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Polarising Javanese Society

Islamic and Other Vision, c. 1830-1930

M.C. Ricklefs

Publication Year: 2007

By the early 19th century, Islam had come to be the religious element in Javanese identity, but it was a particular kind of Islam described by the author as a “mystic synthesis”. The Javanese held firmly to their identity as Muslims and fulfilled the basic ritual obligations of the faith, but they also accepted the reality of local spiritual forces. Polarising Javanese Society discusses how colonial rule, population pressure and Islamic reform undermined this distinctively Javanese syncretism. A fourfold division appeared among pious Muslims -- some remained adherents of the “mystic synthesis”, some followed reformers who demanded a more orthoprax way of life, some supported reformist Sufis, and some accepted messianic ideas. A new category emerged comprising Javanese who resisted Islamic reform and began to attenuate their Islamic identity. These increasingly nominal Muslims -- the majority -- became known as abangan. The priyayi elite meanwhile embraced the forms of modernity as represented by their European rulers and modern scientific learning, and Christianity began to make limited inroads into Javanese society. Some even came to regard the original conversion of the Javanese to Islam as a civilisational mistake, and within this social element explicitly anti-Islamic concepts took shape. In the early 20th century, these categories became politicised in the context of Indonesia’s nascent anti-colonial movements. Thus were born the contending political identities that lay behind much of the conflict and bloodshed of 20th-century Indonesia. Based on a wide range of original sources in Javanese and Dutch, this book is the first thoroughly researched publication on Islam in Java.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Half Title, Title, Copyright, Dedication Pages

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pp. vii

List of Illustrations and Maps

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pp. viii-ix

List of Tables

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pp. x


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pp. xi-xiii

Transcription and Orthography

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pp. xiv

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pp. xv-xvii

This book aims to answer questions that have been bothering me for many years. I learned when I began studying Indonesia in the 1960s, and observed personally when I first arrived there in 1969, that Javanese society was deeply conflicted by differing degrees of commitment to...

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1. The Javanese Islamic Legacy to c. 1830: The Mystic Synthesis

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pp. 1-11

The Javanese have long had opportunities to sample new, foreign ways of doing and believing and the imagination to embrace whatever seemed to be of value. As world trade passed through their waters, stopped at their ports and sought their trade items, new technologies and new faiths...

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2. Javanese Society's Nineteenth-century Colonial Context

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pp. 12-29

In Java, 1830 was one of those remarkable years that truly mark a historical watershed. Most years that we take as turning-points are just useful short-hand indicators of longer periods of transition, some particular event being taken to stand for a larger train of events. But 1830 really...

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3. The Diverging Worlds of Pious Islam

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pp. 30-83

As noted in Chapter 1, Javanese Islamic traditions around 1830 brought together a sense of Islamic identity, fulfillment of the five pillars of Islamic ritual life and acceptance of an array of local spiritual forces — all within the Javanese understanding of Sufism — marking what I have...

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4. The Birth of the Abangan

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pp. 84-104

From about the middle of the nineteenth century, there emerged in Javanese society a category of people who were defined by their failure — in the eyes of the more pious — to behave as proper Muslims. These were the...

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5. Javanese Christian Communities

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pp. 105-125

Until the middle years of the nineteenth century, there was no significant Christian mission effort in Java and there were no Javanese Christian communities. Then the first Javanese embraced Christianity. This was in the context of Dutch colonial rule, of course, so it might be tempting...

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6. The Elite's New Horizons

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pp. 126-175

We have seen in Chapter 2 that the priyayi elite were essential to the functioning of the colonial state in nineteenth-century Java. For the Dutch, if the social prestige of the priyayi could be combined with sufficient administrative skills to make the administration work acceptably...

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7. Anti-Islamic Reaction: Budi and Buda

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pp. 176-213

In 1866 a scientific discussion in Bramartani led to the suggestion for the first time (so far as I am aware) that the age of Islam might come to an end in Java. Raden Saleh Sharif Bustaman (1811–80), the great painter and a prominent figure of this hybrid age, had discovered...

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8. Polarities Politicised, c. 1908-30

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pp. 214-250

Into the increasingly polarised society that we have seen emerging in nineteenth-century Java there came, in the early twentieth century, more modern forms of organising and mobilising people and of distributing ideas. Social categories that had previously been seen in such matters as...

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Conclusions: Religion, Politics and Conflicted Societies

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pp. 251-264

In the preceding chapters, we have seen how a society that seems once to have been unified by a sense of religious identity came to be divided by conflicting senses of religious identity. As far as can be judged from the surviving evidence — which is voluminous but certainly less...


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pp. 265-268


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pp. 269-283


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pp. 284-297

E-ISBN-13: 9789971696566
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971693466

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 3 maps, 23 images
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: New