Online via Zoom
This talk explores the relationship between religion and spatiality through a study of the emergence of a transoceanic religious geography that links Southeast Asia and South Arabia. This geographic imaginary links two regions commonly regarded as “peripheral” in the study of Islam and Islamic history. Muslims from these so-called “peripheral” regions, however, have for long, presented their respective homelands as spatial realisations of Islamic cosmology and as privileged sites for moral education and ethical becoming. Tracing how this transoceanic religious geography came about allows us to rethink established centre-periphery models that have continued to shape our understanding of the history and geography of Islam. Instead of a Muslim world made up of unchanging centres and peripheries, the talk uncovers the existence of competing religious geographies, shifting centres of Islam, and forms of devotional mobility with multiple directionalities. Understanding how a “peripheral” region like Southeast Asia becomes religiously central to people elsewhere (South Arabia and the Swahili coast of Africa, for example), in turn, helps us to think about comparable processes that have sustained the religious significance of other regions.
Ismail Fajrie Alatas is an associate editor of the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society and a fellow of The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Jordan. He holds PhD in Anthropology and History from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is the author of What is Religious Authority? Cultivating Islamic communities in Indonesia (Princeton, 2021) and is currently working on a new project that explores the relationship between religion, spatiality, and geography by looking at a transoceanic moral geography that links Southeast Asia to South Arabia.