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Lecture | LUCIS What's New?! Series

Renaming Ambiguity: Modernist Dream Encounters in Islamic Indonesia

Thursday 11 April 2024
What's New?! Spring Lecture Series 2024
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden
Photo credit: Diah Puspita

The category of the Islamic modernist has pervaded identity politics throughout the Muslim world for the last century. Normally, Islamic modernists are understood to be influenced — often quite consciously so — by the epistemic norms of western modernity that enforce rational coherence and display, in Thomas Bauer’s language, a very low tolerance of ambiguity. In this paper, I critically examine this notion of modernists’ intolerance of ambiguity based on ethnographic field research among self-identified modernists in Central Java, Indonesia. I focus on my interlocutors’ accounts of their own dreams as a site that is transected by incommensurable understandings of the nature of dreams and their epistemic status. Rather than perceiving it as an inherent limitation of modernist discourse, I argue that my interlocutors make productive use of such tensions and paradoxes normally associated with pre-modern Islam, even as they self-consciously deploy the trope of their own modernist intolerance of ambiguity.

Verena Meyer

Verena Meyer is an Assistant Professor of Islam in South and Southeast Asia at Leiden University. Before coming to Leiden, she received her PhD at Columbia University’s Department of Religion and held a postdoctoral fellowship in Norway. Trained in Islamic Studies and specialized in Islam in the Malay-Indonesian world, she draws on ethnographic field research, training in contemporary critical theory, and literary studies in Javanese, Malay, and Arabic to investigate questions of Islamic identity, the role of memory and the formation of heritage, and the transmission of knowledge across time and space. Her articles have been published in journals including Indonesia and the Malay World, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Philological Encounters, and Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde.

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