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Indonesia: Arts, Religion and Social Change (SIT)


Todd Heidt

Director, Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401-4999



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This SIT program, based in Bali, blends study of contemporary culture and politics with rich cultural traditions in the arts and religion. Students will examine the arts and religions of Indonesia, as well as the socio-religious and other current issues the country faces, including those related to land, water, ethnic identity, and the environment, especially as they relate to the tourism industry in Bali. Students will be immersed in the traditions and contemporary interpretations of Hindu and Islamic religious and cultural practices in the context of political transformation and tourism development. Major topics of study will include:

  • The dynamic ways in which Balinese traditional arts, social networks, and the environment are changing, in conjunction with the opportunities and pressures of globalization.
  • Current debates on the future of Balinese culture and society in relation to increased development and international tourism
  • The ancient roots of Javanese and Balinese culture and the history of the republican movement that led to the formation of modern Indonesia
  • How religion, society, and the arts have developed side by side on each island

Students experience homestays in Kerambitan, near the program's classrooms for the majority of their time in Bali, in Yogyakarta, Java, for ten days, and in rural Tabanon for four or five nights. Tabanan is known for its beautiful rice terraces, black sand beaches, temples, and distinctive art forms. In 2010, UNESCO officially recognized Subak Jatiluwih, the terraced rice fields, as a World Heritage site. The program center is in an ancient palace known as Puri Saren Kangin. Students will visit temples, museums and farms. Field-based activities are central to the program. The program includes a three-week stay in Java, where Indonesian peers will participate with students in program activities such as interfaith dialogues and intercultural social events. Local students from Udayana and Warmedewa universities participate in the village excursion to Tabanan. Indonesian students also partner with SIT peers in join field-study assignments to conduct interviews and gain primary data for an analytical paper.

Coursework in the program focuses on the connection between contemporary Indonesian society, politics, and economy with the historical traditions apparent in everyday life - urban, village, or rural. Coursework offers historical context for Bali, especially regarding the late influence of Dutch colonialism, and Bali's unique form of Hinduism.  Coursework also aims to assist students in understanding the personal and social orientations in the background of Balinese life. These include the relationship between the self and the geophysical world, social relationships, and the relationship to the calendar that determines rituals, an important part of Balinese life. Students examine how the arts fit into these patterns. They explore the deep-seated Balinese notion of constant interplay between physical/visible reality and a metaphysical/nonvisible world of energies, an interplay that often requires ritual or healing interventions.

Homestays give students a special window into the values, lives, and activities of Hindu Balinese and Muslim Javanese societies and provide additional context for language and thematic coursework. Balinese families typically live in 'house-yards,' family compounds that consist of a variety of buildings with open space between. Students will discover the details of the Balinese home, including the role of the family shrine, the living quarters, and spaces for rituals or special guests. Japanese Muslim families typically live in one building, and all the activities are carried out in that house. The primary homestay is in the village of Kerambitan, a short walk from the program's classrooms.

The last month of the program is dedicated to primary research on an Independent Study Project (ISP) on a selected topic. Student ISPs on this program have been widely varied over the years, and include projects based on arts practica and the social sciences. Sample topics:

  • Balinese rural women's reproductive health issues
  • Local responses to illegal land use
  • Street art and youth culture
  • The ritual significance of gamelan music and Balinese dance
  • The export of Balinese culture via tourism
  • The role of women in contemporary Islamic communities of Java
  • Lfie at Pesantren, an Islamic boarding school

Learn more about the Indonesia: Arts, Religion and Social Change program and other SIT programs.

Credits: 4.5 Knox credits for the fall or spring semester

Advisor: Professor James Thrall

Click here for more information about the application process, program selection, and more!

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Printed on Monday, May 23, 2022