Ethnomusicologist Sumarsam, University Professor of Music, received a Henry Luce Fellowship grant worth $5,000 from the American Institute for Indonesian Studies (AIFIS) in January 2014 for his research on “Expressing and Contesting Java-Islam Encounters in the Performing Arts.”
Since 2001 due to global geo-politics, issues of religion and culture have been highlighted, especially within Muslim cultures that were repositioning in non-normative ways.
“This adjustment, the popular if historically flawed perception of Islam as ‘against performing arts’ has made for significant dialogue about performing arts,” Sumarsam said. “Inserted in a taking its cue from global dialogue between wahabi Islam and westernized global culture in a nation reasserting its own spiritual and national identity in the aftermath of the 1998 ouster of the repressive Suharto regime, this study will focus on the discourse around the performing arts in Java/Indonesia and Islam.”
Sumarsam will focus his research on the use of wayang puppet performances as a proselytizing tool (dakwah) that involves three component tiers of hybridity: Java, Islam, and Western. In this dakwah, the preacher incorporates wayang to reenact stories based on Hindu epics but frames them in the context of Java-Islam. Many of these performances are accompanied not by traditional gamelan music, but by a Western rock band, yet the band performs gamelan compositions, alongside the repertoire of Java-Western popular music.