- Minorities, Modernity, and the Emerging Nation: Christians in Indonesia. A Biographical Approach (review)
- Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 20, Number 1, April 2005
- pp. 105-109
- View Citation
Book Reviews105 Minorities, Modernity, andtheEmergingNation: Christians in Indonesia. A BiographicalApproach. By Gerry van Klinken. Leiden: KITLV Press, 2003. This astute and innovative historical account of some of the cultural content of "the modern world" in the late colonial Indies' public imagination takes as its sources life history information about five urban, elite Christian men. These are the Javanese Catholic Ignatius Joseph Kasimo (1900-86), a court noble, and a leader of a Catholic political party; the Batak Protestant Soetan Goenoeng Moelia (1896-1966), another activist in confessional political party work; G.S.SJ. Ratu Langie (1890-1949), aVolksraad member from a prominent Minahasan family; the Batak Protestant convert (from Islam) Amir Sjarifoeddin (1907-48), a conflicted and even tragic man executed for his role in the Madiun revolt; and the aristocraticJavaneseAlbertus Soegijapranata, SJ. (1896-1963), aJesuit priest, a close ally ofSoekarno, and the Indies' first bishop. Each of these unusually identity-conscious men lived along several cultural fault lines in the 1920s to the 1940s, the time period at the heart of the book. That is, all five claimed Indonesian national identityyet were invested as well to varying degrees in "ethnic heritage"; each was a member ofa tiny Christian minority in an overwhelmingly Muslim population; and each was an Indies Christian strongly influenced by Dutch-style education. Furthermore, all five professed Christianity with its gospel values ofhuman equality — yet benefited from various types ofprivileged social rank. Each moved fluently in the Dutch-language world of the late colonial Indies intelligensia, advocating Indonesian self-determination and one version or another of an Indonesian republic. Van Klinken rightly reads their biographies as texts on how these men negotiated such ideological options, and how they imagined modernity within these specific Christian, nationalist cognitive precincts. One of the strengths of this book is Van Klinken's decision to put questions ofimagined modernities at the centre, and to put the more standatd, even clichéd interpretive frameworks about grand trajectories from colonial subjugation "toward" nationalist futures 106Book Reviews somewhat offto the side. Additionally, in charting out Indies/Indonesian modernities, Van Klinken lets the often counter-innuitive small biographical detail take front stage. Refreshingly, Van Klinken employs some classic Weberian terms of analysis for his five case studies, arranged into such chapteis as "Kasimo and Moelia Welcome the Modern State", "Ratu Langie and the Chtistian East", and "Christian Charisma in War and Revolution". That is, he looks at frameworks of leadership that are charismatic, traditionalist, or legal-rational, and asserts that a primary transition that these men were involved in was the one from island Southeast Asian kingship modes ofpolitical community to the quite contnistive and new nation-state way ofconceptualizing the political world. In this context, New Testament Christianity's theological promise of "a new world" becomes especially interesting. Indeed, Van Klinken':;; injection of theological content into his topics fot study in writing twentieth-century Indonesian history is apt and productive. Each ofthe five main charactets in the volume took the Gospels and (in the case ofthe Catholics) the sacraments seriously as game plans for world renewal. They had also soaked up some ofthe popular Christian stereotypes for evaluating Christian existence in the late colonial Indies: notions that, for instance, Christians were more hard-working, cleaner, and more school-minded than their Muslim brethren. They also assumed that Christian church membership lent special inorai virtue to family life, especially in teims ofthe treatment ofwomen. Such flattering imageries of Christian life often worked in these quite elite men's lives to give them a language for talking about modernity itself. Such imageries also reinforced a degree of social privilege: all considered themselves to be further down the road to modernity than their fellow Indies residents. At the same time, Christian tropes ofredemption led these men to critique colonial social hierarchies in Batavia and in the plantation economy in general. As Van Klinken writes in an insightful chapter on the history of Christianity in the Indies, Indonesian Christian:; experienced the political world in two contrastive ways (p. 7). On che one hand, they experienced church in teims of state authoritarianism, docile Book Reviews107 conformity, and the tamed congregations beholden to government licensure. On the othet hand, "the...