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Visiting Scholars: An Exchange of Culture

Indonesian culture and thought celebrated at Holy Cross

By Allison Chisolm

Rev. Justin Sudarminta, S.J.The wealth of Indonesian culture and the perspective of a minority religious leader have enriched the classrooms and performance spaces at Holy Cross recently. A leading vocalist, dancer and one of her country’s few female composers and gamelan performers, Desak Made Suarti Laksmi is the new Henry R. Luce Professor of Balinese Music, Theatre and Dance. And the first International Jesuit Scholar, Rev. Justin Sudarminta, S.J., has been on campus for a semester’s leave from his duties as rector and lecturer of philosophy at the Driyarkara School of Philosophy in Jakarta.

Their arrival signals a deeper interest in Asian studies, particularly Indonesian culture, at Holy Cross. Desak taught a Balinese dance class at the College during her first visit to the United States in 1993. A Fulbright scholar in residence, I Nyoman Cerita, brought gamelan music to the campus in 1997 with a borrowed orchestra. Purchasing its own gamelan in 1999, Holy Cross now ranks among an elite minority of schools with gamelan programs. The College is, perhaps, unique in numbering among its faculty a full-time professor in residence from Bali.

The Luce professorship is one of only 12 awarded to liberal arts colleges in the United States. While Desak will stay only four years, the College is committed to continuing the position through two-year rotations of other artists from STSI, the National College of Performing Arts, in Denpasar, Bali. The visiting faculty who come to Holy Cross will provide students with unparalleled opportunities to explore Indonesian music and dance. At the same time, the program allows Balinese artists to teach in the American educational context and take what they learn about new pedagogical approaches back to Bali.

The International Jesuit Scholar program, designed by Stephen C. Ainlay, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the College, and Rev. Anthony Kuzniewski, S.J., professor of history and rector of the Holy Cross Jesuit community, is intended to expand the international dimension of Holy Cross’ Jesuit presence; provide a fruitful sabbatical experience for visiting scholars; and better connect Holy Cross with the global church. The program was supported by a generous gift from the Holy Cross Jesuit community.

Last spring, the College forged a relationship with Universitas Sanata Dharma, a Jesuit college in Yogyakarta, Central Java. Eventually, Holy Cross students will stay with local host families for a semester, attend immersion courses in Indonesian, and complete research in sociology and anthropology. This spring, Professor Judith Chubb, from Holy Cross’ political science department, and Professor Susan Rodgers, from the sociology and anthropology department, are teaching courses at Sanata Dharma, further strengthening the relationship between the two institutions.

The largest country in Southeast Asia and the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia is an archipelago of more than 13,000 islands, 7,000 of which are inhabited; the 210 million inhabitants of the country collectively speak more 100 languages. Formerly the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia declared its independence in 1945; the Dutch, however, did not relinquish its former colony until 1949. According to Fr. Sudarminta, while Indonesia remains a global crossroad, Christians today are still seen as allies of the Dutch, not supporters of the Muslim majority and the nation’s interests. He explains that the Catholic Church has maintained a traditional presence in establishing Indonesian schools and medical facilities.

Allison Chisolm is a free-lance journalist from Worcester.


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