- Islamic Modernities In Southeast Asia: Exploring Indonesian Popular and Visual Culture by Leonie Schmidt
"To be Muslim, is to be modern" is the constant refrain of Leonie Schmidt's wide-reaching work on Indonesia, Islam, and popular culture. Her book is one of several giving attention to Islam and culture in Indonesia. Despite being the world's most populous Muslim country Indonesia is often left out of studies on Islamic culture, which tend to focus on the Arab world. In contrast, Schmidt's field research was carried out in the city of Yogyakarta, a bustling university town that is also popular with tourists; in addition many of her case studies are national or international in scope. The book examines various kinds of media and spaces, including rock music, fashion blogs, self-help books, shopping malls, and art. Within these various foci, there emerges several cohesive arguments and Schmidt is adept at drawing useful comparisons among the chapters. The book is not specifically about performance or theatre—but offers numerous intersections with wider concerns of performance studies and the role of Islam in mediatized identities in Southeast Asia that complement the field of theatre. [End Page 531]
The introduction offers a historical overview of how Islam functions in Indonesian society and the relationship of global Islam to modernity, and how after the New Order period (1966–1998) people actively sought means to express diverse identities after a period of tight censorship. Schmidt contends her research is especially important because contemporary Indonesia is "simultaneously modernizing and Islamizing" and "popular and visual culture present perfect tools to publically fantasize and experiment with Islamic modernities" (p. 3). Thus her focus is not singularly on the object of study, whether it be a shopping mall, fashion blog, or rock song, but also in how Indonesians are consuming and using visual and popular cultures to construct modern Muslim identities. She establishes that she does not consider all culture produced by Muslims in a Muslim culture to be "Islamic", rather only those that bernafaaskan Islam, or "breath Islam". Most of her case studies encompass a relationship to "Islamic Culture" in some way, even though not all are Islamic culture per say. In order to analyze popular culture and its role in society, Schmidt outlines specific overlapping cultural spheres for her work: (1) leisure sphere (shopping malls); (2) media sphere (music, books, film, social media); and (3) creative sphere (visual and performance art). This is an effective way of conceptualizing these cases because it offers opportunities for cross-chapter comparisons and development of themes that greatly enrich the book's overall argument.
Chapter Two "Urban Islamic Spectacles: Transforming the Space of the Shopping Mall during Ramadan" introduces an important theme that carries through several chapters in the book—the relationships between consumerism and religious piety. This chapter focuses on shopping malls in order to analyze the relationship between time and space in constructing meaning through intentional displays of Islamic goods, references to religion in advertisement, and people's engagement of the malls during Ramadan. The analysis of how expressions of Ramadan have shifted from private practice to public spectacle aligns with a larger shift of religious expression in Indonesia, and Schmidt offers valuable insight in analyzing specific moments or interactions. The chapter attempts to consider three large luxury malls together with Mal Malioboro, which is essentially an indoor market primarily for visitors to the city, but this lack of specificity makes it difficult to understand the relationships she is trying to draw between her theoretical framework and her evidence. The sixth chapter on Islamic fashion blogs draws similar conclusions, but also suffers from a lack of clear focus on a manageable number of examples.
The next three chapters deal with rock music, self-help books, and film respectively. In each Schmidt provides excellent general [End Page 532] cultural and historical background for understanding the genre and its relationship to Indonesian society before giving focused analysis on a limited number of case studies. These three chapters provide the most...