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Reviewed by:
  • Christianity, Islam, and Nationalism in Indonesia
  • James Haire
Charles E. Farhadian . 2005. Christianity, Islam, and Nationalism in Indonesia (Routledge Contemporary Southeast Asia Series, Volume 6). New York and London: Routledge, pp. xii + 233.

This monograph is a very fine study of the interaction between Christianity, Islam, and post-Suharto politics among the indigenous population of Papua, or Irian Jaya, in Eastern Indonesia. It looks specifically at how the Dani, an inland, highland community have coped with broader Indonesian society as they have become inhabitants of urban centres around Papua. Papua is a problematic part of the Indonesian archipelago. The indigenous population is Melanesian, while the immigrant population is Malay, largely from Java. The former are primarily Christian, mainly Protestant, and the latter largely Muslim. Moreover, the Melanesians form something over 50% of the population, while the immigrant part is rapidly moving towards 50%.

Farhadian provides a fascinating series of studies on the interaction between the two, with the added involvement of the Indonesian civil authority and military. He begins by examining the originally isolated nature of highland Dani society, and its interaction with Christianity, as the latter arrived largely in its evangelical Protestant vesture (Chapters 1 and 2). He then assesses the gradual urbanisation of part of the Dani society and its encounter with Islam, as it arrived mainly through transmigration (Chapters 3 and 4). Finally, he analyses the consequent forms of Dani Christianity and of Dani communal identity (Chapters 5 and 6), before making his evaluation.

His conclusions are significant. Farhadian stresses that Christianity appears to have grown by its thorough-going relativisation of cultures and languages, while Islam seems to have expanded by its absolutisation of these factors. Again, the process of the vernacularisation of the gospel in this community has been the major factor in propelling the Dani into movements towards political activism and self-determination. This is notable against the background of the missions through whom they received the gospel, as the politically active response of the indigenous [End Page 187] churches was in sharp contrast to that of the politically quietist missionaries.

There are other rich insights in this multifaceted study of the religious, political, cultural and social interactions in this eastern Indonesian society. Many have parallels with those in the studies by Van Akkeren and Sumartana in Java, and by the current reviewer in the Moluccas. However, there are other insights peculiar to this highland community, for example their interaction with the piety and pietism of the missions, which could have been drawn out further with great value. All in all, Farhadian has provided us with a very significant contribution to inter-cultural theology.

James Haire
Charles Sturt University, Canberra, Australia


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pp. 187-188
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2009
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