My talk: ‘Dakwah at the Cinema: Identifying Indonesia’s ‘Islamic’ film as a genre’

On Tuesday, 19th February 2012, I will be presenting a seminar on my PhD research as part of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies Seminar Series (abstract below). Religion in film is a relatively new and under-explored branch of (principally) film, cultural and area studies. Currently, the study of religious representations in cinema goes down two broad paths: a theology-based (and therefore mostly Christian) analysis and the other approaches national cinema as industry and cultural product and interested in how representations of religion in cinema are embedded in a country’s culture and history. With regard to scholarship in the English language, religion in non-Western films tends to be studied in the latter approach and lacking the inclination of going down the route of Grand Theory. A theological approach to religion in film not only looks at ‘obvious’ depictions of Jesus and biblical epics, but also the theological and spiritual significance in non-religious Hollywood/European films. My research is about Indonesian cinema and its religious representations as a product of an industry and specific historical and socioeconomic events. There is some theory of course, but paradoxically a broad Bordwellian meta theory that small theories can be cobbled together in a ‘piecemeal’, coherent way.

Dakwah at the Cinema: Identifying Indonesia’s ‘Islamic’ film as a genre

Alicia Izharuddin, Centre for Gender Studies, SOAS

Date: 19th February 2012, Time: 5.45-7pm

Venue: B102, Brunei Gallery

Films with Islamic themes became de rigueur in post-1998 Indonesia and particularly after the success of the pro-polygamy film Ayat-ayat Cinta (Verses of Love) in 2008. Many of such films are noted to be more than just fodder for entertainment and profit but a soapbox for film-makers. Since Ayat-ayat Cinta, films about religious pluralism, terrorism, and female emancipation have become part of the circuit of intense debates about the freedoms of artistic and religious expression in Indonesia. This talk examines the characteristics of the genre, its political and economic context and its transcoded themes. It will also discuss the role of dakwah or Islamic preaching in popular culture. Although an important concept in the making and promotion of ‘Islamic’ films in Indonesia, dakwah appears subordinate to the poetics of the local cinematic marketplace and ‘pop Islam’. On a much broader level, the talk will contribute to debates about what is considered sacred and the profane, worship and entertainment, and the meaning of ‘religion’ itself.

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