Department of Malay Studies

We are a small but exciting Department with staff members and visiting fellows studying the peoples and cultures of the Malay world. We adopt a broad definition of the Malay world, referring to the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago consisting of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, southern Thailand and the southern Philippines. It also includes areas with Malay minorities such as Singapore, and countries to which the Malay diaspora had spread such as Sri Lanka, Madagascar and South Africa. Our research and teaching programme revolves around three core areas: social development and political economy, literature and history.

What is Malay Studies?

The Department of Malay Studies at the National University of Singapore produces undergraduate and graduate students of high quality with broad knowledge of the developments and problems in the Malay world of Southeast Asia and beyond. The department also actively engages in research on a wide range of issues concerning the Malay world from a multi-disciplinary perspective, promotes exchanges with centres of Malay studies worldwide, and encourages the development of new and alternative approaches to the understanding of Malay history, economy, politics, society and culture.

A department to promote Malay Studies was established at the University of Malaya, Singapore in the 1952/53 session on the recommendation of the Commission for University Education in Malaya. Za'ba (Zainal Abidin Ahmad) was the first head of department, followed later by Dr R. Roolvink. Following the independence of Malaya and the establishment of a separate University in Kuala Lumpur, the Department was transferred to Kuala Lumpur. Meanwhile, on January 1, 1962 the Singapore Division of the University of Malaya was re-established as the University of Singapore (renamed the National University of Singapore in 1980). On March 1, 1967, the Department of Malay Studies was re-established in Singapore with Prof Dr Syed Hussein Alatas as Head of Department.

The Department has always adopted a broad definition of the Malay world. This refers to the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago consisting of Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, southern Thailand and the southern Philippines. It also includes areas with Malay minorities such as Singapore, and countries to which the Malay diaspora had spread such as Sri Lanka, Madagascar and South Africa.

Currently, teaching and research in the Department revolves around three core areas: social development and political economy, history and literature/linguistics. In each of these core areas, attention is also paid to Islam in terms of its historical development in the Malay world, its interaction with social and political processes, and its various intellectual and literary expressions.

Students in the Department are exposed to the various aspects of Malay world not only through the teaching programme and the research activities of the academic staff, but also through intensive study tours that take students to the region and beyond.

The Department's program is an integral part of the arts degree offered by the Faculty of Arts and the Social Sciences, where students combine Malay Studies with other programs and subjects of studies according to their choice. In view of this, in general the career prospects of Malay Studies students are equal to other students. Nevertheless, students of Malay Studies enjoy particular advantage in careers requiring an intimate and in depth understanding of the Malay/Muslim world of Southeast Asia, be it in the private or public sector. To boot, students of Malay Studies would also be in a good position to appreciate the dynamics of Muslim societies beyond the region.

Our graduates have gone on to careers in a wide range of areas including the corporate sector, foreign and civil service, journalism, translation, communications and education. The Department of Malay Studies offers a broad-based mulit-disciplinary undergraduate programme leading to the degrees of BA and BA (Hons) in Malay Studies.

The department also welcomes applications from qualified candidates for the MA and PhD programmes. Graduate students are awarded research scholarships on a competitive basis. Funding for international conferences and fieldwork is also available for graduate students. The Department is keen on receiving applications from students of various nationalities.