University of Illinois at Chicago
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Pillars of Faith

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posted on 2021-10-06, 16:16 authored by Al Foe
Colonialist and imperialist fantasies often envision archaeological sites as ruins, evoking abandonment in the popular imagination and a perceived distance from modernity, thus erasing indigenous voices for whom these sites are sacred and/or religious. In my study of 15th-19th century mosques, I find that most Early Modern mosques in Java have been in continuous use since their construction centuries ago. Built by early Muslims who likely existed in dispersed diasporas amongst a backdrop of Hindu-Buddhist political and religious majorities, these early mosques have since been renovated and expanded to fit the needs of their current congregations. However, in most cases, the soko guru––massive teak pillars that form the original foundations of the entire mosque––still stand. While the numerous renovation events offer unique analytical challenges to archaeologists, the “lived” nature of these mosques allow insights into how religious spaces were used centuries ago. This picture was taken at Masjid Agung Sang Cipta Rasa, a 15th century mosque located in Cirebon, West Java, where thousands of people from all over Java still visit every day as pilgrims. This picture, and my research, would not be possible without the generous help of colleagues and friends from the anthropology department at UIC, Universitas Indonesia, and the caretakers of the many mosques we visited together.


This exhibit competition is organized by the University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate College and the University Library.


Publisher Statement

Anthropology; 2nd Place; Copyright 2020, Al Foe. Used with permission. For more information, contact the Graduate College at

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