Postgraduate students research a broad range of topics across the School disciplines.
Islamic Popular Culture and the New Identity of Indonesian Muslims: Investigating the Consumption of Islamic Popular Culture among Indonesian Muslim Youths
Islamic popular culture has been thriving in Indonesia for more than a decade ago. It is a new and important aspect of the Islamic revival in this country and beyond. Islam is also becoming a popular brand name for cultural products such as music, soap opera TV programmes, food, clothing, lifestyle books, novels, movies, etc. Previously, most scholars of Indonesian studies associated the Islamic revival with neo-fundamentalism, radicalism and terrorism. The linking of Islam with popular culture, which is always regarded as a Western product, challenges the notion that Islam is something opposed to the West.
One could argue that Islamic popular culture is merely another kind of commercialization -an aspect of global capitalism in late modernity period- but I am keen to look at how Indonesian Muslim adolescents consume Islamic popular culture as a way of constructing a new identity. I argue that this case suggests a new perspective: Islam and Western-influenced popular culture are not necessarily incompatible with each other and that to be modern and pious at the same time is possible. In doing so, Indonesian Muslim adolescents demonstrate that they do not exclusively belong to either Westernised civilisation nor Islamism: they are creating their own distinctive identity.
In this research, I am focusing on Islamic guidance literatures and movies. Islamic guidance literature refers to mainly books that advise young people how to behave or act in accordance with Islamic teachings. They are usually written in friendly, colloquial-language, like other ‘secular’ lifestyle and self-help books for youths. While Islamic movies are not something new in Indonesian movie history, they have re-appeared recently to address practical issues and everyday life problems faced by Indonesian youth, and they offer Islamic-style solutions. I argue that movies and books help young people develop their own distinctive identity, being new sources of authority apart from parents, formal education and friends. In this context of Islamic revivalism, young people have a passion to consume Islamic popular culture products in order to construct a new identity.
For decades, Islamic activists have perceived that popular culture (generally associated with the West) subverts values and rob Muslims of their identity. However, hostility towards popular culture is not the only reaction from Muslims. In some Muslim countries like Malaysia, UAE and Lebanon, many youths regard it as a fascinating, new phenomenon. In these countries, some aspects of popular cultures have been creatively adapted into Islam and warmly welcomed by many. Since Indonesia is not an exception, the prominence of popular culture in this big Muslim country should attract more attention from scholars.
Indonesia has been witnessing a major change in Islam during the last ten years or so. Islam is not merely a religion since entrepreneurs are also transforming it into a popular brand for cultural products and practices which is seemingly an odd combination. The relationship between popular culture and Islam is still in the process of being defined by scholars, and that the relationship needs a thorough examination. If we would like to know how Islam and Muslim societies will be in the future amidst the surge of radicalism and neo-fundamentalism, we need to know about that relationship: it might well play a very important role in shaping the nature of Islam.
My study endeavours to address the shortfall in scholarly accounts of Islamic pop culture within Indonesian studies. Furthermore, the study explores the emergence of a new identity among Indonesian Muslim youth, as they appear to want to be both, modern and pious at the same time.