Council on Anthropology and Education
Oral Presentation Session
Anthropological studies of education and gender have demonstrated the “mixed effects of schooling” (Adely 2004), how access to education and new opportunities can be both “regulatory and emancipatory” (Najmabadi 1998). In this context, this paper analyzes the role of fun and freedom in the moral learning of young women students in two Indonesian Islamic boarding schools. In the anthropology of Islam and of morality, scholarship in recent years has shifted from prioritizing the centrality of the role of Islam in the ethical flourishing of Muslims to a call for a deeper consideration of the diverse discourses in which Muslims engage. A central debate about Islamic ethical subject formation has centered on the assumed tension between Islam and freedom. In this paper, I examine the emphasis placed on fun and freedom in two Islamic boarding schools. I turn then to young women students' decisions about television viewing and dress to illustrate both the flexibility and fixity of moral values and evaluation in girls’ lives. I argue anthropologists of morality and Islam should take seriously moments of fun as important instances for ‘moral ludens’ or ‘moral play’—the testing, shifting, and reshaping of the boundaries of moral behaviors that involves balancing the demands of the various social fields and larger ethical community in which a person is embedded. I suggest that these moments be viewed not as ruptures or instances of hypocrisy but as everyday occurrences of embedded agency in the lives of piety-minded individuals.