Print this Page. Send this Page.

Buddhist Studies - Research

Information about research foci of individual team members is given on their personal profile pages.

Projects (second funding period)

MC13 Practices of Argumentation

Practices of Argumentation in Transcultural Perspective

Coordination: Joachim Kurtz, Birgit Kellner


Histories of logic and argumentation that include sections on China typically begin with declarations of excitement at the discovery of anticipations of theoretical insights in modern formal logic, only to then express their disappointment that these promising seeds never came to fruition. Similarly, research on logic in pre-modern South Asia and Tibet was until very recently also driven by the search for antecedents of formal theories of reasoning, often within a larger quest for “rationality.” Yet, even if argumentation was practiced either without relying on much accompanying theoretical reflection (China) or in part by following patterns outside the sphere of explicitly formulated logical theory (India, Tibet), no one can deny that argumentation, persuasion and contention were key elements in a wide array of activities central to the concerns of Chinese, South Asian and Tibetan societies prior to their encounters with Euro-America. Working towards a global history of truth and rationality, this interdisciplinary research group aims to move beyond the search for anticipations of formal reasoning in South and East Asia by providing historically situated studies of practices of argumentation and the implicit standards of validity embodied within them.

D19 Kalimpong

Kalimpong as a ‘contact zone’: encounters between Tibet and Western modernity in the early 20th century

Coordination: Birgit Kellner, Markus Viehbeck


A view of Kalimpong and the Himalayan panorama in the 1940s, Courtesy Kodak Store Kalimpong.

A view of Kalimpong and the Himalayan panorama in the 1940s, Courtesy Kodak Store Kalimpong.

(Project duration: Feb. 2013 - Jan. 2016)

The project had a major impact on stimulating new research on transcultural encounters in the Eastern Himalayan borderlands – a region whose presently marginal status is in sharp contrast to its importance for Great Game politics, European exploration, trade, and religious innovation at the end of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries. As a focal point for such encounters, the project concentrated on the strategically important hill station of Kalimpong. Situated along the trade route from Lhasa to Kolkata, this town developed into a key centre for the exchange of Tibetan and Western commodities, and, as a base for British colonial officers, Scottish missionaries, European Tibetologists, and Tibetan aristocrats, politicians, and scholar-monks, enabled flows of knowledge between Tibet, the Himalayas, and the rest of the world in a general sense.

The project contributed to establishing an active international research network, using new theoretical perspectives related to transcultural and postcolonial studies, among them a critical re-evaluation of Mary Louise Pratt's crucial concept of a "contact zone," as a conceptual framework. More specifically, the project members conducted several case studies, focussing on the encounters between European and Tibetan scholars, their dynamic power relations (e.g., Tibetan scholars as "research assistants"), and the knowledge that was produced in their interactions (e.g., the emergence of modern Tibetan lexicography; a PhD thesis on the Tibetan newspaper Mélong as an interface between Tibet and Western Modernity).

The results of the project were disseminated in the form of numerous talks at different institutions, two collected volumes – one already published, another one forthcoming – as well as several articles by project members. Further, an important newspaper archive, providing open access to local information of the region was established. Please use the navigation menu on the left to see detailed results and activities of the project such as publications, developments in digital humanities, international cooperation, etc.

The highlight of the project was a larger international conference conducted in Kalimpong in March 2015, which triggered great interest, both locally and globally. For watching a video of the introduction and keynote speech of this conference, please click here.

Projects with third party funding

DFG project pramāṇa

Erkenntnistheoretische Systeme in der klassischen indischen Philosophie: Prajñākaragupta (ca. 750-810) zur Anzahl der Erkenntnismittel (pramāṇa)

Coordination: Birgit Kellner


Buddhists of fifth to twelfth century India, writing on epistemology and logic, generally recognized two means by which a normal person can securely attain knowledge: by a direct perception of some real particular, or by an inference, which operates with ultimately unreal universals.

Whilst these two means have, individually, been extensively studied, there has not been any detailed inquiry either into the history of the arguments for this duality, or into the systematic motivation behind it.

We thus do not know for certain how this theory was created in the first place, how it was argued for, defended, and perhaps adapted throughout the more than six hundred years that Buddhist epistemology and logic thrived in India, or why it was upheld that there are these two, and only these two, reliable ways to knowledge.

In order to find some answers to these questions, this project studies a passage from a text written around 800 CE. This text, the Pramāṇavārttikālaṅkāra by Prajñākaragupta, presents itself as a commentary on one of this tradition's founding texts, the Pramāṇavārttika by Dharmakīrti (seventh century CE).

The passage considered in this project, the commentary on verses 53–84 of the Pramāṇavārttika's chapter on perception, explains and expands the arguments given by Dharmakīrti for why there are only two means of valid cognition; in doing so, it refutes alternative views and engages in discussions about how the two means are related. The project taps into this source to reconstruct the main positions held at Prajñākaragupta's time.

As is typical for this text, this passage goes far beyond the verses it is purportedly commenting on. It all but rewrites the theory proposed there, yet claims perfect coherence with it.

Since this text also exerted a very strong influence on later writers in this tradition, it is the ideal starting point for this project's inquiry into the internal dynamics and external circumstances driving and shaping the formation of a core theory of Buddhist epistemology.

Research associate: Patrick McAllister

Project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)


SARIT: Enriching Digital Text Collections in Indology

Coordination: Birgit Kellner, Liudmila Olalde


Sanskrit texts make up one of the richest cultural and intellectual archives of the premodern world, linked with deep traditions of sophisticated and systematic reflection on basic questions of the humanities. The SARIT project – Search and Retrieval of Indic Texts –, jointly proposed by partners in Columbia and Heidelberg, will develop and disseminate standards for Sanskrit texts, based on the widely-adopted Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). The project continues and further develops an existing project, initiated by Dominik Wujastyk, Patrick McAllister and other colleagues that produced and maintain the SARIT web platform.

Within the new SARIT project, high-quality digital editions of key texts will be produced in the three areas of Buddhist philosophy (especially epistemology and logic), Vedic hermeneutics, and literary theory, and made available for free download. With the further integration of two existing prosopographical and bibliographical databases, and with the
addition of new features for reading, searching, annotating and analyzing these texts, SARIT will develop into an entirely new and collaborative platform for Indological research, standards-driven and extensible, tying in with ongoing development work at the Heidelberg Research Architecture (HRA). SARIT’s structured and standards-compliant digital corpus will form a solid basis for the future development of advanced tools for textual analysis, which are sorely needed given the sheer magnitude of Sanskrit literature, and the complexity of intertextual relations and forms of textual transmission that are characteristic for it.

The project is jointly directed by Prof. Sheldon Pollock (Columbia University) and Prof. Birgit Kellner (Heidelberg).

Project consultants: Dominik Wujastyk (University of Alberta), Amba Kulkarni (University of Hyderabad), Oliver Hellwig (INDSENZ).

Project coordinators: Liudmila Olalde (Heidelberg), Andrew Ollett (Columbia).

Additional project members: Patrick McAllister (Heidelberg), Peter Pasedach (Heidelberg/Hamburg),Jens Østergaard Petersen (Heidelberg/HRA).

Funding period: 1 October 2013 – 30 April 2017

To top