Islamizing Intimacies: Youth, Sexuality, and Gender in Contemporary Indonesia

Paperback: $28.00
ISBN-13: 9780824884253
Published: March 2020
Hardback: $68.00
ISBN-13: 9780824878030
Published: March 2019

Additional Information

262 pages | 9 b&w illustrations
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  • About the Book
  • One of the great transformations presently sweeping the Muslim world involves not just political and economic change but the reshaping of young Muslims’ styles of romance, courtship, and marriage. Nancy J. Smith-Hefner takes up the personal lives and sexual attitudes of educated Muslim Javanese youth in the city of Yogyakarta to explore the dramatic social and ethical changes taking place in Indonesian society. Drawing on more than 250 interviews over a fifteen-year period, her vivid, well-crafted ethnography is full of insights into the real-life struggles of young Muslims and framed by a deep understanding of Indonesia’s wider debates on gender and youth culture.

    The changes among Muslim youth reflect an ongoing if at times unsteady attempt to balance varied ideals, ethical concerns, and aspirations. On the one hand, growing numbers of young people show a deep and pervasive desire for a more active role in their Islamic faith. On the other, even as they seek a more self-conscious and scripture-based profession of faith, many educated youth aspire to personal relationships similar to those seen among youth elsewhere—a greater measure of informality, openness, and intimacy than was typical for their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Young women in particular seek freedom for self-expression, employment, and social fulfillment outside of the home. Smith-Hefner pays particular attention to their shifting roles and perspectives because it is young women who have been most dramatically affected by the upheavals transforming this Muslim-majority country. Although deeply personal, the changing aspirations of young Muslims have immense implications for social and public life throughout Indonesia.

    The fruit of a longitudinal study begun shortly after the fall of the authoritarian New Order government and the return to democracy in 1998–1999, the book reflects Smith-Hefner’s nearly forty years of anthropological engagement with the island of Java and her continuing exploration into what it means to be both “modern” and Muslim. The culture of the new Muslim youth, the author shows, through all its nuances and variations, reflects the inexorable abandonment of traditions and practices deemed incompatible with authentic Islam and an ongoing and profound Islamization of intimacies.

  • Contributors
    • Nancy J. Smith-Hefner is associate professor of anthropology at Boston University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • Nancy Smith-Hefner’s much anticipated volume provides rich empirical data and incisive analyses of gender, sexuality, courtship, and marriage among youth in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation. Drawing on long-term ethnographic research, Islamizing Intimacies sheds valuable light on the ways in which processes of religious transformation and modernity inform the self-understandings, agency, and everyday interactions of Indonesians as ethical and productive citizen-subjects in a vibrant, forward-looking Muslim nation. Readers seeking an ethnographically well-grounded and theoretically sophisticated treatment of the relationship between ethical subject formation and socio-religious change that is relevant both to the Muslim world and far beyond will definitely welcome—and learn much from—this fascinating book.
    • This strikes me as one of the best written, carefully researched, and deeply insightful books I have read about the island of Java, or Indonesia in general, in a very long time. It addresses matters of contemporary theoretical and social importance—Islam, society, gender, and socioeconomic change—but does so with a fresh perspective. Instead of focusing on public politics, Nancy Smith-Hefner examines the relation between Islam, social life, and sociopolitical change by zeroing in on the moments that are experienced most intensely by the people themselves, those involving romance, spousal choice, and social mobility.
    • This book is a masterpiece and a joy to read. The depth and breadth of the author’s knowledge shines through from the first to the last page. Smith-Hefner provides insights about past, present, and future Indonesian debates on gender and youth culture and chronicles the real-life struggles young Indonesian Muslims have with defining their place within the large spectrum called “Islam.” Only someone with a deep knowledge of the relevant theory, Indonesian studies, gender studies, Javanese culture, and Islam can pull off this level of sophistication.