Modern Muslim Identities

Negotiating Religion and Ethnicity in Malaysia

Gerhard Hoffstaedter

  • Published: 2011
  • Pages: 304 pp.
  • illustrated
  • Series: NIAS Monographs
  • Series number: 119
Available from NIAS Press worldwide
ISBN Hardback: 9788776940805, £50.00
ISBN Paperback: 9788776940812, £22.50

 

  • Explores the relationship between the Malaysian state and its citizens in creating and maintaining fixed identities.
  • Focuses on new modalities of being Muslim in a modern world.
  • Develops the concept of ‘Islamicity’ to make sense of contemporary modern Islamic religiosity that is applicable to a range of modernizing Muslim countries.

 

This book explores a central tension in identity politics – how the state, civil society and people in general may want to create and maintain cultural, religious and social cohesion but paradoxically their practices in everyday life often run counter to this. Malaysia is no exception. Here, a political elite maintains a hegemonic system of control and cultural dominance but must juggle political pressure from Islamic and Malay supremacists on the one hand and moderate civil society groups on the other. The result is a complex interplay of domination, accommodation and negotiation between the state and its citizens.

At the heart of the study is the conjuncture between Malay ethnicity and Islamic faith, hence an examination of the state discourse on ‘civilizational Islam’, but other areas are also examined, including the arts as a contested space where artists and the state vie to shape the nation’s imagination.

At the theoretical level, this book is part of a greater narrative about identity politics. It seeks to reach broader understanding of what Heidegger calls being-in-the-world, or the way we relate to other people and places around us. Thus, this book brings a variety of philosophical theory, anthropological insights and social theory together to present an interesting, in-depth ethnographic exploration of contemporary Malay Muslim identity politics.

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author image not supplied

Gerhard Hoffstaedter is a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Queensland working on religion and the state, international development and refugees.  Previously he was a researcher at La Trobe University.

Gerhard Hoffstaedter is a lecturer in anthropology at the University of Queensland working on religion and the state, international development and refugees.  Previously he was a researcher at La Trobe University. In an interview filmed at the 2010 Euroseas conference in Gothenburg, he discusses the complex issue of Islam and identity in Malaysia and recounts how he became interested in this subject.

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by Kikue Hamayotsu, Northern Illinois University.
From journal:
South East Asia Research, Vol 23, number 2. June 2015

"The book under review takes on the themes of ethnicity and religion in order to gain a better understanding of the formation of identity and religiosity at individual and collective levels."

"The book under review takes on the themes of ethnicity and religion in order to gain a better understanding of the formation of identity and religiosity at individual and collective levels."

by Eric Olmedo
From journal:
Aséanie, no. 31, 2013

Gerhard Hofstædter is a prolific author and this is not his first book on Malaysia and the anthropology of Islam. We can only [highly]recommend the reading of this manuscript for its textual richness and reflective qualities.

Gerhard Hofstædter is a prolific author and this is not his first book on Malaysia and the anthropology of Islam. We can only [highly]recommend the reading of this manuscript for its textual richness and reflective qualities. With this work, Hoffstaedter rises to become one of the most prominent Malaysianists of our time. (Translated from French)

by Timothy P. Daniels, Department of Anthropology, Hofstra University
From journal:
Anthropological Forum, 2013

"Most contemporary anthropologists have used poststructural, postmodern, and symbolic/interpretive understandings of identity and religion to theorise these topics. This book, the product of the author’s multi-sited ethnographic research in Malaysia, is a thoughtful and timely contribution to this theoretical trajectory.

"Most contemporary anthropologists have used poststructural, postmodern, and symbolic/interpretive understandings of identity and religion to theorise these topics. This book, the product of the author’s multi-sited ethnographic research in Malaysia, is a thoughtful and timely contribution to this theoretical trajectory.

It offers new perspectives on the ‘social contract’ between Malays and non-Malays, the roles of nongovernmental organisations, the dynamics of Muslim agency and hegemony, and the potential for cosmopolitan dismantling of Malay and Muslim supremacy."

 

by Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid
From journal:
Anthropos, 108.2013

"[…] Gerhard Hoffstaedter’s “Modern Muslim Identities” […] has to be commended for uninhibitedly bringing out perceptions, observations, and conclusions which would be deemed controversial in Malaysia, and of which researchers reliant on local sources of funds would have consciously eluded."

"[…] Gerhard Hoffstaedter’s “Modern Muslim Identities” […] has to be commended for uninhibitedly bringing out perceptions, observations, and conclusions which would be deemed controversial in Malaysia, and of which researchers reliant on local sources of funds would have consciously eluded."

by Andrew Butcher, Asia New Zealand Foundation
From journal:
New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2, December 2012

"In Modern Muslim Identities, Gerhard Hoffstaedter uses finely crafted vignettes, personal narrative, a vast and impressive range of theoretical perspectives, photos and case studies to discuss how religion (in this case, Islam) and ethnicity (in this case largely, but not exclusively, Malay) are ‘negotiated’ in Malaysia.

"In Modern Muslim Identities, Gerhard Hoffstaedter uses finely crafted vignettes, personal narrative, a vast and impressive range of theoretical perspectives, photos and case studies to discuss how religion (in this case, Islam) and ethnicity (in this case largely, but not exclusively, Malay) are ‘negotiated’ in Malaysia.

… This book is theoretically rich, personally engaging and increasingly relevant, not just for Malaysia, but for all countries with ethnically and religiously pluralist societies."

by Rosila Bee Mohd Hussain, University of Malaya
From journal:
Man and Society, Vol. 22, 2012

"Modern Muslim Identities: Negotiating Religion and Ethnicity in Malaysia is successful in contributing to the debate about changing Muslim identities in Malaysia. The author’s analysis and provoking case studies on Malay- Muslim identities will attract readers in cultural politics and the ideological contestation between state versus federal policies.

"Modern Muslim Identities: Negotiating Religion and Ethnicity in Malaysia is successful in contributing to the debate about changing Muslim identities in Malaysia. The author’s analysis and provoking case studies on Malay- Muslim identities will attract readers in cultural politics and the ideological contestation between state versus federal policies.

…Overall, the book contains wonderful reflections on being an etnographer and manages to capture a moment in time in the respective settings. This book is well worth reading for anyone interested in issues of identity politic, Islamicity, cosmopolitanism and social change."

by Joseph Chinyong Liow, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
From journal:
Pacific Affairs, Vol. 85, Issue 4, December 2012

"Adopting an ethnographic approach of participant observation and careful analysis of social and cultural institutions and practices (such as art and consumption), Gerhard Hoffstaedter attempts to demonstrate that ethnic identity is not a static phenomenon, and that ethnic identification is a dynamic process that entails a complex interplay involving ideology, discourse, piety (or, as Hoff

"Adopting an ethnographic approach of participant observation and careful analysis of social and cultural institutions and practices (such as art and consumption), Gerhard Hoffstaedter attempts to demonstrate that ethnic identity is not a static phenomenon, and that ethnic identification is a dynamic process that entails a complex interplay involving ideology, discourse, piety (or, as Hoffstaedter calls it, “Islamicity”), social structure, and cultural norms. 

Hoffstaedter’s sound scholarship both reinforces these ideas and furthers this discussion by drawing attention to what he calls “systematic modes of exclusion” which he sees operating in Malaysia. For this and other reasons cited above, Modern Muslim Identities is a fine book that deserves a wide readership not only for those who are interested in Malaysia, but more broadly, those seeking a better understanding of the delicate interplay between ethnicity and religion."

by Christine Holike
From journal:
ASIEN, the German Journal of Contemporary Asia, No. 125, October 2012

"Sie verbindet konstruktivistische, materialistische und post-strukturalistische Theorieansätze mit solidem ethnografischen Handwerk, um nicht nur die Herstellungsmodi von Identitätsvorstellungen zu erfassen, sondern auch deren Verwobenheit mit dem Politischen.

"Sie verbindet konstruktivistische, materialistische und post-strukturalistische Theorieansätze mit solidem ethnografischen Handwerk, um nicht nur die Herstellungsmodi von Identitätsvorstellungen zu erfassen, sondern auch deren Verwobenheit mit dem Politischen. In Anbetracht dessen, dass Identität, Politik und Religion in den einzelnen Disziplinen der Sozialwissenschaften bislang genauso selten konsequent  zusammen gedacht werden wie Struktur und Handlungsmacht, stellt Hoffstaedters Herangehensweise eine wertvolle Weiterentwicklung dar."

by Peter G. Riddell, Melbourne School of Theology
From journal:
ASEASUK News, No. 52, Autumn 2012

"This book is a must-read for anyone interested in a variety of topics: Malaysia, multiculturalism and pluralism, Islam and modern society and so forth.  Hoffstaedter is fearless in his assessment, which paints a none-too-rosy picture of the Malaysian state and elites.  But his tone is never hysterical, rather it is reasoned, logical and powerful in its argumentation.

"This book is a must-read for anyone interested in a variety of topics: Malaysia, multiculturalism and pluralism, Islam and modern society and so forth.  Hoffstaedter is fearless in his assessment, which paints a none-too-rosy picture of the Malaysian state and elites.  But his tone is never hysterical, rather it is reasoned, logical and powerful in its argumentation.  His writing style is very accessible, with scholarly observations interspersed with slice of life insights that hold the attention of the reader."

by Meredith L. Weiss
From journal:
Journal of Islamic Studies, 2012, Vol. 23, Issue nr. 3, September 2012

"A provocative and creative effort to make sense of [an ethnic Malay identity that becomes increasingly to be defined in terms of an increasingly monolithic Islam], Hoffstaedter’s account is well worth reading.

"A provocative and creative effort to make sense of [an ethnic Malay identity that becomes increasingly to be defined in terms of an increasingly monolithic Islam], Hoffstaedter’s account is well worth reading.

Hoffstaedter has a real knack for succint, readable theoretical overview, for instance on the ways in which identities are developed, sustained, transformed, and performed.

…an important, bold book."

by Dr Anthony Smith, Victoria University, Wellington
From journal:
New Zealand International Review, Vol. 37, Issue nr. 5, September 2012

"This volume offers a number of fascinating vignettes and personal anecdotes (inclusing the non-Muslim author being variously invited into and thrown out of mosques) in highlighting the path of religious discourse in modern Malaysia."

"This volume offers a number of fascinating vignettes and personal anecdotes (inclusing the non-Muslim author being variously invited into and thrown out of mosques) in highlighting the path of religious discourse in modern Malaysia."

by Mahani Musa, Universiti Sains Malaysia
From journal:
Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society

 "To end what he describes as the tyranny of racial-cum-religious politics that marginalizes other ethnic groups, Hoffstaedter suggests an end to all forms of politicization against both the majority and the minority, allowing all individuals, including Malays, to choose their religion.

 "To end what he describes as the tyranny of racial-cum-religious politics that marginalizes other ethnic groups, Hoffstaedter suggests an end to all forms of politicization against both the majority and the minority, allowing all individuals, including Malays, to choose their religion. In other words, he is suggesting a new social contract between citizens and the state that would provide mechanisms of recognition, tolerance and negotiation for the future. To Hoffstaedter this is the key to move Malaysia beyond a debilitating identity crisis.

The above suggestions may cause uneasiness, especially among the Malays, but this thought-provoking study based on social and anthropological insights certainly contributes to the understanding of processes in the formation of Muslim Malay identities in contemporary Malaysia; how Malay elites have to come to term with the incursions into the political sphere by Islamic and Malay supremacists and from moderate civil groups; and the effect of the interplay on ethnicity and identities in Malaysia. The book is a must read by all, be they academicians, researchers, politicians and Malaysians in general."

by Mustafa K. Anuar, Universiti Sains Malaysia
From journal:
Kajian Malaysia, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2012, pp 139-272

"This book, in which the author has shown his meticulous handling of the finer details, makes a compelling read especially for those concerned with Islam, identity politics, power relations, ethnic relations and democracy in Malaysia."

"This book, in which the author has shown his meticulous handling of the finer details, makes a compelling read especially for those concerned with Islam, identity politics, power relations, ethnic relations and democracy in Malaysia."

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