught from 1993 onwards when Jérôme DUCOR (PhD from the University of Geneva) was nominated privat docent. Tibetan studies received additional support from Cristina SCHERRER-SCHAUB (PhD from the University of Lausanne). Dr Scherrer-Schaub has since enjoyed several years as professor at EPHE in Paris and part-time professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies in Lausanne.
The Buddhist languages of India (Sanskrit and Pali) and Iran (Khotanese) have also been taught at the Department ever since Giotto CANEVASCINI (PhD from the University of Hamburg) was nominated privat docent, until 2011 when he retired.

Mrs Maria Bürgi-Kyriadis introduced the study of modern Hinduism in 1978. Her course, as a privat docent, was continued from 1987 onwards by Prof. Maya BURGER, Doctor of Indian Anthropology (Unil), with additional education in Indian Studies and History of religions in India and the US. Prof. Burger also introduced Hindi courses. From 1995 to 2009, she held the Chair of the History of Religions in the Interfaculty Department of the same name. Since 2009, she is Professor in Indian Studies, Hindi and History of Religions at the Department of South Asian Studies. Her specific interests concern the history of yoga, early modern literature and languages, and the intellectual history between India and Europe.

Optional until 2011, Hindi has now become a full part of the studies of the Department and can be chosen as a main field, like Sanskrit, among the programs of the Faculty. Hindi is also taught by Dr Nicola POZZA, senior lecturer at the Department since 2009, whose main fields of research are related to the history of modern Hindi literature and modern Indian intellectual history. Nicola Pozza is also a translator from Hindi. Since 2003, Dr Danielle FELLER (PhD from the Univ. of Lausanne), whose main fields of research are Sanskrit Epics and Kavya literatures, holds a course load for the teaching of grammar and Sanskrit literature. Moreover, a position of Senior Lecturer in Indian studies and history of religions was created in 2011, held by Dr Philippe BORNET (PhD from the Univ. of UNIL), who is a specialist in the history of Orientalism and India-Europe relations, and of the cultures and literatures of South India.

After the retirement of Profs Bronkhorst and Tillemans, two new Professorships have been created in August 2012, giving to the Department a new direction. Prof. Ingo STRAUCH (PhD from the Freie Universität Berlin) holds the Chair of Sanskrit and Buddhist Studies; his researches cover the history of premodern South Asian cultures, the study of Indian Buddhist languages and literatures, Indian epigraphy and paleography, as well as manuscriptology. He is also the chied editor of the JIABS. Prof. Blain AUER (PhD from Harvard University), whose main field of research deals with the Delhi Sultanate, holds the brand new Chair of Urdu and Islam in South Asia.



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