Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2018

Nancy Florida

Professor of Javanese and Islamic Studies, University of Michigan

Living in a Time of Madness: Last Days of Java’s Last Prophetic Prophet 

Shortly before his death in December 1873, the renowned Javanese court poet R.Ng. Ronggawarsita composed a short work of social criticism and Islamic ethics that is among the most celebrated of Javanese literary texts. Often taken as a prophecy, Serat Kalatidha (The Time of Darkness) is, in part, a critical reworking of an early nineteenth-century prophetic reflection on the Javanese past. My paper will explore the troubled context in which the author wrote this twelve-stanza (108-line) poem and how its text forms both a critical commentary on the state of the poet’s current-day society and a pensive reflection on the ethical imperatives of Islam.

Nancy Florida is a historian of colonial and postcolonial Indonesia whose work concerns Javanese and Indonesian history, historiography, and literary studies; Islam in Indonesia; and mass violence and trauma. She has worked extensively with the manuscript literature of Central Java.  With a PhD in Southeast Asian history from Cornell, she is currently a professor of Javanese and Indonesian Studies at the University of Michigan, where she was Chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures 2004-2008 and served as Director of the University’s Islamic Studies Program 2010-12. Her most recent book, Javanese Literature in Surakarta Manuscripts, Vol. 3 (2012), is the third of three volumes detailing the manuscripts in three royal archives in Surakarta, Indonesia. Other representative publications include Writing the Past, Inscribing the Future: History as Prophecy in Colonial Java (1995), “Sex Wars: Writing Gender Relations in Nineteenth-Century Java,” in Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia (1996), “Writing Traditions in Colonial Java: The Question of Islam,” in Cultures of Scholarship (1997), and A Proliferation of Pigs: Specters of Monstrosity in Reformation Indonesia (Public Culture 2008). Florida has been the recipient of two National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships and was awarded the Harry J. Benda Prize of the Association for Asian Studies for her book Writing the Past, Inscribing the Future. In 2012, the Republic of Indonesia presented her with a Special Ambassador Award for her contributions to Indonesian studies.