The Graves of Others: Memory and Questions of Identity in Islamic Java
A morning seminar with Verena Hanna Meyer.
Ahmad Dahlan (d. 1923) was the founder of Muhammadiyah, a modernist Islamic mass organization in Indonesia. Paradoxically, his grave is a popular destination for young traditionalists who come there to pray, even as members of Muhammadiyah do not, because modernists, including reportedly Ahmad Dahlan himself, have rejected such visitations as superfluous or even un-Islamic. The distinction between “traditionalists” and “modernists” has pervaded identity politics throughout the Muslim world. Yet, for us as scholars and publics, the complex processes at play in erecting or contesting this distinction often remain invisible. Drawing on ethnographic field research in the central Javanese city of Yogyakarta, traditional Javanese literature, and classical Arabic sources, Verena Meyer argues that traditionalists and modernists have very different understandings of the relationship between the living and the dead, and, consequently, between memory and identity. By calling into question conventional parameters of memory and its agency, her traditionalist interlocutors invite a thorough rethinking of the meaning of identity and ideological belonging.
Verena Meyer received her Ph.D. from Columbia University’s Department of Religion and is now a Postdoctoral Fellow at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society. Trained in Islamic Studies and specializing in Islam in the Malay-Indonesian world, her research has focused on the construction of self-consciously pious Islamic identities in Indonesia and their situatedness in transnational intellectual networks, popular culture, and the politics of knowledge of postcolonial Indonesia. In addition to her ethnographic work on contemporary Islam, she has also explored the reception of Arabic philosophical traditions in classical Malay and Javanese literature.