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Heritage formation and religion in colonial and postcolonial Indonesia and India


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


A focus on exchange is crucial to understand the political dynamics of knowledge and heritage formation in colonial and postcolonial situations, if we wish to understand the various perspectives and local agency involved, at local and global levels. In this research seminar, we will explore how, for the cases of colonial and postcolonial India and Indonesia, and with a special focus on the role of religion in heritage formation and ,vice versa, the role of knowledge production and heritage formation in the makings of religion. Hence we will zoom in on the encounters between scholarly and religious experts, and on their involvements in heritage practices in – and between – Indonesia and India in the twentieth century.

Although our focus will be on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we will also reflect on theorizing on the concept of heritage as an Asian phenomenon before European colonialism. Apart from taking account of the precolonial practice of heritage formation, we will move away from institutional and top-down approaches to the study of the politics of knowledge production on Asia (Orientalism). Hence we will try to gain insight into how and why scholarly and religious knowledge take shape, transform, and influence each other at grass root level. We do so by starting from the sites and objects of heritage formation and religious learning in Asia, and explore histories of their makings, or by following scholarly or religious biographies over time. We question the role of heritage practices in the makings of religion and vice versa. What is the impact of scholarly and religious knowledge production on mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion? What is colonial about colonial knowledge production and heritage formation? Last but not least we aim to understand the impact of decolonization on the study of, and heritage formation of, religion, and vice versa. What are the legacies of colonial heritage formation in postcolonial times? To what extent, how and why does knowledge (and heritage) decolonize or not? And what does ‘decolonization’ mean when we look at histories of scholarly and religious knowledge production and heritage formation at local, inter-Asian and global level? At this point we will also pay attention to the topical debate on the restitution of artefacts kept in collections in the West to formerly colonized countries. What is the role of religion therein?

In the first weeks we will read and discuss relevant theorizing, literature and approaches in the field of postcolonial theory, heritage politics, orientalism, and the study of religion in the region, and focus on case studies of Orientalism and heritage formation with regard to religious sites, objects, ideas and practices. Students will then select topics for further research, taking scholarly biographies, or religious/ sacred sites (and/or site related objects) transforming into heritage as case study.

For this course there will be no entry test.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 2) The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  • 3) The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 4) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 5) The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;

  • 6) The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  • 7) The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  • 8) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 9) The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • 10) (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  • 11) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940);
    -in the subtrack Maritime History also: the development of maritime history from the 16th century onwards; insight into recent issues in the field.
    -in the subtrack Postcolonial and Heritage Studies also: the history and politics of cultural knowledge production and heritage formation (including archives) in colonial and postcolonial situations, at local, transnational and global levels; insight into processes of cultural decolonization, questioning the nature, legacies and (dis-)connections of colonial power structures in present-day societies, regarding culture, heritage politics, Orientalism, museums, collecting etcetera. Understanding heritage in the broadest sense – including archives, museums, historical sites, objects, sites of memory, rituals – as the prism to study these problems.

  • 12) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subtrack in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    -in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective;
    -in the subtrack Maritime History also: comparative research; archive research.
    -in the subtrack Postcolonial and Heritage Studies also: on postcolonial theory, critical heritage studies, and history of science approaches;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student has acquired:

  • 13) Knowledge and understanding of this particular field of colonial and postcolonial history, including processes of cultural decolonization.

  • 14) Insight into the value and limits of comparative, transnational and interdisciplinary approaches for historical research

  • 15) The ability to work with a broad and mobile notion of knowledge, archives and heritage; to analyse, compare and relate forms of knowledge, and processes of heritage formation including archives at multiple locations; and to recognize, question, understand the role of multiple power relations and changing hierarchies, in knowledge production, and in the makings and uses of sites of heritage including archives.

  • 16) to acquire new critical insight into alternative archival formations and heritage practices, developing in colonial and postcolonial situations, and into their uses for historical research.

  • 17) (ResMA only): The ability to set up and carry out original research that raises new questions, pioneers new approaches and/or points to new directions for future research.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written Final Paper (5500-6000 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-9 (Res MA 1-10); 11-15 (Res MA 11-15, 17)

  • Short historiographic Paper (1200-1500 words)
    measured learning objectives : 1, 4-9; 11-12; 13, 14

  • Oral presentation
    measured learning objectives: 3-5, 7-9, (Res MA 3-5; 7-10)

  • Oral assignment: to present and prepare discussions on the weekly literature
    measured learning objectives: 4,5, 8,9, (Res MA 3-10)


  • Written Paper: 60 %

  • Historiographic Paper 20 %

  • Oral presentation: 10 %

  • Oral assignment: 10 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.

Reading list

Readings will be announced via e-mail and through Brightspace. Requisite reading, ca. 480 pages of literature, available at Leiden University Library.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. dr. Marieke Bloembergen