By Ken Gewertz
Anthropologist Stanley Tambiah will travel to Japan this September to receive the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize.
The Prize is the third major award Tambiah has received within the past year. In November he was awarded the Balzan Prize, and in December he traveled to London as the Huxley Memorial Lecturer and Medalist, the highest honor bestowed by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.
Tambiah is known for his studies of Buddhist societies and of ethnonationalist conflicts and collective violence in South Asia. Born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), he is the Esther and Sidney Rabb Professor of Anthropology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
The Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prizes have been awarded annually since 1990 by Fukuoka City, the largest municipality on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's major islands. The Prizes are cosponsored by the Yokatopia Foundation. There are four prizes, honoring those in scholarship and the arts for achievements related to Asia. Tambiah's prize includes a cash award of 3 million yen (about $21,000).
The Fukuoka Prizes are international in scope, with candidates nominated by representatives in 55 countries. According to Mori Hideyuki, who came to Harvard in July to officially invite Tambiah to the prize ceremony, this international outlook is an expression of Fukuoka's longstanding engagement with the outside world.
"Fukuoka has a long history of exchange with other Asian countries. The chief aim of the prizes is to preserve and nurture this multicultural Asian outlook," Mori said.
As part of the prize ceremonies, Tambiah, along with the other winners, will deliver a lecture to a largely nonacademic audience made up of ordinary citizens of Fukuoka. Tambiah's topic will be "Religion, State, and Society in South and Southeast Asia."
Tambiah believes his challenge will be to convey to a Japanese audience the cultural and religious diversity -- and occasional bitter conflict -- that exists in many other Asian societies.
"Japan is singular in being a homogeneous society with no conflicts over language or religion and no political violence over the rights of different groups," Tambiah said. "I think most Japanese would have trouble understanding the great internal diversity and ethnonationalist conflict that characterizes societies in South and Southeast Asia. I want to convey a sense of that complexity as well as the steps needed to achieve peaceful coexistence while recognizing multiculturalism. That is the main challenge in most of the world today."
Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College