Mihály Hoppál was born on 31 October 1942 in Hungary. He studied ethnography and Hungarian literature and linguistics at the University of Debrecen from 1962–1967. He started to work at the Institute of Ethnology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1967, first as a research fellow, in 1972 he became the scientific secretary and in 1976, senior research fellow. In 1972, Mihály Hoppál defended his doctoral thesis summa cum laude. He worked at the Institute of Ethnology as head of the Department of Comparative Mythology from 2000–2003 and as the director of the institute from 2003–2009. In the years 1997–2012, Mihály Hoppál was also the director of European Folklore Institute, which aimed to protect, document and research traditional cultural heritage. In 2007, Mihály Hoppál received his Doctor of Science degree of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
Mihály Hoppál has had great achievements in various fields of research. He has studied the religion of Finno-Ugric peoples, being one of the three editors-in-chief of the international “Encyclopedia of Uralic Mythologies”. He has done much fieldwork with Finno-Ugric peoples, as well as in Buryatia, Yakutia, Tyva, Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, Japan and South Korea. He has been interested in the comparative study of mythologies and folk religions, folk art, rock drawings, as well as the theory and methodology of folkloristics. Mihály Hoppál’s most important field of study, however, has been shamanism as religion and a cultural phenomenon, in its various expressions. In the years 1997–2015 he was president of the International Society for Academic Research on Shamanism (ISSR/ISARS; see http://www.isars.org/), and editor of the journal Shaman (1993–2014) and several volumes of the “Bibliotheca Shamantistica” series. His book on shamans in Asia and Europe has also been published in Estonian (“Šamaanid Aasias ja Euroopas”, Varrak, 2003). In addition to numerous scientific publications and science popularisation books that have been translated to many languages, Mihály Hoppál has made more than 30 ethnographic films, most of them on shamanism and folk culture.
Together with UT Honorary Doctor Vilmos Voight, Mihály Hoppál was the founder of ethnosemiotics. Already in 1971 they published the anthology “Structuralism in Folklore” in Hungarian, which introduced the works of the Tartu-Moscow Semiotic School. In 1973, the voluminous collection of articles by Yuri Lotman “Text – Model – Type“ was published in Hungarian, translated and edited by Mihály Hoppál. In 2008, his article collection “Ethnosemiotics” was published in Estonian by the Estonian Literary Museum.
Mihály Hoppál has delivered lectures in many universities in Europe, Asia, Northern America and Australia. He has regularly visited the University of Tartu since 1997, teaching lecture courses and giving single lectures on shamanism studies, comparative mythology and ethnosemiotics. The specialised Folklore Library of the University of Tartu has always received scientific literature published in Hungary as a gift from Prof. Hoppál. He has been an opponent to several doctoral dissertations in folkloristics. UT folklorists continue collaboration with him in preparing the Votic and Vepsian volumes of the “Mythologia Uralica” encyclopedia.
For his achievements, Mihály Hoppál has been awarded with the medal of the University of Helsinki (1983), Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Simonyi Research Award (2003), Pitré prize for folklore research (Italy, 2003), and Prima-prize, the Hungarian Cultural Award of Excellence, 2013). He has been an honorary member of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) since 2010. In autumn 2017, Mihály Hoppál celebrated his 75th birthday.
In recognition of Mihály Hoppál’s outstanding scientific achievements and long-term collaboration with the humanities researchers at the University of Tartu, the university is pleased to confer upon Mihály Hoppál the degree of Honorary Doctor of Folkloristics and Semiotics of the University of Tartu.