Combining different disciplines, Leiden University researchers work together to formulate innovative solutions to societal problems. Below is an example from the field of languages, cultures and societies.

Overview Research in the spotlight

Asia

From local expertise to knowledge of a continent

Engagement between Asia and Europe is increasing. If these continents want to build a lasting relationship, they need to understand each other better in the economic, socio-cultural, historical and legal arena. Researchers from Leiden have already contributed to the body of knowledge on past and present Asia for decades, making Leiden a leading centre of Asia Studies.

Understanding and improving relations and local situations

We trade with Asian countries, eat Asian food, watch Asian films, receive Asian tourists and even travel to Asia ourselves. We Europeans may not be aware of it, but we share many interests and concerns with Asians. For instance, national elections capture the public attention ‘there’ just as they do ‘here’. People often only notice the clashes between the two worlds: Europeans condemn the human rights situation in China or Singapore, and the Chinese and Singaporeans criticise what they see as unharnessed individualism or an absent sense of duty in Europe.

Researchers from various disciplines in Leiden acquire a profound knowledge about the Asian continent,  knowledge that serves not only academia but also the world outside. Academics from Leiden regularly advise the government, NGOs and industry. They even advised King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima before they led a trade mission to China in 2015. Our academics also use their knowledge of such areas as law and governance to help the people of Asia improve their standards of living. To be able to do this, it is essential to have a good understanding of the politics, culture and economy of the region.

History as a basis for researching the present

In Leiden, research into Asia is rooted in a profound knowledge of Asian languages and cultures. Our academics have studied written and pictorial material from numerous Asian countries, with an emphasis on China, Indonesia and Japan, for as long as we can remember. Knowledge of language and history provides a solid foundation for research into modern issues. After all, it is only possible to comprehend a society today if you understand what people are saying and which developments the inhabitants of a region have been through over the centuries. 

Leiden researchers also regularly conduct long-term fieldwork in the region in order to establish the local situations and relations and to understand what motivates people and how they deal with social change. These local situations can then be compared with other regions or levels: for instance, what is the relationship between a village administration and a city administration or central government? And finally: how does the situation in one Asian country relate to the situation in another?

Experts from Leiden in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Law join forces in their research on Asia. This enables them to acquire knowledge on broad themes: religion (what role does religious belief play in Asian societies?), culture (including language and visual art), migration (from and to Asia) and politics and citizenship (how do citizens relate to local and central government? How do Asian citizens define their identity?).

Leiden Asia Year
Leiden University Institute for Area Studies
Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies
Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance and Development
Leiden Asia Centre

Japanmuseum SieboldHuis Leiden
Museum for Ethnology Leiden
International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS)