Universiteit Leiden

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Mediating Piety in Indonesia: The Problem of Ethical Agency in a Material World

  • Webb Keane
Monday 1 June 2015
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden

About Webb Keane

Webb Keane is the George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. He is associated with both the social-cultural and the linguistic anthropology subfields. His other affiliations include the Program in Anthropology and History and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. He is also a co-editor of The Handbook of Material Culture and an occasional contributor to the Immanent Frame and Material World blogs.

His research covers a range of topics in social and cultural theory and the philosophical foundations of social thought and the human sciences.

At present he is involved in two major projects. The first concerns morality, ethics, and virtue as special, even constitutive, problems for social science; exploring the points of intersection and divergence between ethnography and its borderlands with psychology, on the one hand, and social history, on the other.  This is the subject of his forthcoming volume, ‘Ethical Life’.  The second project centers on religious piety, language, and media in Indonesia, with a special interest in semiotic transgressions.

Mediating Piety: A Qur’anic Quarrel in Indonesia

Indonesian Muslims have been participating enthusiastically in the global rise of middle class piety.  One way to gain insight into contemporary piety is to examine conflicts that might reveal the internal tensions and pressure points to which it is giving rise.  Among the more puzzling conflicts for many outside observers to grasp have been those that center on semiotic transgressions.  These can be especially important because of the role they play in mediating between subjectivities and the public world, and as sites of conflict between secular doctrines of freedom of religion and of expression. 

This talk focuses on the critical storm stirred up by the Qur’anic renderings produced by a prominent editor and literary critic, H.B. Jassin, during the last decades of the twentieth century.  The Jassin affair sheds light on some more general aspects of religious affect, objectification, and ethics.

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