Keynote Lectures

BENEDICT ANDERSON / Alarms of an Old Alarmist
Tuesday, 11 August
Venue: Austrian Academy of Sciences
Free admission

Have students of Southeast Asia become too timid? For example, do young researchers avoid studying the power of the Catholic Hierarchy in the Philippines, the military in Indonesia, and in Bangkok monarchy? Do sociologists and anthropologists fail to write studies of the rising ‘middle classes’ out of boredom or disgust? Who is eager to research the very dangerous drug mafias all over the place? How many track the spread of Western European, Russian, and American arms of all types into Southeast Asia and the consequences thereof?

On the other side, is timidity a part of the decay of European and American universities? Bureaucratic intervention to bind students to work on what their state think is central (Terrorism/Islam)? Commercialism in the form of Businessmen taking over university leadership? Senior professors force students to stay inside the walls of the Disciplines, and learn the unreadable (to citizens) argot of each? And what about the rising hegemony of ‘English’ around the world? Isn’t the consequence that the Southeast Asian scholars are pushed to write in this ugly prose not their own language, while at least in lazy UK and America competence in Southeast Asian languages gets worse?

[Click here] to listen to Benedict Anderson’s keynote lecture

AYU UTAMI / The Spirit of Indonesia: Rasa, Reason, Religion
Wednesday, 12 August
Venue: University of Vienna (Großer Festsaal)

History has shown that for centuries people of the now Indonesia’s archipelago lived in harmony despite their heterogeneity. An “ethic of harmony” has been described by many scholars. Temples and old scripts prove syncretism between Hinduism, Buddhism and other beliefs. Their classical literatures and traditional daily live show a somehow contradicting mixture of monotheism and local spirituality. The Republik Indonesia’s state foundation and emblem confirm its spirit of unity in diversity.

However, after the Reformasi we have seen an increasing trend of religious intolerance and violence in the name of God, parallel with global terrorism. The ethic of harmony is being contested by the modernist need for clarity, and ancient syncretism is being challenged by “modern dogmas”. Religion is no longer a traditional phenomena. The dogmatic strain of it survives very well in the digital era.

In my opinion, Indonesia can no longer keep its harmony through syncretism and the ethic of harmony. Modern education have taught Indonesia’s new generation to demand “a sense of clarity”. Both old mechanism could not satisfy it due to their inherent lack of logical consistency. On the other hand, unfortunately, this desire for clarity can be fulfilled in a superficial level by dogmas and short texts of the now prevailing social and mass media.

Indonesia still has spiritual assets to resist dogmatic views. It has proved a relatively smooth transition to democracy, especially if compared to the Arab Spring. The danger keeps lurking. As the ancient ethic of harmony is failing, the future resistance against dogmatism is not secularism per se, but critical thinking that opens itself to the yet unknown. I’d like to call it “critical spirituality”. I will narrate my opinion using also ghost stories, myths, personal history, language cases and social or mass media content.

[Click here] to listen to Ayu Utami’s keynote lecture