'Faith Control and the Politics of Exorcism in Brunei Darussalam'

'Faith Control and the Politics of Exorcism in Brunei Darussalam'

Wednesday, 4 February 2015 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Venue: 
Deakin Room, Founders' Building, St Antony's College
Speaker(s): 
Dominik Müller (Goethe-University, Oxford)
Chair: 
Dr Matthew J Walton
Convenor: 
Dr Matthew J Walton
Series: 
Southeast Asia Seminar

Brunei Darussalam is the only Southeast Asian country that has unambiguously defined itself as an “Islamic State” since Independence. In the absence of democratic institutions or an influential civil society, the Islamic bureaucracy has become the Sultanate’s most powerful political actor outside the royal family. In its “advisory” role to the Sultan, the government’s clergy has institutionalized a monolithic, legalistic understanding of Islam as the only acceptable Muslim truth, strengthened by sophisticated indoctrination mechanisms, material incentives and the threat of harsh sanctions. Since the late 1980s, several government institutions, such as the “Faith Control Section” (Bahagian Kawalan Aqidah), have pursued various strategies to “purify” Islamic beliefs and practices in the country. Historically, Brunei has been ahead of the regional trend of criminalizing alternative interpretations of Islam, a phenomenon that is presently causing concern in Malaysia and Indonesia. In addition, certain cultural traditions have become outlawed and socially marginalized, including the practices of traditional Malay shamans and healers (bomoh).

My presentation will first outline how Brunei’s “faith control” policies have evolved in recent years, and how the legal framework for prosecuting religious “deviance” has changed following the internationally much-criticized implementation of the Shariah Penal Code Order in 2014. Based on anthropological fieldwork and primary sources, I will then illustrate some of the bureaucracy’s efforts of “purifying” Islam, and explain how they are discursively embedded. Finally, I will examine and theoretically interrogate how “deviant”-declared activities are nevertheless practiced, either concealed as everyday practices of resistance, or creatively reframed in “Islamic” terms and controlled by government institutions.

Dominik Müller studied Anthropology, Law and Philosophy at Goethe-University Frankfurt and Leiden University, and obtained his Ph.D. summa cum laude from Frankfurt in 2012. At his home institution in Frankfurt, the Cluster of Excellence “Formation of Normative Orders”, Müller is a post-doctoral researcher. He held a DAAD-Fellowship at Stanford University in 2013 and was recently a visiting scholar at the University of Brunei Darussalam. He also did research for the Jakarta-based Human Rights Resource Centre and the German government’s Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in 2014. His articles have been published by South East Asia Research (2010), Paideuma (2013), Asian Survey (forthcoming), and Indonesia and the Malay World (forthcoming). Müller’s thesis, entitled Islam, Politics and Youth in Malaysia: The Pop-Islamist Reinvention of PAS, received the award for Germany’s best anthropological dissertation of 2012 and was published by Routledge in 2014.