Fyodor Shcherbatskoy

Fyodor Shcherbatskoy (1866-1942)
Fyodor Shcherbatskoy (1866-1942)

Fyodor Shcherbatskoy

Fyodor Ippolitovich Shcherbatskoy (Stcherbatsky) (September 19 1866, Kielce, Kingdom of Poland - March 18, 1942, Borovoe, Akmola region, Kazakhstan SSR)

- was a Russian and Soviet Orientalist (Buddhist, Indologist and Tibetologist), Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences (1918).

F. I. Shcherbatskoy was one of the founders of the Russian school of Buddhology. He translated and published a number of monuments of Sanskrit and Tibetan literature both in Russian and English.

F. I. Shcherbatskoy was an honorary member of the Scientific Societies of Great Britain, Germany, France.


Fyodor Shcherbatskoy was born in Poland, which was a part of the Russian Empire at the time, where his father, Ippolit Fedorovich Shcherbatskoy (Stcherbatsky), served.

He studied at the famous Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum, from which he graduated in 1884.

The Shcherbatskoy estate was located in the village of Lyutka, Luga district, Leningrad region.

In 1889 he graduated from the Faculty of History and Philology of the Imperial St. Petersburg University where Ivan Minaev and Serge Oldenburg were his teachers.

After defending his dissertation on the topic: "On 2 rows of gutturals in the Indo-European languages" Shcherbatskoy was left at the university to prepare for a professorship in Indology.

He was sent abroad to European Universities, where he studied Indian poetics (in Vienna with Georg Buhler) and Philosophy (in Bonn with Hermann Jacobi).

In 1893 he returned to Russia and for some time left scientific activity – receiving posts in regional administration.

In 1897, F. I. Shcherbatskoy and Oldenburg inaugurated Bibliotheca Buddhica, a book series of rare Buddhist texts.

In October 1899, he participated in the XII International Congress of Orientalists in Rome, which announced the discovery of ancient Buddhist manuscripts in Xinjiang.

Returning from a trip to India and Mongolia, in 1903 Stcherbatsky published (in Russian) the 1st volume of Theory of Knowledge and Logic of the Doctrine of Later Buddhists ( 2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1903-1909 ), which was later published also in English.

From 1900 he taught as a Privatdozent, in 1909-1930. - as a Professor, at St. Petersburg (Petrograd / Leningrad) University.

In 1905 he was sent to Mongolia for negotiations with the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso.

In 1910-1911 Fyodor Shcherbatskoy travelled to India, visiting Bombay, Pune, Benares and Darjeeling.

Since 1918 Shcherbatskoy was a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

At the opening of the First Buddhist Exhibition in St. Petersburg on August 24, 1919, he gave a lecture on the Philosophical Teaching of Buddhism.

In 1924 Shcherbatskoy made a scientific trip to Buryatia.

In 1928 F. I. Shcherbatskoy established the Institute of Buddhist Culture in Leningrad.

His The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana (Leningrad, 1927), written in English, caused a sensation in the West.

He followed suit with his main work in English, Buddhist Logic (2 vols., 1930–32), which has exerted an immense influence on Buddhology.

In 1930-1942 Shcherbatskoy was the Head of the Indo-Tibetan Cabinet of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

In 1937, Shcherbatskoy was sharply criticised by the ruling Soviet Atheist-Materialist regime, and many of his students were repressed during the struggle against Idealism in Oriental studies.

In 1941, after the start of the war, he was evacuated with a group of scientists to the village of Borovoe in Northern Kazakhstan, where he died on March 18, 1942.

Although F. I. Shcherbatskoy remained less well known in his own country, his extraordinary fluency in Sanskrit and Tibetan languages won him the admiration of Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore.

During times of Shcherbatskoy Buddhism as a philosophical discipline was largely forgotten in India and very little known in Europe, and his works played an important role to fill this space. He was well recognized both in India and Europe.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (2004 edition) acclaimed F. I. Shcherbatskoy as the foremost Western authority on Buddhist philosophy.