The Relation between Religion and State in Indonesia

By Muhammadiyah, Hilmi | Asian Social Science, December 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Relation between Religion and State in Indonesia


Muhammadiyah, Hilmi, Asian Social Science


1. Introduction

Since the beginning of Indonesia's independence, the religion-state relationship raises never lasting problems until today. On the one hand, Indonesia is a country that guarantees freedom of its citizens to embrace the belief that they believe. However, on the other hand the country has a strong intervention to determine what is feasible religion embraced by its citizens. That's why Julia D. Howell (2005) refers to the type of freedom that is practiced in Indonesia as a limited pluralism. Not only specify several religions officially recognized to be embraced its citizens, instead, the state also arranged for the religious schools and communities not to deviate from the mainstream community of recognized religions.

Since Islam developed in the archipelago after the arrival of clerical group that identifies themselves as the Wali Songo, appear various studies on Islam and the problems of the society locality, particularly in Java. Various studies on the relation between religion and the state has been carried out by experts from various perspectives, ranging from the approach of theology, sociology, politics, to anthropology. In the perspective of anthropology, the study can be categorized into two groups. The first group is done by the anthropologists themselves. The second group is done by experts who are not anthropologists but using anthropological approach.

One study on the relation between religion and state, in particular that takes Indonesian setting, is a research conducted by Robert W. Hefner (2000) in Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia. Hefner viewed democratization struggle in the Muslim-majority country in fact has a big challenge, because the relation between religion-in this case Islam with democracy always antagonistic. On the one hand, this study actually showed a positive relationship between religion and democracy. On the other hand, the state should have a major role in the development of, or acting as what is called Hefner with civilized state. This means that civil society is not possible without any civilized state. Hefner's cases in Indonesia discussed in this book show very clearly how the state during the New Order regime used various means to suppress the democratization process undertaken by civil society, especially by those who believe. To emulate the civilian Islamist group New Order to form a bloc-which by Hefner called Islam rezimis-which are so-called the religious groups supporters of government. In addition to the highly viscous anthropological approach, this book also utilize various approaches from other disciplines, such as history, political science, and sociology in order to assess the relation between religion, democracy, and pluralism in Indonesia.

Moreover, in another study that took place in Tengger Geger Mountain, Hefner revealedthe social changes that occurred in Tengger society where state intervention is very dominant. Results of this study later he presents in the book The Political Economy of Mountain Java: An Interpretive History. Countries applying political and cultural penetration from the outside for the sake of modernization. The process of ideological conflicts arise a serious effect on the social fabric of local communities. In addition, it is also a process of change in the search for social identity by simple nonhierarki, classless, and open mountain community.

Another researcher examining the relation between religion and state is Snouck (1985) who took the study in Aceh. One of the conclusions in his book, The Acehnese, is that the disharmonious relation between religion to the state can lead to cracks between religious leaders and authority figures. According to these two men looked at each other jealous and suspicious, although on the surface it seems there is a process of mutual respect. However, in a fight between the two groups there is always a group that is in the middle position, ie the religious and secular figures whose voices accommodate to please the authorities interests. …

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