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In two talks, Khairudin Aljunied and David Kloos will discuss their recent books. In these studies, both scholars attempt to move beyond stereotypes and simplistic dichotomies that characterize our understanding of Islam in Southeast Asia, Aljunied through a focus on Muslim cosmopolitanism and the Kloos on everyday forms of ethical improvement. Following the individual presentations, and with input from the audience, we aim to place their work in conversation with one another and with broader issues concerning Islam in the contemporary world.

Muslim Cosmopolitanism:  Southeast Asian Islam beyond Violence and Conflict
Khairudin Aljunied, Georgetown University

This talk seeks to deconstruct present-day assumptions embedded in the sensational reporting by “media pundits” and “terrorist experts” that Muslims in Southeast Asia are prone to conflict and violence. Based on my book Muslim Cosmopolitanism: Southeast Asian Islam in Comparative Perspective, I argue instead that cosmopolitan ideals and pluralist tendencies have been employed creatively and adapted carefully by Muslim individuals, societies and institutions in Southeast Asia to produce the necessary contexts for mutual tolerance and shared respect between and within different groups in society. Interweaving the connected histories of three countries in Southeast Asia – Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia – I will explain the ways in which historical actors have promoted better understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims in the region to give rise to what I would term as “Southeast Asian Muslim Cosmopolitanism”.

Khairudin Aljunied is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London (PhD), and currently the Malaysia Chair of Islam in Southeast Asia, Georgetown University, USA. His specialization is on the history of Islam in Southeast Asia, covering topics such as religious cosmopolitanism, social movements and the history of ideas.  He published a number of scholarly monographs which include Muslim Cosmopolitanism: Southeast Asian Islam in Comparative Perspective (Edinburgh University Press, 2016),Radicals: Resistance and Protest in Colonial Malaya (Northern Illinois University Press, 2015) and Colonialism Violence and Muslims in Southeast Asia (Routledge, 2009), and numerous articles in reputable journals. He has recently completed another monograph on the reformist thought of an Indonesian scholar, Hamka (Haji Abdul Malik bin Abdul Karim Amrullah). The book which will be published by Cornell University Press in fall 2018.

Becoming Better Muslims: Religious Authority and Ethical Improvement in Aceh, Indonesia

David Kloos, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), Leiden

Developing a concept of religious agency, and delving into the complex relations between individuals, religious institutions, and the state, in my new book (Princeton UP, 2018) I investigate how people in Aceh have dealt with the increasingly pervasive influence of normative Islam. Debunking the stereotypical image of the Acehnese as inherently pious or fanatical, I show that Acehnese Muslims are used to reflecting on their faith and often talk about their religious lives in terms of personal projects of ethical improvement.

Developing this line of thought, I will also reflect on a co-edited volume, titled Straying from the Straight Path: How Senses of Failure Invigorate Lived Religion (Berghahn 2017), which uses individual experiences of moral failure to go beyond the unhelpful scholarly dichotomy between pious disciplining, on the one hand, and the ambivalences and inconsistencies of everyday life, on the other. Attending to pertinent feelings of doubt, shortcoming, and imperfection, I argue that throughout the life course these senses of failure contribute strongly to the ways in which people in Aceh try to become better Muslims.

David Kloos is a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in Leiden, the Netherlands. His current research deals with the ways in which female Islamic authorities have become part of the public sphere in Malaysia and Indonesia. He is the author of Becoming Better Muslims: Religious Authority and Ethical Improvement in Aceh, Indonesia (Princeton University Press, 2018), the co-editor of Straying from the Straigh Path: How Senses of Failure Invigorate Lived Religion (Berghahn, 2018), and the the co-editor of the special issue ”Studying Female Islamic Authority: From Top-Down to Bottom-Up Modes of Certification.” Asian Studies Review 40 (4), 2016.