Asia-Pacific Studies in Sweden

Source : Stefan Eklöf Amirell, Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Stockholm, MedAsia / Eurasiane conference, Sept. 2011

Short History

The origins of Asia-Pacific Studies in Sweden go back to the first chair in Oriental Languages, which was inaugurated in Uppsala in 1621. Originally, the position comprised West Asian languages, but as a result of increasing contacts between Sweden and Asia and the Pacific in the course of the eighteenth century – particularly due to trading activities of the Swedish East India Company and the travels in the region of several disciples of Carl von Linnaeus – interest in South and East Asian languages and cultures increased. In addition to the chair in Uppsala, a corresponding chair was instituted in Lund and at the same time the number of languages taught was increased. By the mid-nineteenth century the professor in Lund was expected to master twelve oriental languages, including Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit and Chinese.

The second half of the nineteenth century saw an expansion and professionalization of Oriental Studies at the universities of Lund and Uppsala. More faculty positions were instituted, and in 1889 Sweden hosted the International Congress of Orientalists. Focus for the academic studies was on West and South Asia, whereas the study of East Asia – particularly China and Japan – was predominantly the domain of amateur scholars and missionaries. The explorations of Sven Hedin in East Asia around the turn of the twentieth century, however, was accompanied by an increasing interest in East and Central Asia, and in 1918 a private donation led to the establishment of the first chair in Chinese (and a few years later, Japanese) at the University College of Gothenburg, at first held by the renowned sinologist and linguist Bernard Karlgren.

In the post-World War II years and under the influence of the area studies expansion in the United States in combination with Sweden’s greater interest in the developing world (including development aid and Sweden’s policy of neutrality in the Cold War, which brought about an rapprochement to many Asian countries), academic interest in the contemporary social, political and economic conditions in Asia rose in Sweden. Asian Studies as a field of research expanded, but the researchers were scattered in many disciplines and universities or university colleges.

As a consequence, in 1968 the Nordic Council of Ministers founded the Nordic Institute for Asian Studies in Copenhagen with the purpose of creating a strong, focused research environment for Asian Studies, comprising the regions of East, Southeast, South and Central Asia. For close to three decades, NIAS was the leading research environment in Asian Studies in the Nordic countries and for many Swedish scholars the focal point in terms of research environment, research activities and physical resources, particularly the library.

For most of this period, Swedish research on the Asia-Pacific region was fore mostly carried out by individual researchers or smaller groups of researchers in the established disciplines, particularly history, economic history, social anthropology, political science and sociology. A large part of the funding – which still was very small in relation to overall research funding – came from the Swedish Agency for Research Cooperation with Developing Countries (SAREC), a government authority charged with the task of furthering research that would facilitate the political, economic and social progress of the developing countries. In geographic terms, the focus of interest for the SAREC-funded research was on the countries with which Sweden had close links in the field of development aid, particularly India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. However, historians, for example, also took an interest in maritime Southeast Asia, as manifested by the publication of a thematic issue of Sweden’s leading journal in the history discipline, Historisk tidskrift, on modern Southeast Asian history (1977).

Contemporary Asia-Pacific Studies in Sweden

In the 1990s, Asian Studies in Sweden developed and expanded significantly, boosted towards the end of the decade by an official policy (mainly economically motivated) to enhance Sweden’s contacts with Asia. Part of this policy was to strengthen the knowledge base in Sweden about Asia and to develop cooperation with Asian countries in research and higher education. Several area studies centres specializing in the Asia-Pacific (or a part of the region) were founded at different universities, including the Center for Pacific Asia Studies (CPAS) at Stockholm University (founded already in 1984, but since the early 2000s integrated in the Department of Oriental Languages), the European Institute for Japanese Studies (EIJS) at the Stockholm School of Economics, the Centre for Asian Studies (originally East and Southeast Asian Studies) at the University of Gothenburg and the Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies at Lund University.

The Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies in Lund was in 1996 given a special status as a permanent, national centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies, including a somewhat unclear ”coordinating function” for Asian studies in general in Sweden. Funding came both from the government’s research budget and from the University. The Centre today hosts the largest Asian Studies Library in Sweden and an international masters program in Asian Studies. It also provides opportunities for externally funded researchers to carry out their research at the Centre and funds two-year post-doctoral fellowships for researchers in the field of contemporary East and Southeast Asian Studies. The Centre, moreover, hosts the Swedish South Asian Studies Network (SASNET).

In addition, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT) took the initiative to launch the Swedish School of Advanced Asia-Pacific Studies (SSAAPS) in 2001. SSAAPS, which was active until 2009, provided scholarships for PhD students as well as post-doctoral fellows based Swedish universities, in addition to organizing conferences and providing funding for research travel and conference attendance for Swedish scholars in the field of Asian Studies.

Meanwhile, the Nordic Council of Ministers decided to scale down their funding of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (along with several other Nordic research and higher education institutions), which resulted in a contraction for NIAS. In 2005, the Institute was integrated with the University of Copenhagen, and even though NIAS still to an extent functions as a major hub for Asian Studies in Sweden and the other Nordic countries, its relative importance as such has declined, particularly in Sweden.

More recently, the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) in Stockholm has developed a strong research programme on East and Southeast Asia, focusing particularly on international relations and maritime security in East and Southeast Asia. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), moreover, hosts the SIPRI China and Global Security Programme since 2009, and the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University – which has a strong tradition of studies on security issues in Central, East and Southeast Asia – hosts the research programme ”East Asian Peace” since 2011, both funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.

To summarize, studies of the Asia-Pacific have seen a substantial expansion in Sweden in the last two decades. Swedish research on the region today covers a wide spectrum of disciplines and topics. Among the most prominent research subjects are democracy and human rights, development economics, gender relations, cultural and religious change, labour, migration and peace and conflict studies. The emphasis is on the contemporary social sciences, and the expansion has been less marked, or non-existent, in fields such as archaeology, literature, music, art history, linguistics and pre-modern history.

Useful links

Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies, Lund University

European Institute of Japanese Studies, Stockholm School of Economics

Swedish South Asian Network, Lund University

Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen



Pour citer cet article : Stefan Eklöf Amirell, «Asia-Pacific Studies in Sweden », carnet RESAP-Livre blanc des recherches sur l’Asie et le Pacifique, 24 avril 2013. [En ligne : ]

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Marine Sam (2013, 24 avril). Asia-Pacific Studies in Sweden. RESAP - Livre blanc des recherches sur l'Asie et le Pacifique en France. Consulté le 18 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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