Ann Kull is a lecturer and post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies, Lund University, from January 2008. She is an islamologist and defended her doctoral dissertation “Piety and Politics: Nurcholish Madjid and His Interpretation of Islam in Modern Indonesia” in November 2005 at the Centre for Theology and Religious Studies, Lund University.
Her research interests concern contemporary interpretations of Islam, their diffusion and role in society development in Indonesia. Special attention is paid to the issue of gender in Islamic educational activities on various levels, from informal courses provided by NGOs to university education. Focus is on how these educational activities raise the awareness of gender among Muslim youth, as well as contribute to an improvement of women’s rights and their position in Indonesian society. Ann Kull also has the ambition to widen her scope of investigation geographically – covering activities in areas such as Kalimantan (Borneo) and Sulawesi – as most research on Indonesian Islam focus on Java.
Ann Kull currently works on two parallel, partly overlapping, projects; Transnational Student Mobility within Higher Islamic Education in South East Asia and Islamic Feminism in Indonesia: Islamic Education and Change of Attitude among Muslim Youth. These projects aim to provide a description and analysis of Islam’s role in the ongoing development of Indonesian society, with specific reference to the potential for certain forms of Islamic interpretation to improve the life-condition of Indonesia’s women. So called Islamic feminist interpretations have gained strength in the country during the last 10 years.
Islamic feminism is here attributed to activities carried out within an Islamic framework in order to empower women. A basic argument in Islamic feminism is the importance of making a distinction between sharia and fiqh. Sharia is God’s revealed law, literally it means “the way”, a way that is sacred, universal and eternal. Fiqh, or jurisprudence, which literally means “understanding”, is a human endeavour and subject to change. According to many Islamic feminists, however, this distinction is often ignored or blurred and patriarchal interpretations of Islam have often led to local variations of gender biased Islamic laws. The problem is not, according to Islamic feminists, the verses in the Qur’an. It is the way these verses have been interpreted by men living in patriarchal societies who wish to maintain their dominance and their superiority and control over women.
In her studies Ann Kull gives primary focus to “women-positive” interpretations of the Qur’an and how these are disseminated through various activities; education at reform-minded institutions for higher Islamic learning (IAINs/UINs), in administration of justice and by various Muslim organizations, NGOs and intellectuals. Fields of special importance are women’s rights, family planning, health for mothers and babies, adolescent reproductive health and HIV/AIDS.
Due to the heavy concentration on Java in research on Islamic developments in Indonesia, these studies stress the importance of highlighting ongoing processes in the outer provinces. Especially research and educational activities at Centre for Women Studies at various IAIN/UIN, but also endeavours carried out by NGOs and independent activists.
Material is gathered through periods of fieldwork and in cooperation with Indonesian researchers. It consists of written materials such as books, articles, journals, pamphlets and materials used in education, but also interviews and documentation of activities. This “double-method” of combining text analysis with discussions and interviews has been proven well suited to the analysis of a contemporary subject that is undergoing a process of continuous transformation.