(C16) Religious Plurality and Interreligious Transformation Process in the Pancasila-Based State: Islam and Christianity in Indonesia

Ever since its independence, Indonesia – the country with the largest Muslim population in the world – has admitted a plurality of religions on a democratic basis. Unlike other countries with a Muslim majority, Islam in Indonesia takes no priority over the other world religions that are officially recognised by the constitution. Indonesian society, in contrast to European contexts, can largely be described as a religious one. This is visible in many implementations in public life and is consistent with the own self-conception of Indonesian society.

The pancasila in the preamble of the Indonesian constitution is an ideological basis for the coexistence of several great world religions in Indonesia. The first of the five pancasila pillars, “Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa” (belief in the one and only god), is regarded as an integrative intellectual model of a plural society that perceives itself as a religious one. Thus, the Indonesian model seeks to integrate religious plurality in both the state and in society neither through ideological neutrality nor through formal political practice alone, but instead through a religious reference which, however, goes beyond specific religions.

It would contribute to research area C of the cluster of excellence, “Integrative Procedures”, to investigate the implications and consequences of this model from an extra-European context. The research project will analyse the effects of this model on religion and politics in the Indonesian society. Seen from the current European state of discussion, the Indonesian model is of particular interest because it structures and integrates religious plurality in a different way as is customary in the European modern era. Moreover, it might be helpful for the current European state of discussion to have a look at an assessment of the relationship of religion and politics which is shaped by a Muslim social majority, but which does not correspond to the common prejudices.

The research project aims to analyse three dimensions of the Indonesian integrative model:

  1. Firstly, it will be examined which type of religious plurality develops within the pancasila horizon. Two aspects will be focused on here:
    1. At first, the specific religious political legislation will be described, with a focus on education and on the regulation of the public practice of religion. In the light of the intensification of religious life after the Suharto era had ended, the political intention to reduce the direct interactions of religions appears in legislation, thus giving the coexistence of religions priority over their cooperation. Despite this static conception of religious pluralism, interreligious transformation processes are de facto taking place.
    2. Moreover, given the socio-political and demographic asymmetries between the different religions, another issue will be the regulatory framework in which religious minorities can organise their religious practice. This will be shown using as an example the situation of minorities within the world religions, such as the Ahmadiya in Islam or the Pentecostal churches in Christianity. Being primary texts, the objects of investigation in this first and religious-scientific part of the research project are legal texts that regulate the practice of religion and orders of the ministry of religion. In addition, a qualitative survey among priests and the theological directors of Quran schools will be carried out. They are full-time representatives of their respective religious communities and, thus, play a central role in the shaping and the theological interpretation of religious plurality in Indonesia.
  2. In a second step, it will be asked how the Muslim and Christian religious communities relate to the pancasila theologically. The religious plural constitutional reality of Indonesia forces the religious communities to interpret and to integrate this reality theologically. Leading theologians of the two large Muslim organisations Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah brought forward positions and perspectives regarding religious pluralism; the same applies to the Protestant Indonesian consistory and the Catholic Church. This second part investigates the theological concepts of both religions and asks for their respective implied theological understanding of religious plurality.
  3. In a third step, it will be examined how Christians and Muslims describe their relationship with each other theologically within the horizon of the pancasila’s ideological basis. The theological discourse about religious plurality is also always about the opponent’s specific self-perceptions and public images in view of the other religion – and reciprocal effects of these. Within the context of the socio-political constellations described above, thus, transformation processes of the respective self-perception and public image in Christianity and in Islam in Indonesia will be analysed by means of discourse analysis. This third part conjoins religious-scientific and theological approaches. Both theological literature and the analysis of the qualitative interviews form the basis of this third part.