[skip to content]

Department of the Languages and Cultures of South East Asia

Key facts

  • SOAS is the only institution where Burmese, Indonesian and Vietnamese are taught in the UK, and one of only a handful in Europe.
  • SOAS is one of only two universities where Thai is taught in the UK.
  • SOAS is the only university in the UK with a department focusing solely on the study of the languages and cultures of South East Asia, complemented across the School by broad multidisciplinary expertise in the region.
  • SOAS joining the global elite for Modern Languages in the recent QS World University Rankings by Subject, where it has been ranked sixth in the UK and 32nd internationally.
  • 21st in the Guardian 2015 Guide (Languages and Linguistics combined)

Our strengths

The Department of South East Asia is unique in the UK as a centre for teaching and research on the languages, literatures, cinemas and cultures of South East Asia. With a key focus on Burmese, Indonesian, Malay, Thai and Vietnamese, academic and teaching staff in the department are committed to encouraging a world-leading environment for students and researchers to pursue their academic interests in the region. Staff in the department work closely with colleagues working on South East Asia from across SOAS s to provide unrivalled access to this culturally diverse, fast developing and strategically important region.

Facts and figures

  • NSS 2013 - 84% Teach 84% Overall
  • NSS - Asian Studies departments ranked 4th in UK
  • UG Applicant/Place Ratio 5:1
  • Number of Staff: 6 academic, 2 teaching and scholarship, 6 teaching and scholarship (fractional)

Our research draws heavily upon the resources of SOAS’ world-renowned Library and its extensive South Asia collection, as well as all the institutions, galleries and resources on our doorstep throughout London.

Staff research interests include, in a variety of South East Asian contexts:

  • Cultural studies
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Cinema and film
  • Traditional and modern literature
  • Language pedagogy
  • Linguistics, phonetics and sign languages contexts

Undergraduate student profile

Patrick Tibke - BA South East Asian Studies

I have enjoyed being on this programme because we have excellent staff who make it possible for students to pursue a broad range of interests in South East Asia.

SOAS is surely the only place in Europe, if not the world, where students can build their own personalised degrees from such a diverse range of fields. Graduates of the South East Asian Studies programme will benefit from both language proficiency and a scholarly understanding of the region.

Patrick Tibke, BA South East Asian Studies
Read Patrick's full profile


Our Head of Department says

Ben Murtagh

South East Asia is a diverse region with a fascinating mix of cultures, languages, religions and traditions. It is also a dynamic, fast developing region that is assuming an increasingly important strategic role in global affairs.

Nothing can match the intensity and depth of engagement with a different culture than that achieved through knowledge of a local language and in our department we are committed to delivering specialist language-based scholarship in combination with regional focus and disciplinary skills. We collaborate with several universities across South East Asia to offer our students an opportunity to spend a year of study abroad.  The year abroad takes place during the third year of study and provides a unique opportunity for students to advance their linguistic skills, gain a deeper insight into different societies and cultures and apply their skills to independent study projects.
Dr Ben Murtagh


As well as producing articles and books staff in the Department of South East Asia edit the following journals:

Indonesia and the Malay World

An international scholarly journal which focuses its study of the region on languages, literatures, art, archaeology, history, geography, religions, anthropology and the performing arts. It is published three times a year, in March, July, and November. 
Further information

Southeast Asia Research

Publishes original research on all aspects of South East Asia within the disciplines of archaeology, art history, economics, geography, history, language and literature, law, music, political science, social anthropology and religious studies.
Further information

Postgraduate student profile

Dinita Setyawati

Not only does SOAS offer a first class education with top scholars in the field, it also offers a great professional and social network. Upon graduation, my professional career path was wide opened. The SOAS experience has taught me to be a specialist in different fields, not only politics, but also development, gender and migration, and good governance.

Dinita Setyawati, MA Southeast Asian Studies
Read Dinita's full profile