Bernard Arps

Ben Arps is Professor of Indonesian and Javanese Language and Culture at Leiden University. He works at the interface of the humanities and humanistic social sciences. What fascinates him most is the roles of language, performance, texts, and media in worldmaking: the ways people and institutions change or try to maintain a reality for themselves and others, or rather a range of intersecting realities. In studying worldmaking Ben Arps has specific interests in historical and current encounters between religious traditions—from global religions, especially Islam, to local, vernacular religiosities—, in the theory and methods of philology as applied to performance and new media, in narrativity—that is the quality of being like a story—in song and audio media, and in the theory of area studies.

Geographically and culturally, Ben Arps’s teaching is about Southeast Asia. His research centres on Indonesia and the Malay world, with a core interest in Java and its diasporas.

Ben Arps publishes in these fields, and he has directed collaborative research and teaching projects in some of them. He has supervised dissertations at doctoral, Master’s, and Bachelor’s level in Indonesian, Malay, Singapore, Cambodian, and Thai studies, as well as a range of Indonesian ‘regional’ cultures and languages, past and contemporary (Javanese, Sundanese, Betawi, Balinese, Sasak, Mentawai, Minangkabau), covering such fields as religion, performance, media, literature, sociolinguistics, lexicography, and education. He has edited a number of periodicals and book series, lectures widely, and (with others) regularly organizes scholarly meetings.

Since 1979 Ben Arps has conducted over four years of fieldwork in Indonesia, principally in Surakarta and Yogyakarta in central Java, Banyuwangi on the eastern tip of the island, and Cilacap on the south coast.

The book projects Ben Arps is currently working on concern the use of the Quest narrative pattern across religious traditions and ideologies (the case study being the story of Dewa Ruci), the roles of media, performance, and religion in the sociopolitical formation of languages (illustrated by the case of Osing in Banyuwangi), and the Asian Muslim epic of Amir Hamza.

Ben Arps is attached to the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS), where he teaches primarily in the BA programme in South and Southeast Asian Studies, the BA in International Studies, and the MA programme in Asian Studies. He was chair of the former Department of Languages and Cultures of Southeast Asia and Oceania in 1995, 1999/2000, 2003–2006, and 2008. Before coming to Leiden in 1993 he lectured in Indonesian and Javanese at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (1988–1993). He has held visiting research fellowships and professorships in the Netherlands (NIAS 2001/02), Australia (ANU 2005), the USA (Michigan 2006/07), Singapore (ARI and NUS 2011/12), Indonesia (UNS 2017), and Israel (IIAS 2018/19).

Ben Arps

Ben Arps (right) studying with Buhari (deceased 2002)
in Kemiren, Banyuwangi, January 1997
(Photo courtesy Marrik Bellen)

Last updated: 3 October 2019