Bernard Arps


Ben Arps is Professor of Indonesian and Javanese Language and Culture at Leiden University. His greatest intellectual curiosity concerns social and political processes in which language plays a formative role, or, put differently, the question of how language is made to work in the world. In his teaching and research so far he has focused on four fields of this kind: religion, promotion and propaganda, the politics of culture, and the constitution of language itself. He derive his theoretical inspiration from linguistic anthropology and devotes special attention to media and performance.

Ben Arps publishes and teaches in these fields, and he has directed collaborative teaching and research projects in some of them. He has supervised dissertations at doctoral, Master’s, and Bachelor’s level in Javanese, Malay, Sundanese, Betawi, Balinese, Sasak, Indonesian, and Thai studies, covering such fields as sociolinguistics, performance, the music industry, radio, television, film, literature, lexicography, and education. He also has edited a number of periodicals and book series, has lectured widely, and has organized (with others) several 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 specific ethnographic projects Ben Arps is currently working on concern the affordances of the Quest narrative pattern across religions (the case study being the story of Dewa Ruci), the realism of shadow puppetry, and the impact of media and performance on the forms and functions of language (illustrated by the case of Osing in Banyuwangi). Each of these projects will result in a book.

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, and the MA programmes 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 been a Fellow-in-Residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (2001/02), a Visiting Fellow in the Faculty of Asian Studies and the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University (2005), the Netherlands Visiting Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan (2006/07), and a Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the Religion and Globalization in Asia cluster of the Asia Research Institute and an Isaac Manasseh Meyer Fellow in the Department of Malay Studies, both at the National University of Singapore (2011/12).

Ben Arps

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




Last updated: 1 March 2013