The Oriental Institute (OI) is a public non-university research institution. Established in 1922, just six years after SOAS in London, OI is one of the oldest institutions dedicated to the study of Oriental cultures in Central and Eastern Europe. Since 1993, it falls administratively under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, an umbrella research institution similar in function to its counterparts in continental Europe, such as the CNRS in France. In a country such as the Czech Republic, where university departments dealing with Oriental studies tend to be small and understaffed, the structure of non-university research bodies brings numerous benefits. Among other things, scholars are enabled to pursue their specializations according to the needs of relevant fields of study, aiming correspondingly at the highest levels of research quality. The framework of the Institute allows for a flexible and open-ended approach to research initiatives in Asia-related topics, creating, in effect, an ideal environment for interdisciplinary research. At the moment, our researchers are focusing on the Arab World, Israel, India, China, and the ancient Near East.
Oriental studies in Central and Eastern Europe emanate from a different origin than their counterparts in the West, unrelated as they are to (the legacy of) colonialist expansions. The interest in the Orient stemmed, in the local context, primarily from a pure intellectual curiosity and a profound respect for the cultural heritage of ancient civilizations. As local scholars recruited themselves from among those who were either suppressed or deprived of political independence, often for centuries, the perception of “the other” diverged from that of the West and a unique bond with Asia was forged. To enlist some examples, the call for India’s independence fell on attentive ears in interwar Czechoslovakia (and not exclusively among the India specialists). In a similar vein, the prominent Indian statesman Jawaharlal Nehru unreservedly denounced the Munich Pact of 1938.
Free of any form of post-colonial complex, OI actively seeks to promote research excellence that reflects European academic traditions and contemporary needs. We are convinced that neither the indigenous narrative nor the view of outsiders can or should supersede each other in the global community of today. As such, the European perspective has its legitimate place and a non-personal connection to the subject matter can also be an advantage. OI aims to bring together scholars and graduate/doctoral students by hosting lectures, workshops and conferences. Simultaneously, members of our staff are engaged in teaching at various universities in the Czech Republic (Charles University Prague, the Metropolitan University of Prague and university programmes for overseas students, among others). OI is also in the process of extending its international cooperation agreements. We publish two academic journals: Archiv orientalni in English and Novy Orient in Czech. Our library holds over 300,000 books, manuscripts and periodicals. This includes the Lu Xun library, which houses a rare approximately 70,000-item collection of Chinese sources, sought after by scholars from around the world.