Timor-Leste Studies Initiative

Indonesia and Timor-Leste Studies Committee
Southeast Asia Council | Association of Asian Studies

Update: Read the review of our 2017 Toronto workshop on #AsiaNow, the online AAS newsletter.

TL_ProgramPic.pngDownload the program of events for our pre-conference workshop in Toronto here.

The Southeast Asia Council’s (SEAC) Indonesia and Timor-Leste Studies Committee (ITLSC) at the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) has recently launched a new initiative to raise the profile of Timor-Leste studies in North America. In addition to calling greater attention to Timor-Leste in institutions of higher learning, the initiative aims to establish sustainable participation of Timorese scholars in the wider academy.

The study of Timor-Leste’s history, culture and society is woefully underrepresented in North America, and this initiative will be an important step in developing the competencies and networks required to ensure a sustainable future for scholarship on this important member of the Southeast Asian family of nations.

As a first step, SEAC and the ITLSC have organized a series of panels, workshops and exhibits to be held during the annual meetings of the AAS in Toronto (2017) and Washington DC (2018). Additional information on the initiative will be posted on this page as it becomes available.

Program of Events, Toronto 2017

The formal program for 2017 centers on two main events, including a pre-conference workshop (update: program available here) on Timor-Leste studies, and a SEAC-designated panel on The Transformation of Religion, Culture and Society in Timor-Leste. The latter includes presentations from Lisa Palmer (University of Melbourne), Michael Leach (Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne), Josh Trindade (Office of the President, Timor-Leste) and Rui Graca Feijo (Universidade de Coimbra), with David Hicks (Stony Brook University) acting as Discussant, and Richard Fox (University of Heidelberg) as Chair. The abstract for the panel reads as follows:

FRIDAY, 17 MARCH 2017 | 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Since its formal recognition as a nation-state in 2002, Timor-Leste has undergone a series of profound transformations cutting across political, economic, social and cultural life. How are Timorese responding to these changes? This panel brings together Timorese and non-Timorese scholars, and public intellectuals, to reflect on ‘modernization’ and its effects across a range of overlapping domains. We see in the domain of religion, for example, how the revival of animism in a nominally Catholic country has posed challenges for social scientific narratives of rationalization and ‘progress’ as much as it has raised vexing questions for the Church. Here the construction and reconstruction of ritual houses runs counter to the demands of more economically-minded Timorese, who argue resources would be better directed to developing public services, such as education and healthcare. Similarly, in the political realm, revival of ‘the ways of the ancestors’ defies the policies of government leaders, who are striving to transform those they deem parochially-minded villagers into citizens of a modern nation-state. Here the national government’s efforts to ‘modernize’ local administration at the suku level, and to arrogate villagers’ loyalties from their local and traditional councils to what the government considers a more ‘modern’ judiciary system, create problems for government and villages alike. In addressing these and related issues, the panelists will reflect on a range of factors, from the role of international organizations (e.g., USAID and related NGOs), to the rise of print media and its effects on national community, independence and belonging.

Pre-Conference Workshop | 2017

Preceding the AAS conference itself, the first year’s workshop will take place on Thursday, March 16, 2017. The program of events includes panels on (i) Economy and Politics, and (ii) Religion and Values. While the former includes inter alia papers on migrant labor, the Japanese occupation of Dili and economic relations with China, the latter explores transformations in ancestor veneration, water rites and the sometimes problematic interaction between the Catholic Church and indigenous religion.

We have also organized two photographic exhibits. The first centers on materials marking 2017 as the 30th anniversary of Timorese activism in Toronto, linking local practices of advocacy to global developments in politics and policy (organizer: David Webster). The second exhibit is called Fataluku Death and Life, and it is divided into two parts—the first examining tombs, with a primary focus on traditional funerary posts and Christian crosses; the second exploring Timorese martyrs’ graves and monuments (organizer: Rui Graça Feijó). A musical exhibition has also been planned, drawing together materials from several ethnomusicological projects (including, e.g., the Heritage Inventory of Suai-Camenaça). This will feature audio and video recordings, and related documentation, aiming to give a picture of current research on traditional musical practice (organizer: Aaron Pettigrew). The day will conclude with a roundtable discussion centered on new developments in Timor-Leste studies, with an emphasis on how these developments might be highlighted – and further cultivated – at AAS through our 2018 program.

Briefly on the Program of Events, Washington DC 2018

Although we expect to run a similar set of panels, discussions and exhibits for the 2018 meetings in Washington DC, we want to allow the central themes and format to emerge organically out of the 2017 discussions in Toronto—and, as importantly, to include newly added committee members from Timor-Leste in the decision-making process. A special emphasis will be placed in 2018 on consolidating our network and laying plans for the future. Ensuring the sustainability of the program will require securing additional funding, for which we are presently preparing the groundwork.

Organizational Committee

Richard Fox (Chair)
Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

Elizabeth F. Drexler
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Michigan State University

David Hicks
Professor of Anthropology, Stony Brook University

Alicia M. Turner
Associate Professor of Humanities & Religious Studies, York University

David Webster
Associate Professor of History, Bishop’s University

Working List of Presenters | 2017

Demetrio do Amaral de Carvalho
Senior Researcher & Co-founder, Haburas Foundation, Timor-Leste
Recipient, Goldman Environmental Prize (2004)

Elizabeth F. Drexler
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Michigan State University

Rui Graça Feijó
Researcher, Centro de Estudos Sociais, University of Coimbra, Portugal

David Hicks
Professor of Anthropology, Stony Brook University

Balthazar Kehi
Research Staff, University of Melbourne, Australia

Michael Leach
Professor of Politics, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia

Gabriela Leite-Soares
Health Program Manager, Catalpa International, Timor-Leste

Fidelis Manuel Leite Magalhaes
Senior Political Advisor to the President, Office of the President of Timor-Leste

Andrew McWilliam
Senior Fellow, Australian National University
Professor of Anthropology, University of Western Sydney (effective 2017)

Guteriano N. Soares Neves
Doctoral Candidate, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Sara Niner
Lecturer & Researcher, Monash University, Australia

Lisa Palmer
Senior Lecturer, School of Geography, University of Melbourne, Australia

Aaron Pettigrew
Doctoral candidate, University of British Columbia, Canada

Laurentina (‘Mica’) D. Barreto Soares
Doctoral candidate, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia

Josh Trindade
Social and Cultural Advisor, Office of the President of Timor-Leste

Kisho Tsuchiya
Doctoral candidate, Department of History, National University of Singapore

Susana de Matos Viegas
Research Fellow, ICS/University of Lisbon, Portugal

David Webster
Associate Professor of History, Bishop’s University

Philip Yampolsky
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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