Summary of the history and present situation*
The city of Giessen is located in the German federal state of Hessen, about
half an hour journey by car from Frankfurt. Among the four universities of
Hessen, the University of Giessen comes second in many respects. Founded in
1607 by Landlord Ludwig V. of Hessen-Darmstadt, it was named after him "Ludwigs-University"
(Ludoviciana). It is the second oldest and with a number of 22,000 students
today also the second largest university in Hessen.
The University of Giessen belongs to the old "Schools of Higher Learning" of
the German-speaking territories. It derives from the second Central European
Movement of University Foundations ("Gründungszeitalter"), the so-called
`Post- Reformation Movement`, that was initiated by the University of
Marburg (founded 1527). Marburg and Giessen are neighbour-universities and
as such they have to differ in terms of orientation. Nonetheless, they play
complementary roles in the intellectual life of the region.
Since Marburg became Calvinist after the partition of Hessen, Giessen was
set up as a Lutheran establishment. In the 17th and 18th centuries Giessen
was a typical minor Protestant regional university. It was made up of four
faculties: theology, jurisprudence, medicine and philosophy. At the end of
the 18th century, a faculty of economics was established. In the 19th
century the University of Giessen was considered to be liberal, even modern.
Until today it attempts to live up to this reputation.
Since 1736 the university bears in its coat of arms a "T"-symbol, in blue
and silver on a golden ground. This sign represents the cross of the
Antonites, a hospice-order, that owned a leading monastery in the 13th
century which was located close to Giessen. The monastery enjoyed high
respect and was considered to be one of the richest in Hessen. In the 17th
century, its real estates came to be part of the University of Giessen. That
is why the present Institute of Oriental Studies bears the old cross of the
Antonites in its seal.
Oriental languages and Oriental Studies
("morgenländische Studien") have a long history in Giessen. A chair of
Oriental languages was first established in 1670. The first to hold the
chair was the judaist, theologian and orientalist David Clodius (1644-1687).
Henceforth, the orientalists of Giessen put their interest in Oriental
languages - as it was the case at other universities - almost exclusively to
the service of theology. This did not change until 1833 when the chair was
offered to Johann August Vullers (1803-1881). Vullers had emerged from the
school of Silvestre de Sacy (1758-1838), the acknowledged founder of
scientific Arabic Studies in Europe. Vullers regarded Oriental Studies as a
science of its own. He made it his task to study culture and history of the
peoples of the Orient ("morgenländische Völker") for their own sake. Vullers
developed manifold teaching activities for nearly half a century. His main
interest was in Persian language and literature. His best known work is the
monumental Lexicon Persico-Latinum (II Vol. and Suppl., Giessae 1855-1867),
an indispensable reference work to this day. The work was photo-mechanically
reprinted in 1962.
After Vullers` death in 1881, the chair remained vacant for 20 years, until
it was transformed into a chair for Semitic languages and was filled by
Friedrich Zacharias Schwally. In 1909 and 1919 Schwally (1863-1919), a disciple of
Theodor Noeldeke (1836-1930), published the first two volumes of
Noeldekes celebrated Geschichte des Korans in a completely revised edition.
He also contributed to the Berlin edition the Tabaqat of Ibn Sa’d. His
interests were mainly in the Arabic and Aramaic languages.
Another Semitic language, the Ethiopian, was cultivated in Giessen at the
faculty of theology and not at the faculty of philosophy. We can even say
that Ethiopian Studies in Germany were revived in Giessen. This happened in
the middle of the 19th century, 1864-69, due to the efforts of August
Dillmann (1823-94) who connected studies in the Old Testament with Oriental
At the beginning of this century, the fields
of research in Oriental Studies were extended: Paul Ernst Kahle (1875-1964),
a scholar with an extensive knowledge, came to Giessen in 1914. His
interests were mainly Hebrew, Arabic and Ottoman Studies. In Hebrew he
studied the history of the Hebrew text of the Bible and its different
systems of vocalisation, in Arabic he wrote treatises on the history of
Egypt, Egyptian popular religion and on shadow play (the latter was edited
by Derek Hopwood in 1994). In Ottoman Studies his special interest was
nautical literature. Among other things he rediscovered the missing map of
Columbus of 1498 in a Turkish map of the world of the year 1513.
Kahle was followed by Rudolf Strothmann (1877-1960) whose main field of
interest was the study of Muslim minorities and sects.
The broad development of Oriental Studies in Giessen was put at a temporary
halt in 1933. The then holder of the chair, Julius Lewy (1895-1963), a distinguished expert on Accadian and the history of the Old Orient - who
worked, amongst other subjects, on the Cappadocian-Accadian clay tablets of
Kültepe - was expelled for "racial" reasons and had to emigrate. Until the
end of World War II Oriental Studies in Giessen was more or less inactive.
In summary, it may be said that during its first 160 years of existence,
1670-1830, Oriental Studies in Giessen was not more than an auxiliary
science to the study of the Old Testament. A second step of developing
Oriental Studies started with Vullers whose era marked the beginning of a
new perspective in Oriental scholarship. The new generation "saw in the
Oriental languages, literatures and religions and in the history of the
Orient objects whose exploration should serve the general knowledge of the
human culture"(1). With "every new holder of the chair, a new course of
research was developed": Persian, Ethiopian, general Semitics, Hebrew,
After World War II the third period of the history of Oriental Studies at
Giessen university began. At first, all academic subjects were abolished in
1946 except for agriculture, veterinary medicine, the most essential natural
sciences and later human medicine. The old "Ludoviciana" was - by request of
the Allies - transformed into the "Justus-Liebig-University" at which only
these subjects were taught. It was only in 1957 that the full status of the
university was re-established. For almost twenty years then Oriental Studies
had not existed and it was not until 1964 that this discipline was
revitalised under a new name and with a new regional focus. It was called
"Seminar for the Languages and Cultures of North Africa". "This part of
Africa was chosen because the University of Giessen made it its task to
promote the study of the tropical and subtropical countries"(3). Therefore,
the emphasis of research was on Africa. For Oriental Studies this meant,
however, an overlap of three fields of studies, namely Semitic Studies,
including language and culture of Christian Ethiopia, Islamic Studies and
African Studies. "The Giessen experiment should therefore facilitate new
forms of interdisciplinary collaboration in research and teaching, and this
is particularly manifest in the intellectual cooperation with the Institute
for Tropical Diseases and the Institute of Geography"(4).
So much for the theoretical concept, but putting this into practice was much
more difficult. After many years of trying to obtain a chair for African
Studies, the plan was finally given up in the seventies. African Studies was
then extended at another Hessian university. The Giessen seminar was renamed
"Institute for Oriental Studies". As far as Semitic Studies is concerned,
particular attention has been devoted to South Semitic languages (North
Arabic, South Arabic, Ethiopian Semitic languages) in Giessen until 1992.
The neighbouring university at Marburg, on the other hand, has concentrated
largely on North Semitic languages. Within Islamic Studies, Marburg
University focuses on the region of Iran, so that Giessen is able to place
its emphasis on Turkish Studies. The section for Turkish Studies cooperates
with the larger section for East European Studies. The cooperation with
Marburg University includes "the exchange of library catalogues and lending
services between the two seminars as well as a mutual exchange of language
The third phase of the history of the Giessen
Institute for Oriental Studies is closely connected with the name of Ewald
Wagner. Wagner (born August 8, 1927) was offered a chair at
Justus-Liebig-University in 1964, the year the seminar was founded. He
occupied the chair up to 1992. Wagner's research focuses on one aspect of
classical Arabic, i.e. the history of Arabic literature during the Abbasid
period - his edition of the poetry of Abu Nuwas (Wiesbaden, 1958) is
internationally renowned as is also his work on classical Arabic poetry
(Darmstadt, 1987/88). Within the framework of cataloguing Oriental
manuscripts in Germany, Wagner is working on Arabic manuscripts from
Ethiopia and he was head of the project "Cataloguing Arabic Manuscripts"
which was seated in Giessen up to 1996. From 1997 onwards the whole project
is to be continued at the University of Jena (Thüringen) since there had
been no manuscripts to be found in Giessen itself. The same applies to the
cataloguing of Old-Turkic (Old-Uiguric) manuscripts. All of the Old-Turkic
material to be catalogued is kept in Berlin. Since 1992 when the head of the
project "Cataloguing Old-Turkic Manuscripts", Klaus Röhrborn, left Giessen,
this project is to be found in Göttingen and Marburg.
Let us return to teaching at the Institute for Oriental Studies in Giessen.
Arabic was introduced in 1978 as a minor course of study in the "Modern
Languages Programme" which combines modern European and Arabic languages
with economic subjects. With this innovative programme the university hopes
to enrich the job market through the combination of business administration,
culture studies and foreign languages, and to work against all forms of
eurocentrism. A similar approach was applied 1984 when Turkish was included
as a minor subject in the supplementary post-graduate programme "German as a
foreign language". Thus the way has gradually been paved in Giessen for
Oriental research devoted to the present-day as well as to the conventional
philological and literary studies in these areas.
When Angelika Hartmann (born December 3, 1944) from the Department of Near
Eastern History and Culture at Hamburg University was offered the chair for
Islamic Studies at Giessen April 1, 1993, new priorities were set up(6).
Semitic Studies had been withdrawn from the programme of Oriental Studies
the previous year. The professorship for Turkish Studies is held by Mark
Kirchner (born February 2, 1960) since October 1, 2003. Both, Islamic and Turkish Studies, are to be
made available for direct cooperative work with Islamic countries concerning
their economies, foreign policies, media, social and education policies.
In order to reach these goals, reforms of the programmes of study are
necessary. For this reason, the possibilities of interdisciplinary research
are being practised as well as developing integrative programmes for law,
political science, business administration, economics, geography, computer
science, history, and social sciences. The traditional methods of Oriental
research and teaching can no longer explain the effects of acculturation in
societies dominated by Islamic influence. Islamic Studies - in Giessen as
elsewhere - must rely on the methodology of integrative supplementary
Why do young people study Islamic, Arabic or Turkish Studies at Giessen?
They realise that they cannot get very far
with a degree in one of the more popular programmes. Supplementary and key
qualifications are asked for today. This explains why parallel studies,
minors and supplementary programmes are important.
Oriental Studies in Giessen offers students
the following special focuses:
language teaching in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and other Turkic languages,
research and teaching in Islamic theology and fundamentals of Islam,
history and politics,
historic culture studies.
Regional emphasis is placed on the central and eastern Arabic countries,
Turkey, the Central Asian Turkish republics as well as Iran and Afghanistan.
Among the current projects are:
Studies on the religious and ideological reference systems of contemporary
Islamic societies and civilisations.
With the support of the Hessian Research Programme "Developing of a World
Society ", in 1994 the documentation and research project "Fundamentalism
and Civil Society in the Middle East" was established. Material on the
different theological currents and secular movements in the Islamic Middle
East are collected. The collection consists mainly of Arabic materials, but
there are also others in Turkish, Persian and European languages. The
textual materials are mainly monographs, periodicals, learned journals,
brochures, jury statements, sermons, articles, press statements and official
declarations of Islamic movements and establishments. This kind of
documentation is a novelty at the Hessian universities. It has been
established with the aim to assist not only in academic pursuits, but also
to improve the state of information of interested members of the public,
especially those working in the media and the economic sector.
Member of the "Sonderforschungsbereich Erinnerungskulturen" with the project
"“True” Islam: Exegesis horizon and memory in religious-political
movements of contemporary Muslim societies"
Projects on the history of Medieval Islam, for example in collaboration with
the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, Paris.
The projects intend to examine:
The period of the Crusades in Arabic historiography. The history of East
Mediterranean States, especially Sicily, Asia Minor, as portrayed by the
13th century Islamic sources. A critical analysis and translation of a
Syrian historical work from Hamat in a unique St. Petersburg manuscript will
Polemics against philosophy in Islam. Critical edition and analysis of
Arabic texts illustrating the views of Sunni scholars and Sufis against
various theories of the philosophers concerning the concepts of God,
creation, application of reason and testimony.
Orthodoxy and heresy in Islam. This project will describe the background to
pluralism and polarity in Islamic theological movements of the Middle Ages.
Sermons and mysticism.
The wudjud of Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi
Islamic Identities in the context of global medias
In summary, teaching and research in Giessen is concerned with traditional
Islamic mediaeval studies as well as contemporary questions.
(1)Cf. Wagner, "Das Seminar", p.28
(3)Cf. Wagner, "Das Seminar", p.29
(4)Cf. Röhrborn, "Orientalistik", p.6
(5)Cf. Wagner, "Das Seminar", p.28
(6)Cf. "Uni-forum", Oct.27, 1993, p.10
Ewald Wagner, "Das Seminar für Sprachen und Kulturen Nordafrikas an der
Justus-Liebig-Universität zu Giessen"
in: Giessener Hochschulblätter, 12th year, No. 3, 1965, pp. 26-29
Klaus Röhrborn, "Orientalistik an der Giessener Universität von 1833 bis
in: Kashkul. Festschrift zum 25. Jahrestag der Wiederbegründung des
Instituts für Orientalistik an der Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, ed. E.
Wagner and K. Röhrborn, Wiesbaden 1989, pp. 1-7
Angelika Hartmann: Orientalistik und Islambegriff heute
in: Angewandte interdisziplinäre Orientforschung. Stand und Perspektiven im
westlichen und östlichen Deutschland, ed. Angelika Hartmann and Konrad
Schliephake, Hamburg 1991 (Mitteilungen des Deutschen Orient-Instituts, 41),
"Uni-Forum der Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen", from October 27th, 1993,
"Uni-Forum der Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen" from January 24th, 1996,
Nachrichten, 4, 1996, p. 59.
Forschungsdienst (df) 8, 1996, p. 3.
Beiträge, 5/6, 1996, p. 77.
Angelika Hartmann: Der islamische "Fundamentalismus". Wahrnehmung und
Realität einer neuen Entwicklung im Islam
in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte. Beilage zur Wochenzeitung Das Parlament,
B 28/97, 4th July 1997, pp. 3-13.