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The Cinematic Santri: Youth culture, tradition and technology in Muslim-Indonesia

For some devout Muslims, going to the cinema or viewing certain images is provocative and problematic. Ahmad Nuril Huda investigated the development Santri (young, pious Muslims) have undergone in this field over the past ten years. The Cinematic Santri is the result of his PhD research.

The defence will take place online on Thursday 11 June 2020. 

Between 2011 and 2015, Huda conducted research and fieldwork in Jakarta under Santri connected to pesantren (boarding schools) of Indonesia's largest Muslim movement: the Nadhlatul Ulama. His exploration takes place from different perspectives, such as the connection that some Indonesian Muslims feel or not feel with film technology, but also by looking at the emotionally charged space that the cinema can be for believers. Huda followed the Santri while watching and making films and did library and archive research in Jakarta and Leiden.

Research out of personal interest

Huda's research originated out of personal interest. He grew up in a family with strong pesantric backgrounds. As a little child, his father did not allow him to watch films and television programmes. If he broke these rules, he would be beaten on both legs. The reason behind this TV-watching ban was that according to his father it is forbidden in Islam to depict animated beings. But during the Gulf War the attitude of his father, who is a big fan of Saddam Hussein, changed. ‘My father forced me to go to the neighbour's house every night to watch the war reports on national television." This altered attitude of his father kept Huda occupied for years and influenced his academic interest. "I've always wondered how Islam is expressed and shaped daily among Muslims by religious texts, personal desires combined with technological progress and other social, historical, political, and economic backgrounds.’

People with wishes, intentions and desires

The rise of the Santri's cinematographic practices is a result of changes in various sectors of the social, economic, political, and technological life of the NU community. It is an approved method by which Santri can deal with their aspirations, desires, and problems of contemporary life. Young Muslims try, both personally and collectively, to make a connection between Islamic traditions and everyday practices. Cinematic practices are part of their ethical practices to preserve the pesantren tradition in a secular era of digital technologies. Huda shows in his dissertation that those who consider themselves pious and 'elitist' Muslims not only strive for perfectionist ideas of a devout life but also incorporate pragmatic sensitivities of Islam and the complexity of everyday life. Huda: ‘I want to emphasize that my research offers the insight that the Santri, and other Muslims or religious people in general, are first and foremost people who, despite religious texts and education, have their wishes, intentions, and desires.’

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