JOURNAL | COVER STORY by: Bernard Adeney-Risakotta
Everything we see hides another thing.
We always want to see what is hidden by what we see.
– René Magritte, Belgian surrealist artist
The center of Islam in the world today is neither Saudi Arabia nor the Middle East. Rather, it is Indonesia. Indonesia is the most important country in the world about which most people know practically nothing. Just as the center of Christianity is no longer in Europe or North America, but has shifted to the Southern Hemisphere (Jenkins, 2012), so the center of Islamicate civilization has shifted from the Middle East to Asia.
Evidence for this change is found in population statistics. Currently, 62 percent of Muslims live in Asia. Another 32 percent live in Africa. Relatively few of the world’s Muslims actually live in the Middle East. Indonesia is by far the most populous Muslim-majority country on earth; its 202 million Muslims are more than the entire Middle East combined.
Population is not the whole story, however. Indonesia is also the world’s most dynamic Muslim-majority country, with incredible diversity among different streams of Islam, different ethnic groups and different religious communities, which for the most part live side by side in harmony. Indonesia legally protects the right to different interpretations and practices of Islam. This creates space in which diverse streams and interpretations can grow.
If the center of Islam has moved to Asia, that doesn’t imply that Muslims in Asia are more peaceful and tolerant than Muslims in the Middle East. Many Middle Eastern Muslims are peaceful and tolerant and many Asian Muslims are not. Pakistan is not exactly a model of peaceful tolerance. Indonesia is suffering a sustained attack by a minority of radicals who oppose openness to diverse ideas, and some fear that intolerant forms of Islam are growing in the country.
Nevertheless, Indonesia has an ancient history of religious tolerance that is far more peaceful than the history of religions in Europe or the Middle East (cf, Reid in B Adeney-Risakotta, ed 2014). Over many centuries, Indonesia developed impressive social capital for dealing with religious diversity, based on a social imagination of reality that is distinctively different from the West or the Middle East. Absolutist assertions that everyone must submit to the one and only “Truth” feel foreign to most Indonesians.
There is also a dark side to Indonesia. Indonesians have not always dealt with diversity in peaceful ways. The early exile of Hindus to the island of Bali; wars between different kingdoms; the brutal killings of 1965-66; the long, authoritarian rule of President Soeharto, and mass violence following his fall in 1998; and the growth of Islamic conservatism and radicalism lead many to question whether the admirable “tolerance of the Javanese” is only a peaceful facade over darker currents (Anderson, 1965; cf, Colombijn and Lindblad, ed 2002). Minority groups such as the Shiites, Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucianists and followers of tribal religions sometimes experience oppression and violence. Racism against ethnic Chinese and Papuans is a serious problem.
The growing influence of Indonesia in the Muslim world is ignored by many scholars. Many Arab Muslims and Orientalist scholars consider Indonesia a kind of backwater that practices an inferior form of Islam mixed with animistic beliefs. Both groups essentialize Islam, distinguishing “pure” (ie, Arab) Islam from debased or folk Islam. From this perspective, Arabic language and culture are the normative measuring stick of authentic Islam. Many Indonesian Muslims agree (cf, Gade, 2004). But Arabic language and culture are not necessarily the best measures of a successful Islamicate culture. According to many Indonesians, creating a community of justice, safety and peace is closer to the teaching of the Koran than the purity of Arabic culture.
Indonesia has experienced a dramatic renaissance in Islamicate civilization, which has largely gone unnoticed outside of the country. A dramatic flowering of Islamicate ideas, art, architecture, literature, political and economic structures, and civil society organizations is transforming the face of Indonesia. Most of the world remains ignorant of the thousands of books published every year in Indonesia, as they are in Indonesian, not English or Arabic. Indonesia is neither uniform nor static. It is changing at a dizzying speed. Like all large countries, it faces many intractable problems. No one knows what the future will bring, but whatever happens in Indonesia will affect the future of Islam in the modern world.
Approximately 23 percent of the world’s population are followers of Islam. Demographics suggest that this proportion will grow considerably larger in the coming years. Currently there are 1.7 billion Muslims, which is double the combined populations of Europe and the United States, and equal to the combined populations of China and the United States. By 2050, according to the Pew Foundation, almost 30 percent of the world (2.8 billion people) will be Muslim. The future of the world is deeply connected with the future of Islam in the modern world.
Indonesia is creating a unique kind of modernity that synthesizes mimetic, mythic, ethical and theoretic imaginations of reality with modern institutions and values. The importance of Indonesia lies not in its similarity to the West (for example, democratic institutions), but rather in its creation of a unique modernity forged out of thousands of years of interaction with the axial civilizations of China, India, the Middle East and Europe (cf, Bellah, 2011). Indonesia is a thoroughly religious, traditional and modern society that is not following the expected paths of Western modernity or Arabic religion.
A key to understanding the importance of Indonesia lies in its distinctive social imaginaries (Taylor, 2007). Social imaginaries include theories that shape our understanding of society, but they are not limited to ideas. They include common feelings, symbols and practices that determine how a society imagines what is real. Social imaginaries make common practices possible. Indonesian social imaginaries are in a dialectical tension between contrasting visions of reality. The outcome of this struggle is not clear, predetermined or uniform.
The growth of conservative Islam
The dramatic growth of orthodox Islamic piety in Indonesia is apparent. Several fine studies have convincingly documented an accelerating process of “Islamization” in Java (eg, Hefner, 2000; Beatty, 2009; Ricklefs, 2012). Java is not alone. Islamization has a profound impact on all parts of Indonesia; indeed, it is part of a global phenomenon.
Indonesia is not only the most populous Muslim-majority nation in the world, it is also a country in which Islam is becoming more and more dominant in all areas of life. MC Ricklefs’ masterful three-volume history of religion in Java proposes three stages in the development of Islam in Java. From the 15th century until about 1830, the Muslims of Java achieved a “mystic synthesis” in which most Javanese saw no contradiction between Islam and their pre-Islamic beliefs (Ricklefs, 2006). From about 1830 to 1965, Muslims were increasingly polarized between the abangan (peasant, syncretist Muslims) and the santri (observant, conservative Muslims) (Ricklefs, 2007). According to Ricklefs, since 1965 the institutions that supported the abangan have collapsed and the abangan way of life is rapidly disappearing, replaced by the Islamization of life (Ricklefs, 2012).
For many non-Muslim observers, this is an alarming development, captured dramatically in the title of Andrew Beatty’s 2009 book, “A Shadow Falls: In the Heart of Java.” In colonial times, some Europeans feared the Islamic side of Indonesia and mythologized the tolerant, Hindu-Buddhist heritage of ancient Java and Bali (cf Anderson, 1965). American historian Nancy Florida shows how Western scholarship on ancient Javanese literature was distorted by ignoring abundant Islamic Javanese texts in favor of Hindu-Buddhist or mystical texts. What they saw, the heritage of a rich Hindu-Buddhist civilization, clouded their vision of the deep impact of Islam on this civilization. Since the beginning of Indonesia’s reform era in 1998, some observers have been torn between admiration of the process of democratization and alarm at the dramatic growth of Islamic piety. On the one hand, they denounce the authoritarian government of the late President Soeharto, while tacitly being grateful for his suppression of militant Islam. On the other hand, they praise the growth of democracy, while lamenting the rapid growth of pietistic Islam.
Categories and classifications
What we see is often determined by predetermined categories that we hold in our minds. No single person has influenced how religion is viewed in Indonesia as much as Clifford Geertz. Geertz, the late American anthropologist, is well known for his division of Javanese Islam into syncretistic Muslim abangan (peasants), orthodox Muslim santri (pious, conservative traders) and mystic Muslim priyai (aristocrats). Geertz suggested that the abangan and priyai, who included the great majority of Javanese Muslims in the 1950s, were only Muslims on the surface. Underneath their superficial Muslim forms lay a Javanese civilization shaped by centuries of Hindu and Buddhist influence.
This typology continues to exercise enormous influence on ideas about Islam in Java. The categories do not describe the sociopolitical, cultural, economic and religious realities of today, but they are still shaping assumptions, especially among those who regret the apparent collapse of abangan and priyai forms of Islam. The current situation in Indonesia is interpreted as a process of loss: the loss of a unique and rich cultural heritage that was shaped by Hinduism and Buddhism.
There are at least three ways to respond to Geertz. First, some scholars argue that Geertz was simply wrong. His analytic categories were overly ambitious as he tried to create one overarching system of comparison that combined religion, class, economics, politics and culture. As a result, he ignored the complex ways in which these categories overlap. It is possible for the same person to be a priyai by class and political role, a santri by religious practice and economic activities, and an abangan in terms of animist beliefs and cultural lifestyle. Many Javanese combine aspects of all three types. The same person may be a santri on Fridays and during Ramadan, an abangan on Saturday night or when enjoying Javanese art forms and a priyai in following certain mystical disciplines. Besides oversimplifying Javanese religious life, Geertz was insufficiently aware of the rich diversity within Islam. Influences that he attributed to pre-Islamic Hinduism and Buddhism might just as well be traced to Sufism or other streams within Islam (Woodward, 1989).
Such criticisms include many valid observations, but miss the point of the power and usefulness of Geertz’s typology. Ideal types are not descriptions, but rather analytic categories for examining complex reality. Geertz never claimed that everyone in Java fits neatly into one of the three streams (aliran). Rather, he provided tools with which to analyze these three broad currents in what is essentially a single river that includes thousands of smaller subcurrents. Even if Javanese Muslim practices can be traced to Islamic sources from China, India, Persia and the Middle East, it does not necessarily mean these sources were untouched by ideas that were consonant with Hinduism and Buddhism. The concept of “circulatory history” suggests that different civilizations have been influencing each other for millennia (Duara, 2015). It is futile to argue about the original source of influential ideas and practices. The power of Geertz’s typology continues to be seen, even in the writings of his severest critics. They still use his categories even as they deny their relevance.
A second response to Geertz is to suggest that his three categories were accurate descriptions of divisions within Javanese society at the time when he was doing his research in the 1950s, in the village of Pare, East Java Province. Following Ricklefs, we may view Geertz’s categories as helpful analytic categories up to the present, even though the abangan and priyai variants have declined in influence. One of the many virtues of Ricklefs’ nuanced history is that he puts to rest the notion of an essential, unchanging Javanese civilization. Java was not always polarized between santri and abangan. In fact, the term abangan did not even exist until the late 19th century. Most Javanese Muslims combined Islamic piety with a mystical acceptance of local beliefs and practices.
Later, in the 1950s, the abangan stream was so strong that Geertz suggested it would be difficult for a Javanese to become a true Muslim because Javanese civilization was so much at odds with Islamic civilization. But by the 21st century, according to Ricklefs, the abangan way of life has been so undermined that, “There is now no significant opposition to the deeper Islamization of Javanese society” (Ricklefs, 2012). The abangan and priyai have been swallowed up by the santri.
This is certainly one way to interpret this history, but it tends to reify the types, treating abangan and santri as if they are mutually exclusive social groups. Ricklefs’ three-volume history is so rich in empirical detail that the reader is continually reminded of the complexity of the dialectical overlap between the abangan and the santri. Still, the narrative of polarization, conflict and the increasing defeat of one “type” by the other is in danger of being reified as a fact, rather than recognized as a theory of the meaning of this history. Long before the term abangan came into common usage, there were polarized conflicts between more and less strict interpretations of Islam, such as the Padri War (1803-37). Even after the apparent eclipse of abangan institutions, santri institutions are still deeply influenced by abangan practices and beliefs.
A third response to Geertz’s three types is to emphasize that they are heuristic tools that bring some things into focus and obscure others. Even in the 1950s, there was no such thing in reality as a pure abangan, priyai or santri. They were ideal types, not real people. Geertz’s typology was not the only way to categorize religious currents among the Javanese in the 1950s. An astute observer could have made five types, 10 types or only two types. President Soekarno employed three different types: nationalists, religionists (Islamists) and communists. Others used categories such as modernists, traditionalists and Islamists, or scripturalist versus substantialist Islam (eg, Effendy, 1998). Human beings and groupings are always more complex than any type.
Geertz’s three types were extraordinarily useful constructs that helped us to see certain things to which we would otherwise be blind. The types are still valuable, as shown in Ricklefs’ narrative, as categories to help us understand cultural change, even though they no longer describe the major divisions in Indonesian society. A bigger problem is that the types distract us from seeing other things that may be more important. Other categories open up different kinds of insights.
Geertz’s characterization of abangan Muslims as fundamentally Buddhist-Hindus for whom Islam was no more than a superficial veneer has been widely discredited in light of more recent developments (eg, Woodward, 1989; Florida, 1995). Geertz was certainly mistaken about the superficiality of Islam in Java. But in the haste to correct the master, we may forget his more basic insight, later elaborated by Denys Lombard, the French expert on Asia, that Indonesians are made up of many layers of ancient civilizations (Lombard, 1996 ). Indonesians are part of a global, historical circulation of rituals, stories, laws and theories from many different interacting sources. Indonesian Islam is shaped by an ongoing, centuries-old process of the circulation of mimetic, mythic, ethical and theoretic imaginations of reality. Indonesian Islam is a product of its own prehistoric ethnic cultures, as well as Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. When discussing human evolution, the late American sociologist Robert N Bellah often said, “Nothing is ever lost.” That which came before is still a part of us: in Indonesia, influences from China, India, the Middle East and Europe are deeply rooted in the imaginations of most Indonesians to this day.
The resurgence of public Islamic piety in Indonesia is undeniable. For some Western observers, there is something close to panic that what they love about Indonesia may be passing away. I am not competent to judge whether the kind of Islamization that is happening in Indonesia is a positive or negative trend. How we name things carries normative weight. Instead of naming it “Islamization” or “resurgence of Islam,” we might call it a “renaissance of Islam” in Indonesia, to call attention to the flowering of Islamic art, architecture, intellectual discourse, literature, philosophy, social science, theology, music and so forth. While there has been a decrease in some abangan and priyai practices, this does not mean that Indonesian Islam has become more narrow and uniform. In fact, the Muslim community in Indonesia is more diverse today than it has ever been. Education and the global circulation of ideas (including radical ideas) have led to far greater diversity in the understanding and practice of Islam in Indonesia than ever before.
As René Magritte, a Belgium surrealist artist, wrote: “Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” The dramatic growth of Islamic piety is an important reality we can see. But it also hides some things. Dramatic religious, political, economic and cultural changes may hide from view the continuities in Indonesian society that are the product of centuries. The so-called abangan and the santris may be more alike than we thought. Even Indonesian Muslims and Christians may be more alike than some would imagine. My broader research focuses on how social imaginaries in Indonesia shape an “enchanted” perspective on reality that transcends different streams of religions in Indonesia. By shifting the categories to social imaginaries, rather than different categories of Muslims, new questions emerge. Different questions result in different insights regarding the interaction between religion, imagination and modernity in Indonesia.
Styles of cognition
Robert Bellah’s monumental book on religion in human evolution is premised on Canadian psychologist Merlin Donald’s theory of cognitive evolution from mimetic to mythic to theoretic cognition. According to Bellah, the great axial civilizations of China, India, Israel and Greece gave birth to new powers of scientific, universalizing, analytic, critical, abstract and theoretic thought. Theoretic cognition gave birth to the modern world. It also changed the role of religion in the world.
A theory of axial civilizations was first proposed by the German-Swiss psychiatrist Karl Jaspers at the end of World War II. Jaspers had an ethical agenda and opposed the common Western assumption that the modern world was a Western invention, rooted in Greek thought and Christian theology. He disagreed with German philosopher Georg Hegel’s thesis that the axis of history was the life of Jesus Christ. According to Hegel (and Max Weber), modernity is a Christian, Western invention. On the contrary, Jaspers suggested that modernity came from multiple sources.
Bellah took up Jasper’s theory that human evolution was working in similar ways in different places, most notably between 800-200 BCE, to make possible the modern world. There were similar cognitive breakthroughs during the Axial Age when China (Confucius, Lao Tze), India (Vedas, Upanishads, Buddha), the Middle East (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos) and Greece (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) all gave birth to theoretic culture. If there are multiple axial civilizations that may help explain why there are multiple modernities. The development of theoretic cognition gave rise to different philosophies, practices and religions in China, India, the Middle East and Greece. There is more than one path to modernity.
Prominent theologian José Casanova suggests that “pre-axial” religions were premised on a single, unified cosmos of meaning with two parts: the sacred and the profane. Pre-axial, mimetic religions are focused on rituals, which imitate (mimic) or reproduce the sacred order (cf, Durkheim, 1915). Since these rituals are located in sacred time and space, they enable the practitioners to reconnect the sacred and the profane and find their proper place within one cosmos.
Pre-axial, mimetic consciousness founded on experience of a unified cosmos is a part of Indonesian practices of Islam, as well as of other religions. The call to prayer (sholat) five times a day is a mimetic ritual that intends to reproduce a proper order between humankind and God, between the creature and the Creator, between the micro-cosmos and the macro-cosmos. It recreates order through sacred space in the midst of the disorder of everyday (profane) life.
According to Donald’s theory of cognitive evolution, mimetic cognition led to mythic cognition. Mythic cognition also began in the pre-axial age and shaped consciousness of reality through narratives, which explored depths of meaning that were not available through mimetic rituals. Myth did not eliminate mimetic consciousness (sacred rituals), but carried it forward into the Axial Age. Stories are still the primary means of making sense of reality in Indonesia. Whether it is ancient Indian stories (Ramayana, Mahabharata) used in the all-night shadow puppet plays (wayang kulit), nationalist narratives of Majapahit glory, sacred stories of the trials of the Prophet, tragic tales of modern Indonesian film, New Order myths of progress and development, or postmodern novels about changing sexual identities in an urban jungle, Indonesians make sense of their lives by stories.
The Axial Age breakthrough was the discovery of the transcendent realm and the ability of human beings to distance themselves from mundane existence. The Axial Age broke the unity of a single cosmos and posited a transcendent realm of the gods or God, which was greater than the everyday world. No longer was the primary duality between the sacred and the profane within a single cosmos. Rather, reality was divided into two: the mundane realm of everyday life and the transcendent realm of God, Heaven, Nirvana or the gods.
Islam is an axial religion par excellence. In Islam, the transcendence of God is unrivaled, and God is far above the foolishness of puny human beings. Some of my Indonesian Muslim friends have permanent black bruises on their foreheads. It is because five times a day, they bang their head on ceramic tile, acknowledging the greatness of God and their own unworthiness. For the most part, the ones I know are gentle, humble people who would no more likely take up a gun to kill an “infidel” than they would kill their own mother.
Dividing the transcendent from the mundane did not eliminate mythical cognition, but rather gave it a whole new realm above earth about which to tell stories. Nevertheless, mythical cognition gradually gave birth to theoretic, abstract, universalizing thought. The idea of transcendence gave rise to self-critical distancing and reflection about mundane life in the light of universal, transcendent truths. Not only stories, but also principles, laws, formulae, theories and models added a huge new repertoire of meaning systems to explain what had been previously thought of as mystery. Two streams of theoretic thought can be distinguished: the ethical and the empiric. The ethical appealed to transcendent revelation and reason to distinguish what is good, just and right from what is evil, unjust and wrong. The empiric drew on reason and empirical evidence to create theories that explain causation within the universe.
According to Donald, theoretic cognition led to the post-axial, secular age of the modern world. In the post-axial age of theoretic cognition, the primary dichotomy is no longer between sacred and profane (pre-axial), transcendent and mundane (axial), but rather between the religious and the secular (post-axial) (cf, Bellah and Joas, eds, 2012). At least in the West, science, verifiable knowledge, public discourse, the marketplace and government all take place in the sphere of the secular, whereas religious beliefs and ethical practices are in the sphere of individual, private beliefs and practices.
Although Bellah believed that the theoretic civilizations of modernity were far more complex than the mimetic and mythic civilizations of the past, he did not believe that made them better morally. Complexity is not a normative category. Complex theoretic systems make possible far greater assimilation and sharing of knowledge, but they are not morally better. In fact, Bellah feared that theoretic modern civilizations were leading toward human extinction. The most alarming evidence of this is the ecological crisis.
Bellah argued that “nothing is ever lost.” His theory of human evolution suggests that what we are now contains everything that went before us. Bellah stressed that theoretic cognition did not supersede or replace mythic and mimetic culture. In fact, the polarization of theoretic thinking from ethics has led to a profound crisis in modern life that threatens our existence. In the modern Western world, theoretic cognition has become so dominant over mythic and mimetic ways of thinking that we have lost hold of the meaning of our lives. Meaning is grounded in narratives, stories, myths, rituals and art, which cannot be reduced to theoretic propositions.
Indonesia is different from the West, not primarily because Indonesia is still dominated by pre-axial, mimetic cosmic rituals and axial myths. Western cultures are also saturated with rituals and myths. Even the most technologically advanced societies cannot live without mimetic rituals and mythical narratives. Indonesia is different because of how the country fuses pre-axial cosmic traditions and rituals with religious experiences of transcendence and modern ideas, institutions and structures. Bellah’s book suggests that Indonesia is simultaneously pre-axial, axial and post-axial. Unlike most people in the West, who imagine that they are a speck in the universe, most Indonesians still imagine that they live in a sacred cosmos. In the West, religion and ethics are (ideally) separated from the public sphere. Not so in Indonesia.
Modernity without the secular
Most Indonesian Muslims are deeply suspicious of the secular. They associate secularism with atheism, the decline of religion and the banishing of religion to the private sphere. They are quick to point out that Indonesia is neither an Islamic state nor a secular state. The first principle upon which the Republic of Indonesia is founded is the Great Unity of Deity (Ketuhanan yang Maha Esa.). There is only One God over all Indonesians, no matter what their religion. The unity of God is the basis for affirming the unity of humanity and the unity of many different ethnic groups and religions in one nation. The state officially recognizes six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. All Indonesians are encouraged to adopt one of these religions. All “world religions” are considered good. Indonesia is a multireligious, monotheistic nation-state, which rejects both of the classic choices between a monoreligious or secular state.
In Indonesia, religions are not meant to be relegated to the private sphere, as if they had no relevance to politics, economics, social relations or law. Most Indonesian Muslims believe that religion is the basis not only for private morality, but for public morality as well. Even in the hard sciences, many Muslims have an a priori conviction that true religion will never come into conflict with the findings of science. Religion should be part of all serious thinking about anything and everything. Public national universities are not described as secular, but rather as multireligious or religiously neutral.
A leading Indonesian Muslim intellectual, Dr Nurcholish Madjid, became famous in 1970 when he published an article defending “secularism” as an important principle for politics. His article caused such a storm of criticism that he later disavowed his use of the term “secularism,” although he did not withdraw his basic argument. Madjid did not use an argument from human rights, political theory or the autonomy of science to back up his defense of the secular. Rather, he used a theological argument. He suggested that Muslim political parties that claimed to represent Islam were actually idolatrous because they equated their limited political interests with the will of God. This violates the foundational doctrine of Islam, ie, Tauhid. According to Tauhid, nothing should be equated with or joined to God. God is alone, above all human interests or understanding. Anyone who equates their human interests with God’s will is idolatrous (elevating something human to the level of God).
Madjid argued that Muslim political parties implicitly claim divine warrant for their parochial interests. This deceives people into confusing the will of God with a human agenda for gaining power. According to Madjid, this violates Tauhid by joining a human organization to God (Madjid in Davies, ed, 1978). Madjid’s famous slogan, “Islam, Yes. Islamic Politics, No,” is still debated today in Indonesia. Madjid later retracted the term “secularism,” not only to dampen political criticism, but also because he did not mean to imply that religion should be separated from politics, as in the Western ideal (separation of church and state), but only that no political party should claim divine warrant for a human agenda. Like most Indonesians, Madjid opposed Indonesia becoming an “Islamic State.” Also similar to most Indonesians, Madjid believed Islamic values and practices should inform every area of Indonesian life.
Secularization and disenchantment
Few scholars still defend the theory that secularization is an inevitable partner of increasing rationality and modernity (cf, Berger, ed, 1999). Most of the world, including the United States, is more religious now than it was 100 years ago. Indeed, there is some evidence that religion is one of the most powerful agents of rationalization and modernization. Less obvious is the question of whether or not increasing rationalization and modernization, while not leading to a decline in religion, does lead to the progressive “disenchantment” (Weber) of the world.
In an enchanted world, human beings are surrounded by unseen powers. Does rapid social, political, economic and technological change, along with higher education, weaken belief in magic and a unified moral cosmos? In most Western countries, magic is consigned to fantasy and superstition. Is that also happening in Indonesia? My research suggests that most Indonesians still live in a sacred cosmos and experience an unseen world of spirits and powers.
An “enchanted” Islamic social imagination shapes different kinds of modernity than were constructed in the West. Indonesian Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists integrate mimetic, mythic, ethical and theoretic styles of cognition to structure their modern lives. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, the late Canadian professor of comparative religion, commented that if you only know one religion, you don’t know any religion. If you learn about other religions, you will end up understanding your own religion much better. The same is true of Western modernity.
Why is modernity in Indonesia so different from modernity in the West, the Middle East, India and China? Is it possible to live in a pre-axial sacred cosmos while following an axial religion and living within post-axial modern institutional structures? How might Islamicate culture in Indonesia contribute to a more just and peaceful world order in the years ahead? There is indeed a “clash of civilizations” in Indonesia, but it is not between Muslims and the West. Nor is it between Muslims and non-Muslims. Rather, it is between different imaginations of reality that occur within different communities and, as often as not, also within a single human heart.
Bernard Adeney-Risakotta is a professor of religion and social science at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies, at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, central Java. This essay is adapted from his forthcoming book, “Living in a Sacred Cosmos: Indonesia and the Future of Islam.”