Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs


News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

October 31, 2002

NIU Fulbright recipient
conducting research in Cambodia

DeKalb, Ill.-Judy Ledgerwood, a professor of anthropology at Northern Illinois University, has won a prestigious Fulbright scholar grant that will allow her to expand her research work in one of the world's poorest and most war-torn countries.

Ledgerwood is studying the reemergence of Buddhism in Cambodia. She traveled in August to the Southeast Asian country and intends to spend an entire year there, concluding with a field school next summer that will include participation by NIU students.

A cultural anthropologist, Ledgerwood this semester is translating Buddhist texts as part of a grant she received from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Fulbright grant will allow her to focus her study of the role of Buddhism in contemporary society. She also will teach at the Royal University of Fine Arts in the country's capital, Phnom Penh.

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Fulbright is America's flagship educational exchange program. Ledgerwood is one of about 800 U.S. faculty and professionals who received highly competitive Fulbright grants this year.

Ledgerwood lived in Cambodia for four years during the early 1990s and has frequently returned. "The story of Cambodia is a very dramatic one," she wrote in an e-mail correspondence. "I have watched tremendous changes over the last decade, from extreme poverty and deprivation to one of slow economic recovery and relative political stability."

From 1975 to 1979, the communist movement known as Khmer Rouge, headed by guerilla commander Pol Pot, ruled the nation and brutalized its people. The Khmer Rouge was responsible for the deaths of nearly 1.7 million Cambodians, or more than one-fifth of the country's population. Pol Pot set out to destroy Buddhism, the nation's predominant religion.

Pol Pot died in 1998, shortly before the Cambodian government indicated troops had captured the last of the Khmer Rouge forces, which had continued to wage guerilla warfare since the movement was ousted more than two decades ago.

"There is still great poverty in the countryside, but the country is in many ways better off than it was 10 years ago," Ledgerwood said. "There were democratic elections supervised by the United Nations in 1993, and now there is an elected government with a market economy."

Ledgerwood and a U.S. colleague currently are translating and analyzing a set of Buddhist prophetic texts that refer to a period of time marked by death and destruction before the coming of a savior. The text might be likened to the Bible's Book of Revelation.

"Given Cambodia's recent past, war, revolution and the horrors of the Pol Pot regime, it is small wonder that this text is very important," Ledgerwood said. "Many people use it to explain the disasters that have befallen this country in the last 30 years. But I found that studying the texts alone missed the important context of the contemporary situation regarding the reestablishment of Buddhism in Cambodia today. The Fulbright project and the field school were designed to address this gap."

Beginning in January, Ledgerwood will teach anthropological research methods to students at the Royal University of Fine Arts. Teams of students will conduct fieldwork in nearby villages, interviewing Buddhist monks and laypeople about the re-establishment of the religion. In July, a small group of NIU anthropology students are expected to join Ledgerwood for the summer field school. "The NIU students will participate in the research in teams with the Cambodian students," Ledgerwood said. "They also will have an opportunity to visit the famous ruins of the temple of Angkor Wat."

Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the early 9th century to the mid-15th century and is now a destination for Buddhist pilgrims. The temple there is the most famous in Cambodia and is possibly the largest religious monument ever constructed. (More information on the field school will be available at http://www3.niu.edu/fieldschool/index.html.)

Ledgerwood is a six-year veteran of the NIU Department of Anthropology and serves as faculty associate to the university's Center for Southeast Asian Studies. She lives in DeKalb.

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