The Jakarta Post
After its initial rise following the end of World War II, Southeast Asian Studies have always been a fringe group of humanities.
With the broader marketization of education in many countries around the world, academics have felt the need to promote and strengthen the bonds between research institutions and experienced or young scientists throughout Europe to tackle the challenges the academic world faces.
The European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) was founded for this purpose in 1992. It has since become the world's largest international and multi-disciplinary organization focusing on the Southeast Asian region. With its secretariat permanently based in Leiden, Netherlands, the Southeast Asian Studies network currently consists of about 93 institutions and universities in European countries.
The main activity of EuroSEAS is arranging international conferences in three-year intervals to bring together hundreds of experts and PhD students from Europe and around the world. The conference aims to encourage an interdisciplinary exchange between its participants and to explore new theoretical and methodological approaches. 'The most important goal is to foster a global community of scholars working on the study of Southeast Asia,' explained Duncan McCargo from the University of Leeds, in the UK, to The Jakarta Post.
The first conference was held in Leiden in 1995, and this was followed by Hamburg in 1998, London (2001), Paris (2004), Naples (2007), Gothenburg (2010) and Lisbon (2013). The eighth EuroSEAS conference is held in Vienna, starting today until Aug. 14.
More than 550 participants are expected to attend the event. Apart from European scholars, the EuroSEAS will also function as a gateway for scholars from Southeast Asia or from any other part of the world to get access to European research facilities. 'Lately we have achieved a much greater global reach, and for this conference we have provided travel grants for a number of doctoral students and early-career scholars from Southeast Asia itself,' said McCargo who is currently the president of EuroSEAS.
Keynote speakers will be, among others, Benedict Anderson, a well-known scholar in social science and Asian studies, and Indonesian writer Ayu Utami. 'I take it as a symbolic call for discussion of differences,' Ayu told the Post. 'Among genders, between East-West perspectives, between science and the arts, reason and experience, reason and rasa.'
The sessions of the conference will be held at the University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Also a limited number of roundtable discussions, a few additional special events as well as a film program will be staged.
'The conference is also a good opportunity for networking with scientists who you might not have seen for a long time' said Monika Arnez, assistant professor in Austronesian studies at the Department of Southeast Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Hamburg, Germany. She participated at the previous EuroSEAS in 2013 and 2007.
The scientific approach to the history and cultures of Southeast Asia is expected to be of major importance, not only for the region itself but also for politics and development inside Europe. 'We know that history is an ideological battle ground. [...] In this ideological and political competition we need science to maintain the objectivity,' Ayu admitted.
In times of religious challenges and the repositioning of religion in European society, countries in Southeast Asia might therefore pose an interesting example in terms of experience with the interaction of religion and state.
For the future the EuroSEAS board is working on a number of projects to develop the organization to keep up the exchange of ideas. 'The most important of these has been to shorten the conference cycle from every three years to every two years,' reveals McCargo.
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