From the history of Oriental Studies at the Jagiellonian University

Oriental studies commenced in the XVI century, when at almost all European universities Hebrew studies were initiated, which were necessary to an exegesis of Holy Writ. At that time there were: Leonard Dawid (ca. 1528), Jan van der Campen (1534), Walerian Pernus (1536-1540), Franciszek Stankar (1546-1550) and Wojciech Buszowski (1564-1569) among the teachers of the Hebrew language in Cracow Academia. In subsequent centuries the teaching of Oriental languages almost disappeared.

In the XIX century the interest in oriental studies revived. In 1805 there were plans for the establishment of a chair in oriental studies in the Faculty of Theology. It was planned to conduct research in Hebrew, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Syrian, Arabic and the language of Hebrew antiquity and the language of the Old Testament. In 1815, the faculty board of the Faculty of Theology applied for the establishment of a chair of Oriental languages (Hebrew, Syrian, Chaldean and Neo-Aramaic), Biblical archaeology and of the philosophy and exegesis of the Old Testament.

In 1818, due to Jerzy Samuel Bandtki, the first chair of oriental languages and oriental literature was established at the Faculty of Philosophy. The director of the chair was Professor Wilhelm Münnich from Göttingen. During the years I and II of studies the programme of study provided an introduction to Oriental languages and literature, Hebrew, Syrian, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, Turkish, Arabic, Persian and Ethiopian. The students of the III year learned about Oriental literature (mostly Persian). Professor Münnich not only taught in Cracow, but conducted much research work. The chair existed for eight years and finally was liquidated due to lack of support from the university authorities. The necessity of continuing teaching of Oriental languages (especially Arabic and Turkish) was emphasised many times by Joachim Lelewel, who proposed inviting Ignacy Pietraszewski, an owner of Muslim coins from the university in Berlin, to teach-.

At the beginning of the XX century there was an opportunity to organise Oriental studies at the Jagiellonian University. In 1911 the Faculty Board of the Faculty of Philosophy received the application for a subsidy for Semitic studies from Tadeusz Kowalski (1889-1948). After Tadeusz Kowalski obtained the title of associate professor in 1919 he was entrusted to hold the first chair in Oriental studies in independent Poland. In 1921 he was entrusted with the leadership of the new didactical-research unit, that is to say a Seminar of Oriental Philology.  He was one of the most versatile Polish orientalists, with expertise in Arabic countries, Turkey, Iran and Islam. He wrote more than 200 articles. Professor Kowalski was an excellent scholar, well known in the scientific world, an experienced researcher of modern Arabic studies, Turkish studies and Islam. He was a teacher of many Polish scientists and experts in the Orient, i.e. Ananiasz Zajączkowski (1903-1970) and Józef Bielawski (1909-1997), later professors of Warsaw University and founders of the Warsaw Oriental studies.

After the death of Prof. Kowalski in 1948 the chair was held by a medievalist and Arabist, Professor Tadeusz Lewicki (1906-1992). The professor held the chair and was latterly the director of the Institute of Oriental Studies. He built up the programme of Oriental studies by introducing new subjects and inviting new scholars to Warsaw University. His merit was founding of Department of Numismatics of the Institute of History and Material Culture of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) (1953), Commission of Oriental Studies of the Cracow unit of PAN (1958) and the yearbook “Folia Orientalia” (1951). Professor Lewicki was the reputed world authority and the author of initially in Poland, pioneering in world research of Ibadi religious communities, Arabic sources of the Slavonic language area and the medieval history of Europe and Africa.

Institute of Oriental Studies

In 1972 the Chair in Oriental Studies was legally transformed into the Institute of Oriental Studies. Its founder and first director Prof. Tadeusz Lewicki created a research unit with a wide scope including languages, countries and cultures from the Far East extending to West Africa and South Africa. Chairs and other units established in the Institute were initially: chairs of Arabic studies, Iran studies, Turkish studies. Studies in Africa, in the scope of Oriental sources and numismatics were continued.

Today the scope of research of the Institute of Oriental Studies includes:

  • Arabic Studies - language, literature, religion, history and culture of the Arabic world
  • Semitic Studies and African Studies – Afro-Asian linguistics, Hebrew language
  • Iranian Studies - Iranian linguistics, literature and history of the Iranian world (Iran, Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Ossetia)
  • Indian Studies - Indian languages, literature, philosophy and culture of Indian civilisation areas (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal),
  • Turkish Studies - Turkish linguistics, literature and culture
  • Armenian Studies - Armenian linguistics
  • Japanology and Sinology - linguistics, literature, history and culture
  • Siberian Studies - languages of Middle Asia and Siberia.

There also three sections in the Institute, i.e.: Section of Oriental Sources and Numismatics, Section of Interdisciplinary Eurasian Studies, Section of Kurdish Studies

What is important is that the scholars know the languages of the researched areas. At the time of popularity of studies in Asia it is relevant to remember that it is impossible to do any proper historical-social synthesis and a complete research without knowing written sources and languages of the studied area.