Christian Women in Indonesia: A Narrative Study of Gender and Religion
Sellers, Robert P., Journal of Church and State
Christian Women In Indonesia: A Narrative Study of Gender and Religion. By Frances S. Adeney. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2003. 226 pp. $24.95 paper.
Frances S. Adeney's book is interesting and informative. Having lived in Indonesia for two decades, I repeatedly agreed with her perceptive analysis of this part of the complex culture of Java. Adeney, professor at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, was for five years a faculty member of three Indonesian Christian academic institutions. Initiating a graduate program in religion and society, she became fascinated with the struggles of her female advisees-including the reactions of her male colleagues and students-and curious to know "[w]hat religions, cultural, and social influences motivated Indonesian women to challenge patriarchal structures in church and society" (p. 5). This work, which begins with narrative and moves to theory, summarizes her findings.
While Indonesia is highly pluralistic, a basic gender ideology runs throughout the ethnically diverse island nation that views "women as primarily family-oriented and men as public-oriented persons" (p. 42). Women are considered intellectually, spiritually, morally, and socially inferior to man. This national attitude is sharply focused on Java, where beliefs about refined behavior and gender-appropriate personality demand that women be "soft-spoken, polite, and pleasing to behold" (p. 43), but especially "retiring in the presence of males" (p. 55). Adeney reports: "At a typical meeting of small-town leaders in central Java in 1989, the women prepared the food, served the men, and then ate separately in the back room. When they entered the front room where the men were seated on the floor, they came in on their hands and knees so that their heads would remain lower than the heads of the men" (p. 50).
Supporting these traditions is religious instruction. Concerning Islam, the archipelago's major faith, Adeney explains that "[a]lthough the Qur'an was a liberating document for women in its day, interpretations of its teachings about women have not continued to improve women's status in Indonesia" (p. 43), and thus support the culture's confining of women to the private sphere. Acquiescence to kodrat ["fate"], a strong impulse in Hinduism, but practiced in all expressions of Indonesian religion, destines a woman to bearing children and serving families for a strong society. …