Benda Prize

Harry J. Benda Prize

The Harry J. Benda Prize of the AAS is given annually to an outstanding newer scholar from any discipline or country specialization of Southeast Asian studies for a first book in the field. The award, which honors one of the pioneers in the field of Southeast Asian studies, has been presented since 1977.


$1,000 to the author.

Guidelines for Submission

  • Original, scholarly, nonfiction works in English with a copyright date of 2020 or 2021 are eligible for the 2023 prize.
  • Reference works, exhibition catalogs, translations, textbooks, essay collections, poetry, fiction, travel books, memoirs, or autobiographies are not eligible.
  • Publishers must complete the book nomination form. Each press may nominate a maximum of six books for the Benda Prize.
  • Only publishers may nominate books.
  • Upon receipt of a completed nomination form, publishers will be provided with addresses for prize committee members. A copy of each entry, clearly labeled “Benda Prize,” must be sent to each member of the committee.


Nominations must be received by June 30, 2022 to be eligible for the 2023 awards.

Benda Prize Committee

Erik Kuhonta (Chair)
McGill University

Felice Noelle Rodriguez

George Radics
National University of Singapore

2022 Awards

Winner and Citation

Teren Sevea, Miracles and Material Life: Rice, Ore, Traps and Guns in Islamic Malaya (Cambridge University Press, 2020)

The Benda Prize committee is thrilled to select Miracles and Material Life as the winner of this year’s Benda Prize.

Sevea’s book Miracles and Material Life is a remarkable scholarly achievement that breathes new life into the intractable themes of cultural hybridity and religious syncretism in Southeast Asian studies. This extraordinary book combines ethnography, oral histories, archival research, pilgrimage, and translations to depict the cosmopolitan imaginations of pawangs and bomohs in colonial Malaya—the miracle workers who operated simultaneously as powerful, resourceful, and problematic actors in the development of colonial capitalism. Miracles and Material Life is a highly original approach to the study of vernacular Islam and colonial statecraft and their zones of overlap and interaction. Its turn to colonial historiography revivifies colonial texts by analyzing the contradictory scenes and terms of their production, acknowledging the multilayered collaborations between scribes, pawangs, courts, and fastidious colonial officers. Tracing the vital economic role of pawangs in colonial Malaya, Sevea shows how indigenous knowledge and spiritual prowess were foundational to the colonial state project of territorial expansion, resource extraction, and cultural control. Pawangs paved the way for locating veins of ore in mines, taming elephants as beasts of burden, and producing successful rice yields. That their knowledge and power derived from a lineage that stretched far beyond Malaya, traversing the routes traveled by Sufism, contributes to the ambivalences of their reception in the present. Sevea introduces new problematics to the study of Islam by centering a historically significant yet sectarian point of view that appears marginal to both institutionalized religion and the developmental nation-state.  A pathos of ruinology haunts the book, as sites of pilgrimage, revelation, and reverence are bulldozed to make way for state projects in present-day Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Sevea’s skillful translations pay homage to the oral histories and genealogical traditions of men and women of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds who embody this disappearing tradition. Miracles and Material Life offers a new and encompassing approach to the study of Southeast Asia, challenging us to expand our research boundaries and imagination.

Honorable Mention

Puangchon UnchanamRoyal Capitalism: Wealth, Class, and Monarchy in Thailand (University of Wisconsin Press, 2020)

Past Awards

Harry J. Benda Prize

The Harry J. Benda Prize originated in 1977 as a biennial award to a young scholar in recognition of the promise shown in their entire body of work. From 1991 onward, the Benda Prize has been given annually as a book award.

1977 Sartono Kartodirdjo

1979 Lim Teck Ghee

1981 Huynh Sanj Thong

1983 Renato Rosaldo

1985 Reynaldo C. Ileto

1987 Victor B. Lieberman

1989 Chandra Muzzafar

1991 Ward Keeler, Javanese Shadow Plays, Javanese Selves

1992 Ann Laura Stoler, Capitalism and Confrontation in Sumatra’s Plantation Belt, 1870-1979

1993 Not awarded

1994 Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-Way Place

1995 Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation

1996 Janet Hoskins, The Play of Time: Kodi Perspectives on Calendars, History, and Exchange

1997 Nancy Florida, Writing the Past, Inscribing the Future: History as Prophecy in Colonial Java

1998 Kenneth George, Showing Signs of Violence

1999 Laurie Sears, Shadows of Empire: Colonial Discourse and Javanese Tales

2000 Suzanne April Brenner, The Domestication of Desire: Women, Wealth, and Modernity in Java

2001 Annella Cannell, Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines

2002 Mark Bradley, Imagining Vietnam and America

2003 Peter Zinoman, The Colonial Bastille: A History of Imprisonment in Vietnam, 1862-1940

2004 William Cummings, Making Blood White: Historical Transformations in Early Modern Makassar

2005 Andrew Hardy, Red Hills: Migrants and the State in the Highlands of Vietnam

2006 Mary Callahan, Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma

2007 Eric Tagliacozzo, Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along the Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865-1915

2008 Matthew Cohen, The Komedie Stamboel: Popular Theatre in Colonial Indonesia, 1891-1903

2009 Penny Edwards, Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860-1945

2010 Justin Thomas McDaniel, Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words: Histories of Buddhist Monastic Education in Laos and Thailand

2011 Jeffrey Hadler, Muslims and Matriarchs: Cultural Resilience in Indonesia through Jihad and Colonialism

2012 Karen Strassler, Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java

2013 Ronit Ricci, Islam Translated: Literature, Conversation and the Arabic Cosmopolis of South and Southeast Asia

2014 Erik Harms, Saigon’s Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City

2015 Charles Keith, Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation

2016 Ann Marie Leshkowich, Essential Trade: Vietnamese Women in a Changing Marketplace

2017 Kimberly Kay Hoang, Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work

2018 Rachel Leow, Taming Babel: Language in the Making of Malaysia

2019 Doreen Lee, Activist Archives: Youth Culture and the Political Past in Indonesia

2020 Sumit Mandal, Becoming Arab: Creole Histories and Modern Identity in the Malay World

2021 Christian C. Lentz, Contested Territory: Điện Biên Phủ and the Making of Northwest Vietnam