Achieving Islam: Gender, Piety, and Education in Indonesian Muslim Boarding Schools
Claire-Marie Hefner

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Emory University

Primary Discipline

This dissertation is a comparative study of moral education and gendered subject formation in two nationally-renowned Islamic boarding schools for girls in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Building on twenty-one months of research, the dissertation examines how young Muslim women learn and engage what it means to be proper, pious, educated, and modern. The study explores the process of religious subject formation, not by privileging just the perspective of institutions, administrators, and teachers, but by examining the educational process from the perspective of female students. Research methods included observations of classrooms and extracurricular activities as well as dormitories, leisure outings off school grounds, and home-visits with families. Semi-structured interviews and life histories were conducted with students, parents, teachers, and administrators; methods also included a multivariate survey of students’ socio-economic and educational backgrounds and their career and family aspirations. Findings show that while piety and morality are central to student concerns, the schooling process is mediating new and plural understandings of what is desirable and respectable, and what career avenues are most fitting for religious and personal fulfillment. Although state and national curriculum are integral to the schooling process, issues of moral authority and legitimacy are gently renegotiated on and off school grounds in a manner that involves ordinary lay Muslims as well as religious and secular authorities. This imbrication of received and new gender ideals remains a point of contention and debate among Indonesia’s varied Islamic movements. But women’s understandings of their roles have today become an ethical force in their own right.
About Claire-Marie Hefner
Claire-Marie Hefner is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at Emory University. She has a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology and Southeast Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her long-term research interests lie in the anthropological study of Islam, education, morality, gender, and sexuality in the context of the world’s largest Muslim majority nation, Indonesia. Her dissertation engages contemporary theories in the anthropology of education, ethical subject formation, and Islam. Pre-field and dissertation field research for this project were made possible by the NSF-Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, respectively.

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