- Recent Studies on Indonesian Islam:A Sign of Intellectual Exhaustion?
Islam in Indonesia continues to be a main focus of studies on Indonesian society and politics. Recent research on this subject analyses Indonesian Islam in the context of changing state-society relations in post-authoritarian era. However, despite the proliferation of new studies and empirical findings on post-authoritarian Indonesian Islam, their primary analytical lens remains unchanged. This lens is based on five main [End Page 105] theoretical assumptions about Indonesian Islam, namely (1) the primacy of culturalist and idealist explanations of Indonesian Islam, (2) the dichotomy between “moderate-progressive” and “conservative-fundamentalist” Islamic groups, (3) a focus on Islamic groups and institutions within society, (4) a presentist view of Indonesian Islam, and (5) methodologically, a crude division of labor between humanities scholars and social scientists.
Such a research agenda, unfortunately, has a number of major weaknesses. First of all, it reifies the “moderate-progressive versus conservative-fundamentalist” view of Indonesian Islam, thereby reducing the complexity and diversity within Indonesian Islam and possibly essentializing it. Second, its overemphasis on the role of Islamic groups and institutions isolates the dynamics of these groups from larger structural contexts, that is, the changing nature of political economy, class configurations, and state-society relations in post-authoritarian Indonesia. Likewise, the mainstream approach to studying Indonesian Islam also overlooks the transnational impact of changes in global political economy on Islamic movements worldwide, including Indonesian Islam. Given all of this, the lack of an innovative research agenda for contemporary studies of Indonesian Islam might be symptomatic of intellectual exhaustion.
The recent works on Indonesian Islam under review here are not free from the shortcomings described above. With the exception of Noorhaidi Hasan’s monograph, most of the essays in the other three edited volumes look at Indonesian Islam from a mainstream perspective. As such, although the empirics of their findings are appreciated, their analytical frameworks have been overused. To overcome this barrier, reviving a critical materialist approach that takes into account both ideational and historical-structural dimensions can provide a breakthrough for future research on Indonesian Islam.
The Same Old Wine in the Same Old Bottle
Perhaps the clearest sign of the lack of new theoretical breakthroughs can be found in Mirjam Künkler and Alfred Stepan’s and Martin van Bruinessen’s edited volumes. At the risk of being accused of exaggeration, any serious student of comparative politics, Indonesia, and political Islam will find it difficult to point out what is really new in these two books, despite the fact that the editors and many of the contributors are long-time observers of Indonesian political Islam.
Künkler and Stepan open the discussion in the introduction by outlining the four main foci of their book, namely, theoretical discussion of Indonesia’s democratization, attitudes and behaviors of religious and political actors, religion, and law. The main emphasis here is on the competition and disagreement over political discourses and the need to find a Rawlsian “overlapping consensus”2 among different religious and political actors (6). They also emphasize the role of public intellectuals in promoting democratic values and combating anti-democratic ideas (7). In the second chapter, William Liddle and Saiful Mujani, two other senior scholars on Indonesian Islam and [End Page 106] politics, discuss Indonesia’s democratization using Linz and Stepan’s classic work on democratic transition and consolidation as a benchmark.3 The focus of their essay is on the attitudinal, behavioral, and constitutional dimensions of democratic consolidation in five arenas: civil, political, and economic societies; the rule of law; and the state’s apparatus. The second part of the book discusses the discursive aspect of relations among...