The research profile ‘Asian Modernities and Traditions’ (AMT) aims to raise the strength and visibility of research, teaching and dissemination on Asian studies at Leiden University. AMT focuses on those areas where there are clear strengths or exciting new developments ahead, bundled into five themes. In AMT ‘Asia’ includes all of East, Central, South and Southeast Asia. AMT does not conceive of Asia as a neatly bounded geographic region, and explicitly includes the increasingly prominent transnational presence of Asia across the globe, including flows of capital, culture, goods, ideas and people.
Asia has become the new centre of growth for the world economy. Economic success not only breeds global power, but also an increasingly prominent role in the production and definition of what it is to be modern, economically, socially, politically and culturally. Despite their roots in global market capitalism, Asia’s modernities are not simple carbon-copies of western modernity. Asia has spawned a highly diverse range of modernities rooted as much in local, regional and (trans)national cultures and traditions as in forms derived from the West, while the latter not only include capitalism, but also socialism, Christianity, secularism, nationalism and liberalism.
Studying the proliferation, diversity and commonalities of these particular modernities is the key to knowledge about Asian cultures and societies that matters in the world today. Asia is growing, powerful, self-confident, yet also riven by conflict and confrontation and alternative visions of its cultural heritage and modernity that escape the hegemonic grasp of political or cultural elites.
More than half a century after decolonialization Asia has by no means arrived at a finished system of nations. The ‘nation’ in many Asian countries remains at best a work in progress. Many territories remain disputed or simply beyond or excluded from any single national community. Similarly, the ‘developmental’ state in Asia is often held up as an example of strength and efficiency to the ‘failed’ states of Africa and Latin America. Yet one does not even have to invoke the many examples of weak or destabilized states in Asia itself to see that the success of Asian state building is often more apparent than real. China’s massive state apparatus, for instance, still struggles to control local authorities, while large parts of India are ruled by Maoist groups that are beyond the control of federal or state governments.