Hello! I am a historian of Southeast Asia, focusing on the environment and religion in the maritime region. I completed my PhD in History at Yale University in 2018.
I obtained a B.Sc. (Hons), double majoring in Mathematics and English Language, as well as an M.A in Southeast Asian Studies from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
At present, I am assistant professor at the NUS Departments of Southeast Asian Studies and Malay Studies. Previously, I have been assistant professor of history at Nanyang Technological University and held postdoctoral positions at the International Institute for Asian Studies (Leiden University, the Netherlands) and the Mario Einaudi Centre for International Studies (Cornell University, USA).
You can find my institutional webpage here.
My research focuses on conversions, sacred landscapes, indigenous forest communities and more-than-human relationships in Southeast Asia. My first monograph, The Camphor Tree and the Elephant, was published by University of Washington Press in 2023. It excavates changes to the ecological imagination of upland peoples in the Sumatra and migrants to the Malay peninsula upon conversions from animism to Islam and Christianity and reformulations of syncretic Islam into orthodox, scripture-bound practice.
I am presently researching on three projects - first, charismatic fauna and conservation movements in Southeast Asia; second, volcanic eruptions and epistemologies in the region during the long twentieth century; third, heritage medicine and its practices in the Malay World, in comparative perspective with Chinese medicine (with Michael Stanley-Baker).
Click on the 'Projects' tab to read more about these projects and 'Writing' tab for links to published research. Feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to read any of the full pieces.
Thematically, my research interests center on environmental change, religious practice and community mobilization around the natural world and the idea of sacrality and pety with regards the non-human. I maintain an ecological justice stance in my intellectual work and a focus on marginalized communities in Southeast Asia. My publications run the gamut from mass violence to ethnohistory to the social history of medicine.
Methodologically, I am keen to explore interdisciplinary approaches to historical research and incorporating non-conventional archives such as visual and scientific proxy records as well as digital tools.
I have taught a range of classes, including historiographical surveys of the Malay World and the Islamicate World, seminars on research methods, transnational history, world environmental history and histories of globalization, among others. The teaching tab leads to some information on these classes.
Click on 'Reads and Resources' to find an evolving list of digitized sources and databases pertaining to Southeast Asian history, together with news sources on the region and the environment humanities more broadly. A bibliography on Southeast Asian environmental history can also be found there.
Click on the 'Projects' Button or the pictures below to learn more.
The Camphor Tree and The Elephant - Religion and Ecological Change in Maritime Southeast Asia
Monograph project based on doctoral dissertation - completed.
Photo: A tomb at the North Sumatran uplands, 2016. Credit: Faizah Zakaria
Southeast Asia's Ring of Fire - Ways of Knowing Volcanos in Past and Present
Research project in progress.
Photo: Crater of the dormant volcano, Tangkuban Perahu, in West Java, Indonesia, 2012. Credit: Faizah Zakaria
Construction of Charisma in Conservation: Fauna in Maritime Southeast Asia
Research project in progress. In hiatus.
Photo: Dovima with Elephants, first published in Harper's Bazaar, 1955. Credit: Richard Avedon
Polyglot Medicine in Maritime Southeast Asia
Research project in progress.
Photo: Artwork on traditional medicine in Singapore's Botanical Gardens Ethnobotany section, 2021. Credit: Faizah Zakaria
Do send an email or a message if you are interested in similar issues!