Islam in Asia:   Traditions and Transformation

An NEH Summer Institute ~ June 12 to July 7, 2017 ~ Honolulu, Hawaii ~ Hosted by the Asian Studies Development Program

Directors' Message

Welcome to this site and thank you for your interest in our NEH-sponsored Summer Institute on Islam in Asia: Traditions and Transformations. We are convinced that this will be an exciting and timely academic opportunity for everyone involved, including the team of world-class scholars who will be guiding our explorations of the key traditions and practices of Muslims in South and Southeast Asia—two of the most culturally diverse and dynamic regions of the world. 

Today, of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, over 1 billion live in South and Southeast Asia—nearly three times the number living in the Middle East and North Africa—and the four largest national populations of Muslims are all in Asia: Indonesia (210m), India (180m), Pakistan (180m) and Bangladesh (150m). Yet, Asian Muslims and their distinctive cultural, social, economic and political lives are seldom uppermost in American imaginations of the “Muslim world.” We hope that the Institute program will contribute to changing how American undergraduates understand and engage the Muslim world and to helping them appreciate how strikingly different the lives of Asian Muslims often are from those of their counterparts in the Middle East.

Seen in global perspective, it is clear that the evolution of Islam, religiously, culturally and politically, has been a complex and nonlinear process that historically involved distinctive local and regional responses to global realities. This continues to be true. Indeed, a central rationale for this Institute is that Asia is not incidental to either the history or the future of Islam. Understanding current-day developments within Islam requires being critically aware that close and reciprocally influential connections between the centers of Muslim learning in the Middle East and those in Asia have always been part of the evolution of Islamic life. Yet, because local cultures and practices significantly influence the practice of Islam, these connections have not resulted in a one-way “Arabicization” of Islam in Asia. Our Institute has been designed to highlight the complexities and at times outright contradictions that can be found within the religious beliefs, practices and cultures of Muslim communities, focusing on a selected number of Asian countries.

As co-directors we engage with Asia in very different ways, with one of us mostly studying developments within Indonesian Islam, combining fieldwork with evidence taken from contemporary primary texts, and the other primarily through exploring the dynamics of religious diversity and the ways in which religious traditions evolve in the context of significant cultural interaction. We also have quite different relationships with American higher education, with one of us enjoying a career centered on teaching and research as a university department member, and the other a career combining research and academic service designing and hosting multidisciplinary programs to enhance teaching and learning about Asian cultures and societies.

ASDP hosted its first NEH summer institute on Chinese Culture and Society in 1993 and since then we’ve conducted seventeen more, including programs on Buddhist Asia and Confucian Asia in 2015 and 2016. These institutes have invariably been profoundly rewarding experiences, attracting as they do the best teachers in the country committed to expanding their teaching expertise and research interests. We appreciate your interest in Islam in Asia and look forward to reading your applications carefully and to selecting a cohort to spend four weeks together in shared exploration of Asian engagements with one of the world’s most complex and fastest growing religious traditions.

Peter D. Hershock and Nelly van Doorn-Harder, Institute Co-Directors