Achieving Islam: Women, Piety, and Moral Education in Indonesian Muslim Boarding Schools Open Access

Hefner, Claire-Marie (2016)

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This dissertation is a comparative study of moral education and ethical subject formation in two nationally renowned Islamic boarding schools for girls in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Building on twenty-one months of ethnographic field research (2011-2013), the dissertation examines how young Muslim women learn and engage with what it means to be pious, educated, and modern. The two schools were selected for their national prominence and educational leadership within the respective mass social welfare organizations of which they are a part: the traditionalist Nahdlatul Ulama (35 million members) and the modernist Muhammadiyah (25 million members). Achieving Islam analyzes the role of "reflective freedom" (Laidlaw 2014)--the ability of actors to stand apart from their actions and turn them into objects of evaluative thought--in the ethical training of young Muslim women at these two schools. As such, this dissertation analyzes the process of religious subject formation not by privileging the perspective of the institutions, administrators, and teachers, but by examining what Jarrett Zigon has called the "fragmented moral world" (2009) in which girls live. It argues that even in a protective, ethically-focused institution like an Islamic boarding school, issues of morality and ethical training do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, they contend with other concerns in girls' lives--from romance to consumption, popular culture to self-presentation. Research methods included observations of classrooms and extracurricular activities as well as dormitories, leisure outings off school grounds, and home visits with families. Semi-structured interviews and life histories were conducted with students, parents, teachers, and administrators; methods also included a multivariate survey of students' socio-economic and educational backgrounds and their career and family aspirations. This study's ethnographic findings demonstrate how the personal and social determination of what the psychiatric anthropologist Arthur Kleinman (2006) has described as "what really matters" - that is, ethical concerns central to one's self-understanding and social aspirations - involves a subtle interaction between school practices, social networks, and the biographies and personalities actors bring to their educational and public socialization. It is this interaction that this research analyzes, in an effort to contribute a more variegated understanding of Islamic education, ethics, and subjectivity.

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