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Social Anthropology: Events


Divine Text, National Language, and Their Publics: Arguing an Indonesian Qur’an

Divine Text, National Language, and Their Publics: Arguing an Indonesian Qur’an
Speaker: Professor Webb Keane # University of Michigan
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Date and Time
9th Feb 2018 15:00 - 9th Feb 2018 17:00
Seminar Room 1, Chrystal Macmillan Building

The entry of a universal revelation into the mundane world of language threatens to be paradoxical: it must take a specific and local form.  As such, it becomes implicated in nationalist, ethnic, linguistic, and other sources of community.  This talk centers on a small melodrama in late twentieth century Indonesia, home to the largest number of Muslims of any country in the world.  After undergoing a mid-life spiritual awakening, H. B. Jassin, a modernist literary critic, editor, and ardent defender of freedom of expression, undertook two projects intended to convey the aesthetic power of the Qur’an to a non-Arabic speaking public.  But if Qur’anic Arabic summons a transnational community of the faithful, standardized Indonesian was developed to address a nation of citizens.  If scripture speaks in a divine, uncreated idiom, the national language is shaped by human efforts.  Jassin’s career had served a vision of literature and its public whose values and semiotic ideologies were dramatically at odds with Qur’anic traditions.  Although this is apparently a familiar story of progress and its opponents, this article asks whether Jassin’s critics grasped something about signs and communities that his defenders did not.  Examining the furor that resulted from Jassin’s Qur’ans, it explores an array of conflicting assumptions about language, freedom, truth, and people’s lives together in the late twentieth century.

Webb Keane