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Voices of Islam in Southeast Asia is partly the outcome of a trend in the
scholarship on Southeast Asian Islam that has gained momentum from the
mid-1980s onwards: namely, a corrective of the tendency to regard Islam as
a “thin veneer” (as the Dutch historian van Leur had described it) over much
older and supposedly more profound cultural deposits from the Indian subcontinent.
The tremendous influence of the late Clifford Geertz’s characterizations
in his The Religion of Java (University of Chicago Press: 1976 [new
ed.]) only seemed to confirm this. However, a younger generation of American anthropologists, among them John Bowen, Robert Hefner, and Mark
Woodward, explicitly challenged that view when they began publishing
their findings in the 1980s. These writings showed that there was a vibrant
and truly “Islamic” cultural legacy in Indonesia and elsewhere.
The present volume also demonstrates the significance of the Australian
academe’s role in furthering our understanding of Islam in Southeast Asia.
Both editors are associated with the Australian National University
(ANU), one of “Downunder’s” epicentres of Southeast Asian studies. Greg
Fealy is a recognized authority on the Nahdlatul Ulama, the mass organization
uniting more than 20 million of Indonesia’s traditionalist Muslims,
while Virginia Hooker is a leading scholar in the field of Malay-Muslim literature
and history. In fact, the pioneering research of two former ANU academics,
Anthony Johns and his student Peter Riddell, provided important
evidence of the close, long-standing, and sustained contacts of Muslim
scholars from the “Lands below the Winds” with centers of Islamic learning
in the Middle East ...