This lecture explores Muslim shrines in the Malay world. Muslim shrines, or keramat as they are known in Malay, are constituted by the gravesites of exceptional individuals and found across the Malay world, understood here as contemporary Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and South Africa. They commemorate people who in their lifetime demonstrated extraordinary acts, skills, knowledge, or piety. The graves could be of historical figures, frequently of diverse and transregional origin, as well as unknown or fantastical individuals. The narratives that circulate about them tell of their miraculous powers. They are sites of popular veneration tied to Muslim societies but have drawn people of diverse faiths. Although they are ubiquitous, they are highly localised. Given their scattered and varied character, is it fair to consider them as a whole? If so, how might we go about it? Could the study of these shrines help us better locate the significance of non-elite histories and popular veneration? This lecture considers these questions as it delves into the politics of history, space, and faith as it unfolds in these sites.
Sumit Mandal is a historian at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus. He obtained his PhD at Columbia University in New York in 1994 and worked at the National University of Malaysia and Humboldt University in Berlin before taking up his current position in 2015. He is interested in the transregional architecture of Asian societies. His research has focused primarily on Muslim societies in the Malay world – in relation to the Indian Ocean – as well as contemporary Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. His publications have appeared in Indonesia and the Malay World, Citizenship Studies, Modern Asian Studies, and other journals. He also co-edited Challenging Authoritarianism in Indonesia and Malaysia (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003) and has written on the author Pramoedya Ananta Toer. His current research focuses on Muslim shrines in the Malay world as inscriptions of history and sacred geography. His book Becoming Arab: Creole Histories and Modern Identity in the Malay World is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.
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This keynote is part of the workshop ‘Unsettling encounters: Scholarly study, religious knowledge, and difficult histories in Asia and the Caribbean‘.