IIAS as a Bridge
The increased polarization of the world – as seen in the growing competition between China and the USA and their respective spheres of influence, now enhanced by the appalling Russia-Ukraine conflict and the noticeable trend towards disengagement vis-à-vis the West/“North” among many countries of the Global South – paradoxically offers a Europe-based international academic organization like IIAS a unique opportunity to make an enhanced and meaningful contribution to global, inter-regional, and inter-cultural dialogue.
In fact, we see a clear opening for IIAS and its close partners to reinforce its position as one of the leading higher education institutions. We are capable of offering a meaningful “bridge model,” facilitating academic, scientific, and intellectual cooperation between Asia, Africa, the Americas, the Middle East, and Europe.
This could be done by mobilizing institutions and individuals as partners from the five world regions. IIAS and its host institution, Leiden University, are remarkably well positioned to take a multifaceted approach that supports targeted projects in humanistic scholarship, all done in collaboration with partners in those regions. This should be done in an inclusive, non-hegemonic, collaborative fashion, one built on long-term commitment and trust.
IIAS, in particular, represents one of the world’s largest global platforms on scholarship pertaining to Asia. This is notably reflected in The Newsletter, its Fellowship Program, and the International Convention for Asia Scholars (ICAS) initiative. These global, well-known academic “services” have been reinforced by multiple projects that are substantively innovative and network-based: (1) the unique local-global experiential pedagogical initiative Humanities Across Borders (HAB), with its consortium of 20 university-anchored public education “ecosystems”; (2) the Africa-Asia, A New Axis of Knowledge (A-A) program, the first Africa-based inclusive network of its kind; or the Southeast Asia Neighborhoods Network (SEANNET), which again links urban community-university clusters in the sub-region.
The combination of these initiatives, among others, all built over the long term, have succeeded in establishing IIAS as a well-recognized, trusted, reliable, non-overbearing partner. In this capacity, we continue to facilitate global-local collaborations for a vast number of scholars, civic actors, and institutions in different parts of the world. That it emanates from a “Northern” geographic and societal context makes its role all the more meaningful, particularly in these times of fragmentation and mistrust, of competition and exploitation. These efforts are built on long-cultivated relationships based on inter-personal, inter-institutional, and “equal-footing” collaborations, and they should not just be appreciated for their inherent worthiness. They should be mobilized and sustained, hopefully with the support of Leiden University, for what they can contribute in terms of deepening mutual understanding and the necessary struggle to overcome an imperial, hierarchical world order.
Philippe Peycam, Director IIAS