Webb Keane, George Herbert Mead Collegiate Professor of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Indonesian Muslims have been participating enthusiastically in the global rise of middle class piety. One way to gain insight into contemporary piety is to examine conflicts that might reveal the internal tensions and pressure points to which it is giving rise. Among the more puzzling conflicts for many outside observers to grasp have been those that center on semiotic transgressions. These can be especially important because of the role they play in mediating between subjectivities and the public world. Semiotic transgressions have also become important as sites of conflict within and between secular doctrines of freedom of religion and of expression. This talk focuses on the critical storm stirred up by the Qur’anic renderings produced by a prominent editor and literary critic, H.B. Jassin, during the last decades of the twentieth century. Although unique in many respects, the Jassin affair sheds light on some more general aspects of religious affect, objectification, and ethics.
Webb Keane’s writings cover a range of topics in social and cultural theory and the philosophical foundations of social thought and the human sciences. In particular, he is interested in semiotics and language; material culture; gift exchange, commodities, and money; religion, morality, and ethics; media and public cultures. His first book, Signs of Recognition: Powers and Hazards of Representation in an Indonesian Society is based on two years of fieldwork on the island of Sumba in Indonesia. The second book Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter concerns the impact of Protestantism from colonial mission to postcolonial church. His forthcoming book, Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories will be published by Princeton University Press in 2015.