Southeast Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - Islamic Governance, Ethical Spying and the Paradox Afterlives of "Deviant"-Declared Supernatural Practices in Brunei

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Marriott Balcony A, Mezzanine Level

During the period of post-colonial nation-building since 1984, the government of Brunei has established a state-brand of Islam alongside a “national ideology” called Melayu Islam Beraja (“MIB”, lit. Malay Islamic Monarchy). The Islamic bureaucracy has effectively monopolized the interpretation of Islam, as the state has banned and almost entirely eradicated any alternative space for Islam-related public communication. Simultaneously, Brunei saw the rise of sophisticated disciplining mechanisms and a machinery of knowledge production aiming to instruct citizens how to think and behave properly as “right-guided” MIB subjects. The state’s efforts of formalizing Islamic truth are equally concerned with categorizing, condemning and replacing “false” or “deviant” Muslim practices, groups and ideas – its “constitutive Others” – through various policies, new legislation, education, policing, and the encouragement of an atmosphere of panoptic social control.


My paper will ethnographically investigate some social consequences of the MIB-state’s Islamization policies with reference to (1) the outlawing and social stigmatization of Malay supernatural healers/magicians, and (2) state-surveillance and ethically motivated spying in the field of supposed sorcery and other supernatural practices. 


As we shall see, the Islamic bureaucracy’s attempts for engineering socio-cultural changes have far-reaching effects, but they also result in unexpected forms of popular appropriation. Accordingly, I will illustrate how creative re-significations within the parameters of the MIB-state’s discourses sometimes result in paradox, uneven continuities, rather than a categorical break with the past. This observation that sharply contradicts emic perspectives raises challenging ethical questions for anthropological writing, as does data gathering from institutions and individuals involved in surveillance.

Dominik Müller

Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Not Applicable, Germany

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2 - Islamic Governance, Ethical Spying and the Paradox Afterlives of "Deviant"-Declared Supernatural Practices in Brunei



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