My name is Richard Fox, and I’m an anthropologist specializing in the historical and ethnographic study of South and Southeast Asian religions, with a special emphasis on media and performance in Indonesia and the wider Malay region. I also have a longstanding interest in the philosophy of the human sciences.
In July 2018 I was appointed Professor and Chair of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.
Before coming to Victoria, I taught for six years at the Institut für Ethnologie, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg, where I was a member of the collaborative research initiative on Material Text Cultures. There I completed the Habilitation in Anthropology. I have also held research and teaching positions at the University of Chicago, Harvard University, Williams College and Universitas Udayana.
Over the years my work has benefited from membership in a number of professional organizations dedicated to supporting our efforts as scholars and teachers. Recognizing both the personal and institutional importance of these organizations, I have tried to make what small contribution I can—by helping to organize events, serving on committees, and more recently taking on various leadership roles. The latter have included chairing the Indonesia and Timor-Leste Studies Committee (ITLSC) at the Association for Asian Studies (AAS). During my tenure as Chair of the ITLSC, I organized and ran a new initiative to develop Timor-Leste studies in North America, with a generous two-year grant from The Henry Luce Foundation. During this period I also served as Co-chair of the Religion in Southeast Asia Group at the American Academy of Religion (AAR). One of my central aims at the AAR was to broaden participation beyond our group’s traditional focus on Buddhism in mainland Southeast Asia, to attract attention to (and so specialists in) Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines—with increased coverage of Islam, Brahmanism, Catholicism, Protestant Christianity, indigenous religions and new religious movements. Meanwhile in Heidelberg I helped to create a new occasional papers series, Heidelberg Ethnology, for which I served as the founding editor. And, following our intensive summer course in Old Javanese, I now moderate Kawi in the World—a Facebook group of some 125 scholars sharing information and materials pertaining to the study of Old Javanese language and literature.
As to doctoral training, I completed a PhD in Anthropology and Religious Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (2002). Prior to this I had taken an MA in Oriental and African Religions (SOAS, 1995), with formal examinations in Sanskrit language, Indian philosophy and Buddhist Studies. My BA was in Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara (1994).
My first book, Critical Reflections on Religion and Media in Contemporary Bali, was published in 2011 in the Numen Series in the History of Religions (Leiden: Brill; see extended review essay in Asian Ethnology; also reviewed in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 2012, 168(4): 522-3). The book examines some of the ways in which Balinese have come to understand themselves as adherents to a modern, state-sanctioned form of Hinduism through practices mediated by text, television and improvisational theatre. A central focus of the book is the interplay between languages — particularly Indonesian, Balinese and Old Javanese, but also Sanskrit and English — and the complex relationship that obtains between linguistic, religious and socio-economic transformation.
More recently I have completed a second monograph on ritual uses of script and writing. Drawing once again on ethnographic and archival research in Bali, the book’s central aim was to challenge conventional understandings of textuality and writing as they pertain to the religious traditions of Southeast Asia. Published by Cornell University Press (2018), it is entitled More Than Words: Transforming Script, Agency and Collective Life in Bali. Further details are available here.
In addition to a pair of edited volumes on Entertainment Media in Indonesia (Routledge 2006, with Mark Hobart) and The Materiality and Efficacy of Balinese Letters (Brill 2016, with Annette Hornbacher), I’ve also published a number of articles in leading European, American and Indonesian peer-reviewed journals—most recently including Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (Netherlands); Archipel: études interdisciplinaires sur le monde insulindien (France); Modern Asian Studies (UK); History of Religions (USA); and Jurnal Kajian Bali (Indonesia).
Looking ahead, I’m now working on a new project exploring aspiration and futurity—the ways in which people envisage and work toward a better life. This research comes out of a broader set of reflections on the idea of human becoming as an ongoing project of personal and collective transformation. My interest in the directionality of human action – of thought in motion, and where people are heading – emerged out of a growing discomfort with the reifying tendencies built into our received critical terminology—exemplified by the casual, but consequential, use of terms such as society, culture, structure, the subject, power, meaning, and so on. Clearly, I’m not the first to complain about these terms and the social ontology they represent. Yet all too often it seems that, having recognized the problem, scholarship falls back into the very scientism that got us into trouble in the first place. (Just think of Leach or Bourdieu, both of whom criticized stasis only to replicate it in their own “retheorizations.”) The question is whether it might be possible to build up a new critical language – and style of enquiry – that is better attuned to the dynamic character of social life as we encounter it ‘in the field’. (For those who would query my use of the first person plural… that’s the point. It’s both aspirational and performative, in that – like so much of what we write – my usage aspires to generating what it purports merely to represent.) For this new project I’ve begun studying Javanese, so that I might conduct fieldwork in Central Java—on which, more to come!
Further details and materials are also available on my academia.edu page.