Call for papers -Spiced Islam and Textual Circulations: India, Indonesia and the Indian Ocean

Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University Jakarta - Wikipedia

Prof. Jajat Burhanuddin and Mahmood Kooria are organizing an international conference at UIN Jakarta in Indonesia on 28-29 November 2022 on Islamic connections between India and Indonesia across the Indian Ocean world. As a first step in what is going to be long-term conversations between colleagues and institutions from both the countries and the broader academia, the inaugural session focuses on textual circulations between both subcontinents. We aim for the event to be a transdisciplinary platform and therefore invite papers from historians, philologists, anthropologists, scholars of religions and regions and others whose research is related to the Islamic interactions between South and Southeast Asia with an emphasis on the role of texts in the socio-cultural transformations.

Please find the Concept Note and Call for Papers below. Please send your abstract before November 01 if you are interested in participating or kindly share it with your colleagues who might this useful. 

Concept Note & Call for Papers

Spiced Islam and Textual Circulations

India, Indonesia and the Indian Ocean

International Conference

28-29 November 2022

Jakarta, Indonesia

Universitas Islam Negeri Jakarta &

Leiden Centre for Indian Ocean Studies


Jajat Burhanudin & Mahmood Kooria

Across the spice routes of the Indian Ocean world, religious and cultural connections between South and Southeast Asia are often told in a unidirectional way. South Asian cultures, religions and polities influenced Southeast Asia, yet the influence of the latter on the former is hardly acknowledged. This is more so in the existing historiography of Islam, one of the most followed religions in both subcontinents.

There are diverse accounts of South Asian Muslim preachers, scholars and merchants arriving in Southeast Asian polities and spreading Islam through different engagements. One dated yet significant trend in historiography thus assigns the origin of Islam in Southeast Asia to the Indian Muslim itinerants, particularly from Gujarat, Bengal, Coromandel and/or Malabar. Some pseudo-historical figures with origins in South Asia provide inputs for related narratives on the expansion and endurance of Islam in the archipelago. Some of these narratives are clearly anachronistic and are hard to be verified on the basis of solid historical evidence. A few fragmentary tombstones and inscriptions do offer concrete evidence for Islamic connections from the thirteenth century onward, as much as they also bestow some potential insights into Southeast Asian influence on South Asia. This dimension is important as the reverse journeys of the same figures or the Malay, Javanese, Makassarese or Acehnese scholars to the Indian subcontinent are yet to be explored in detail.

The Islamic exchanges between both subcontinents intensified at an unprecedented pace through religious and intellectual exchanges from the fifteenth century onward. There was a growing presence of South Asians in Southeast Asia, as much as more and more Southeast Asians arrived in South Asia as travelers, traders, teachers, preachers, pilgrims, exiles, scholars, authors, sailors and soldiers. This movement of people between both subcontinents had implications for the circulation of ideas and features of Islam in both regions. In this conference, we aim to explore such multidirectional peregrinations of Muslims across the Indian Ocean, instead of seeing them in a unidirectional framework. We pay special attention to historical texts, as they provide compact evidence on the intellectual and religious developments through their productions, receptions and circulations.

In the Islamic texts produced in India and Indonesia, we can notice particular disciplinary and intellectual streams that facilitated their mobility through standard forms of legal, mystical, theological and ethical cultures. The Shāfiʿī school of law, Shaṭṭāriya order of Sufism and Ashʿarī school of theology are significant in this regard. In both subcontinents, these doctrinal scaffolds delivered overarching historical frameworks and vocabularies with varying degrees of presence and influence. The Shaṭṭāriya order was followed in the coastal belts of Gujarat, Malabar and Konkan, along with other mystical orders, including Qādiriyya, Naqshabandiyya, and Kāzarūniyya, many of which also found followers in Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi. The Shāfiʿī school dominated the coasts of both subcontinents along with several other parts of the Indian Ocean littoral, with the ideas and texts of the school becoming apparent in scholarly exchanges. The Ashʿarī theology also found substantial following through the texts produced and used in the pedagogical and polemical discourses. These shared vocabularies are evident in the books used and produced in both subcontinents, as we see Indonesian scholars writing commentaries on Indian authors’ texts or Indian teachers utilizing texts produced by Indonesian scholars in the traditional centers of Islamic learning. These textbooks, widely popular in Indonesia as kitab kuning (yellow books), enlighten us on the nuanced engagements of Muslims in both South and Southeast Asia with their religion through the structures of a legal school, a mystical order and a theological creed that they followed.

While these textual corpora provided a universal vocabulary, often adopted from the Middle Eastern circles, the South and Southeast Asian Muslims also found ways to vernacularise their religion through critical commentaries, abridgments, translations, etc. In these vernacularization attempts too, we can see transregional exchanges between people from both regions as, for example, the first Malay text of Islamic law being produced by a Gujarati scholar or an Acehnese scholar producing a mystical text in Arwi (Tamil written in Arabic script). In other words, while the kitab kuning addressed the universal considerations of the Indonesian religious scholars, the so-called kitab malay expressed their attempts to vernacularise the same tradition. The Indian contexts lack such definite categories, yet any close observer can notice similar historical processes in the textual production and reception.

In addition to these predominant disciplinary, scholarly pursuits, scholars in both regions also engaged with similar concerns of ethics, war, peace, conflict, customs, etc. These are evident in diverse chronicles, travel accounts, biographies, polemics and poems produced in both South and Southeast Asia in the royal courts, religious institutions, social gatherings, etc.  Such historical exchanges between both subcontinents have been largely forgotten. Yet, a comparative reading of the historical sources and ethnographic observations of contemporary societies helps us to understand similar intellectual and religious trajectories along the maritime Spice Route. Accordingly, the Islamic texts and their thematic orientations demonstrate the ways in which Indian and Indonesian Muslims interacted with one another knowingly or unknowingly over centuries. The texts produced or used in both regions provided a stepping stone for itinerants to share their understanding of Islam with their hosting communities, future coreligionists and even nascent opponents.

This conference aims to be a stepping stone intended to initiate long-term conversations between colleagues and institutions from both the countries and the broader academia. We welcome a wide range of contributions about the intellectual and textual circulations of religion across the Indian Ocean world. We aim the event to be a transdisciplinary platform and therefore invite papers from historians, philologists, anthropologists, scholars of religions and regions and others whose research is related to the Islamic interactions between South and Southeast Asia with an emphasis on the role of texts in the socio-cultural transformations.

Abstracts of 500 words are due by 01 November 2022 and should be sent to and  The conference does not have a registration fee. The participants are required to make their own arrangements for travel and accommodation. We hope to cover the partial expenses of a few doctoral candidates and early career scholars. If you do require travel grant, please indicate that when you submit the abstract.

We aim to publish an edited volume / special issue of a peer-reviewed journal as an outcome of the event. We encourage those who are interested in publishing to submit their full paper of no more than 10,000 words by 15 December 2022.

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