Academic journal article College English

The "Hands of God" at Work: Negotiating between Western and Religious Sponsorship in Indonesia

Academic journal article College English

The "Hands of God" at Work: Negotiating between Western and Religious Sponsorship in Indonesia

Article excerpt

Despite its resurgence in US-based writing studies scholarship, thus far reli- gion has played a very limited role in conversations about global English use in non-US contexts, although important work has been done by A. Suresh Canagarajah, Min-Zhan Lu, Bruce Horner, and others on the intersections between English literacy and non-Western identities and contexts. This article begins this conversation by highlighting data gathered during a ten-month ethnographic project at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), a self-identified "Indonesian, international, inter-religious PhD program" (Introducing ICRS-Yogya 6) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. By exploring the linkages between religion and English at this literacy site, and in particular the ways various actors negotiate the contact zone between Western and religious sponsors, this article emphasizes both the importance of acknowledging religion as a resource in global literate action and the ability global language users have to appropriate and circulate knowledge garnered from English to forward local social change-without sacrificing their religious identities. D

In the US context, scholars such as Michael DePalma, Elizabeth Vander Lei and bonnie kyburz, and Maxine Hairston1 have argued that religious discourse is not necessarily antithetical to academic purposes, and given that other identities are viewed as appropriate sites of inquiry in our classrooms, religion should be too. Inviting religious identities into Western academic discourse is not without its dif- ficulties, however. As Jeffrey Ringer argues in his recent College English article, when students write their religious beliefs into their academic texts, their faith-based identi- ties shift, regardless of whether they are aware of it. To encourage critical awareness of such shifts, Ringer argues that we must help students "see ways in which their beliefs and identities converge and conflict with their arguments and audiences" so that they might "achieve agency and thus make more informed rhetorical choices" (294). Prompting students to critically examine the textual contact zone between religious identity and academic discourse, he implies, might help them negotiate between competing discourses on their own terms.

As Ringer suggests, it is important to acknowledge the implications of students "integrating faith into their academic writing" (292; emphasis added), but we might also flip the script to explore the ways students integrate knowledge garnered from academic literacy into their local communities. As Shari Stenberg argues, "[R]eligious literacies [. . .] are not only deserving of study and reflection, but may in fact serve as a resource for critical projects" (282). By examining critical pedagogist Paulo Friere's work in Brazil and the ways he "refuses to distinguish spirituality from social analysis and critique" (285), Stenberg highlights ways that writers might negotiate between academic literacy and their religious purposes to forward social change in their communities. Taken together, Ringer's and Stenberg's models suggest the possibility of a circulation-based understanding of the writing process that includes both what is brought into the text and what is drawn from the act of composing. A circulation-based approach would acknowledge that identity negotiation occurs not just within the confines of the text, but as religious writers grapple with what to do with knowledge garnered from their composing processes. Just as important, this model would highlight that religion and critical thinking-often positioned as mutu- ally exclusive in US academic institutions-are not necessarily incommensurate, and, when partnered, can in fact lead to progressive, rather than conservative purposes as religious language users engage with the world.

Though this argument may seem necessary to broach with US scholars, when looking to global contexts such as Indonesia, where religion plays a key role in both the academic and civic spheres, it is more obvious that religious identities contribute to literate social action. …

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