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The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress
presents the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series

May 13, 2009 Event Flyer

The Sound of Islamic Music:
Women's Voices and The Indonesian Religious Soundscape

Presented by Anne K. Rasmussen

2009 Botkin Lecture Flyer for Anne Rasmussen

Although Indonesia is often glossed as “the country with the largest Muslim population in the world,” the country’s Islamic traditions are rarely seen as normative. Rather, because of the archipelago’s position in the southeastern Indian Ocean, far from Islam’s origins in the Arab world, because of its Hindu-Buddhist cultural legacy, and because of the suppression of Muslim energies during the long period of Dutch colonial rule, Indonesian Muslim practice has been characterized by some as impure syncretism. Rasmussen’s work joins that of a handful of scholars who reposition Indonesia’s prominence, during the last half millennium, in the development and establishment of Muslim culture and society, by looking at the rich world of Indonesian Islamic music. Based on more than two years of ethnographic research in the Indonesian Archipelago, and derived from her book Women’s Voices, the Recited Qur’an, and Islamic Music in Indonesia (University of California Press), Anne Rasmussen’s lecture introduces a spectrum of Islamic musical arts by profiling both leading artists and grass-roots communities. From the sublime to the ridiculous, and from seashore to department store, the contexts and contents of Islamic music in Indonesia represent a vibrant and meaningful stream of Indonesian culture, as well as an aspect of global Islam that is creative, dynamic, and sophisticated.

Complementing her focus on Islamic performance culture, Rasmussen’s attention to the actions of women who work as ritual specialists and religious entertainers — from Qur’an reciters to recording artists — introduces new light to another little-documented area of both Indonesian culture and Islamic performance. An awareness of the actions of Indonesian women serves as a counterbalance to the weighty stereotypes and real incidents of women’s oppression in some Muslim communities. Although susceptible to the same kinds of social and political control that is exacted by patriarchal forces throughout the world, women in Indonesia are important players on the field of religion in a way that is firmly grounded in Indonesian history. Much of the previous scholarship on women and gender in Southeast Asia generally promotes the view that “complementarity” and “equality” characterize the interaction between men and women in this region, especially when compared to the neighboring areas of south Asia, China, or the Muslim Arab world and the Middle East. The involvement of women in the work, the rituals, and the popular expressions of Islam in Indonesia is indeed a remarkable aspect of contemporary Southeast Asia that both underscores this view and also suggests that Indonesian women occupy a special position in the transnational “Muslim sisterhood.”

Illustrated with vivid images, audio recordings, and video footage, Dr. Rasmussen’s presentation evaluates the work of contemporary scholars of gender and Islam and its relevance to the communities of Indonesian women with which she worked. In an effort to write against the grain of unitary conclusions that promote facile understandings of “Global Islam,” she will address culturally specific meanings and practices, anchored in dynamic concepts of “tradition” and “modernity,” that provide for a broad range of Indonesian women’s agency and activity — much of it seen and heard through religious performance.

Anne K. Rasmussen is associate professor of music and ethnomusicology at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, where she also directs the William and Mary Middle Eastern Music Ensemble and serves as chair of the Middle East Studies Faculty. Her research and teaching expertise include American musical multiculturalism, music and community among the Arab diaspora, music-cultures of the Middle East and Arab world, and music of the Islamic world, particularly Indonesia, where she has been engaged for the last ten years in a project on Islamic musical arts. She is a former Fulbright senior scholar, has served as the First Vice President of the Society for Ethnomusicology, and is the recipient of the Jaap Kunst prize for the best article published in the field of ethnomusicology in 2001 and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award. In September 2008 she was appointed University Professor for Teaching Excellence, a competitive term chair of three years.

Anne K. Rasmussen
The College of William and Mary

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The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.


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