This is the first critical study that focuses on the relationship between local texts and figures and the construction of collective identity and religions from the pre-colonial years to the post-independence period of Cambodia.

The study uncovers thirteen rare Khmer bangsāvatār manuscripts drawn from archival collections in Cambodia, Thailand, France, and Japan. It suggests that bangsāvatār texts, as part of South and Southeast Asian literary heritage, were closely associated with a broader effort of rulers and religious leaders to promote their kingship and religious teachings.

Considering as an object encompassing both spiritual and political powers, these texts were used by the palace to display peace and harmony under a reigning monarch and by temples to exhibit religious restorations under a Buddhist leader. The findings also suggest that the coming of Western notions of history did not simply replace the perceptions of the past and of historical writing found in the pre-colonial texts. Instead, colonial historiography caused to the emergence of different schools of thought among local intellectuals, including those who actively engaged in translating French and Thai scholarship into Khmer, and conservative scholars who still used the pre-colonial conventions of historical writing to represent Cambodia’s collective past during the colonial and post-independence periods.

During my ten-month fellowship at the International Institute for Asian Studies in Leiden, I will work on the last chapter entitled 'Post-independence Cambodia: Sangha and their perceptions of national past through Buddhism', and the book proposal for this project.

Theara Thun received his MA in Southeast Asian Studies at Chulalongkorn University and a PhD in History at the National University of Singapore under a joint doctoral scholarship programme between the National University of Singapore and Harvard-Yenching Institute (Cambridge, MA, USA).