ELTE Institute of East Asian Studies

1088 Budapest Múzeum krt. 4/F


Department of Mongolian and Inner-Asian Studies (formerly Department of Inner Asian Studies)

Mongolian studies (BA, Minor, MA), PhD Program in Mongolian Studies
Manchu language education


The over 75-year history of the Department of Inner-Asian Studies is strongly interwoven with Altaistic, Mongolian and Tibetan studies in Hungary during the 20th century as well as with the mainstream of research on Hungarian prehistory, language and cultural history. The history of the Department and its research and educational activities are also inseparable from the scientific careers of the institution’s previous and current leaders. The scientific interests of the Department’s founder, Lajos Ligeti, of his successor, György Kara, and later of Kara’s student, Ágnes Birtalan have continuously widened the scope of research conducted at the Department. The original profile of the Department of Mongolian Studies was shaped by György Kara and Ágnes Birtalan, that of the Department of Tibetan Studies by József Terjék and Erzsébet Tóth.

Lajos Ligeti was a central figure of Oriental Studies in Hungary, also highly acknowledged internationally, who had proceeded from his research on the origins of Hungarian vocabulary to the scientific career that made him an international authority of Oriental studies. The Department was established as an institution led by Ligeti at the University of Budapest, where he was active from 1936. Ligeti, who had also been a corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences since the same year, started his scientific work at the Department after several important expeditions to Asia. Mongolian language teaching and education related to Mongolian studies started with the Department’s establishment, and Tibetan language education began in 1942; both of these closely related disciplines are still being taught up to the present day.

The Research Group for Altaistic Studies at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences established by Ligeti in 1969 also made important contributions to both research and the educational activities of the Department. After almost 40 years the work of the Research Group was terminated for non-professional reasons by the Academy. Previous members of the Group such as Alice Sárközi, Géza Bethlenfalvy, István Mándoky Kongur, Imre Baski, Alice Egyed, Benedek Péri, László Hajnal, Mihály Dobrovits, Zsolt Szilágyi used to play an important role in the work of the Department; some of them still give lectures there today.

After Ligeti’s retirement György Kara succeeded him as head of the Department. The philological research of the scientific workshop, already recognized internationally by that time, were continued under Kara’s leadership, but due to the growing number of students and to younger generations joining the Department’s scientific work, research projects grew more and more diverse in their themes. Studies related to Buddhism and dialects became increasingly important in the Department’s educational activities. As its international relations grew wider, the Department’s cooperation with European centers of Mongolian and Tibetan studies, as well as with the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, became much closer.

Until the beginning of the 1990’s the majors of Mongolian and Tibetan studies existed as so-called “B”-majors (i.e. majors available as a second field of study parallel to an “A” major), until both became available as separate main majors, bringing about significant changes in the Department’s life. The number of students suddenly increased at both majors, so instead of the rather low number of students characteristic of the previous period now more than ten or twenty started their studies at the Department every year. At almost the very same time members of the Department and research fellows of the Research Group for Altaistic Studies had the opportunity to join the research expeditions on folk culture and dialects started in cooperation between the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. These research projects are still in progress today, led by Ágnes Birtalan and Alice Sárközi, and have been patronized several times by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund – OTKA, by the British Arnold-Stein Foundation and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation of Taiwan. Although field research had already been a central method of research in Ligeti’s time, this expedition meant a new impulse in the application of the method. Based on the Department’s traditionally strong language education, researchers are able to collect information of high scientific value during their fieldwork. These research results are continuously incorporated in the Department’s curriculum, thus students can become acquainted with the newest research outcomes during their studies. Ágnes Birtalan lays great stress on giving motivated BA, MA and PhD students opportunities to present their research themes if they are interested in scientific research, for example in the ”Scientific Students’ Associations” (TDK). It was also on the basis of Ágnes Birtalan’s proposal that Katalin Uray-Kőhalmi was admitted as a visiting professor at the Department, thus strengthening Manchu and Siberian studies at the institution.

In 2017, in acknowledgement of its excellent research and educational activities, the Mongolian President C. Elbegdorj presented a donation to the Department and inaugurated a new Research Center for Mongolian Studies with two young researchers. Since then the Mongolian Government has continuously supported the center and the Hungarian Government has also contributed with a special project (FSA 2016).


At the BA level (3-year program), Mongolian studies (nomadic way of life, folklore, literature, religions such as shamanism and Buddhism, languages, history of various Mongolian ethnic groups) can be chosen within the BA in Oriental languages and cultures. Potential students must specify their choice already upon applying.

The BA can also be completed as a minor. For students with another major, a program of 50 credits in Mongolian studies enables them to master modern Mongolian language and the various aspects of Mongolian nomadic culture (way of life, religions, literature, history).

After obtaining a BA degree, students can continue their studies on an MA level in Mongolian studies (2 years), which entails both modern Mongolian (Khalkha) language and various Mongolian dialects, and enhanced studies in linguistics, religious studies, folklore and literature, and history, as well as Classical Mongolian sources. The methodology is based on philological approach and the recent results of field research are also built into the curriculum.

After obtaining a MA degree, those with scholarly ambitions can enrol for a PhD program in Mongolian Studies (4 years), where they can concentrate on their scholarly research and obtain a PhD degree. The main fields suggested for a dissertation are: source (both oral and written) based, multilateral text analysis of religious, linguistic, folkloric, literary and historical sources, materials on the traditional nomadic way of life.

Main research fields

Main trends of research at the Department are:
* field work-based research on shamanism, folk beliefs and Buddhism among Mongols
* Oirat and Kalmyk language and culture (including the heritage of Bálint Gábor of Szentkatolna)
* Mongolian traditional culture
* research on Mongolian historical sources