Research projects, centres, networks and publications in Asian Studies.
Our interdisciplinary community brings together specialists in China, Japan and Korea with experts in East Asian and international relations.
In the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021), our research was submitted in the categories of Modern Languages, Politics, Sociology, History and Theology.
The results reaffirm Edinburgh’s position as one of the UK’s leading research universities - fourth in the UK based on the quality and breadth of its research according to Times Higher Education's REF power ratings.
Browse Edinburgh Research Explorer for staff profiles, research outputs and activities
Selected research centres and networks
Research centres and networks range from formal collaborations to informal groups of researchers working together on a theme or challenge.
A number are based in - or are affiliated with - Asian Studies; others are based elsewhere in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC), the University of Edinburgh, or the wider academic community, but involve our staff and students.
The groups provide opportunities for researchers at all career stages to work together with partners and stakeholders in organising events, workshopping publications, engaging audiences outside the academy, and exploring ideas for future projects and funding bids.
Here are just a few of our current groups...
Spanning a range of disciplines in European, Islamic, American and Asian studies, including medieval literatures and cultures, the Centre brings together around 70 researchers across the University of Edinburgh.
Take me to the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies website
Partnered with Fudan University in Shanghai, and part of a worldwide network of some 450 Confucius Institutes, the Centre promotes educational, economic, and cultural ties between Scotland and China.
Convened by the University of Edinburgh, but with members from across the north of the UK, this network spans an interdisciplinary range of expertise and interests in Buddhism. Members and Associate Members from the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) include researchers in Asian Studies with specialisms in Chinese, Japanese and Sanskrit studies.
Led by colleagues in European Languages and Cultures, this research strand interrogates the theory and practice of ‘intermediality - the interrelationships between different art forms and their signification. With a particular focus on events, several jointly organised with Meiji University in Tokyo, the strand brings together academics, research students and practitioners to foster exchange and initiate new collaborative projects.
Read an interview on our research partnership with Meiji University
Take me to the research section of the Intermediality website
Selected research projects
Lifting the veil of the future has been a concern for humans from the omens of ancient Mesopotamia to computer-generated horoscopes. As a method, Shang divination of the 13th and 12th century BCE is outstanding in its sophistication, elegance, and organisation. Based on the interpretation of controlled cracks on animal bones and turtle shells, Shang kings made predictions about the outcome of battles, the weather, childbirth, sickness, and more. Once made, the prophecies were carved into the bones for record keeping, providing the earliest testimonies of Chinese writing.
The National Museum of Scotland (NMS) holds around 1,300 Shang oracle bones, the largest collection in Europe and second largest outside of Asia. In collaboration with the Museum, researchers at the University of Edinburgh studied the backside of bones in the NMS collection using non-invasive techniques (such as X-ray fluorescence, scanning electron microscopy, and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy), and conducted experiments to recreate the Shang divination process. The idea was to understand how the divinatory cracks were made, how the diviners achieved such control over them, and what preparation the bones were submitted prior to their use. The research was used in the development of the Museum’s Ancient Egypt, East Asia and Ceramics galleries which opened in February 2019.
Read more about the project on the National Museum of Scotland blog
Funded by a Challenge Investment Fund from the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh: 2016 to 2017
LLC team: Professor Joachim Gentz (Principal Investigator), Antoine Ruchonnet (Research Assistant, January to June 2016)
The pilot for a monograph-length study on the life-course of Chinese Christians, this project builds on ten years of ethnographic fieldwork undertaken by the Principal Investigator in a group of Protestant churches in China. Through a combination of participant observation and in-depth interviews, it investigates how a shared religious identity is established and maintained among Protestant Christians in a rapidly-changing socio-political context.
In its early phase, the research focused on Chinese Protestant naming practices, demonstrating the complex layers of meaning in Chinese-Christian personal names. Now it is exploring a second key aspect of the Chinese-Christian life course; the role of church festivals (for example Christmas and Easter), exploring the interactions between individual Christians and their congregation, and how this shapes religious meaning, identity and authority.
Read Mark McLeister's blog post on The Power of Protestant Names in China [external]
Funded by Small Grant awards from The Carnegie Trust: March 2019 to February 2020, and The Royal Society of Edinburgh: December 2019 to April 2023
LLC team: Dr Mark McLeister (Principal Investigator)
Investigating resource management, environmental sustainability, and economic cooperation in the longue duree
In recent years, there have been multiple challenges to developing balanced, human-centred approaches to economic growth and environmental sustainability. There is growing awareness of climate change and the depletion of natural resources, but the uneven economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the lingering repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis continue to raise important questions about social and economic equality. Led by Dr Holly Stephens, an interdisciplinary network of researchers is exploring diverse models of economic cooperation and sustainable resource management. The network involves researchers from the humanities and social sciences, including historians, anthropologists, political scientists, geographers, and sociologists.
The research uses a comparative approach, uncovering the specific contexts around historic models, and searching for links between these and contemporary case studies. In particular, it uses the example of the Korean kye - a type of organisation that has been used to manage a wide range of resources throughout Korean history including forests, fishery rights, education, and financial resources. The project is developing strong ties between researchers in South Korea and the UK through visiting research fellowships and international workshops and conferences. These will not only provide a valuable contribution to academic knowledge, but also support researchers - especially early career researchers - to develop future projects and international collaborations around sustainable resource management.
Funded by a UK-South Korea Connections Grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC): February 2022 - July 2023
LLC team: Dr Holly Stephens (Principal Investigator)
Why do some military transitions succeed while others fail? Drawing lessons from the democratisation of South Korea in the late 1980s, this project aims to tease out the mechanisms that led to a successful outcome in Korea, and to identify the key challenges confronting Myanmar. Moving beyond an exclusive focus on repression and army leadership, the project analyses the military-economic complex and its broader impact on society. This approach is especially timely in the wake of the current humanitarian crisis and military-led operations against the Rohingya community in Rakhine state and, more recently, the February 2021 military coup.
In this three-year project, the Principal Investigator has conducted extensive fieldwork in both Korea and Myanmar. Alongside, and in cooperation with the Pansodan Art Gallery in Yangon, she led the Bahu (Art is Plural) Healing Festival in May 2019, a series of art exhibitions in Myanmar promoting participation and inclusion among the country’s youth. In March 2021, she jointly organised the Arts, Freedom, and Resistance: Voices from Myanmar workshop with the University of St Andrews. The event gave a platform to artists and activists from Myanmar to share perspectives on current events, and enabled academics to draw parallels with the democratization movement in Korea.
Funded by a British Academy / Leverhulme Small Research Grant: June 2018 to March 2022
LLC team: Dr Youngmi Kim (Principal Investigator)
Recent developments in Education Studies have provided the tools to better understand the teaching and learning experience in higher education. However, the interdisciplinarity of Japanese Studies - an ambiguous and diffuse field, apparently without the particular sets of well-defined methods, theories and questions found in other disciplines - represents a particular challenge to understanding why teaching in Japanese Studies happens in a particular way, what its intended outcomes are, and how it all fits together.
Focusing on the perspectives of practitioners and students through interviews and focus groups, this project aims to understand and explore the range of socialisation processes in different Japanese Studies departments across the UK. As well as publishing results in Japan Forum journal, the project team have been recording and publishing interviews with Japanese Studies academics focusing on their careers to date. The Voices in Japanese Studies podcast offers a window into the field for prospective and existing scholars. As such, and along with the journal article, it makes a valuable, evidenced-based contribution to the ongoing global discussion on the role of Area Studies in higher education.
Listen to the Voices in Japanese Studies podcast on Spotify
Funded by the British Association for Japanese Studies (BAJS): February 2017 to April 2021
LLC team - Dr Chris Perkins (Principal Investigator), Matt Loten and Anna Vittinghoff (PhD researchers and podcast hosts)
Beyond the Books
Beyond the Books is a podcast that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at research in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures and the people who make it happen.
In Series 2 - Episode 3 host Emma Aviet talked to Dr Youngmi Kim, Senior Lecturer in Korean Studies and Director of the Centre for Korean Studies.
Listen to Series 2 - Episode 3 of Beyond the Books on MediaHopper
Browse all episodes of Beyond the Books
We offer one-year Masters by Research and full PhD programmes in the study of China, Japan, Korea and East Asia.
Working with colleagues elsewhere in LLC, and across the wider University, we are able to support research which crosses boundaries between disciplines and languages.