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Luce Initiative on Southeast Asia

The Henry Luce Foundation is pleased to announce our Directors’ approval in June 2018 of the Luce Initiative on Southeast Asia (LuceSEA). The central objective of LuceSEA is to strengthen the study of Southeast Asia in American higher education by providing resources for the creation of models, strategies and partnerships that not only bolster existing program structures but also take them in new directions.

LuceSEA is a multi-year grants competition designed to encourage innovation in Southeast Asian studies through support for

  • work in new and emerging areas of inquiry and the expansion of direct engagement with scholars and institutions in Southeast Asia;
  • collaborations and networks that link academic centers to each other and with partners outside academia; and
  • the enhancement of core scholarly infrastructure for teaching and research relevant to Southeast Asia.

Within American philanthropic circles, the Luce Foundation is unique in its longstanding support for Southeast Asian studies. It is an appropriate moment for the Foundation to reinvest in the field, to ensure that it remains vibrant and relevant.

The Foundation will focus LuceSEA around three primary emphases: innovation, collaboration and scholarly infrastructure. The Foundation’s Asia Program staff is currently drafting proposal guidelines for LuceSEA and expects to issue a call for proposals in the fall of 2018, with the aim of making first awards in June 2019. While details will be set forth in the guidelines, a summary of key elements of the competition, expected to take place annually over at least five years, follows:

  • For the purposes of the initiative, Southeast Asia is defined as the region encompassing Brunei, Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • LuceSEA will be open to universities that house the Title VI-funded National Resource Centers for Southeast Asian Studies, other institutions in the United States with identified strength in teaching and research on Southeast Asia or a history of engagement with the region, and U.S.-based organizations that support relevant scholarly activity. LuceSEA will also consider proposals from institutions in Southeast Asia that conform to LuceSEA priorities and guidelines and include collaboration with U.S.-based institutions.
  • For each annual round of the LuceSEA competition, up to $3 million will be allocated from funds available to the Asia Program. The Asia Program anticipates that LuceSEA will, in general, award a small number of larger grants rather than many smaller grants. The actual number and size of grants to be recommended will depend on the quality of the proposals received and the resources available to the Asia Program. Grants will typically be three to five years in length.
  • Proposals may cover historic or contemporary periods. They must address at least one of the three elements of LuceSEA emphasis—innovation, collaboration and scholarly infrastructure—cited above. To be considered for a grant of $1 million or more, the proposal must include all three elements of LuceSEA emphasis.
  • The Asia Program will invite a panel of advisors with relevant expertise to review proposals and make recommendations on grants to the Foundation. The Foundation will make the final determination on awards.

While details are still under discussion, the Asia Program anticipates that LuceSEA proposal guidelines will be broad enough to elicit a range of responses and ideas for training, scholarship and scholarly infrastructure relevant to Southeast Asia. Applicants will be able to draw from a menu of options to develop projects and programs that best align with institutional strategic plans, take advantage of existing institutional strengths and resources, and are attentive to needs and new opportunities. Applicants will be asked to address the questions of how proposed activities will contribute to the field’s overall vitality and effectiveness, how the project will be evaluated, and how the supported work will be institutionalized and sustained beyond the grant.

During the life of LuceSEA, the Asia Program plans to continue through the responsive grants category to fund proposals with a SEA focus that fall outside the LuceSEA guidelines.

Recent Luce-Supported Work with Relevance to LuceSEA

The LuceSEA emphasis on innovation, collaboration and scholarly infrastructure was informed not only by the Asia Program’s consultations and research but also by learning from grants awarded over the past decade that advanced new initiatives and tested new models of interaction. The following projects are examples of the kinds of work that might be developed through LuceSEA. They are for reference only and are not intended to be prescriptive.

Arizona State University - The Theravada Civilizations Project led by scholars at ASU and the University of Chicago, was organized to define new, multidisciplinary research directions in the study of Theravada Buddhist civilizations in modern contexts, form a scholarly network for the study of Buddhism in SEA, and train the next generation of scholars.

Columbia University - Columbia has joined forces with New York University and Seton Hall University to form the New York Southeast Asia Network as a means of sharing information and resources, and strengthening teaching and research on SEA at institutions in the New York metropolitan area. NYSEAN is now inviting additional institutions to partner with it.

Duke University - The Southeast Asia Research Group is a network engaged in the study of the comparative politics, sociology and political economy of SEA. SEAREG works to mentor junior scholars who combine strong methodological skills, language ability and area knowledge with a deep commitment to the region.

University of Hawaiʻi – UH is collaborating with the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a program to strengthen Southeast Asian studies through language training and collaborative field research involving faculty and graduate student teams from both institutions.

University of Southern California - The Center for Transpacific Studies has led a seminar on issues of diaspora and transnationalism, with a significant focus on SEA, for doctoral students and faculty from USC and other nearby universities. The program encourages a young generation of scholars to think in new ways about “the complex set of relationships that tie one nation to another, and new sets of relationships based on heritage which may be even stronger than those of nation or citizenship.”

University of Utah - The Mekong Region Development Research Group supports collaborative and mentoring relationships among scholars across the U.S. and SEA. Its aim has been to equip junior researchers, particularly those from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, with the skills to conduct studies of relevance to their communities and the broader region, and to integrate them into larger scholarly networks to ensure that their voices and perspectives are heard.

University of Washington - UW has teamed up with Arizona State University, Northern Illinois University and Rutgers University on a training program for academic librarians in Myanmar. This collaborative effort not only assists local capacity and the adoption of international standards in Myanmar, but also facilitates exchange and access to materials from a country long isolated from international scholarly engagement.

University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Michigan - UWM and Michigan have been working with UC Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell, SEASSI and the Council of Teachers of Southeast Asian Languages on a series of language pedagogy workshops that have recently catalyzed the formation of a national Southeast Asian Language Council.

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