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Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim


KLIMKEIT, HANS-JOACHIM . Hans-Joachim Klimkeit (19391999) was born in Ranchi, Bihar, in India, the son of a German Lutheran missionary. Klimkeit spent his youth in different parts of the subcontinent, and from early on he became acquainted with such languages as English, Hindi, Urdu, Bhojpuri, and Tamil. In 1955 Klimkeit moved to Germany, where he passed his school-leaving examination in 1958. Afterwards he took up studies of Protestant theology, first at a small ecclesiastical academy, then, from 1959 onwards, at the university of Tübingen. There, besides theology, he also studied mathematics and, more importantly, philosophy with the hermeneutician Otto Friedrich Bollnow and Indology with Helmuth von Glasenapp, who both would have a lasting impact on him. In 1961 Klimkeit went to study at Bonn under the phenomenologist Gustav Mensching, whose successor he became in 1972.

Klimkeit took his Ph.D. with a thesis on Ludwig Feuerbach's ideas about miracles from the point of view of the phenomenology of religion (Das Wunderverständnis Ludwig Feuerbachs in religionsphänomenologischer Sicht, 1964). Afterwards he spent one year at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University, where Wilfred Cantwell Smith encouraged him to add a historic-philological approach to the sort of phenomenology represented by Mensching. Klimkeit then began studying Sanskrit, and after he returned to Bonn he wrote his Habilitation on antireligious movements in Southern India (Anti-religiöse Bewegungen im modernen Südindien: Eine religionssoziologische Untersuchung zur Säkularisierungsfrage, 1971). The work was intended as a contribution to the issue of secularization from the point of view of the sociology of religion. His interest in recent developments in Indian religious history would culminate in Der politische Hinduismus: Indische Denker zwischen religiöser Reform und politischem Erwachen (1981), which was published before "political Hinduism" had become a standard agenda. Klimkeit's knowledge of Sanskrit left fruitful traces in his book on the Buddha (1990), in which he emphasized the importance of the Northern Buddhist Sanskrit texts, as against the later Pali books.

During the 1970s, by learning several other languages (Uighur, Middle Iranian, Sogdian, Tibetan, and Mongolian) Klimkeit laid the groundwork for his later studies on Manichaeism (e.g., Klimkeit, 1982, 1989, 1993) and the Silk Road (e.g., Klimkeit 1986, 1988). These were mainly published during the 1980s, the peak period of his scholarly output, while the 1990s were increasingly overshadowed by the illness that ended in his tragic death in 1999.

Both in his teaching and his research, Klimkeit worked on a remarkable number of different religions, most importantly Hinduism, Buddhism, (Nestorian) Christianity (e.g., Gillman and Klimkeit, 1999), Zoroastrianism, and in particular Manichaeism (Klimkeit was instrumental in the revival of Manichaean studies). Apart from writing and coauthoring monographs and papers on single religions, Klimkeit devoted several important studies to different forms of encounter and interaction between religions and cultures, in particular (but not exclusively) on the Silk Road. Apart from his work with textual sources (culminating in his collection of Manichaean texts and a series devoted to the Hami manuscript of the Maitrisimit, undertaken with Geng Shimin, Jens Peter Laut, and Helmut Eimer), Klimkeit was much concerned with questions of religious iconography.

While he added a sense of history and a rich variety of source materials to the abstract phenomenologist sketches of his teacher and predecessor Mensching, Klimkeit would always remain heavily influenced by the phenomenology of religion and hermeneutics as represented by Bollnow and Joachim Wach (see Klimkeit, 1972). In his later work, Klimkeit advocated the idea of a "problem-centered" (and humanist) phenomenology of religion (see Klimkeit, 1986, 1999), and he intended a comparative study of the "answers" that different religions give (or have given) to a number of fundamental problems of humankind, such as good and evil, human autonomy, and divine heteronomy (see Gantke, who continued this approach in his own work).

As a teacher and supervisor, Klimkeit had a remarkably open and kind attitude. Rather than founding a school in the strict sense, he actively encouraged his students to pursue their own paths, even if they were leading into territories beyond Klimkeit's frame of mind. During his time there, the tiny Religionswissenschaftliches Seminar at Bonn University experienced an unprecedented increase in enrollment. Klimkeit was the editor of several books and series (most importantly the series Studies in Oriental Religions), and he served as coeditor of the Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte, the series Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies, and the Theologische Realenzyklopädie. In addition, Klimkeit served on the boards of several academic societies. Even before the fall of the Iron Curtain, he had established important and lasting contacts with colleagues in many countries ranging from the former German Democratic Republic to China, which would greatly facilitate the progress of research on the Silk Road and Manichaeaism.


For a complete bibliography of Klimkeit's writings (360 items) and a survey of the courses and classes taught by him in Bonn, as well as the thirty Ph.D. theses and four Habilitation supervised by him, plus obituaries, see Ulrich Vollmer, "Hans-Joachim KlimkeitWerk, Wirken, Würdigung" in Religionsbegegnung und Kulturaustausch in Asien: Studien zum Gedenken an Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, edited by Wolfgang Gantke, Karl Hoheisel, and Wassilios Klein, pp. 1148 (Wiesbaden, Germany, 2002). For Wolfgang Gantke's personal recollections plus an evaluation of Klimkeit's approach to the phenomenology of religion, see his essay in this volume, "Mut zur Offenheit: Erinnerung an Hans-Joachim Klimkeit und einige seiner zentralen Überlegungen zur religionswissenschaftlichen Methodendiskussion," pp. 7280.

See also:

Gillman, Ian, and Hans-Joachim Klimkeit. Christians in Asia Before 1500. Richmond, UK, 1999. Klimkeit contributed the chapters on Christians in Central Asia and Christians in China.

Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim. "Das Prinzip des Verstehens bei Joachim Wach." Numen 19 (1972): 216228. A comprehensive reconstruction of Wach's hermeneutic system.

Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim. Der politische Hinduismus: Indische Denker zwischen religiöser Reform und politischem Erwachen. Wiesbaden, Germany, 1981. A survey of major thinkers of political Hinduism and an investigation of some of its "archetypal," basic structures with their respective religious roots.

Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim. Manichaean Art and Calligraphy. Leiden, 1982. The first ever general study of Manichaean iconography.

Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim. Die Begegnung von Christentum, Gnosis und Buddhismus an der Seidenstrasse. Opladen, Germany, 1986.

Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim. Die Seidenstrasse: Handelsweg und Kulturbrücke zwischen Morgen- und Abendland. Köln, Germany, 1988; 2d ed. 1990. A richly illustrated cultural history and panorama of the Silk Road (mostly focusing on pre-Islamic times) comprising history of research, geography, cultural centers, people, and religions.

Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim. "Der leidendende Gerechte in der Religionsgeschichte: Ein Beitrag zur problemorientierten 'Religionsphänomenologie.'" In Religionswissenschaft: Eine Einführung, edited by Hartmut Zinser, pp. 164184. Berlin, 1988. A global comparison of the motif of the suffering righteous meant as an example of his "problem-centered" phenomenology of religion.

Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim. Hymnen und Gebete der Religion des Lichts: Iranische und türkische liturgische Texte der Manichäer Zentralasiens. Opladen, 1989. A collection of Manichaean (ritual) texts in several Iranian languages and Old Turkish with extensive introductions. A revised and augmented English translation was published under the misleading title Gnosis on the Silk Road: Gnostic Texts from Central Asia. San Francisco, 1993.

Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim. Der Buddha: Leben und Lehre. Stuttgart, 1990. A study of the figure of the Buddha intended for a broader audience and illustrative of Klimkeit's approach in that he seeks to combine historic-philological methods and hermeneutic principles of understanding.

Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim. "Religionswissenschaft." In Theologische Realenzyklopädie, edited by Gerhard Müller, Vol. 29, pp. 6167. Berlin and New York, 1998. Expresses Klimkeit's ideas about the history of religions.

Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim, Shimin Geng, Helmut Eimer, and Jens Peter Laut. Das Zusammentreffen mit Maitreya: Die ersten fünf Kapitel der Hami-Version der Maitrisimit. 2 vols. Wiesbaden, Germany, 1988.

Michael Stausberg (2005)

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