Royal Asiatic Society

Member Profile

Dr Farouk Yahya


A short biography

Farouk Yahya is a Research Associate in the Department of History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts, SOAS University of London. His research interests include the Southeast Asian arts of the book, as well as texts and images relating to magic and divination in Southeast Asia. He is the author of Magic and Divination in Malay Illustrated Manuscripts (Leiden: Brill, 2016), editor of The Arts of Southeast Asia from the SOAS Collections (Penang: Areca Books, 2017), and co-editor of Islamicate Occult Sciences in Theory and Practice (Leiden: Brill, 2021).

Latest article:

Farouk Yahya, “Paper Wheels with Strings Used for Divination from Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula”, Manuscript Cultures 19 (2023): pp. 31-54.

How did you first hear of the Society?

I first heard of the Society while working on my PhD at SOAS on Malay manuscripts relating to magic and divination. It came to my attention that the Society houses an important collection of 19th-century Malay manuscripts. While delving into the Society’s collection, I discovered several remarkable manuscripts that became a crucial part of my research, and eventually found their way into the pages of my book, Magic and Divination in Malay Illustrated Manuscripts.

What encouraged you to join?

Choosing to become a member of the Society was a natural decision for me. Not only did I see it as an opportunity to contribute to its valuable efforts, but it also enabled me to connect with others who shared my interests in the history, culture and art of Southeast Asia.


What would you say are the benefits of being a fellow of the RAS?

I enjoy attending the lectures organised by the Society and receiving copies of its Journal, which have expanded my knowledge across diverse topics.
In addition there are also valuable financial benefits. Given my focus on the art historical aspects of the manuscripts, acquiring high-resolution colour images is vital for my research and publications. As a member I have the privilege of enjoying exclusive discounts when purchasing these essential images.

Finally, I cannot speak highly enough of the Society’s warm and supportive staff, whose assistance throughout my research has been invaluable.


What is your favourite item from the RAS collections?

There are too many to list here, but particularly significant to me are the Malay manuscripts that were acquired by a British colonial officer, William Maxwell, during the late 19th century. They encompass a diverse array of subjects such as literature, history, religion and the occult sciences. Several are illuminated and illustrated, making them an important resource for the study of Malay art. I had initially examined them during my doctoral studies, and recently I found myself revisiting these same manuscripts once again, discovering previously unnoticed details that provide further insights on the Malay manuscript tradition.