SEAMEO SPAFA 2013 Workshop: Buddhist Arts in Southeast Asia

Buddhist Arts in Southeast Asia Workshop
June 2013


Faculty of Fine Arts, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand
Faculty of Archaeology, Silpakorn University, Thailand
Fine Arts Department, Thailand
Temples and Museums in Thailand


A diverse region in terms of cultures, Southeast Asia is a huge multicultural hub, intergrating different beliefs and hosting some of the world’s dominant Islamic, Buddhist, and Christian states. According to the Pew Research Center, Southeast Asia hosts 253 million Muslims which account for 16% of the world’s Muslim population.

Among 11 Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia has 202 million Muslims, making it the largest Muslim country in the world. The Philippines has the 5th largest number of the world’s Christian population with 86 million Christians, and 99.6% of the population of Timor Leste practises Christianity. Based on the report of the US Department of State in 2010, Vietnam and Thailand ranked 3rd and 4th respectively in the world in terms of the number of Buddhists.

Although Southeast Asia houses a great number of spiritual beliefs and practices, peaceful interactions and coexistence have been tempered by intolerance and misguided-nationalism.

The lack of cross-cultural understanding often results in cultural insensitivity, and lead to social conflicts. It is crucial, therefore, to promote cross-cultural understanding and dialogue among Southeast Asians to achieve unity, peace, and sustainable social development. Countries in Southeast Asia are working to enhance mutual understanding and respect through political, social, and, most importantly, educational means.

Since spiritual beliefs are communicated through and expressed by arts, one way to gain a better understanding of a culture is by disseminating the knowledge about its arts. As a result, institutions with educational mandates in the region, including schools, universities, and museums, are the providers of the knowledge about different cultures and beliefs.

Museums usually display collections of different spiritual beliefs, and art history lessons are given at schools and universities along with other subjects. However, it has been noted that personnel working with spiritual/religious collections and teaching spiritual/religious arts sometimes lack the necessary knowledge and experiences to properly deal with the collections, or to disseminate relevant information to the public. There is also a concern about the misinterpretation, misrepresentation, and treatment mistreating of religious and spiritual heritage by cultural and educational institutions, which are possible causes of cultural and social conflicts.

In order to promote a better understanding of spiritual/religious arts in SoutheastAsia, its innovative “Sacred Universe” Flagship Programme, SEAMEO SPAFA will conduct a series of regional workshops from 2012 to 2016 on the spiritual arts of the ASEAN region. They will encompass the study of the arts of the major religions and spiritual beliefs in the region with the aim of furthering cross-cultural understanding and exchanges of knowledge among participants, who will become part of a network of experts in Southeast Asian Arts engaged in sharing the spiritual values of these traditions as expressed through both old and new works of arts.


1. To advance cross-cultural understanding and mutual knowledge among Southeast Asian participants

2. To introduce participants to fundamental knowledge on Buddhist arts, which will further their knowledge and skills in managing Buddhist artefacts and collections as well as in disseminating knowledge on Buddhist arts

3. To promote a dialogue between workshop participants, which will create a platform for future regional collaboration

Methods to Achieve Objectives

Participants will be chosen according to religious background because the aim is to have a majority who are not Buddhist, thus creating an exchange and learning experience. Participants will study the different sects of Buddhism such as Theravada and Mahayana. Site visits to stupas and temples will be arranged to analyze the architecture and its symbolism. The Buddha’s images, mural paintings and iconography will also be covered, as well as the different art styles between neighbouring countries like Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. There will be lectures and group discussions/presentations to conclude and evaluate the subjects taught per sessions.

Target Group/Beneficiaries

Participants: 14 Islamic/Christian museum curators, heritage managers, art teachers, cultural workers from Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste (2 from each country)


The 10-day intensive workshop includes lectures, study visits, group works, and hands-on

sessions which will enhance the understanding of Buddhist arts among the participants.


1. Participants will have better understanding and knowledge in Buddhist arts of Southeast Asia, and enhanced skills in their profession.

2. A network of ASEAN experts on shared heritage and a platform for future regional collaboration on Southeast Asian arts is established.


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