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Spiritual Refreshment, Medicine for the Heart: Islamic Preaching on Record and on the Air in Indonesia

A podcast of a colloquium with Bernard Arps, Leiden University

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Duration: 1:09:34

Like in other parts of the Islamic world, a range of audio media have come into use in Indonesia for dakwah, the propagation of the faith: audio cassettes, radio, sound amplification, MP3 files (on CDs and downloadable from the web), even mobile phones. While most Indonesian preachers are known only locally or within particular Islamic organizations, a few have gained superstar status and are known also in other Malay-speaking countries and among Malay-speaking Muslims abroad. Their popularity is partly due to their live and televised appearances, but there can be no doubt that their audio performances have contributed significantly to it as well. Zainuddin MZ, for instance, produced over sixty commercial cassette albums in the 1980s and 1990s and many unofficial recordings of his sermons are in circulation.

This colloquium will examine the media genre of Islamic audio preaching, focusing on the ways the preachers represent people: how they construct their own personas through styles and modes of performance, how they address and draw in the audience, how they refer to the wider Islamic community and outsiders. It will try to demonstrate that audio-mediated dakwah, ubiquitous and often compelling as it is, has become a principal way in which Muslim Indonesians are taught to conceive and engage with themselves and others and not in the last place God, Allah.

Ben Arps’s theoretical curiosity centres around the question of how language is made to work in the world. He has published widely on performance, media, and writing in Indonesia and is preparing, among other things, a book about the presence of audio media in everyday Indonesian life and especially religion and politics. He is currently Professor of Indonesian and Javanese Language and Culture at Leiden University in the Netherlands. He has also taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (1988–93), and, as the Netherlands Visiting Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures, at the University of Michigan (2006–07).