Halbfass studied Philosophy, Indology and Classical Philology at the universities of Vienna and Göttingen, and successfully defended his doctoral thesis on Indian Philosophy at Göttingen University in 1967. He was a professor in the departments of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and South Asia Regional Studies at the University of Pennsylvania from 1982 until his death in 2000. Along with Prof. Ludo Rocher, Prof. Ernest Bender, Prof. George Cardona, and several other Sanskritists, he made the University of Pennsylvania the center of Sanskrit learning in North America.
His works include Indien und Europa, Perspektiven ihrer geistigen Begegnung (1981), English translation India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding (1988). It is a comprehensive survey of the intellectual encounters between India and Europe from antiquity to the present day. He explores these encounters in terms of what he calls xenology, the various ways in which self and otherness are defined "within a historically complex collision of cultures".
- Obituary, Dominic Sama, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 June 2000
- Wilhelm Halbfass, Indien und Europa, Perspektiven ihrer geistigen Begegnung, Schwabe Verlag, Basel and Stuttgart, 1981.
- Halbfass, Wilhelm (1988), India and Europe : An Essay in Understanding, State University of New York Press
- Dermot Killingley, "Mlecchas, Yavanas and Heathens: Interacting Xenologies in Early Nineteenth-Century Calcutta," in Beyond Orientalism: The Work of Wilhelm Halbfass and its Impact on Indian and Cross-cultural Studies, ed. Eli Franco, Karin Preisendanz, Editions Rodopi, Amsterdam, 2007.
- Harvey P. Alper, review of Indien und Europa, Perspektiven ihrer geistigen Begegnung, in Philosophy East and West, Vol. 33, No. 2 (April, 1983), pp. 189-196
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