Source: Peyraube, Alain, Wang, Ayling, « New Perspectives for Asian Studies in the Humanities », in Asian Studies in the Humanities: Visions for the Future, European Science Foundation, Young Researchers Forum ‘New Perspectives for Asian Studies in the Humanities’, ESF-CCKF Humanities, Spring 2009, 27-30 May 2009, Prague, pp. 5-6.
Interdisciplinary Area (or Areal) studies stem from heterogeneous and interdisciplinary fields of research and academia that relate to a particular geographical or cultural region. These studies grew increasingly popular in the United States and in Western academia after the Second World War. However, they had also succumbed to much criticism from area specialists themselves and found that their popularity was declining from 1980-2000. When the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies in the United States and the National Centre for Scientific Research in France, which had raised and administered funds for Area Studies, closed down their area committees, this was interpreted as a the drastic changing of research.
The greatest threat to Areal Studies came from the Social Science, mainly from Political Science and Economics and not from the Humanities.
Areal studies have hugely benefitted Asian studies, which are one of its main branches of study, as well as African, American, Latin American and European studies. The term, ‘Asian studies’, not only encompasses the study of archaeology, history, languages, linguistics, anthropological and cultural studies, philosophy, religions, art and literature, but also aspects of sociology, politics and economics in traditional Asian and other contemporary societies.
In order to examine to which point Asian studies were becoming popular again in the Humanities, the ESF Standing Committee for the Humanities (SCH) and the Taiwan Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange (CCK-F) invited academics to participate in a three-day workshop entitled, ‘New Horizons’ in Prague from 27th-30th May 2009.
The role of the ESF Standing Committee for the Humanities (SCH) is to coordinate existing and emerging transnational networks of academics and institutions in the Humanities. Its stakeholders are national and international research funding bodies, which look for new input to discussions on strategic choices. The Taiwan Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange (CCK-F), on the other hand, promotes the internationalisation of Chinese studies by incorporating both the academic trends in Taiwan and abroad. Moreover, its aims of fostering young talent mean that new fields and conceptual frameworks can also be developed.
Two Asian Studies networks in Europe
The Asia Network was founded by a group of researchers and supported by the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research (MENESR), the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the Foundation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (FMSH), the National Foundation for Political Science (FNSP) and the School of Graduate Studies in the Social Science (EHESS). The aims of the Asia Network include compiling a list of experts of Asia and bringing them together in order to develop their expertise, studying issues concerning Asia, attracting and stimulating the interests of specialists from other regions or disciplines related to Asia and to create a hub of skills and knowledge through the creation of a database, allowing cooperation with similar organisations in Asia, North and South America.
The International Institute for Asian Studies (ILAS), on the other hand, is a postdoctoral research centre, in Leiden and Amsterdam. Its aim is to encourage the interdisciplinary and comparative study of Asia and promote national and international cooperation. The Institute focuses on the human and social science and their interaction with other sciences.
As an international mediator, working closely with national and international partners, the Institute’s activities include providing information services, constructing international networks and setting up international cooperative projects and research programmes.
Additionally, the ILAS welcomes many postdoctoral fellows in Asian studies, which are selected by an academic committee, as well organising workshops, conferences and the publication of an international newsletter and other academic material. Like the Asia Network, the ILAS, too has database containing information about researchers and institutes in the field of Asian Studies in Europe and throughout the world.
Finally, in terms of its institutional networks, the ILAS plays a strategic and leading role in networks such as the ‘Leiden Consortium for Asian Studies’, the ‘European Alliance for Asian Studies’ and the ‘International Convention of Asian Scholars’.