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Rethinking Javanese Islam: Towards New Descriptions of Javanese Traditions

Jochem van den Boogert defended his thesis on 18 November 2015

J.W.P. (Jochem) van den Boogert
18 November 2015
Leiden University Repository

Supervisor: Prof. dr. B. Arps

The study of non-Western cultures often relies on the knowledge of those cultures’ religions. This certainly applies to Javanese Studies, where “Javanese Islam” is one of its constitutive concepts. However, this notion is plagued by theoretical problems, suggesting it misrepresents the Javanese religious condition. Through a conceptual genealogy this research traces the origin of “Javanese Islam”. Its conceptualisation is shown to be part of a Western project of making sense of Javanese culture. However, the origin of the twin-concepts “Javanese Islam” and “Javanism” does not lie in the West’s ambitions for colonial dominance. Rather, they are pieces of Christian theology. The West’s preoccupation with religion compelled it to recognise certain Javanese traditions as elements of religion. It thus came to see ngelmu as the core beliefs and slametan as the central ritual of a Javanese religion. This representation however is not supported by empirical evidence or theoretical proof. If, as this research suggests, syncretist Javanese Islam is actually an experiential entity in the experiential world of the West, new research questions arise. Is there an alternative approach to gain insight into Java’s traditions?

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