Thu 11 Dec 2014 | PhD defense of Maryse Kruithof | "Shouting in a desert" | Erasmus University Rotterdam

On Thursday 11 December NISIS PhD candidate at the Erasmus school of History, Culture and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Maryse Kruithof, defended her dissertation 'Shouting in a desert: Dutch missionary encounters with Javanese Islam, 1850-1920." at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Missionary encounters with Islam and the failed conversion of Javanese Muslims (1850-1920)

Kruithof’s PhD-thesis focuses on the developments in six different Christian mission districts during the initial period of the organized mission on Java in the period 1850 to 1920. It aims to produce a history of the Dutch missionary encounter with various local religious communities on Java. It illuminates both the Dutch and the Javanese dimensions of this religious exchange and it analyzes the missionaries’ reflections upon this encounter and how that influenced their discourse and proselytizing strategies. A comparison is made between the approach and results of Protestant, Catholic and indigenous evangelists.

The Dutch missionaries were surprised to find some indigenous Christian communities when they first arrived in 1848. These communities were founded by native Christian gurus, who had obtained knowledge of Christianity through former contacts with Portuguese and Dutch traders. However, most missionaries were not content with the ‘heretical’ beliefs and practices that were taught in these local Christian communities and a division arose between the ‘orthodox’ European Christian communities (Kristen Londo) and the ‘traditional’ Javanese Christian communities (Kristen Jowo). However, the indigenous Christian communities proved more successful in numbers of converts than the Dutch missionary communities. The main reason for this is that the Javanese gurus were better able to connect Christianity to local beliefs.

The distinction between the Kristin Londo and the Kristin Jowo strongly resembled the distinction between the Muslim Putihan and Abangan currents. There were also two separate Muslim currents in the second half of the nineteenth century, due to a reformation process in Javanese Islam. The more or less strictly practicing Muslims; the Putihan, maintained stronger ties with the Middle East and aimed at becoming more modern. They focused more on script and meaning at the expense of ritual. The Abangan held on to their Javanese mystical traditions that were orally transmitted and consequently remained more traditional.

Missionary history proves to be more than the history of Christian propagation in faraway regions in the world. Rather, the history of encounters between different cultures and between different faiths covers the social, cultural and political lives of individuals and communities. Missionary history clarifies processes of cross-cultural contacts and clashes in the colonial world of the nineteenth and early twentieth century; the heydays of (cultural) imperialism. The evangelizing process was in the case of Java not imposed from top to bottom by the colonial state. On the contrary, the religious conversion process was often more like a bargaining game between the missionaries and the local population. By researching the rich collection of missionary ego-documents, such as reports, letters and diaries, with the methods of ‘close reading’ and ‘reading against the grain’, key insight in the daily encounters between the Christian missionaries and the Javanese population will be obtained.

Maryse Kruithof

Maryse Kruithof (1988) acquired both her BA and MA degree at the ESHCC at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. She specialized in non-western history during her Bachelor and continued with this specialization in the Master 'Global History and International Relations'. She completed the Master in September 2010 and graduated on a biography of the Dutch missionary Carel Poensen. Kruithof is currently working on her PhD-dissertation and is funded by NISIS (Netherlands Interuniversity School for Islamic Studies). Since October 2010, Kruithof is a member of the cap-group ‘Non-Western History’ at the ESHCC of the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. She teaches courses on the history of the Non-Western Societies.

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Last Modified: 23-01-2015