The Newsletter 89 Summer 2021

IIAS Fellow in the spotlight: Samia Kotele

Samia Kotele

From the quest for religious authority to the development of a new gender theology: the history of female ulema in Indonesia since the 20th century

IIAS Research Cluster: Global Asia
15 Aug 2020 – 15 Aug 2021

My research stay at IIAS has been an outstanding chance to continue my research despite Covid-19 restrictions. Having the opportunity to work in the Special Collections of Leiden University led me to look into the intellectual history of female ulema throughout the 20th century. The access to relevant and indispensable sources like correspondence, press, and manuscripts encouraged me to rethink my approach and methodology while my ethnographic research field in Indonesia was put on hold. Beyond studying the nexus between Islam, gender, and knowledge production in a comparative perspective, this body of sources invited me to place female thought at the core of my study.

Through a study of concepts and ideas, my research aims not only to depict connections between reform and the condition of women, but also aims to understand the constant interactions between everyday life and the reflected life of female ulema in Indonesia. The richness of the sources pushed me to not only focus on moments of historical ruptures, but also to pay attention to the micro-evolutions occurring in various domains such as religion, education, politics and philanthropy, in which female ulema played a public and/or private role. The IIAS fellowship has given me the chance to discuss and widen my perspectives by giving me the tools to decipher the contexts of production and reception of the discourses of pioneer women since the beginning of the 20th century. The extraordinary access of a wide range of sources from a diverse set of geographical locations allowed me to question the exceptionality of the engagement of women, both in the religious field and its contribution to the evolution of ideas through the process of human circulation. Leiden’s vibrant community of researchers keeps inspiring me to enrich my visions and situate the historiographical stakes of this issue at the crossroads of Islamic and Asian studies. This serene and fascinating environment, together with its historical significance, has been an exceptional chance for me to develop my thought. I hope I can continue in the future to contribute to the intellectual and cultural scene.