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Southeast Asian Studies

Thanks to the generosity of the family of Sally and Bruce Nelson, the East Asia Center is proud to administer both a speaker series and a travel grant aimed at increasing awareness of issues affecting Southeast Asia and its communities.  Information about the travel grant, which provides funding for students and faculty to travel to Southeast Asia for academic purposes, may be found under our "Grants and Fellowships" heading, while upcoming Nelson Family Lectures on Southeast Asia are listed on our events calendar.

From the peninsular edge of the Asian continent that is home to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to the great island nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines to its southeast, all the way to New Guinea and Australia, Southeast Asia is the crossroads of diverse cultures from prehistoric times to the present. The lush rain forests into which major rivers flow from the Tibetan plateau, as well as the region’s tropical climate and seismically sensitive position near the intersection of geological plates, have created one of the most diverse and complex sites on earth for biological, geological, oceanographic, and environmental research. Interactions among the prehistoric peoples of the region were an important factor shaping the emergence of the societies that later defined it culturally. The Southeast Asian region was an important conduit of Confucianism from China through its adoption in the ancient kingdom of Vietnam as well as through the vigorous maritime trade of Chinese merchant s since ancient and medieval times. All of the cultures of the region also played an important role in the early propagation of Buddhism as it spread east across Asia. In the age of discovery, Southeast Asia became a hub both of exploration and target of imperialism, and in modern times the struggles of its peoples to resist external domination achieve self-determination exemplify the tensions and dynamism of the Global South the world over.

The University of Virginia has been long engaged with the study of Southeast Asia, particularly in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Anthropology, but also in areas of medical research, art history and religious studies. The Nelson grants offer us an unprecedented opportunity to consolidate and develop this regional interest by promoting study abroad and by drawing attention to pathbreaking academic research and the pressing issues facing the region today.