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My general field is Indonesian religious history but my research has been mainly ethnographic rather than archival. It has focused on Javanese mystical movements and practices in the late twentieth century. In research and teaching I move between history, anthropology, religious studies, and cultural studies.
My PhD thesis dealt with the internal history of one movement as an exercise in micro-history and the history of consciousness. 'Sumarah', the name of the movement, is a Javanese word meaning roughly what 'islam' means in Arabic. Six years ago I reworked the manuscript, which is on the web as "The Evolution of Sumarah".
My second project focused on the politics of mysticism in Indonesia, the history of discourses about the status of mystical practices within the state. My principal conclusion on this line of work, argued within an essay on ''Legitimate Mysticism in Indonesia" (RIMA 1986) and in a chapter for The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia, was that the structure of discourses about religious issues has become Islamic even when ostensibly offering scope for other religious idioms.
I have also worked on sacred sites and environmental philosophy, on conjunctions between consciousnes, spirits and nature embedded within popular Javanese Islamic practices at sacred sites. During 1997 research focused on court related sites around Parangtritis, where court and popular pilgrimage patterns build on stories from the era of the walisanga, the founders of Javanese Islam.
Most of my primary research took place first over three years, from January 1971 and February 1974, while based at Salatiga and Surakarta in Central Java. I returned to Java on average one month annually up to 1990. During the 1990s I spent five years in Java, four on secondment to administer teaching programs and another year focused on research and writing in Parangtritis. Altogether I have lived in Java 15 years. I have also used archives at Cornell University, Monash University and the Australian National Library.
My teaching experience has been consistently framed by multi-disciplinary 'Asian Studies' departments. This has meant both that I teach within several disciplines (individual courses being credited within history and anthropology frameworks at Murdoch) and that within courses I draw from and counterpoint a range of different disciplinary tools when addressing one set of issues.
Commitment to humanistic and liberal arts notions of university education has always been central to my educational mission. This is reflected in my sense that 'Asian studies' should not be viewed only as though a professional 'training ground' for specialist interpreters, business people or civil servants who intend to make a career in Asia (dominant in Australian imagination of the field), but as part of general education focused on extending understanding of what it means to be a 'human being' within an increasingly multicultural and pluralistic world. I have always seen a primary challenge of teaching about Asian 'subjects' within English speaking environments as requiring confrontation between alternative imagination of realities.
My teaching appoach is Socratic in highlighting limits to understanding and the openness of questions. It is student centered in stressing a 'smorgasbord' of possibilities within which what connects to personal knowledge matters most. I am most interested in and encourage students to engage questions which do not have simple answers. I aim to open fields of knowledge (by introducing the depth and range of issues confronted), provide tools of thought (enabling students to negotiate complex issues), and encourage extension of verbal and writing skills.
The subjects I have taught include: Southeast Asian Traditions, Indonesian Religious History, Asian Mystical Religions, Culture and Politics in Indonesia, and Comparative Religion
During the 1990s I spent four years coordinating and developing international programs. In each instance on secondment from Murdoch to run programs our students have taken in Indonesia.
From mid 1992 to mid 1994 I was Resident Director of the 'Council Study Center' in Malang, East Java. In this capacity I administered the program and taught. This involved budget responsibility and coordination for program staff, arrangements for a guest lecture program, running orientation and evaluation sessions, teaching two subjects each semester and counselling. Students in the CIEE program were roughly half Australian and half American, the latter coming from liberal arts colleges.
Subsequently, on the basis of that experience, I proposed a model for and undertook the Indonesian leg work behind establishing ACICIS (the Australian Consortium for In Country Indonesian Studies), in Yogyakarta. ACICIS draws students from member institutions throughout Australia. I became foundation Resident Director in Yogyakarta, establishing the framework for the program and administering it after leading negotiations with Indonesian instrumentalities at all levels, beginning with consolidation of an inter-governmental MOU between Australia and Indonesia to facilitate student visas.
1980-2003 Lecturer & (from 1992) Senior Lecturer in Asian Studies
Murdoch University, Perth WA
1995-96 Resident Director, ACICIS
(Australian Consortium for In Country Indonesian Studies)
Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta
1992-94 Resident Director CIEE
Cooperative Southeast Asian Studies Program
State University of Malang (then IKIP Malang), East Java
1976-79 Senior Tutor & (from 1977) Lecturer in Asian Studies
CurtinUniversity of Technology (then WAIT) Perth
1973-75 PhD studies in Java & Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1971-72 Guest Staff, Lembaga Penelitian Ilmu-Ilmu Sosial
Universitas Kristen Satyawacana, Salatiga
1980 PhD University of Wisconsin (History)
thesis: The Sumarah Movement in Javanese Mysticism
1970 MA University of Wisconsin (History)
thesis: Javanese Mystical and Marxist Dialectics
1969 BA University of Wisconsin
(History, Anthropology, Asian Studies)
1970 Cornell University
(summer) intensive Javanese
1967 Yale University
(summer) intensive Indonesian