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Oxford and Southeast Asia Today

Oxford’s expertise in Southeast Asia is spread across several departments and centres.


Southeast Asian history, art and archaeology, religion, culture, and philosophy, supported by extensive holdings at the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums and the Bodleian and other libraries, feature among Oxford’s interests.

The history of Southeast Asia has been taught at Oxford for as long as it has existed as an independent field of enquiry, and emphasises maritime and mainland Southeast Asia as culturally unified regions. Peter Carey (Emeritus Fellow of Trinity College) taught at Oxford for nearly 30 years and has written the most complete biography of Indonesia’s leading national hero, Prince Diponegoro (1785-1855). He co-founded The Cambodia Trust, an international charity that provides rehabilitation services for the physically disabled throughout Southeast Asia. He also worked as an advisor to the Timor-Leste foreign ministry. For his work in Timor-Leste, he was awarded the Timorese Independence Medal by the Timorese government and made a Grand Official in the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator by the Portuguese government. The Faculty of History is eager for his mantle to be passed on to a new generation.

Similarly, Southeast Asian religious traditions are studied in their own right, rather than as sub-divisions of religious studies. Oxford has been a major centre for Buddhist studies for many years, with Pali taught to a very high level. The Buddhist Studies Unit is run jointly by the Faculty of Oriental Studies and the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies (OCBS), an independent centre recognised by the University. Its lecturers include the Venerable Dhammasami (founder and the head of the Oxford Buddha Vihara), and OCBS Founder Richard Gombrich (Boden Professor of Sanskrit Emeritus). The OCBS has been involved in the formation of the International Association of Buddhist Universities and maintains significant links to Southeast Asia.

Oxford is one of the biggest centres for the study of Islam outside of the Middle East. The Oriental Studies Institute, Khalili Research Centre and Middle East Centre are world leaders in the field. Two Recognised Independent Centres on Islamic Studies and Hindu Studies also produce important research.

Social Sciences

The Social Science Division is committed to developing a greater understanding of all aspects of Southeast Asian society, from social organisation to the impact of political, legal and economic systems on societal welfare to human rights and security.

Oxford has been a leader in Britain on the anthropology of Southeast Asia since the 1950s. Professors of Social Anthropology Maurice Freedman (1970-75) and Rodney Needham (1976-90) worked on Malaya and Indonesia; current Professor of Social Anthropology Robert Barnes (St Antony’s) specialises in the cultures and societies of Eastern Indonesia. At the Institute of Population Ageing, Philip Kreager (Senior Research Fellow) researches comparative demographic systems with particular reference to the construction of collective identity, family and kin systems, age and social structure in Indonesia. He was Director of the Ageing in Indonesia study from 1998-2007.

The effects of the complex economic, social and political processes of change in Southeast Asia are addressed by the Oxford Department of International Development and the School of Geography and the Environment. At the Refugee Studies Centre, Eva-Lotta Hedman (Senior Research Fellow) has published important work on forced migration, social movements, and the contestation of state and civil society in Southeast Asia. Paul Jepson, course director of the MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Policy, researches conservation governance and was previously Indonesia Programme Director for BirdLife International from 1991-1997.

The Department of Politics and International Relations has long addressed Southeast Asia from the international and institutional perspective. Currently, Professors of International Relations Yuen Foong Khong (Nuffield) and Rosemary Foot (St Antony’s) both work on the international relations of the Asia-Pacific. Prof Khong has written on the Vietnam War and ASEAN security. Prof Foot researches security issues, terrorism, human rights, and institutional developments in the Asia-Pacific region.

Medical & Life Sciences

Oxford is an internationally recognised centre of excellence for biomedical and clinical research and teaching. In particular, the University’s strength in global health is unparalleled.

The legendary Sir David Weatherall (Regius Professor of Medicine Emeritus) bridged the clinical and molecular aspects of the thalassaemias, and his work continues to constitute the model for the study of many genetic diseases worldwide. It was in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Singapore that he met the anaemic child who would lead him into his research field. He continues to work tirelessly on initiatives to study and prevent common diseases of childhood in Southeast Asia.

The Oxford Centre for Tropical Medicine’s outstanding success in Southeast Asia has directly influenced World Health Organisation policy – currently recommended treatments for malaria, typhoid, dengue shock syndrome, melioidosis, tuberculosis, meningitis, diphtheria and leptospirosis are all based on their work. With units in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Indonesia, it also hosts the regional and Indonesian offices of the Southeast Asian Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Network. Professors of Tropical Medicine Nick White and Nick Day were instrumental in the development of artemesinin-based therapy as the central strategy for malaria control, while Professor Jeremy Farrar and colleagues at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City are at the leading edge of clinical research on avian influenza.

The Oxford Mindfulness Centre works on the application of practices drawn from Southeast Asian Buddhist tradition in psychological therapy.

Oxford’s links with Southeast Asia extend to the plant sciences. Professor Jeff Burley, as director of the Oxford Forestry Institute, was responsible for a 10-year project with the Forestry Institute of Malaysia and chaired an external review of the Centre for International Forestry Search in Indonesia.