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Global Integration and Regional Studies Development towards “Reconciliation and Coexistence”

Organization for Regional and Inter-regional Studies

Waseda University has been establishing interdisciplinary research organizations and institutes in key areas since 2005 in order to enhance its structure as a 21st century international research university (refer to back issues of Waseda Research Zone). In 2009, the Organization for University Research Initiatives was established to oversee these organizations and institutes. This has enhanced the system for promoting and supporting competitive research projects. Using results from the past decade, these research organizations have been recently integrated and reorganized in order to promote further development.

Regional studies was one of the first fields to establish research organizations. Led mainly by researchers in human and social sciences, the Organization for Asian Studies was established in 2005 along with the Organization for Japan-US Studies and the Organization for Islamic Area Studies in 2008, and the Organization for European Studies in 2009. In April 2015, the Organization for Regional and Inter-regional Studies was established to integrate three of the four organizations, excluding the Organization for Islamic Area Studies, and is carrying out cross-sectional key projects to promote synergetic development of regional studies from a global perspective. We interviewed director of this new organization Professor Takashi Yoshino (Faculty of Political Science and Economics) about the research system, the organization’s goals, and specific plans of action.

Mr. Takashi Yoshino, director of the Organization for Regional and Inter-regional Studies and professor in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics

Regions separate from nations and individuals

Regional studies refers to the study of all aspects of a region, including its history, culture, politics, economy, law, and religion. In a narrow sense regional studies originated from the study of economic reconstruction or democratization of areas occupied by the U.S. after World War II and have developed through studies on developing countries or colonies. Since the 1970’s, this field of study has become increasingly interdisciplinary and diverse.

“Conventionally, regional studies were based on the idea that regional issues should be solved independently by the respective region. However, one region’s issues are now globally related to those of other regions. For example, studying Asia requires study of the U.S., and the existence of China cannot be ignored in studying Japan-U.S. relations. When working on today's necessary regional studies, you must focus on inter-regional relations. These three organizations have been integrated because we want researchers to collaborate through overlapping areas of interest,” said Professor Yoshino.

With the advancement of globalization, regional studies are becoming increasingly important. As a result, a new approach separate from regional studies that only focus on a certain region or traditional field of study is required. It is for this reason the three overlapping organizations were integrated.

“Why are regional studies now important? The reason is, in essence, that a region is different from a nation or individual and is based on a very special principle. For example, political science and economics assume that a nation or individual makes decisions and actions based on the rational choice theory, but this theory does not work for a region. When it comes to security, agreements can be reached relatively smoothly in negotiations between nations, such as between the U.S. and Japan or China, but it is difficult to achieve consistency when Asia, a region, is involved. A region is different from a collection of nations or individuals and exists among a special background with a complex web of history and culture,” according to Professor Yoshino.

The research units have already produced a lot of work that serves as the basis for “inter-regional studies.”
(Left: “Waseda Asia Review,” a periodical publication by the Organization for Asian Studies / Middle: Publications by researchers of the Organization for Japan-US Studies / Right: “Japanese Journal of European Studies,” a periodical publication by the Organization for European Studies)

Establishing “inter-regional studies” as a field of study

Although the three organizations have been integrated into the new research system, they are still individual research units that continue to work on projects of the research institutes that make up these organizations. A characteristic of the new research system is the inclusion of the African Research Unit. Under the new system, these research units are working to further promote conventional research activities as well as organize joint research projects in collaboration with the Comprehensive Research Organization, the Organization for Islamic Area Studies, and the US-Japan Research Institute, a U.S. NPO (refer to Figure 1).

Figure 1 The research system and themes of the Organization for Regional and Inter-regional Studies

The mission of the Organization for Regional and Inter-regional Studies is to pursue the possibility of effective inter-regional relationships and co-existence between the nations of Asia, North and South America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The ultimate goal is the concept of a global society based on the theme of reconciliation and co-existence as shown in Figure 1.

“Looking back on issues shared by inter-regional relationships in the past, we can see that nations in conflict in an area and regions in conflict have finally come to accept one another's culture or ways of thinking. Peace has arrived though it is often controlled by force. Regions have formed following this historical cycle. We have redefined this history as one of reconciliation and coexistence for resolving various issues in today’s global society and are working on inter-regional studies that contribute to international society and academic research,” said Professor Yoshino.

Research activities are based on the following four pillars: (1) forming a hub for interdisciplinary regional studies and inter-regional studies from an Asian perspective, (2) discovering and producing shared knowledge for global society and using results for education and society, (3) forming a place where researchers and practitioners can communicate with each other and training young researchers, and (4) promoting the international development of Waseda as a global university.

“Previously, regional studies were led mainly by researchers in history, culture, or politics. However, the fields of study have been developed in which researchers in economics or business science play a pivotal role. In particular, these will provide perfect fields for young researchers to work on original research activities for a global society. In order to establish a new field of study called “inter-regional studies,” we would like to promote participation from researchers in different fields. To this end, we need to provide an attractive research environment and mechanisms for training young researchers. This can be done by working on interdisciplinary themes unique to this organization and providing opportunities for researchers from different fields or overseas research institutes to communicate with each other,” said Professor Yoshino.

A network of 150 researchers from across the university

The Organization for Regional and Inter-regional Studies consists of nearly 150 researchers including 120 faculty members who constitute research units of the organization and other researchers including postdoctoral researchers and full-time researchers. Their wide areas of expertise range from conventional human and social science to science and engineering.

“Science and technology is essential for regional studies. You cannot separate the development of today’s society from the development of science and technology. Nuclear power and environmental issues are important themes for international politics. In the history of technology, Western science and technology is generally considered orthodox, but Islamic science and technology are also culturally sophisticated and have had historical influence. This is another important theme,” said Professor Yoshino.

As the research network spreads through the entire university, policies are deliberated on in steering committees with directors of different research institutes in order to reflect the opinions of many participants. On the other hand, an executive meeting for research unit leaders, a planning committee for joint-research projects or symposiums, and a homepage-journal committee haves been organized to promote efficiency, swift decision making, and the handling of important issues.

The ORIS* Kick off Seminar and the 1st ORIS Symposium were held on May 26, 2015 and June 27, 2015 (refer to images below). The research units and research institutes hold various events every week. We plan to actively hold various intensive seminars and events in the autumn with the theme “ORIS Research Week.” There are great expectations for various regional studies to be further integrated in the future.
(* ORIS: Organization for Regional and Inter-regional Studies)

ORIS Kick off Seminar with Professor Ellis Krauss (University of California, San Diego): “Japan and Asia: Japan’s Role in the Changing Global Order—The Abenigma? The Mysteries of Japan’s Foreign Policies under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe” (May 26, 2015, Ono Auditorium)

1st ORIS Symposium with Professor Jordan Sand (Georgetown University): “History issues for Japan and international society: What the joint message to support Japanese historian means”

Related links

Organization for Regional and Inter-regional Studies, Waseda University
Organization for Asian Studies, Waseda University
Organization for Japan-US Studies, Waseda University
Organization for European Studies, Waseda University
Comprehensive Research Organization, Waseda University
Organization for Islamic Area Studies, Waseda University
US-Japan Research Institute