Understanding East and Southeast Asian Societies: A Postcolonial Perspective

From May 20th to 23rd 2019, 20 KAAD scholars from eleven different nations gathered together at house Werdenfels in in Nittendorf where the seminar entitled “Understanding East and Southeast Asian Societies: A Postcolonial Perspective” (led by Dr. Heinrich Geiger) took place.

The introduction to the topic was made by contributions from participants from the Philippines. In the further course of the first day, more short lectures by participants from other nations followed which all had the focus on their very own history in common. It was striking though to learn that for many it goes without saying that one cannot clearly define one’s own cultural identity. It was made clear that in the postcolonial societies of East and Southeast Asia cultural identities are a construct based on personal experiences, memories, traditions and an immense variety of cultural, political and social practices. The French were in Vietnam, the Portuguese and Dutch in Indonesia, the Spanish and Americans in the Philippines, the British in India and Myanmar.

However, the serious consequences of colonial rule, which are reflected among other things in the establishment of structural inequality, were critically discussed: A minority still monopolises most of the wealth and power; the globalised geo-economy in the East and Southeast Asian countries is still partly based on those old structures. Against this background, the question of the elites and their role under these given conditions was raised during the course of the seminar. In general, it was also discussed which role Asia could play in view of the challenges of globalisation. Just as many other Asian countries, China, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam have become factories for the whole world. Quite realistically it was noted that quite a few traditional ideals and thoughts were lost in the course of this process.

Since the speaker planned for the first day of the seminar had to cancel his participation at short notice, there was only one speaker for the whole seminar: Prof. Dr. Dagmar Hellmann-Rajanayagam of the University of Passau focused on the question of religion in her lecture on “uses of religion in political contexts” and triggered a lively discussion on the second day of the seminar. The participants of the seminar emphasized that they would be in favour of a dialogue between all living world religions in Asia since there are conflicts and discriminations as the example of Myanmar shows. It was only due to ecumenism that mutual respect and the recognition of common human values was possible. It was also stressed by the participants that legal framework conditions are needed that guarantee the dignity and equality of every citizen before the law without discriminating against personal faith.

All in all, it was a very successful seminar which lived on the qualified contributions of the participants. It was rounded off by a half-day excursion to Regensburg and Walhalla.