Asmat (West Papua) Horizons of the Past and Koselleck

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Religion and forms of government are powerful sources of inspiration for imagining communities and sovereignties, evoking particular pasts that are ‘heathen’, already fulfilled, reveal an original state, and so on. But as such pasts are relative to people’s ethical and political motivations in the present it is important to develop understandings of how and in what shapes the past emerges in relation to present concerns and futures they expect. In this essay, I will discuss Asmat people’s experience of singular events of religious conversion and progress introduced by Catholic missionaries, the Dutch colonial government, the Indonesian government, and, most recently, Islamic preachers, to challenge Reinhart Koselleck’s rather narrow perception of the past. The repetition of the message and programs of progress in these singular events has created a temporal experience that is prompting a number of Asmat to convert from Catholicism to Islam in moments of uncertainty about the future and the past. The ‘repetition prognosis’ of progress that this conversion brings, as effected by past events, evokes horizons of the past that are similar to the ones Koselleck identifies for Europe. Yet, the Asmat emerging pasts do not just reveal structures of repetition while converts get sucked into the unknown future, but also prompt wider experiences of the past that are, as I will argue, better captured by a broader concept of horizon that can encompass Asmat interplays of uncertain futures and histories, and deployments of life force in desires for temporal sovereignty.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChristian temporalities
EditorsSimon Coleman, Anna-Karina Hermkens, Matt Tomlinson
Number of pages15
Publication statusSubmitted - 15 Aug 2020


  • Anthropology
  • Religion
  • Temporality
  • Indonesia
  • Asmat art
  • Koselleck


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