Anthropology of Civilization: Personal Reflections on Anthropological Approach in the Study of Muslim Societies in Southeast Asia

Mitsuo Nakamura


After pursuing a long academic career as an anthropologist, this article provides my (Mitsuo Nakamura’s) personal academic reflection of how my anthropological approach differs from Geertzian paradigm, why anthropology and Islamic studies should be bridged, and what implications of the conversation between Islamic studies, anthropology, and other social sciences are. By answering the above questions, this reflective article sheds a new light on the relationship between anthropology and Islam and Muslim studies in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia. The anthropological studies of Muslims in Southeast Asia that have been heavily influenced by Clifford Geertz through his work, The Religion of Java (1960), are engaged critically in this article. If Geertz and his students pay a more attention to Little Tradition (local culture and practices) and avoid Great Tradition (e.g. religious concepts and teachings), my anthropological approach argues for the importance of incorporating Great Tradition, which is Islamic Studies in the case of Muslim studies in Southeast Asia, in the study of anthropology and vice versa.


Anthropology, Islamic Studies, Geertz, Indonesia, Muslim, Southeast Asia

Full Text:



Abdullah, M. A. 2011. “Urgensi Pendekatan Antropologi untuk Studi Agama dan Studi Islam”. Retrieved on [January 14, 2011] from :

Andaya, B. W. & Leonard, Y. A. 2001. A History of Malaysia. London Palgrave Macmillan, 2nd Edition.

Azra, A., Dina, A. & Robert, W. H. 2007. Pesantren and Madrasa: MuslimSchools and National Ideals in Indonesia.

Bowen, J. R. 1993. Muslims through Discourse: Religion and Ritual in Gayo Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Braginsky, V. 2004. The Heritage of Traditional Malay Literature: A Historical Survey of Genres,Writings and Literary Views. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Bruinessen, M. V. 1990. Kitab Kuning: Books in Arabic Script Used in the Pesantren Milieu. BKI 146:226-69.

Eickelman, D. F. 1982. The Study of Islam in Local Contexts. Contributions to Asian Studies 17:1-16.

Eickelman, D. F. 1985. Knowledge and Power in Morocco: The Education of a TwentiethCentury Notable. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Geertz, H. 1960. The Javanese Family: A Study of Kinship and Socialization. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hefner, R. W. 1985. Hindu Javanese: Tengger Tradition and Islam.Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hefner, R. W. 2011. Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

King, V. T. 2003. The Modern Anthropology of Southeast Asia: An Introduction. New York: Routledge Curzon.

Kushimoto, H. 2011. Islam and Modern School Education in Journal Pengasuh: Review of Kaum Muda - Kaum Tua Dichotomhy. Study Islamica, 19(2), pp. 3-44.

Laffan, M. 2011. Islamic Nationhood and Colonial Indonesia: The Umma Below the Winds. London: Routledge Curzon.

Malinowski, B. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: George Routledge and Sons.

Nakamura, M. 1983. The Crescent Arises Over the Banyan Tree: A Study of Muhammadiyah Movement in a Central Javanese Town. Yogyakarta: Gadjah Mada University Press.

Nakamura, H. 1983. Divorce in Java: A Study of the Dissolution of Marriage among Javanese Muslims. Yogyakarta: Gadjah Mada University Press.

Peacock, J. L. 1978. Muslim Puritans: Reformist Psychology in Southeast Asian Islam. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Redfield, R. 1956. Peasant Society and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Riddell, P. G. 2001. Islam and the Malay-Indonesian World: Transmission and Response. London: Horizon Books.

Roff, W. R. 1985. Islam Obscured? Some Reflections on Studies of Islam and Society in Southeast Asia. Archipel 29, I:7-34.

Woodward, M. 1989. Islam in Java: Normative Piety and Mysticism in the Sultanate of Yogyakarya. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.


Article Metrics

Abstract view : 157 times
PDF - 12 times


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2021 Afkaruna: Indonesian Interdisciplinary Journal of Islamic Studies

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Afkaruna: Indonesian Interdiciplinary Journal of Islamic Studies indexed by: