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  • Friday September 4th, 2020

A Return to Being: In Search for Khmerness in Contemporary Cambodia

A Return to Being: In Search for Khmerness in Contemporary Cambodia

A Return to Being: In Search for Khmerness in Contemporary Cambodia 1024 536 Cambodia Development Center


Dr. Un Leang, the Dean of Faculty of Social Science and Humanity at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and Member of the Board of Directors at Cambodia Development Center.

ABOUT Opinion

Philosophically, Cambodia outwardly has indeed taken on the surface symbols of a ‘developing country’, but inwardly there is growing “uncertainty/confusion”; Cambodian citizens speed ahead into an increasingly uncertain/confusing world, in large part because they were brutally cut off from their own history and ‘traditional’ intellectual resources since the colonialism and especially during the Khmer Rouge. Moreover, programs attempting to cultivate intellectuals using imported Western knowledge cannot help but further alienate Cambodian thinkers from their own society. As such, Cambodian citizens today fail to recognize the fleeting emptiness of material happiness. More seriously, they attempt to cloak a deep-seeded lack of meaning in their lives – Nihilism – in a shallow pursuit of material goods, fame and influence. Although bleak, that same emptiness and Nihility – if illuminated philosophically and against the backdrop of Buddhist, Phenomenological and Existentialist thinking – could potentially be a source of renewal and rebirth for the country. What is needed is the work that can reinterpret and thus rebuild Cambodia – past, present, future – philosophically.

My practical experience as an educator from 1995 until 2006 had opened my eyes about the philosophical root in Cambodian society, which was also the reason that made me shifted from my education and professional roles shifted to researcher, practitioner and someone active in policy making circles. The longer I work on these material ‘practical’ problems of education, the more clearly it became to me that Cambodian society is adrift at a much deeper level: the country lacks the philosophical foundations to do anything more than simply ‘copy’ the Western paradigms handed down through the market and (educational) development policies. There is simply nothing to ‘push against’, the (re)construction of Cambodian philosophy following colonialism and the Khmer Rouge. The only way to ground any lasting political-practical solution is by reconstructing philosophically.

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