Graduate Attributes, Public Reflexivity and Geographies of Islamic Learning

Prof. Julian Millie1

1Monash University, , Australia

In 1975 the Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs announced that the Ministry would thenceforth send students to Western universities, departing from a previous emphasis on Middle Eastern centres of scholarship. Scholarly understandings of this decision generally connect it to contest over the ideological fabric of Indonesian Islam: exclusivist tendencies might be moderated through Western approaches to the study of religion. I argue that ‘graduate attributes’ is a better concept for understanding this policy change. This is indicated in the Minister’s policy announcement of the time: ‘A person’s thought process, which is the most important qualitative element of higher education, has to display a modern, open and critical attitude’. My argument proceeds from the position that graduate attributes underpin government policy, but can only be observed empirically in styles of communication and expression. This paper argues that the comparative meanings of ritual and communicative styles are the foundations of graduate attributes, and these provide a context for understanding the decision to divert bodies away from the Middle-East. I explore the contrasting meanings Indonesians attach to the ritual and communicative styles associated respectively with western universities and Egypt’s Al-Azhar University.


Julian is an Anthropologist specialising in Islamic practice in Indonesia, along with its social and political meanings. His most recent books are ‘Hearing Allah’s Call: Preaching and performance in Indonesian Islam’ (Cornell University Press, 2017) and the edited volume, ‘Hasan Mustapa: Ethnicity and Islam in Indonesia’ (Monash University Publishing, 2017).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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