Eight good reasons for engaging in Tibetan and Buddhist Studies in Vienna

Eight good reasons for engaging in
Tibetan and Buddhist Studies in Vienna - Buddhist Studies, Part 2



This post will give you a good idea what it’s like to engage in Buddhist Studies at the University of Vienna. In an earlier post on Buddhist Studies I tried to answer the question why one would at all engage in Buddhist Studies. So, in case you still take that into consideration, you might wonder what would be a good place for doing so. 

Suppose you want to dedicate yourself full-time to studies, you basically have two options: you can either enroll in a Buddhist Studies program at a Western university or enter a private institution run by a Buddhist society. Both approaches do have their pros and cons, but I am planning to dedicate a separate post to this subject at a later time.

ISTB, Vienna
Let’s say for the moment you consider studying at a Western university. There are of course a lot of Buddhist Studies programs worldwide to choose from, but only a few of them belong to the circle of leading institutions of the field. I will not make any judgment, stating which University belongs to this group and which doesn’t. Still, the program of the Institute for South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (ISTB) of the University of Vienna is certainly among them.

I have chosen to introduce this particular institute simply for the reason that I’ve spent a large part of my studies there. Therefore, I really do have an idea how the program is like. No doubt, other institutes might have an equally good offer, and I am very interested to learn about that.  

Please, feel free to share your own experiences, either about the program in Vienna or your own institute! You can do so by commenting at the end of this post, but you can also send me a short article about your institute by Email. I will do my best to publish it here in near future.

Eight good reasons for choosing Vienna


1. The location

If you have never visited Vienna before, you really should. It is for good reason that Mercer has ranked Vienna for the fourth time in a row as the number one most livable city in the world.  

Not much to add, it is really a wonderful place to be. You can get some impressions here. If you do not come here for your studies, you should at least come for some sight-seeing once. 

Buddhism is also a state-recognized religion in Austria which goes along with a lot of benefits. It for example means that schools are obliged to offer Buddhist religious classes upon demand. Hence, some students may already have a good knowledge of the subject prior to their studies.

2. A prestigious University

Forget about Harvard! You think it has a long history? Vienna University was founded in 1365 and is the oldest University in the German-speaking world, almost 300 years older than Harvard. Academic study of South Asia in Vienna began in 1845 which makes it one of the oldest still existing institutes in the field.

AKH, Vienna
Graduates of the institute are well looked upon since Austrian scholars are particularly renowned for their thorough philological-historical training.

3. Almost no student fees

In some parts of the world it might be hard to believe, but students coming to Austria can study here almost for free. Currently, you only have to pay a few Euros each semester for the student’s union and insurance. Governments change quite often though in Austria, and sometimes students had to pay a fee of about 300 Euros per semester in the past.

4. Scholarship possibilities

The University of Vienna offers a lot of scholarship possibilities (non-European students aren’t eligible for all of them). There has also been a recent development: the Khyentse Foundation is sponsoring a PhD scholarship, and also offers support of up to 5000$ per year for several students enrolled at the Buddhist Studies program of the University of Vienna. The application form can be found here.
Not only do you get an excellent education almost for free, but you also have a good chance to receive funding which will cover the largest part of your living costs. I assume it must almost sound to good to be true, particular for students from the United States where studies are very expensive.

5. Great program

The ISTB offers everything from BA, MA to PhD programs. A great variety of lectures on different subjects is offered by researchers and specialists of the institute, the nearby Austrian Academy of Sciences, or international guest professors. Especially from the BA onwards, there is often a choice between several credit courses depending on your personal interests. 

Inside the ISTB
In the past few years, different Tibetan Khenpos were present year-round at the institute, offering language courses and assisting students and staff with their research. In addition, each Friday, sometimes also additionally on Wednesday, there are guest lectures by international top scholars. 
Every year, several smaller or bigger conferences and workshops take place at the University. A special highlight will certainly be the 17th Congressof the International Association of Buddhist Studies (IABS) that takes place in Vienna this summer.

The ISTB offers so much more than only Tibetan and Buddhist Studies. With a high profile of Sanskrit Studies, it is also one of the most highly regarded European centers for studying the ancient Indian philosophical and religious traditions, and houses also a unit for modern South Asian Studies.The institute is made up of three sections headed by a Professor each:
  • The chair of Indology, held by Prof. Karin Preisendanz, Head of the ISTB
  • The chair of Cultural and Intellectual History of Modern South Asia, held by Prof. Martin Gaenszle
  • The chair of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, held by Prof. Klaus-Dieter Mathes
There is close cooperation with several other disciplines that focus on South Asia, especially Art History, Ethnology, Numismatics, and Cartography, but also Religious Studies, Linguistics, Philosophy, Translation Studies, Japanology and Sinology. Whatever your interest might be, this is indeed an ideal surrounding for study and research.

The Khyentse Foundation has also recently awarded funding to the ISTB in order to establish a program for Buddhist Translation Studies that will train professional translators who work with Buddhist canonical texts.

6. Language is not really a problem

While it might look like a drawback for all the non-German speakers at first, the official language of Austria is of course German (Austrian German to be precise). German isn’t actually that difficult for English speakers since both languages are very closely related. 

Most Austrians/Germans understand English quite well and a lot of courses are offered directly in English. There is of course no guarantee, but during my studies here, lecturers often switched to English when a non-German speaker attended a course.  

In addition to that, learning German might prove to be quite useful, because there is a lot of original research which is only published in German.

7. Infrastructure

Library, frontside
The institute is housed in a wonderful old University complex of the former general hospital of Vienna (AKH). It has an enormous and well-sorted library with more than 53000 volumes of books, Tibetan pechas, maps, microfilms, microfiches, a few manuscripts, CDs and so on. Students of the University also do have access to the huge Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center’s digital online library.  

Library, backside
The ISTB is engaged in a lot of international cooperation and the intense research activity of the institute is also reflected in its own publications such as the “Wiener Zeitschrift der Kunde Südasiens” (WZKS, since 1957), “Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde” (WSTB) and the “Sammlung de Nobili” (SDN).
Journal section of the library

8. Wonderful staff and people

Last but not least, the greatest asset of the ISTB's Buddhist Studies program is undoubtedly its students and staff. It is headed by Prof. Klaus-Dieter Mathes, a leading expert in the field of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies who can oversee advanced students and research, covering a great diversity of different subjects ranging from ethnology to philosophy and even Tibetan medicine.  There is also an incredible number of experienced lecturers and researchers that are housed at the institute. Such a high concentration of Buddhist scholars of distinction may be hard to find elsewhere. 
Autrians are generally also very helpful and friendly. This can proof very useful when struggling with bureaucracy. There are a lot of nice people here which will quickly make you feel at home at the institute. 

Let me end it with a very personal note: having come to Vienna for Buddhist Studies turned out to be an excellent decision, both for my professional and private life. I can highly recommend it!

Like to read more? Why Buddhist studies

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