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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Laurie J Sears
SISSE 469
Seattle Campus

Topics in Southeast Asian History and Society

Introduces major issues within the history and culture of one country of Southeast Asia. Content varies. Topics may include religion, economics, colonialism, perspectives on gender, labor history, literatures, popular culture, and performing arts. Focuses on a different Southeast Asian country each time offered.

Class description

This course has a twofold purpose: 1) to show Indonesian Islam and mysticism as intricately connected interpretive systems with unique world-views and 2) to introduce students to the history of Indonesian religions, performing arts, and politics. By studying Indonesian religion as a unique interpretive system, we will see that philosophy, psychology, mysticism, and aesthetics are as intertwined in Indonesian thought-worlds as they are in Euroamerican ones.

Background Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world and has the largest Islamic population of any country in the world. There are more Muslims in Indonesia than in all of the Middle East. Yet Indonesian Islam is a mosaic that weaves together threads of local spiritual practices, village rituals, performing arts, and influences from India and the Middle East that have been percolating throughout the archipelago for over 800 years. On the island of Java, where over half of Indonesia's 200 million people live, oral tradition attributes the spread of Islam to nine sufi saints [practitioners of Islamic mystical traditions] who are believed to have brought Islam to Java. Scholars have long suggested that sufi practices combined with older Hindu-Buddhist beliefs to produce an eclectic religious tradition that was outside of the mainstream of orthodox Islam. But continued research on Islamic traditions has shown that the idea of "normative" Islamic practice may be outdated. Islamic beliefs and practices have combined with local traditions to produce unique religious systems in every part of the Islamic world. Another route to understanding Indonesian religion and politics is to explore the ways in which mysticism in Java and Bali are connected to the performing arts. The study of Javanese shadow theatre, gamelan, dance, poetry, or batik eventually leads the student into the world of Javanese power and mysticism. Meditative practices in Java are believed to enhance one's aesthetic powers. The best way to understand Javanese culture and its representations is to study the ways in which Indic, sufi, theosophical and revolutionary themes blended to produce styles of aesthetic and religious practice that are uniquely Indonesian.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

This course juxtaposes historical and literary ways of understanding Indonesian religion, performance, and politics. Through a combination of reading, discussion, and dramatic readings, we will gain an appreciation for the ways in which religion, performance and politics are intertwined in Indonesian histories.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

Course Requirements and Readings Maria Dermout, The Ten Thousand Things [photocopy of the novel at RAM'S copy center] Nancy Florida, Writing the Past, Inscribing the Future Vicki Baum, Tale from Bali Ben Anderson, Mythology and the Tolerance of the Javanese Laurie Sears, Shadows of Empire

Reading Packets available at RAM'S Copy Center on the Ave just south of NE 42nd

Students are expected to participate actively in class discussion. Reading assignments should be prepared for each class meeting, i.e. assignments for each week is for discussion in the following week of classes. Two short essays (3-4 double-spaced typed pages)--will be due in class in weeks 4 and 7--offering reflections on reading assignments, personal diaries, and class discussion. In week three, students will be expected to begin planning their final projects through individual meetings with the instructor. The final topic for the project will be approved by the instructor during weeks 6-7. Final projects will be presented in the last two weeks of class and written versions will be due on the last day of class on the 30th of May.

Goals Students should prepare the readings conscientiously, take notes on it, ask questions of it, and think deeply about it, all in advance of class. Students should also be willing to participate in class discussion and in-class writing assignments.

Grading The course grade will be calculated as follows:

Class participation 25% Short essays 40% (20% each) Final project 35%

Short essays should include the student's own personal reflections on the readings and class discussions. This can be presented in either more academic or more creative styles of writing. Students may choose to focus on a particular group of reading assignments but, in general, the essays should indicate a familiarity with all of the past few weeks' assigned readings.

Completed final projects will be graded on the basis of creativity, theoretical sophistication, and expression, in equal measure. The instructor will be happy to provide bibliographic and other advice. Students will be expected to meet with the instructor during weeks five and six of the quarter to approve topics and resolve any questions that may have arisen. Final projects may be planned and executed in collaboration with one or more other students. They may take the form of videos, dramatic productions, artworks or installations, short stories or essays. They may also take the form of a 10 page research proposal for a future project. The main point is that the projects comment upon the class readings and discussions in specific disciplinary ways.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Marjorie J Mc Kinley
Date: 02/25/2002