Farewell to PIES

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The final event of the PIES program was held on 9 September 2021. Originally, we had planned to hold a farewell PIES alumni workshop and set of book launches in Jakarta in April 2020, but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we to had settle for a zoom event, instead. All the PIES alumni were invited, along with their former supervisors, selection committee members, and others who have contributed over the years to the PIES program. The wonderful Ele Williams chaired the event and we were delighted by how many people gave up their time to help us farewell PIES.

As part of the celebration, we launched the book Terobosan Akademik Australia-Indonesia: Refleksi Antropologis dan Sosiologis, containing reflections by PIES alumni on their experiences with the program. We heard from the book’s editor Marzuki Wahid, and the book was officially launched by the founder of the PIES program Professor Emerita Virginia Hooker (Bu Nia).

The PIES farewell event also provided an opportunity for both of us, in our respective roles as PIES academic manager program and director, to say a few words. Sally, who has managed the program since its inception in 2008, spoke of the aims of the program and its success in forging new networks and ways of interaction between academics at Islamic higher education institutions in Indonesia and in Australia. She also spoke of how women and the study of gender have been absolutely integral to the program’s success, with women making up 17 of the 40 alumni, and many of those alumnae continuing to devote their time and energy to advocating for gender justice in Indonesia and beyond.

Greg began by thanking the program’s initiator Bu Nia for her foresight in designing the program and the incredible perseverance she showed in putting together this unique program involving Indonesia’s Ministry of Religion, Australia’s AusAID and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT), and ANU. She shepherded the first cohort through before handing over the reins to Greg in 2010, but has continued her involvement through to today with her customary empathy and good humour that has earned her a special place in the hearts of all of us involved in the program. Greg went on to thank Indonesia’s Ministry of Religion, particularly the Islamic Higher Education Directorate, DIKTIS, for their support with the selection process and help with getting each cohort ready to travel to Canberra. He singled out Pak Amiruddin Kuba, for his long involvement with the program and support to us and the PIES peserta (participants). Greg also thanked DFAT for their funding, continued support, and interest in the program and the research of the PIES peserta. He expressed gratitude to three other institutions and their staff that also played an important role in the success of the program: IALF in Jakarta who provided language and cultural training to all seven cohorts; the Academic Skills and Learning Centre (ASLC) at ANU who we worked with very closely throughout the program; and University House where all the peserta stayed during their time in Canberra.

In terms of people here in Canberra, Greg gave special thanks to all the supervisors over the years: Bu Nia, Emeritus Professor James Fox, Professor Ed Aspinall, Professor Barry Hooker, Professor Emerita Kathryn Robinson, Dr Phillip Winn, Dr Tim Hassall, and Amrih Widodo. He paid tribute to the other members of the PIES team in Canberra: the wonderful Helen McMartin, PIES administrator for the last seven years whose efficiency, sound advice and enthusiasm for her role kept us all on track and sane; and Sally, who has shared so much of the leadership and decision-making responsibilities with him, in addition to providing dedicated and insightful academic guidance to all the PIES alumni.  PIES could never have enjoyed the success it has without the remarkable work of both women.  Greg finished by thanking those who have contributed most to the success of the PIES program, the peserta themselves. Greg spoke of how much we have learnt from the peserta over the years and how happy we have been to get to know each of them on a personal level, as well as learn from their research and knowledge. The PIES peserta are not just alumni, he said, but also colleagues and friends, and the bonds that have developed between us all will surely continue into the future. May the ‘keluarga besar PIES’ (PIES extended family) live on for many years to come!

 

Next on the program, we heard from representatives of each cohort who spoke on behalf of their groups about what PIES has meant to them. Thank you to all who spoke; we appreciate your words, thoughts, and hopes of future collaboration and continued engagement.

 

We then asked Pak Jim Fox to say a few words. Pak Jim has been a stalwart of the PIES program, supervising students in every cohort, coming along to every PIES event or seminar, and engaging with all the peserta on a personal, as well as academic, level. He is a legend among the peserta and has been one of the most vocal supporters of the program and its importance. Pak Jim spoke of the PIES program as both bearing fruit (berbuah) and planting the seed (berbibit), because teaching involves passing on the knowledge one has learnt to each successive generation. He also wanted to stress to the PIES peserta that although they form an angkatan themselves, they are part of a longer tradition, of a generation of Islamic scholars from Indonesia who have come to ANU, beginning with Kyai Zamakhsyari Dhofier who was awarded his doctorate in 1980. Indonesia, Pak Jim went on to say, has become the centre of gravity of Islamic learning, creating an intellectual ferment with all the challenges and conflict associated with such a climate. The peserta PIES, he continued, are all participants in this ferment, and history will judge them for how they contribute to it, so it is their responsibility to continue to work and carry on the traditions of learning they had begun to develop at ANU. Pak Jim finished up with a heartfelt plea to the peserta PIES to stay in contact, because ‘We are not yet finished: we will continue.’

 

Finally, we asked Allaster Cox to give his perspective on the PIES program. Allaster was involved with the peserta PIES and program through his role with DFAT; the book from the 2016 cohort was even launched at his residence when he was Deputy Head of Mission in Jakarta. As Greg said when he introduced Allaster, his involvement in the program has epitomised the engagement between officials from DFAT and the PIES program, and his support over the years has been greatly appreciated. Allaster spoke of the importance and indeed uniqueness of the PIES program within the context of Australian government educational programs for Indonesians.  PIES allowed for scholars from both countries with an academic interest in Islam to work closely together and to share their research findings and policy recommendations with Australian officials.  He specifically recalled sitting in roundtable seminars with various PIES cohorts at which many of the stimulating issues in contemporary Islam were discussed.  Allaster also praised Virginia Hooker for her foresight in initiating the program, and also applauded PIES’ role in providing opportunities to female academics who might otherwise not have had the opportunity.  Another strength of the PIES program was the manner in which provided a path for academics from the smaller, more remote Islamic tertiary institutions to have the benefits of study in Australia.  This undoubtedly contributed to the development of these institutions.  Allaster ended by observing that the Terobosan book provided impetus for what should be a longer term process of reflecting on the achievements of the PIES Program and perhaps what future initiatives might be undertaken to continue collaboration between Australian and Indonesian scholars.

Sally White and Greg Fealy

(PIES Academic Manager and PIES Director)

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