190121, Saint Petersburg,
Soyuza Pechatnikov str., 16
The Department of Asian and African Studies was established in 2014 with the mission to foster high quality interdisciplinary research of Asian and African countries. It is based on two pillars: long and distinctive tradition of Asian and African Studies in St. Petersburg and interdisciplinary approach to education promoted by the Higher School of Economics. The goal of the Department is to provide students with a broad knowledge and understanding of specific regions of Asia and Africa, to promote communication and cooperation among all scholars interested in these areas at the Higher School of Economics and to encourage international academic exchange.
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The leading research fellow at the Centre of Asian and African Studies Nina Grigoreva opened the seminar with the presentation titled “Ancient Civilizations of Southeast Asia”. In the beginning of her talk Prof. Grigoreva explained her own view on the variety of definitions of the term civilization and applicability of this concept to the study of Southeast Asia during ancient times. She suggested that civilization should be defined as a stable system of cultural elements (in a broad sense), which existed at a certain point in time and at a certain territory, but had an influence beyond this spatial and temporal localization. Two civilizations or “broad cultural zones” can be designated in ancient Southeast Asia: Yue (Viet) and Hindu-Buddhist civilization (typical for southern areas of the region). Prof. Grigoreva discussed each civilization’s typical artifacts and monuments demonstrating some of them on her slides. She concluded her presentation by showing how elements and symbols of ancient civilizations continue to exist in the contemporary culture of Southeast Asia and are used in construction of identities and political discourse.
After the presentation was over Prof. Evgenii Zelenev, Prof. Milana Iliushina, Prof. Sergey Frantsuzov. Associate Prof. Alexey Obraztsov and Senior Lecturer Maria Soloshchevaengaged in a lively debate. The questions discussed by the participants in the seminar included the problem of defining the term civilization and the related dilemma of what ancient societies in East Asia and Middle East can be considered civilizations. The discussants suggested that further research could focus on the two following topics: the artifacts contacting early writings in Asia and Africa and the origins of religious beliefs in the local cultures of Asia and Africa. The scientific debate led to a broader discussion of the new course “History of Asian and African Civilizations”, which will be taught next year by a group of professors from the Department of Asian and African Studies.