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To Know Foreign Tongues, Ask the Polygot: Sundanese Visions of Linguistic Difference on the Eve of Dutch Colonialism, 2002-03

Benjamin G. Zimmer's Postdoctoral Fellowship focused on finding new ways to conceptualize the discursive networks of Muslim Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

He particularly focused on understanding the various methods by which Muslim communities around Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean have localized Arabo-Islamic systems of knowledge according to culturally and historically contingent modes of vernacularization, translation, and interpretation.

While at UCLA, Zimmer taught an upper-level undergraduate seminar in the Anthropology Department titled "Discourses of Indonesian Islam," which was a survey of anthropological literature on Indonesian Islamic communities. This course attracted 25 students, primarily undergraduate Anthropology majors. During the semester, current events ended up shaping class discussions such as the October 2002 Bali bombings. Students followed news reports and examined representations of Indonesian Islam as portrayed by US media outlets at the time.

Zimmer was also able to develop several conference papers and articles reflecting his expanded research themes. Some of the titles included were:

  • Carving the Indies: Early Linguistic Cartography from the Dutch Homeland to Colonial Java"
    presented for an invited session at the Annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association in New Orleans, LA, November 2002.
  • Trans-Missions: Reinscribing Proselytic Narratives in the Islamic Boarding Schools of West Java, Indonesia
    given at the joint meetings of the Society for the Anthropology of Religion/American Ethnological Society in Providence, RI, April 2003.
  • Performing the Limits of Translation: Qur'anic Vernacularization in West Java, Indonesia
    presented for an invited lecture for the Dept. of Anthropology at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY also in April 2003.

The UCLA Ford residency afforded Zimmer the opportunity to work with colleagues affiliated with UCLA's International Institute and Department of Anthropology. Activities included a presentation on Islam in Indonesia for high-school and middle-school teachers, as part of the two-week summer institute on "Islam in the Contemporary World" sponsored by the International Institute . At the request of Prof. Leonard Binder of the Gustav E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies, UCLA, Zimmer lectured on contemporary Islamic politics in Indonesia as part of the Seminar on Islam and the Political Regime. In the Department of Anthropology, Zimmer regularly participated in the meetings of the Discourse Lab, organized by the linguistic anthropologists Alessandro Duranti and Elinor Ochs.

After his residency, Zimmer was hired at Kenyon College as a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. His teaching load included courses in cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and the anthropology of religion.

Benjamin Zimmer received his Ph.D. in Linguistic Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2002. He wrote his dissertation on "Reshaping Sunda: Language, Territory, and the Sociopolitics of Difference in West Java, Indonesia."

Center for Southeast Asian Studies