Having faith in further study with NUS FASS

Mr Dean Wang hopes to contribute to a greater understanding of local religions
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By Rachel Tan
Straits Times, Postgraduate Supplement, July 7, 2019

Hagiographies of gods, Buddhist scriptures and Taoist rituals have enthralled Mr Dean Wang since young.

Growing up in a family that practises a mix of Buddhism and Taoism, his interest never wavered but deepened over the years, so much so that he is writing a PhD thesis on the worship of Taoist and Buddhist underworld gods in Singapore. These underworld gods include the Black and White Impermanence Ghosts tasked with escorting souls of the deceased to the underworld.

The thesis is part of his PhD in Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore. Seeing a lack of research related to Chinese religion in South-east Asia, he hopes to contribute to a greater understanding of local religions.

Since receiving the Enhanced FASS Graduate Scholarship in Chinese Religions in 2015, he has been studying under the supervision of renowned Chinese religion scholar Professor Kenneth Dean, and is the first to conduct an in-depth study of the worship of underworld gods in Singapore.

He also had the opportunity to co-organise the “Second Christian- Taoist Colloquium” with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore last year.

The 31-year-old is now in his final year of studies and will be working with Prof Dean on a new documentation project on local Taoist altars. After graduation, he hopes to embark on overseas postdoctoral research if there are fellowships available. However, he also wants to keep an open mind about his future.

“Any role that allows me to share my knowledge and work on topics related to the local religious scene is good,” he says. “I know that my area of specialisation opens up quite a few opportunities besides the academia.”

He believes that postgraduate courses not only train students to be independent learners, but also help them think critically, speak with precision and act responsibly.

“The emphasis on field work and communicating effectively are soft skills that will never become outdated,” he adds.

20 areas of study in Humanities, Social Sciences and Asian Studies

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17 Departments / Programmes, 20 subjects as well as cross-faculty options, special degree options and overseas opportunities. Leading faculty members, strong funding support and excellent research facilities and opportunities.

Find out more here.

Research Scholarships for PhD candidates – Centre for Family and Population Research (CFPR)

Two Research Scholarships (RSs) are available each academic year for PhD candidates interested in completing research on family and demographic research from AY2018-AY2020. The end-date of the award will be the end of the fourth year of candidature.

Selected students can be based in any of the 17 Departments/Programmes at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore. The Scholarships are targeted specifically for applicants who have basic training and skills in the following areas and will continue to focus on these topics in their PhD programmes:

• Quantitative research on family
• Demography
• Children and youth development
• Aging and Health
• Intergenerational relations and transfers

The scholarships are offered by the Centre for Family and Population Research (CFPR).

You can refer to more information about the PhD programme here. Applicants must be university graduates with at least second class honours (upper division) degree or equivalent and at the time of the award of the Research Scholarship, must have applied for and been assured of admission as a PhD candidate to the Faculty. Application for admission to the PhD programme and the Research Scholarship can be done simultaneously. There is no restriction on the nationality of applicants.

All applications (complete with application form, application fee payment and supporting documents) must be received by the stipulated deadlines as indicated here.

For more information about Research Scholarships, please click here. Applications can be submitted online here.

Candidates should indicate that they are applying for the Research Scholarship, by indicating CFPR at the top right hand corner of the hardcopy application form. Candidates applying online should do likewise after printing out the completed application form for submission. Besides indicating on the hardcopy application form / application form printouts, candidates must also send a scanned copy of their application to CFPR at cfpr@nus.edu.sg .

Singapore Research Networking Event with FASS Research Clusters & SRN on 17 May 2019

Find out more about what FASS researchers are studying about Singapore through our research networking event on Friday, 17 May 2019—unearth potential research directions and identify new research partners! This event is a joint initiative between the Singapore Research Nexus and the FASS Research Clusters.

Date & Time: 17 May, 8:45am-1:45pm

Venue: Room 1-01, AS7 Shaw Foundation Building, 5 Arts Link

Registration: Register here.

Programme: Right click the poster below to view and download the programme.

Bilahari Kausikan: Importance of educating the public on foreign policy

From February to April 2019, Mr Bilahari Kausikan (Arts and Social Sciences ’76) delivered five lectures as part of the FASS90 Political Science Lecture Series on the Practice of Foreign Affairs. He introduced more than a thousand attendees to statecraft, sharing insights on the current state of international relations in South-East Asia and the world.

Foreign policy and diplomacy are inherently complex and nuanced. His first four lectures broadly focussed on foreign policy: how it is enacted between sovereign states; how Singapore manages bilateral relations with its neighbours; the Association of South-East Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) role in the region; as well as the role external powers such as the United States and China play in South-East Asia. His final lecture addressed the way forward for Singapore. Kausikan summarised its future challenges in three distinct lessons:

  • Why it is important to have more than a superficial understanding of foreign affairs?
  • The need for red lines in interstate relations and why governments need to enforce them?
  • The importance of maintaining communication with other states at all times, even during periods of hostility.

Complexity of Foreign Affairs and the Dangers of Oversimplifying

The central theme of his fourth lecture on US-China relations was how international diplomacy is an intricate affair. A recurring message through Mr Kausikan’s lectures was how foreign policy usually does not conform to easily understood summaries and narratives. He was particularly keen to dispel the notion that contemporary US-China relations are similar to that of US-Soviet relations during the Cold War.

Gone are the days of a bipolar world where every state “defines their interest in relation to this binary structure,” he emphasised during his global superpowers lecture. The United States and China are far more intertwined than the United States and the Soviet Union ever were. By far, there are far more significant regional players and factors on the global stage to be considered. In particular, he dismissed the idea that America and China were locked in a zero-sum game, where any advance made by China entailed a corresponding decline in American influence.

He expressed how over-simplified narratives like this could hinder a country’s foreign policy plan. If the general public only had a superficial understanding of foreign affairs, they would be far more likely to pressure their governments to revise policies in a manner which may cause harm as they simply did not know any better. During his final lecture, Mr Kausikan strongly advocated for a ‘foreign affairs literate’ population to prevent this from happening in Singapore.

Mr Kausikan speaking to the audience about foreign policy and diplomatic relations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Lines and Enforcing Them

Another recurring theme was that Singapore must not be afraid to act if its core national interests are threatened, even if it means standing firm and holding ground against larger states. Mr Kausikan said Singapore, or any sovereign state requires two steps to convey this. The first is to establish clear ‘red lines’, uncrossable boundaries which if violated, have clear, known consequences. He shared numerous examples of these uncrossable red lines. In his second lecture, he discussed the possibility of Malaysia removing its water supply to Singapore, or Taiwan declaring independence from China with America’s support in his fourth lecture.

The second is ensuring the state has the means and political will to enforce these red lines, should they be crossed. A violation of either example could result in drastic measures including military action. Follow through is paramount, Mr Kausikan emphasised on multiple occasions throughout the series; effective deterrence is impossible if the other party senses you are unwilling to back your stand. Failing to support these red lines with action would significantly damage the state’s credibility and prestige, making red lines harder to establish and enforce in future.

Maintaining Open Dialogue Between States

Whilst red lines are important, Mr Kausikan was quick to emphasise continued communication and cooperation between states was crucial to upkeep good relations, especially during periods of hostility. More significantly, states had to be able to set aside differences and work together when their interests coincided. As an example, he highlighted continued cooperation between the law enforcement agencies of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia to address cross-border terrorism, even during periods of frosty relations between nations.

Singapore and the Future

With that, Mr Kausikan ended his series, nobly contributing to the cause by educating the Singaporean population on foreign policy and diplomatic relations. Through intellectual debate and rigour he ensured the public understood the need for red lines and its potential enforcement, as well as, the importance of quality communications in bilateral relations. In an increasingly complex and unpredictable global climate, Singaporeans should strive to remain united and informed if it wants to continue prospering. Most importantly Mr Kausikan said, we cannot be afraid to take risks as, “Sometimes, trying to avoid risk is the riskiest option of all.”

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Synopsis, lecture posts and videocast available via the links below:

Lecture One: How to Think about Foreign Policy?
30 January 2019
The first lecture situates the fundamental role of national interests in foreign policy. Why are Singapore’s national interests not better and more widely understood? The talk examines some common errors in thinking about foreign policy, as well as the creation and maintenance of relevance for a small city-state, and why small countries should not behave like small countries.

Watch the lecture.

Lecture Two: Origins I – Relations with Malaysia and Indonesia
20 February 2019
The second lecture conveys the inevitable complexity of relations with Singapore’s neighbours. It provides an overview of the systemic origins of bilateral tensions with our neighbours, focusing on the uses and abuses of history, and the roles of ‘baggage’ and personality. The talk ends with thoughts on how Singapore could manage complexity and cope with competing nationalisms with our neighbours.

Watch the lecture.

Lecture Three: Origins II – ASEAN: Vital but Limited
13 March 2019
 The third lecture discusses the origins of regionalism in Southeast Asia. It explains the necessity but also the limits of ASEAN. The talk will suggest that ‘it is pointless to criticise a cow for being an imperfect horse’.

Watch the lecture.

Lecture Four: The New Global and Regional Strategic Context
20 March 2019
The fourth lecture looks at the key factors driving change in the global and regional order. Issues to be explored include: the nature of US-China relations, coping with competing influences, the roles of Japan, India, Australia, Russia and the EU. The talk also offers thoughts as to why the future of East Asia will be multi-polar.

Watch the lecture.

Lecture Five: Future Challenges
3 April 2019
The final lecture in the series examines the interaction of foreign policy and domestic politics. It offers thoughts on how to manage uncertainty and emerging systemic vulnerabilities in Singapore.

Watch the lecture.

About the Speaker
Bilahari Kausikan is Chairman of the Middle East Institute, NUS. From 2001 to 2013, he was first the second Permanent Secretary and then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). He was subsequently Ambassador-at-Large until May 2018, having previously served in various MFA appointments, including as the Deputy Secretary for Southeast Asia, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York and as Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

FASS90 Political Science Lecture Series on the Practice of Foreign Affairs
This five part lecture series is organised by the NUS Political Science Society with support from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Department of Political Science. Established in 1929, FASS, one of the earliest and largest faculties is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Whilst witnessing numerous changes, we remain steadfast to our vision to strive forward as a premier faculty of excellence in humanities and social sciences that nurtures tomorrow’s engaged, thoughtful and creative global citizens. To mark this occasion, the Faculty is organising a series of events showcasing the strength and breadth of the Faculty’s research as well as kick start future initiatives that would benefit the generations of students who will come through our halls.

 

Kausikan discusses Singapore’s Foreign Policy future

On 3 April 2019, Mr Bilahari Kausikan discussed Singapore’s future foreign policy challenges as well as the nation’s best path forward at his fifth and final FASS90 Political Science Lecture on the Practice of Foreign Affairs.

A Foreign Policy Literate Populace

Foreign affairs and diplomacy are inherently nuanced – subtle endeavours that do not always lend themselves easily to the masses. “Most people in every country take only a cursory interest in foreign affairs, and thus find superficial narratives possible,” said Mr Kausikan. Combined with the fact that the effects of foreign policy are less visible on the home front, the general population will either be completely unaware of Singapore’s diplomatic actions or worse, come away with an inaccurate and superficial understanding.

Quoting the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, he cited the mistaken belief that statecraft can be performed in the same way as business negotiations.

“Our businessmen, in the ordinary course of work, have numerous dealings with government officials of these countries. They have to obtain licenses, concessions, contracts and permits. Thus, the Singapore businessman, in the eyes of these governments, performs the role of supplicant for favours. And as our businessmen often compete in their supplications, the image that this creates of Singapore can well be imagined…. Unfortunately, they do not understand, and I am afraid cannot understand, that in the nature of things, relations between independent sovereign states cannot be conducted on the basis of supplicant and overlord. The methods they found so successful in business are not available to us as a government.”

Both Dr Goh and Mr Kausikan emphasized a healthy relationship between two countries involves treating each other as fellow sovereign states first and foremost, regardless of any disparity in size, population or economy.

Mr. Kausikan responding to questions with Deputy Head of Department of Political Science Assoc Prof Ian Chong.

“Small States Cannot Behave Like Small States”

While undeniably succinct and memorable, Mr Kausikan would probably agree that a more complete statement would be that small states cannot behave in a manner proportionate to their size, especially when dealing with larger states. Singapore may be dwarfed by global superpowers like the United States and China, but it must not succumb to staying out of the way and “surrendering ourselves to our fates” especially when national interests are at stake.

“The pragmatic realism of our first-generation leaders recognises that even small countries are never without agency, and were willing to take risks when the interests at stake were important enough,” said Mr Kausikan, referring to instances such as Singapore’s rejection of Chinese demarches to support its position on the South China Sea disputes in ASEAN forums. His warning was clear: if Singapore did not stand up for itself and exercise its agency as a sovereign state to defend core national interests, it would soon find that agency taken away from it.

“Small states should not behave like small states, not if they want to remain states anyway.”

Singapore’s Foreign Policy and What the Future Holds

When discussing the way forward for Singapore’s foreign policy, Mr Kausikan reiterated from his first lecture: “Sometimes, trying to avoid risk is the riskiest option.” He cautioned against defaulting to the safest option available, “particularly at a time greater than usual international flux.” In particular, he was worried about the civil service becoming unnecessarily risk adverse when it came to international relations, especially since foreign policy inherently entails “more risk than in other domains.”

“Dealing with slices of problems rather than their broader implications, being narrowly transactional in relationships and blurring clarity by overly hedging assessments,” he cautioned.

Guarding against complacency in Singapore was a key point Mr Kausikan drove home. When asked by an audience member on Singapore’s next step given it acquired First World status some time ago and is no longer trying to simply survive from day to day, his reply was blunt: “You can never come to the conclusion that ‘Okay! We have done it, we are developed now, we are alright, we can relax.’ That is the way to destroy yourself.”

“In fact, the greatest challenge to Singapore is internalizing the sense that ‘we have arrived.’ We are never going to ‘arrive’; it is always going to be a journey, it is never going to end,” he said. “We have far more capabilities than we did several decades ago. But this is still a dangerous world… The goal is always the same: create a better life for your people given the changing circumstances and the higher expectations (of Singapore’s citizens), and to survive in a complicated world… as best we can.”

Watch the lecture here.

Mr Kausikan discussing future foreign policy considerations for Singapore.

About the Speaker
Bilahari Kausikan is Chairman of the Middle East Institute, NUS. From 2001 to 2013, he was first the second Permanent Secretary and then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). He was subsequently Ambassador-at-Large until May 2018, having previously served in various MFA appointments, including as the Deputy Secretary for Southeast Asia, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York and as Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

FASS90 Political Science Lecture Series on the Practice of Foreign Affairs
This five part lecture series is organised by the NUS Political Science Society with support from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Department of Political Science. Established in 1929, FASS, one of the earliest and largest faculties is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Whilst witnessing numerous changes, we remain steadfast to our vision to strive forward as a premier faculty of excellence in humanities and social sciences that nurtures tomorrow’s engaged, thoughtful and creative global citizens. To mark this occasion, the Faculty is organising a series of events showcasing the strength and breadth of the Faculty’s research as well as kick start future initiatives that would benefit the generations of students who will come through our halls.

US-Sino Relations: Complex and Uncertain – Kausikan

Mr Bilahari Kausikan spoke at length about how US-China relations today affect the current global and regional political order on 20 March 2019 at his fourth FASS90 Political Science Lecture on the Practice of Foreign Affairs.

He was keen to emphasise that despite some similarities, Sino-American relations today are fundamentally different from those between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. “The post-Cold War (world) is complex, not binary,” he stated.

Mr. Kausikan (right) responding to questions with Assoc Prof Bilveer Singh (left) from the Department of Political Science

“US-China Relations are Inextricably Entangled in a Way US-Soviet Relations Never Were”

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War-era of international political structure that had persisted for more than four decades abruptly came to an end. “Despite its many dangers, the Cold War international order was clear and simple; essentially binary in structure,” said Mr Kausikan.

“You were either on one side or the other. Even if you tried to be or pretended to be non-aligned, you essentially defined your interests in relation to this binary structure. This entrenched a mode of thought: a binary view of the world that is still a powerful albeit usually unconscious, but certainly inappropriate influence on how we understand the trope of China’s rise.”

The biggest difference in today’s US-China relations compared to US-Soviet relations during the Cold War was how interlinked America was with each at the time. The Soviet Union “largely contained itself by pursuing autarky,” Kausikan said. “The US and the Soviet Union interacted only tangentially; their relationship was structured primarily by the need to avoid mutual destruction.”

This is unlike China today, which is inseparably inter-connected with the American economy and that of the world. “Unlike the Soviet Union, China is an irreplaceable node in the global economy, as vital as the American economy,” he stated. “US-China relations are simultaneously inter-dependent in a way that is historically unique between major powers, and simultaneously infused with a deep strategic distrust.” Yet despite this distrust, Kausikan was adamant that Sino-American rivalry was not a zero-sum game as some claim. “China’s rise is not necessarily America’s decline, except in relative terms,” he said, dismissing it as another relic of an outdated Cold War-era mentality.

Bilahari Kausikan discussing US-Sino relations.

America: “Spreading the Burden of Leadership”

Mr Kausikan also noted that despite their vast differences, “both Obama and Trump are iterations of the post-Cold War metamorphosis of American values.” Both have attempted to spread the burden of leadership, particularly defence costs, onto America’s allies; Obama merely did so in a more tactful manner than his successor.

In fact, Kausikan was of the opinion President Trump and his tough stance toward China was not a passing phase but a permanent shift in American policy. “Trump is not an aberration that will pass with the next administration,” he stated. “Key elements of his foreign policy, in particular the tougher approach to China as a strategic competitor enjoy strong bipartisan support across many policy domains.”

“Trump’s successor may speak more prudently and act more predictably, but the probability is that whoever succeeds Trump will represent the same political phenomenon and pursue much the same policies, at least towards China.”

China: Globalisation’s Biggest Winner, Protectionism’s Biggest Loser

This new hostile American stance to both China and globalisation will have serious implications for China, particularly for its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. “China was the main beneficiary of the American-led post-Cold War globalisation. China may well be the main loser if that order should further fray because the US now embraces a narrower concept of leadership,” Mr Kausikan noted.

“Can the Belt and Road Initiative succeed if the world turns protectionist as a result of the trade war? I don’t think so. More to the point, I don’t think the Chinese think so either.”

And despite its undeniable position as an economic superpower, Kausikan was not optimistic that China could be a substitute for American leadership in the global economy. “An open global order cannot be led on the basis of a still-largely closed and mercantilist Chinese model,” he remarked, especially when “Chinese growth rests on that open international order.” As such, he feels that some sort of temporary truce will be called on the ongoing trade war, although it would likely be “a very bad deal, and both sides will have the incentive to get out of it as soon as possible.”

Engagement Still the Main Tone of US-China Relationships

Nevertheless, Mr Kausikan emphasised that despite the rancour of the trade war, the central theme of US-China bilateral ties was that of engagement and communication. “War is highly improbable, nuclear deterrence impels caution, engagement will not cease and the US and China will still cooperate when their interests coincide,” he stated. Given how closely the two countries are tied to each other and the rest of the world economically, a continued policy of engagement would bode well for all sides.

Watch the lecture here.

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About the Speaker
Bilahari Kausikan is Chairman of the Middle East Institute, NUS. From 2001 to 2013, he was first the second Permanent Secretary and then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). He was subsequently Ambassador-at-Large until May 2018, having previously served in various MFA appointments, including as the Deputy Secretary for Southeast Asia, the Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York and as Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

FASS90 Political Science Lecture Series on the Practice of Foreign Affairs
This five part lecture series is organised by the NUS Political Science Society with support from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) and the Department of Political Science. Established in 1929, FASS, one of the earliest and largest faculties is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Whilst witnessing numerous changes, we remain steadfast to our vision to strive forward as a premier faculty of excellence in humanities and social sciences that nurtures tomorrow’s engaged, thoughtful and creative global citizens. To mark this occasion, the Faculty is organising a series of events showcasing the strength and breadth of the Faculty’s research as well as kick start future initiatives that would benefit the generations of students who will come through our halls.

FASS Lecture – Education for a World that Works by Prof Elizabeth Minnich | 11 April 2019 (Thursday)

You are cordially invited to a FASS lecture Education for a World that Worksby Professor Elizabeth Minnich.

Professor Elizabeth Minnich is a Distinguished Fellow with the Association of American Colleges & Universities and Professor of Moral Philosophy at Queens University. Previously, she served as Dean and Core Professor at the Graduate School of the Union Institute and University.  Her special appointments have included Visiting Scholar, Scholars & Seminars Program at The Getty Research Institute for the History of Art & The Humanities; the Hartley Burr Alexander Chair in Public Philosophy at Scripps College; the Daniel Evans Chair at Evergreen State College; the Whichard Visiting Distinguished Professorship of Humanities and Women’s Studies at East Carolina University; Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of Hartford; the Carol Zicklin Visiting Scholar in Interdisciplinary Studies at Brooklyn College.  Earlier in her career, she was Associate Dean of Faculty at Barnard College/Columbia University after teaching and serving in various administrative positions at Sarah Lawrence and Hollins Colleges.

The lecture will be moderated by Professor Robbie Goh, Dean Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Date: 11 Apr 2019 (Thursday)

Time: 3pm (Tea Reception followed by Lecture)

Venue: Blk AS8, Level 4, Seminar Room #04-04, 10 Kent Ridge Campus (Next to Central Library) (Click here for Map)

For catering purposes, kindly register via http://bit.ly/fass-education by 5 April 2019 (Friday).