Associate Professsor Julian Millie

Sub-national Islam in Indonesia

An important goal of mine over the past decade or so, ever since I started research in West Java, the home of the Sundanese ethnic group, has been to expand knowledge of how Indonesian Muslims construct the present through commemorations of Islamic pasts that are regional rather than national or global in nature. This is a critical task, for the constitutive role of sub-national ethnicity in the formation of contemporary Indonesian Islam is badly neglected in the ‘national present’.  A number of friends in Bandung, all of them Sundanese, have been helping me to do redress that lack,  and the first major output of that collaboration has just appeared (see left). Hasan Mustapa is ostensibly a study of the life and work of Hasan Mustapa (d. 1931), a major Sundanese Muslim figure. But we think we have brought out some underrated aspects of Islamic commemoration in Islamic Indonesia.

One highlight of our work is our analysis of the ways in which contemporary Sundanese scholars mobilise Mustapa’s work in contemporary polemics over the role of Islam in society (West Java has plenty of these polemics!). This is the process that the former president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, identified as pribumisasi. Jalaluddin Rakhmat calls it indigenisasi. The work and lives of people like Mustapa, all of them recognized as exemplars of sub-national Muslim tradition, provide authentic resources to be called upon in the present. In these processes, the cultural diversity of Islam is put onto an agenda that can otherwise be distinctly formulaic and detached from real contexts. 

I want to thank all the friends who helped with this book and were patient during its long gestation, especially Hawe Setiawan and Nathan Hollier (of Monash press), but also the chapter contributors: Ahmad Gibson Albustomi, Ajip Rosidi, Ruhalia, Asep Salahuddin, Mufti Ali and Jajang Rohmana. I do not forget Martin van Bruinessen, who kindly provided a foreword consisting of some remarkable recollections of his own experiences in the Sundanese lands.

Hearing Allah’s Call!

I am very grateful to Cornell Press for doing such a great job with Hearing Allah’s Call, which is newly available. Preaching draws amazingly high participation from Muslims in West Java, and this work is dedicated to establishing how this takes place, what interests are at stake, and perhaps most importantly, how preaching is regarded with great ambivalence in Indonesia. Despite all the success of preachers, there is great mistrust concerning the benefit of skillful verbal mediations of Islam, and the dialectic resulting from this mistrust reveals very differing ideas about what Islam should mean in everyday life. Furthermore, I have approached elite reservations about oral preaching as a useful window into how conceptions of subjectivity so strongly shape dispositions towards religious media.

Hearing Allah’s Call adds to a recent bunch of writing about preaching in Indonesia by researchers including Daromir Rudnyckyj, James Hoesterey and Martin Slama. It complements these works by taking a detailed look at the routine events that enliven mundane Islamic life in its quotidian aspects, rather than those styles found at the ‘cutting edge’ of Islamic commodification. Further, it is also different because it reflects my immersion in preaching settings taking place in the Sundanese language, the language of Indonesia’s second-biggest ethnic group. For Indonesians, sub-national Islamic mediations are a different experience than those in the national standard language, and are patronized by tens of millions, so I think it important that I have been able to provide this analysis of them.

This research has taken a long time, and looking back over the years, I find it impossible to express all the gratitude that I ought to. Two preachers helped me massively: K.H. Jujun Junaedi and Professor Dr Miftah Faridl. Respect and gratitude to you both! I am also indebted to the ARC AND friends at UIN Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung.

I hope you get a chance to read it, and look forward to responses!! Here is a link to the flyer:






Good news!

Matt Tomlinson and I are truly happy to announce that our new edited volume, The Monologic Imagination, will be available in June of 2017. This book has its origins in a meeting we held in Melbourne in 2014, funded by the Monash Research Accelerator Program.

The book will appear in Oxford’s Studies in Anthropology of Language series, and includes great chapters by Greg Urban, Jon Bialecki, Alan Rumsey, Kristina Wirtz, Zane Goebel, James Barry, Jane Goodman, and Philip Fountain, as well as Matt and myself. Commentaries by Don Kulick, Courtney Handman and Krista Van Vleet are added throughout the chapters. These provide terrific reflections on the chapters.

Matt and I thank all the authors and our friends at Oxford for their great work on this project!

  • The volume sets a course for future research-pioneering an argument about the force of monologue in political and religious speech.
  • Explores the interplay between monologism and dialogism.
  • Presents vivid ethnographic case studies come from a wide range of societies: the United States, Iran, Cuba, Indonesia, Algeria, and Papua New Guinea.
  • The volume is theoretically sophisticated but accessibly written for a general audience

The book is available through Oxford’s website at:

What have I been reading lately?

Dale Eickelman

Dale’s work has been central to my intellectual diet over the past few years. Any social scientists engaged in the study of majority-Muslim societies should have a look at his body of work, particularly for the way he interprets the effects of mass education and media technologies. At the same time, my own research has focused on oratory, a face to face medium. I was struck by the way that Dale’s conclusions were not always helpful in understanding listeners as public subjects. The listeners with whom I have been attending preaching events in Bandung over the last years are usually attending preaching events as part of some wider social obligation, and this made me think twice about the democratic, liberalising trajectories Eickelman has connected with media evolutions in Muslim societies over recent decades. I have explored this tension in a recent article published in a book edited by my colleagues Dan Black, Olivia Khoo and Koichi Iwabuchi (see my pubs list on the next page for details). Writing this article was a valuable exercise, as it made me think about where oral preaching should be located alongside other media forms.  Be glad to send a copy if anybody is interested!

Jeffrey Hadler

Recently finished a great book I should have read long ago: Jeffrey Hadler’s Muslims and Matriarchs (Cornell 2008). I read this at the urging of David Kloos (thanks for the prompt, David!). This is a social history of the Minangkabau society in West Sumatra, and gives a dynamic perspective on the institutions for which the region is so famous (longhouses, matriarchy, Islamic learning, Islamic modernism etc). Hadler discusses some fascinating texts originally written by Minangkabau people as school exercises, and by doing so, he conveys an assortment of voices more domestic and intimate than one might otherwise encounter in a historical work of this kind.

The book had extra value for me as a detailed study of a sub-national Indonesian culture. Jeffrey is a student of West Sumatra, I am a student of West Java. And this is where it gets interesting. Jeffrey’s work throws light on some issues concerning Sundanese identity. Sundanese frequently point out to me that positions of leadership in West Java have been and are frequently occupied by non-Sundanese – the most famous example is Kartosoewirjo, the Javanese leader of the Dar ul-Islam rebellion – and that Minangkabau men have been especially prominent amongst such leaders. Some of my friends even read this as a national trait of the Sundanese: they are too ready to follow the leadership of non-Sundanese. Seems far-fetched, but the examples are there. Examples of Minangkabau who became leaders in West Java include Muhammad Natsir (1908-1993), Muhammad Isa Anshary (1916-1969) and Rusyad Nurdin (1918-2002). The entry point into West Javanese society for all three men was the Islamic Association (Persis), a famous West Javanese institution.

Why should these men have done so well in West Java? For one thing, both provinces are very Islamic – according to Indonesian census figures, West Sumatra and West Java both have Muslim populations exceeding 97% of the total population. In this sense, they are similar environments. Hadler points out that in the 19th century Minangkabau men were quite active in their uptake of the bureaucratic/clerical skills that would be required in the era of the market economy, and that the colonial native schools of the region were populist (in contrast to the hierarchical West Javanese, perhaps?). Apart from that, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the core social institution of the matriarchate had changed fundamentally, meaning Minangkabau men ‘were forced to question received and seemingly elemental cultural definitions. It was this condition of fundamental and inescapable change that made Minangkabau unique and dynamic, capable of envisioning possibilities and making them real’ (155).

Conditions in West Java were different. In the decades of rapid change in the first half of the twentieth century, while Malay was gaining acceptance as proto-national language, knowledge of the language was not high in West Java, whereas Minangkabau have reasonable claims to being labelled as the original speakers of Bahasa Indonesia. Literacy was low in West Java. In 1930, only 7% of Sundanese were literate, and even more revealing, less than 5% of Sundanese at that time lived in the three most highly populated municipalities (kota) of West Java Province (Batavia, Meester Cornelis and Bandung). Furthermore, the Sundanese nobility attempted to keep a firm grip on government and commerce (the work of Thommy Svensson gives some good examples). All this suggests that in the first half of the twentieth century, when West Javanese towns were becoming prosperous nodes in the market economy, Malay-speaking Minangkabau might have been better equipped than Sundanese to find success in urban contexts.

Hasan Mustapa

I’ve just come off a big spell of reading Hasan Mustapa (1852-1931), the Sundanese cleric, colonial official, mystical poet and all-round outside thinker. Has a more enigmatic figure ever set pen to paper in the world of Indies/Indonesian Islam? I finally finished off the five volumes of Mustapa’s mystical verse published by Kiblat in 2009 (respect to Pak Ajip and Bu Ruhalia for the great work on these!), as well as a recently published collection of writings by Ahmad Gibson Albustomi, most of which deal with Mustapa and his work (thanks to Neneng Lahpan for bringing the book to Monash!). Kang Gibson, who lectures in comparative religion at UIN Sunan Gunung Djati (and also runs the computer network there), has been the major interpreter of Mustapa since Ajip Rosidi’s 1989 anthology, publishing regularly in Pikiran Rakyat and other forums. Gibson’s book is distinct for the way he mobilises Mustapa’s ideas in the context of contemporary West Java. In Gibson’s view, contemporary Sundanese have much to learn from Mustapa’s ideas on religion and social life. Gibson’s message is: all humans need Mustapa in the present! (You can read more about these works and Mustapa in my 2014 BKI essay Arriving at the Point of Departing: Recent Additions to the Hasan Mustapa Legacy, in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 170 (2014) 107–112.

Here is a taste of Mustapa’s thinking, translated by myself and Hawe Setiawan from The Fundamentals of Islamicness. It captures Mustapa’s style well. (I frequently have the impression that Mustapa is leading me in circles). This was composed around 1899:

‘People say it is difficult to search for the feeling of Allahness, and that is because the feeling is only an introduction, and if someone has not yet experienced the feeling, he puts emphasis on the thing’s name, and is moved to ask: What is its nature? For instance, a child wants to taste the thing called ‘sweetness’, but we could swap it for something else; a sick person wants a strawberry, but we could give him a snack made from flour. When we want revelation of something because of the fact that the thing exists, when we obtain it, even if it is real, we disregard it, for although the thing really exists, it is something new, whereas what we search for is not new but something that exists. When we want revelation of the nature of life, the life we have is disregarded, because even though the life is real, it is new, but what we are searching for is life, not something new. When we want revelation of the nature of knowledge, the knowledge we have is disregarded, because although it is knowledge, it is new, and what we are searching for is knowledge, not new knowledge. When we want revelation of the nature of want, the want we meet is disregarded, because even though it is really want, it is new, and what we seek is want, not a new want. When we want revelation of the nature of hearing, the one we come across is disregarded, because although it is genuinely hearing, it is new, and what is sought is hearing, not something new. When we want revelation of vision, the vision we come across with is disregarded, because although that vision is real, it is new, and what we seek is vision not something new. When we want revelation of the nature of speech, the one we come across is disregarded, because although it is real, it is new, and what we seek is speech, not something new…’

Keith Foulcher and Brian Roberts

A Weekend with Richard Wright. We had the good fortune to host Keith Foulcher and Brian Russell Roberts for a Centre of Southeast Asian Studies seminar (28/5/2013). Brian lectures at Brigham Young University in Utah, and is the author of ‘New Negro Ambassadors: Literary, Racial, and International Representation’. This was his first visit to Monash. Keith continues his amazing journey through Indonesian writing and culture, with continuing attention to post-independence modernist visions. The two are researching the (CIA-funded!) visit of Richard Wright to Bandung in 1955, where he covered the Asia-Africa Conference. Brian and Keith showed that Wright’s meetings in Indonesia with intellectuals such as Mochtar Lubis and Sutan Takdir Alisjabana triggered a series of misunderstandings about racial sensibilities and decolonisation. I found this to be a gripping talk, which motivated me to check out their recent article in PMLA (126.3, 2011), which is for the main part a translation (from Dutch) of an account of Wright’s visit by the Dutch Indonesian writer Beb Vuyk. Brian and Keith have consulted widely for this research, including such people as Ajip Rosidi and Atep Kurnia (who wrote a thesis on Wright’s visit), and I look forward to further publications. They form an impressive duo: Brian’s field is modernism and black American writing (although he is learning Indonesian – way to go Brian!), while Keith’s feel for early versions of Indonesia’s national culture is unparalleled. At a time when area studies is having to justify its value, this was a strong reminder of how regionally-specific expertises can cut across the reductive and generalising tendencies of much contemporary humanities scholarship.

Ahmad Baso

Ahmad Baso, Pelesetan Lokalitas (2002).  Baso’s work is refreshing for his reluctance to accept broadly received constructions of categories such as religion, performance, culture, work and so on. This book helped me understand the constraints affecting performance and religious expression in the public sphere. His work cuts through the rigid definitions of these concepts that are accepted in public discourse, and invites us to take a deeper look. Ahmad is/was a researcher for a uniquely placed cultural studies project, the Desantara foundation.

Ibnu Hijar Apandi

Ibnu Hijar Apandi. Hijar is a low-key but intense man whom I frequently meet in company with the Centre of Sundanese Studies crowd in Bandung. He doesn’t speak much about his own work, which is mainly published as poems, articles and other pieces in the magazine Cupumanik, but the longer I am exposed to it, the more I think I understand his project. He makes me think that the destructionof the Sundanese writing genres he employs within his  prose pieces is a paralell process to the negative effects of development on the area he calls his own, namely the location of Cihideung in Northern Bandung (he comes from Suka Mulya – salam untuk Ustad Cecep!). The most recent piece of his that I have read describes, in warm humour, his efforts to become a flower-farmer in this fresh, highland area (this is a funny piece, Jar!). This includes many sisindiran: The land I work is as wide as a spade/I rent it from a Chinese landlord/The inheritance left by my ancestors/Is now owned by someone else.

Ajip Rosidi

Ajip Rosidi, Haji Hasan Mustapa jeung karya-karyana (1989). I am sure I will never understand this book – a remarkable and sprawling work of dedicated scholarship – for as long as I live. But I am trying! So is Kang Hawe: together we have been translating ‘Stages on the Journey to Islamicness’ for publication in a forthcoming volume about Hasan Mustapa.

Andries Teeuw

Andries (‘Hans’) Teeuw: Shair Ken Tambuhan (1966). This is probably not his best work, but it had a great influence on me when I was studying older Malay writing. I pulled it out to renew contact with him now that the great man has passed on (May 18, 2012). He opened up so many vistas for scholars of writing, and for that I hold him in utmost respect.

Mohammad Natsir

Mohammad Natsir: Fiqhud Da’wah (1965). This is a must for anyone wanting to find out how the world looks to someone inspired in their subservience to monotheism. From that view, the world is rich with promise and potential, and this book conveys the intensity of that experience. Natsir’s humourous account of wayang as dakwah is an affectionate view of Indonesian Islamic performance, although behind this description looms the shadow of a Sumatran who never really got the Java thing. The book has been in constant print since being assembled out of his writings on dakwah in the mid-1960s.

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