Department of Religious Studies

Semiotic Transgression: An Indonesian Qur’an?

Mon, April 3, 2017 | Glickman Conference Center (CLA 1.302B)

3:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Dr. Webb Keane, George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Anthropology, U. Mich, To speak about debates on Qur’an translation in Indonesia.

For many observers, one of the most baffling features of Islamist militancy is the attack on, or on behalf of, images, things, and words. In the non-Arab Islamic world, this is compounded by cross-cutting questions about the local identities, cultures, and languages in light of the Qur’an. The entry of a universal revelation into the mundane world of language threatens to be paradoxical: it must take a specific and local form, and as such, becomes implicated in nationalist, ethnic, linguistic, and other sources of identity. This talk is about a small melodrama that played out among a mostly elite circle of religious and literary figures in Indonesia—far from Mecca, but home to the largest number of Muslims of any country in the world. This was a project by a modernist literary critic and editor, H.B. Jassin. After undergoing something of a spiritual awakening in mid-life, he set out to translate the Qur’an into Indonesian. This talk explores an array of conflicting assumptions about language, nationhood, and divine truth current in the late twentieth century.

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