(This event is organised by MEI’s Political Economy Research Cluster, as part of its quarterly public speakers series.)
Part of a larger project on religious pluralism and the very act of “writing” minority histories in Southeast Asia, in this talk I present some of my findings and reflections on research conducted among Shi’a communities in the region.
Shi’a Muslims have been present in Southeast Asia for centuries, but have consistently remained a minority with alternating fortunes. Illustrating the events that take place during the first ten days of Muharram and on the day of Ashura to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia; analysing their press coverage; and investigating the position of these states on Shi’a Islam; I propose that we should talk of these communities as largely “invisible” to the general population. But what are the implications of this approach on “religious pluralism”?
Does the existence of an invisible minority prevent the very condition of “pluralism,” if this is to be understood as a condition (or process) that entails legitimation and acceptance? Or does this invisibility potentially protect a given group, enabling its survival? Ultimately, what are the social and political implications of pushing a minority into hiding?
About the Speaker
Chiara Formichi is Assistant Professor in Southeast Asian Studies, with a focus on Islam, at the Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University. She received her PhD in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS, London), merging her expertise in Southeast Asian Studies with Arabic and Islamic Studies. Chiara has held fellowships in Indonesia (UIN Syarif Hidayatullah and UGM Yogyakarta), Singapore (Asia Research Institute), and the Netherlands (KITLV).
Chiara’s research addresses different aspects of the history of Islam in Southeast Asia, with a strong interest in inter-Asian connections. Her publications include the monograph Islam and the making of the nation: Kartosuwiryo and political Islam in 20th century Indonesia (2012), and the edited volumes Religious Pluralism, State and Society in Asia (2013) and Shi’ism in Southeast Asia: ‘Alid Piety and Sectarian Constructions (2015). Journal articles on Indonesia Journal (Cornell), Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, and Die Welt des Islams, and book chapters printed by Oxford University Press and Columbia University Press, deal with the relationship between Islam and the state, with a focus on ideas of the Islamic State and modernity, sectarianism, and religious minorities.