This is the last edition of Asian Currents for 2004 but happily, thanks to an extension of the Myer Foundation grant, we will be resuming publication in 2005. Your first issue will arrive in your inbox and be posted on the web at the end of January. Subscribers to the ebulletin have been growing steadily over this first year. We look forward to further expansion and to hearing from you about how we can best serve your interest in Asia. In the meantime, best wishes for the festive season.
Francesca Beddie, Editor.
Asian Currents aims to connect Australia's academic experts on Asia with journalists, policy makers, business people, artists and other educators. By telling you what is happening in the research world, we hope you will be able to make better use of the wealth of knowledge available and that you will recognise the importance of fostering Australia's Asia knowledge.
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Asian Currents is normally brought out in the third week of each month.
Each edition of Asian Currents brings you a short insight into topical issues. This month we focus on religion.
by Dr Shahram Akbarzadeh, Senior Lecturer in Global Politics at Monash
University and co-editor of Islam and the West, Reflections from Australia UNSW
Shahram.Akbarzadeh@arts.monash.edu.au ; http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/politics/research/akbarzadeh.html
When Chechen terrorists killed some 250 innocent people in a Beslan school in southern Russia, Muslim scholars from Teheran to Cairo expressed their horror that children could be slaughtered in the name of Islam. This was a barbaric act and, they said, had nothing to do with Islam, which is a religion of peace.
Beslan was not the first time innocent people were killed by those who claim to have God on their side. Suicide bombings, hostage takings and indiscriminate killings have become all-too familiar news items from the Middle East, now also spreading to South East Asia. The victims are usually ill-fated civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And yet the Muslim Middle East does not seem to show the same level of shock at these horrors as that which characterized reactions to the Beslan tragedy. Why?
I hazard a generalization: political violence has become an accepted fact of life in the Middle East. Only the severity and magnitude of killing children was enough to provoke an outcry and to register in the popular psyche. That is not just because people are desensitized to violence; more importantly it is because at some level political violence is seen as legitimate.
The politics of the Middle East in the second half of the 20th century has brutalised these societies. It is hard to find anyone in the Middle East who would reject the resort to violence against unpopular and authoritarian regimes. Faced with the superior military power of the Israeli occupation force, or the ruthless security forces of governing regimes, some radical political opponents have turned to violence with the implicit endorsement of large segments of their communities. And they do so in the name of Islam.
Islam is a religion of peace. It is also a religion of justice and it is the latter quality that is evoked by perpetrators of political violence. Self-proclaimed Jihadists claim to be fighting for what has wrongfully denied them by colonial and neo-colonial powers (infidels): the revival and sovereignty of God's word in Muslim lands. This call makes an unveiled appeal to nationalist sentiments in the region. It holds obvious attraction for many. The pursuit of justice, Jihadists proclaim as other radical revolutionaries have done before them, is not without casualties.
Political violence in the Middle East has gained greater severity and force in the last few years. It is disheartening to see that Muslims' acquaintance with it has followed the same pattern, with people coming to accept increasingly brutal acts which deliberately target civilians. The Beslan tragedy was a wake-up call, confronting the Muslim Middle East with the reality of terror. Will Islamic scholars try to reverse the Muslim opinion and deny Jihadists their religious cover? Or will they surrender to the current of widespread frustration and alienation which springs from a profound sense of injustice?
The March 2003 edition of Time Asia was devoted to surveying the diversity of Islam in Asia. See http://www.time.com/time/asia/covers/501030310/.
To read about the history of Islam in Southeast Asia, go to http://www.seasite.niu.edu/crossroads/russell/islam.htm.
Ian Welch, Division of Pacific and Asian History, Research School of Asian and Pacific Studies, Australian National University (firstname.lastname@example.org) offers an overview of Christianity in the Asian region.
Starting in China: a vacuum of ethical directions within the culture as a whole has contributed to a significant increase in the numbers of people attending Christian churches and declaring themselves Christians. This is not a uniquely Christian 'revival.' The Falungong movement is a similar response within the Buddhist tradition. And there is a worldwide resurgence of interest in the Confucian contribution to post-Maoist Chinese culture and society. No reliable statistics exist but there are suggestions that 'Protestant' Christianity has experienced a dramatic explosion in numbers, with guesstimates as high as thirty million or more new believers. A small increase is also reported in Catholic Christianity but not on the same scale. Catholicism in China is 'split' between a patriotic non-Vatican aligned group and an 'underground' church maintaining links to Rome. Many of the 'Protestant' groups also avoid formal association with government-approved Christianity.
The situation elsewhere in Asia is less clear. Overall, traditional Christian religious movements, such as Catholicism, Anglicanism, etc, are still in transit from their colonially-linked past to an uncertain cultural and social relationship with indigenous cultures and ongoing social evolution. There seems little evidence that 'traditional' forms of Christian identity are growing in any marked sense to compare with the situation in China.
In India, the resurgence of conservative Hinduism has produced anti-Christian sentiment, usually aimed at foreigners but also affecting village Christians, often people associated with the former 'scheduled' castes. The proportion of 'Christians' does not appear to have changed much in statistical reports. There is a small pattern of emigration of some middle-class Indian Christians to the west, including Australia, that may represent fear of the future but may be as much economic as religious.
In Pakistan and in Islamic countries generally, there have been reports of quite serious anti-Christian episodes, including murders and bombings of Christian churches. These are well-known from press reports but more difficult to analyse as representing long-term anti-Christian trends. The nexus between 'terrorism' and anti-Christian actions is extraordinarily difficult to assess, much less comment on. Violence has not, historically, been a major concern for Christians in Indonesia or Malaysia, for example, although in recent years conflicts in eastern Indonesia have had religious sectarian overtones.
Where Christianity is expanding, it seems to be of a non-liturgical, Bible-focussed kind, relying on a syncretism of local traditions with what might loosely be termed charismatic or experiential forms of belief and practice. That is widely reported, for example, from the Philippines and some other parts of the region. It seems to be the predominant form of Christianity in China.
The vast majority of the world's missionaries are now Americans from 'fundamentalist-evangelical' and 'pentecostal' backgrounds. Foreign observers might conclude that what is being propagated is as much American as Christian, although it is risky to make too much of the old accusation of Edward Said and others that missionaries are cultural imperialists first and religious teachers second. Asian Christianity is no longer a foreign incursion. Conversions, where they occur, are more likely to be the result of indigenous circumstances than the result of foreign activities.
Abstracts from the 1st Biennial TransTasman Conference on Australians and New Zealanders in Christian Missions, at Home and Abroad, can be found at http://rspas.anu.edu.au/pah/TransTasman/.
See also Cambridge University's Christianity in Asia Project, which is intended to contribute to the crossing of boundaries between countries, cultures, and theological traditions. http://www.divinity.cam.ac.uk/CARTS/CAP.html.
This month we profile Robin Jeffrey, Professor in the Politics Program at La Trobe University and outgoing President of the ASAA (R.Jeffrey@latrobe.edu.au). Robin will be succeeded as President by Robert Cribb (email@example.com), Senior Fellow, Division of Pacific and Asian History, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.
Q. When did you become interested in studying Asia and why?
A. I grew up, did my first degree and lived my first 22 years in Victoria, British Columbia, a small town in western Canada, where I worked as a journalist. I sensed I needed to see the world and went to India in 1967 with the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), the Canadian equivalent of the Peace Corps. I taught English in a government middle school, travelled a lot and lost my heart and head. India was the most teasing, taxing, testing, intriguing, maddening, inspiring place I had ever been. It still is. I went to Sussex University with the idea of doing an MA, but I fell into a nest of outstanding India scholars - Anthony Low, Peter Reeves, F. G. Bailey, Pramit Chaudhuri, David Pocock, Ranajit Guha- and I ended up doing a D.Phil., going back to India and eventually coming to the ANU and burrowing down in academe.
Q. What are your current preoccupations?
A. I've got research going on a book called Slices of India, a study based on six 'slice' years - 1942, 1954, 1966, 1977, 1989 and 2001 - the years of the Kumbh Mela, the great Hindu religious festival at Allahabad. I'm also keenly interested in the way the Indian media, especially print, is changing. I wrote my last book, India's Newspaper Revolution, on that theme. The quickie I'd like to write if I had six months to do nothing else would be about the 'Barelvi' movement of militant, suicidal Islam that still has legacies in South Asia and was a continual presence, with remarkable reach and capacity, from the 1820s to the 1880s. And my retirement project is a biography of Charles Cornwallis, loser in America, winner in India and Ireland.
Q. How do these fit into the contemporary scene?
A. The Slices of India, if it comes off as I wish, will be an absorbing, highly readable way into contemporary India. The media project, of course, is as real and contemporary as Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Packer (both of whom have had goes in India). The Barelvi idea is, as you can imagine, inspired by my attempt to make sense of the world since 11 September 2001. And Cornwallis is a key figure of that fascinating transitional age when so many of the characteristics of the 'modern' world take shape. And what a great excuse to live in India, Virginia, France and Ireland!
Q. What are your hopes for Asian studies in Australia?
A. National leadership. Recognition that 'study of Asia' a) is crucial for Australia as globalisation irresistibly drags Australians into working with the world; b) that 'Asia knowledge' takes special effort because the countries of Asia are more different to most Australians than the cultures of anywhere else; c) that the significant, yet small, base of 'Asia knowledge' built in the past 20 years is in danger of contracting, not growing, yet it needs to grow; and d) that there are rewards for Australians in steadily expanding their comfort with the cultures of Asia: improved capacity to create harmony and make friends, expand trade and head off enemies.
Symbolically, we need acknowledgement that these goals are national, Australian goals and that they are important. Materially, we need national programs to maintain high-quality language teaching, replace the dwindling pool of Asia specialists in the universities and ensure that every teacher who leaves a teacher-training program is as culturally comfortable talking about the Long March and the Salt March as the Wedding March.
Johanna Lynn Hood (Johanna.Hood@anu.edu.au) is a Canadian, each step of whose education has occurred in different places - British Columbia, Japan, Hong Kong, Ontario and Nanjing - but always with a consistently high level of achievement. She decided to pursue her Masters study at the Australian National University, being keen to work with two scholars based at the China and Korea Centre (Faculty of Asian Studies), Professor Kam Louie and Dr Louise Edwards. She arrived in Canberra in July 2003 and is currently doing a two-month residency at Peking University.
Johanna's thesis is looking at the social implications of the presentation of HIV/AIDS in the Chinese media. It examines how the widespread belief that 'HIV/AIDS is not a Chinese disease' has been created and how the virus has been portrayed in the media as a 'foreign disease', using foreign images and content to reinforce that message. Johanna speaks fluent Mandarin.
The Chinese government estimated that at the end of 2002 there may be over a million cases of people infected by HIV/AIDS in China. It is working with UNAIDS to get a clearer view of the problem and how to tackle it. See http://www.unaids.org/EN/geographical+area/by+country/china.asp. Those working in the field estimate the figure to be at least two million.
http://iceaps.anu.edu.au/ is the newly established website of the International Centre for Excellence in Asia Pacific Studies. The Centre's objectives are to facilitate high quality research and teaching in Asia Pacific studies based on capacities in Australian universities, and to support the internationalisation of such knowledge and expertise.
And during the holiday season, you may like to test your general knowledge about Southeast Asia with this board game. http://www.seasite.niu.edu/travasia.htm
If you would like to nominate a site which contributes to the maximizing of Australia's Asian knowledge, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hugh White, now professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, argued recently that the time is ripe to resolve the Taiwan issue and that with Prime Minister Howard's standing both in Washington and Beijing, Australia can play a role in getting the issue on the agenda of US-China relations. See his contribution to the Melbourne Asia Policy Papers series, entitled The US, Taiwan and the PRC: Managing China's Rise - Policy Options for Australia. http://www.asialink.unimelb.edu.au/cpp/policypapers.
On 13 October, almost ten years after it first applied to join, Cambodia acceded to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), becoming its 148th member.
The University of Canberra has won a worldwide project bid worth almost $AUD750, 000 ($US500, 000) to train 200 Cambodian public servants, over a 12 month period in the capital Phnom Penh. Senior UC academic teaching staff will travel to Cambodia and work with local counterparts to deliver public administration training modules to senior and middle ranking public servants. http://www.canberra.edu.au/news_events/media_releases/media_18_10_04.html.
BRISBANE ASIALINK CHAPTER - JETAA DINNER, Monday 29 November. 6.30pm, Oshin Japanese Restaurant, 256 Adelaide St (Cnr Creek Street), Brisbane. Join the Brisbane Asialink chapter members and the Queensland Japanese Exchange and Teaching Alumni Association for their first joint event. Three course dinner: Vegetarian $23 or Non-Vegetarian $34. Bookings essential, RSVP by Friday 26 November to email@example.com.
EXPORTING TO SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA - SPRINGBOARD TO ASIA! Austrade seminars on new business opportunities in two of the strongest economic performers in the Asian region - Singapore and Malaysia - will be held in the following places Brisbane (24 November), Sydney (25 November), Ingleburn (26 November), Darwin (29 November), Perth (30 November), Adelaide (1 December), Canberra (2 December), Melbourne (6 December), Ballarat (7 December), Mildura (8 December), Griffith (8 December). See http://www.austrade.gov.au/australia/layout/0,,0_S2-1_CLNTXID0032-2_-3_PWB110492122-4_-5_-6_-7_,00.html.
CURRENT PERSPECTIVES AND NEW DIRECTIONS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE TEACHING AND LEARNING, 1-3 December, Singapore. The CLaSIC 2004 conference at the National University of Singapore aims to bring together academics, researchers and professionals from Asia and beyond for an exchange of insights on current and future developments in foreign language teaching and learning. Special attention will be paid to ICT, multimedia and foreign language learning. See http://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/cls/clasic2004/.
MICK KEELTY, COMMISSIONER OF THE AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE will speak at the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Canberra branch, on Thursday 2 December at 5.30pm, first floor, Stephen House, 32 Thesiger Court, Deakin. For confirmation of this event, please call the AIIA on 02-62324978 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM IN THE 3RD MILLENIUM, Sunday 12 December (TBC) at 8pm. Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia, will address the topic of the Children of Abraham (Muslims, Christians and Jews) in the third millennium, at the Basement Theatre, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, The University of Melbourne, corner Swanston Street and Monash Road, Parkville. RSVP is essential. Please contact the Council of Christians and Jews Victoria phone/fax: (03) 9817 3848 or email: email@example.com
SHEN WEI DANCE ARTS, SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE CONCERT HALL, Australian premiere at the Sydney Festival: 13-17 January. Rite of Spring and Folding: a glorious fusion of artforms: dance, theatre, Chinese opera, painting and sculpture. To book ring Festival Ticketek 02 9266 4890 or the Sydney Opera House 02 9250 7111 http://www.sydneyfestival.org.au/event.asp?tb_event_id=127.
CULTURAL AND RELIGIOUS MOSAIC OF SOUTH AND SOUTHEAST ASIA: CONFLICT AND CONSENSUS THROUGH THE AGES, New Delhi, 27-30 January 2005. A Regional Conference co-hosted by IAHR and UNESCO. See http://220.127.116.11/iahr/about.html.
AUSTRALIAN MISSION TO THE ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK (ADB), 15-18 March 2005. Austrade invites interested parties to join the 2005 Australian Mission to the Asian Development Bank (ADB). This mission is designed to bring you closer to the business opportunities the Bank offers, provide access to the key decision makers in the Bank, and give you a first-hand look at the strategic directions the Bank will take in the short and medium term. The focus of this mission is on consulting opportunities. For more information contact Liza Bautista, Austrade Manila, tel: +63 2 7578 287 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
WORLD EXPO: March to September in Aichi, Japan, http://www.expo2005.or.jp. 127 countries and 6 international organisations, along with leading Japanese corporations such as Toyota, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, will take part in the Expo. The Australian Government has committed $35 million to Australia's participation in the event, and has been joined by the Victorian, Queensland and Western Australian state governments and the private sector in preparing Australia's participation. For each month of the six months of the Expo, the business program will feature one of the following sectors: agribusiness; natural resources and energy; biotechnology; information and communications technology; automotive sector; and environmental technology. See http://www.expo2005.com.au for more information about the Australian pavilion.
IICEF 05 INDIA INTERNATIONAL CAREER AND EDUCATIONAL FAIR, 27 May - 6 June 2005. This fair is for institutions wishing to recruit Indian (especially in South India) students for under and post-graduate programs. http://www.edna.edu.au/edna/noticeboards?nbpath=690,5678.
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The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) promotes the study of Asian languages, societies, cultures, and politics in Australia; supports teaching and research in Asian studies; and works towards an understanding of Asia in the community at large. It publishes the Asia Studies Review journal and holds a biennial conference.
he ASAA believes there is an urgent need to develop a strategy to preserve, renew and extend Australian expertise about Asia. It has called on the government to establish a Council for Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge and Skills (C-MAAKS), chaired by an outstanding Australian, to oversee a strategy to preserve, renew and extend Australian expertise about Asia. It has detailed this proposal in Maximizing Australia's Asia Knowledge Repositioning and Renewal of a National Asset. See http://sites.uws.edu.au/social/asaa/report.pdf.
Asian Currents is published by the Asian Studies Association of Australia
(ASAA), thanks to a grant from the
Myer Foundation made to assist the ASAA promote the study of Asia in Australia.
It is edited by the ASAA's promotions agents, Francesca Beddie and Peter