Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia: Magic and Modernity 9789048516278

The book casts new light on the relation between religion and modernity in Southeast Asia and beyond.

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Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia: Magic and Modernity

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
Modern Spirits
Spirits in and of Southeast Asia’s Modernity: An Overview
The Social Placing of Religion and Spirituality in Vietnam in the Context of Asian Modernity. Perspectives for Research
Where the Dead Go to the Market. Market and Ritual as Social Systems in Upland Southeast Asia
Modernity and Spirit Possession in Java. Horse Dance and Its Contested Magic
Modern Muslims
Hadhrami Moderns. Recurrent Dynamics as Historical Rhymes of Indonesia’s Reformist Islamic Organization Al-Irsyad
Mubeng Beteng. A Contested Ritual of Circumambulation in Yogyakarta
‘Muslim Modernities’ in Makassar and Yogyakarta. Negotiating ‘the West’ as a Frame of Reference
Cosmological Battles. Understanding Susceptibility and Resistance to Transnational Islamic Revivalism in Java
Modern Traditions
Modes of Interreligious Coexistence and Civility in Maluku
Ethnicity and Violence in Bali. And What Barong Landung Says about It
Contested Moksa in Balinese Agama Hindu. Balinese Death Rituals between Ancestor Worship and Modern Hinduism
Good Girls. Christianity, Modernity and Gendered Morality in Tanah Karo, North Sumatra
Bukit Kasih, the Hill of Love. Multireligiosity for Pleasure
Notes on Contributors

Citation preview

Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia

Publications The International Institute for Asian Studies is a research and exchange platform based in Leiden, the Netherlands. Its objective is to encourage the interdisciplinary and comparative study of Asia and to promote (inter)national cooperation. IIAS focuses on the humanities and social sciences and on their interaction with other sciences. It stimulates scholarship on Asia and is instrumental in forging research networks among Asia Scholars. Its main research interest are reflected in the three book series published with Amsterdam University Press: Global Asia, Asian Heritages and Asian Cities. IIAS acts as an international mediator, bringing together various parties in Asia and other parts of the world. The Institute works as a clearinghouse of knowledge and information. This entails activities such as providing information services, the construction and support of international networks and cooperative projects, and the organisation of seminars and conferences. In this way, IIAS functions as a window on Europe for non-European scholars and contributes to the cultural rapprochement between Europe and Asia. IIAS Publications Officer: Paul van der Velde IIAS Assistant Publications Officer: Mary Lynn van Dijk

Global Asia Asia has a long history of transnational linkage with other parts of the world. Yet the contribution of Asian knowledge, values, and practices in the making of the modern world has largely been overlooked until recent years. The rise of Asia is often viewed as a challenge to the existing world order. Such a bifurcated view overlooks the fact that the global order has been shaped by Asian experiences as much as the global formation has shaped Asia. The Global Asia Series takes this understanding as the point of departure. It addresses contemporary issues related to transnational interactions within the Asian region, as well as Asia’s projection into the world through the movement of goods, people, ideas, knowledge, ideologies, and so forth. The series aims to publish timely and well-researched books that will have the cumulative effect of developing new perspectives and theories about global Asia. Series Editor: Tak-Wing Ngo, Professor of Political Science, University of Macau, China Editorial Board: Kevin Hewison, Sir Walter Murdoch Distinguished Professor of Politics and International Studies, Murdoch University, Australia / Hagen Koo, Professor of Sociology, University of Hawaii, USA / Loraine Kennedy, Directrice de recherché, Centre d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, France / Guobin Yang, Associate Professor, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia Magic and Modernity

Edited by Volker Gottowik

Amsterdam University Press


Global Asia 2

Cover illustration: Chiang Khong, North Thailand, © Volker Gottowik 2010 Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Typesetting: Crius Group, Hulshout Amsterdam University Press English-language titles are distributed in the US and Canada by the University of Chicago Press. isbn e-isbn nur

978 90 8964 424 4 978 90 4851 627 8 (pdf) 718 / 719 / 761

© Volker Gottowik / Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2014 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owners and the authors of the book.

Table of Contents

Preface 7 Introduction 9 Volker Gottowik

Modern Spirits Spirits in and of Southeast Asia’s Modernity


The Social Placing of Religion and Spirituality in Vietnam in the Context of Asian Modernity


Where the Dead Go to the Market


Modernity and Spirit Possession in Java


An Overview Peter J. Bräunlein

Perspectives for Research Michael Dickhardt

Market and Ritual as Social Systems in Upland Southeast Asia Guido Sprenger

Horse Dance and Its Contested Magic Paul Christensen

Modern Muslims Hadhrami Moderns

Recurrent Dynamics as Historical Rhymes of Indonesia’s Reformist Islamic Organization Al-Irsyad Martin Slama


Mubeng Beteng 133 A Contested Ritual of Circumambulation in Yogyakarta Susanne Rodemeier

‘Muslim Modernities’ in Makassar and Yogyakarta


Cosmological Battles


Negotiating ‘the West’ as a Frame of Reference Melanie V. Nertz

Understanding Susceptibility and Resistance to Transnational Islamic Revivalism in Java Thomas Reuter

Modern Traditions Modes of Interreligious Coexistence and Civility in Maluku


Ethnicity and Violence in Bali


Birgit Bräuchler

And What Barong Landung Says about It Volker Gottowik

Contested Moksa in Balinese Agama Hindu 237 Balinese Death Rituals between Ancestor Worship and Modern Hinduism Annette Hornbacher

Good Girls


Bukit Kasih, the Hill of Love


Notes on Contributors


Christianity, Modernity and Gendered Morality in Tanah Karo, North Sumatra Karin Klenke

Multireligiosity for Pleasure Judith Schlehe

Bibliography 305

Preface Southeast Asia is a crossroads of many religious influences, which have always been treated syncretically. One precondition for this basically peaceful syncretism is the fact that the different religious communities largely eschew orthodoxy and content themselves with their followers’ commitment to a particular ritual practice (orthopractice). As a result, the superseding of indigenous religions by Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other world religions has been left incomplete. As a result, today Southeast Asia still presents a highly complex culturally and religiously dynamic picture. The striving for supremacy of certain world religions is a relatively recent phenomenon in Southeast Asia. It is taking place in the wake of an expansion of the scriptural religions and their interpretation as monotheisms. Although these monotheistic religions largely appear to have superseded indigenous beliefs, in local conditions not only these beliefs but also the mechanisms of conflict regulation they have shaped have both survived. One of these mechanisms is religious practice organized not exactly along confessional lines, but rather incorporating adherents of different religious communities ritually and committing them normatively to common values. In this way, in many parts of Southeast Asia a local ethos has survived in confronting processes of globalization. This local ethos draws sustenance from the revitalization of putative traditions, which have simultaneously been subjected to an innovative process of reinterpretation. In this process, moments of a flexible and reflexive confrontation with both expanding world religions and Western modernity can be recognized. Against this background, indigenous religions function not least as a resource for a critique of modernization. As a result, the creative re-appropriation of traditional beliefs not only has far-reaching impacts on interethnic relations, but also casts new light on old theoretical conceptions, such as magic and modernity. The present volume deals with magic and modernity and asks about their current significance for the dynamics of religion in Southeast Asia. In altogether thirteen articles it is demonstrated how religious conceptions and magic practices contribute to meeting the challenges of modernity. Against this background, religion and modernity are no longer perceived as existing in contradiction; rather, it is argued that a revision of the western notion of religion is required to understand the complexity of ‘multiple modernities’ in a globalized world.


Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia

The present volume has resulted from a ‘scientific network’ sponsored by the ‘German Research Foundation’ (DFG) over a period of four years. As a group of almost ten junior scholars from various universities in Germany, we were granted the opportunity to organize six conferences, invite colleagues and international guests and discuss with them the ‘Religious Dynamics in Southeast Asia’. We would like to thank first the respective anthropological departments at the universities of Münster, Munich, Freiburg, Göttingen and Frankfurt/M. which hosted our conferences, and secondly our international guests, who provided considerable inputs to productive discussions and a cordial working atmosphere: André Feillard (Paris), Goh Beng-Lan (Singapore/Leiden), Michel Picard (Paris), Thomas Reuter (Melbourne) and Peter van der Veer (Amsterdam/Göttingen). Finally we would like to thank the DFG for its generous support, including a publication grant which made this volume possible. In 2011, our ‘scientif ic network’ was transferred into a ‘competence network’, sponsored by the ‘Federal Ministry of Education and Research’ (BMBF), which gave us the opportunity to continue our research on the ‘Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia’ (DORISEA). While some contributors to this volume refer in their articles to previous and completed research projects, others have chosen to introduce their new projects and to present their initial findings. The mixture of articles referring to projects just started or just completed is due to the transitional stage or liminal period out of which the idea for this volume emerged. However, since the majority of contributors are associated with at least one of the two networks mentioned above, the present volume documents our continuous engagement with the dynamics of religion in Southeast Asia. Furthermore, we would like to thank the ‘German Anthropological Association’ (DGV) for its support and also the two anonymous referees who provided encouraging criticism. Finally our gratitude goes to Amsterdam University Press and Mary Lynn van Dijk, who always offered advice, even when we have encroached on her patience. Readers who are interested in our ongoing research and want to follow how we have proceeded with our engagement with the dynamics of religion in Southeast Asia can take note of our homepage, where the latest information is provided: http://www.dorisea.de/en

Introduction Volker Gottowik The present volume aims to analyze the relationship between religion and modernity in terms of the dynamic processes by which they are connected. In doing so, it draws on a variety of discourses in the social and cultural sciences that address the question of modernity by locating it between the conflicting priorities of the dis-enchantment and re-enchantment of the world. In these discourses, it is widely agreed that, particularly outside Western Europe, processes of secularization did not happen as predicted. However, an open question remains: if modernity is not able to transform religion into reason, what, then, can modernity do with religion? By explicitly raising this issue, the present volume tries to describe the dynamic relationship between religion and modernity by referring to Southeast Asia as an ethnographic example. Southeast Asia has always been a crossroads of many different influences from India, China and Europe. All global religions are represented in the area, and they interact not only with each other, but also with local belief systems. Majority religions in some parts of Southeast Asia find themselves to be minority religions in others. However, it is not only religions that crisscross geographical and political boundaries – people do so as well. The result is an impressive network of ethnic and religious groups that define themselves not only in relation and in opposition to each other but also vis-à-vis a rapidly changing world. The present volume deals with the impact of modernity on ethnic and religious plurality in Southeast Asia with special reference to these interactive processes. According to modernization theory, one of the master narratives of the second half of the twentieth century, the relationship between modernity and religion is competitive, contradictory and mutually exclusive. The assumption has prevailed in the social and cultural sciences that the differentiation of capitalist forms of economy and the modern nation-state, together with the rationalization of the conduct of life, would subject religion to encompassing transformations. The thesis of the progressive secularization of the world is associated with Max Weber in particular, though in his works it remained peculiarly undetermined whether the ‘Entzauberung der Welt’ would make religion disappear altogether or restrict it to the private sphere alone (cf. Weber 1985 [1922]: 612). Since then, however, it has become obvious that this universalistic approach was leading to arbitrary generalizations of some West European lines


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of development, while its teleological orientation remained largely strange, not least to scholars in Southeast Asian countries. On closer examination, however, this does not come as a surprise. The assumption was that, as a process of ongoing rationalization, modernization would proceed from the West and finally spread to all other continents: rooted in ancient Greece and Rome, re-emerging in Renaissance, blooming during the Age of Enlightenment, expanding with imperialism and culminating in the age of globalization, modernization was considered to be a universal phenomenon which, as an influential narrative, ultimately became a strong identity marker of the West vis-à-vis the rest of the world (cf. Asad 1993a: 18 and Houben & Schrempf 2008: 8). In any case, the West had defined itself strongly through this historical construction and made the project of modernity – including its aim of material and moral progress – exclusively its own (cf. Asad 1993a: 18). It was not only the formation of the nation-state and civil society, the development of a capitalist economy and rational conduct, but also the separation in principle of church and state and the granting of religious freedom that were considered to be crucial achievements of this Western-initiated process of modernization and differentiation, which would ultimately lead to greater freedom and prosperity for all. In this respect, modernity has its own history, conceptualized as an ongoing process with its own dynamics and a decisively predicted result: it was not only the rationalization of the world that was put on the agenda, but also its Westernization (cf. Asad 1993a: 18). At this point, however, it becomes obvious that modernity is not only profoundly historical, it is also profoundly ideological, ‘a Eurocentric vision of universal teleology’ (Comaroff & Comaroff 1993: xxx). Against this background, the question raised in the present volume is how the ideology of modernity was able to expand and spread over the whole world. What is the attraction to being modern or becoming modern, or staying modern?

From modernity to multiple modernities Historical concept analysis reveals that, from the beginning, the notions of ‘modernity’ and the ‘modern’ refer to the experience of time; their present use, however, reflects the growing importance of the future (cf. Kaufmann 1989: 38f.). This orientation towards the future finds its expression not least in everyday language, where progress and change in particular are

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associated with modernity. Modernity stands for flexibility in the sense of the ability to produce constant adjustment and modification, thereby turning into a category of revision and transformation. In other words, the programme of modernity is perfectibility (cf. Kaufmann 1989: 39, 41). The constant search for the very latest as what is supposed to be better leads to a situation in which the future, defined as an open future, denigrates the present and challenges the past. For this reason, modernity is best understood as the ‘legitimization of permanent change’ (Kaufmann 1989: 35). For modern man to adapt to the dynamics of change is an ongoing requirement if he wants to avoid the stigma of being old-fashioned, since what is modern today is already considered backward tomorrow. Modernity has to renew itself constantly on its own terms and to overcome what it has generated as recently as yesterday. The ambivalence of modernity becomes apparent at this point, as does its inherent antinomy, which promotes its internal dynamics and impels it to spread globally (cf. Eisenstadt 2000b: 245): modernity is a future-oriented project that requires constant transformations towards its unattainable completion. To be modern implies keeping pace with the times and anticipating tomorrow’s trends today. As it is associated with being educated, sophisticated and development-oriented, to be modern has positive connotations that are advocated and appreciated socially. They charge the idea of modernity with a normative substance, which fueled the implementation of its central ideas (cf. Joas 2012: 23). The degree to which modernity’s ideas are normatively grounded becomes apparent when modernity is seen as a global project: the ‘Projekt der Moderne’ consists, in the words of Jürgen Habermas (1994: 42), in developing science, morality, law and the arts ‘undeterred’ and to use their cognitive potential for a rational re-organization of living conditions. Being essentially ‘unvollendet’ or ‘unfinished’, modernity captures all spheres of society – economy, politics, culture – and imposes itself on its members through education, the media etc., although with different and sometimes surprising results. However, the almost magic aura of modernity, to which the title of this volume alludes, becomes apparent at this point: modernity is able not only to subject all spheres of life to the dynamics of transformation, but also to legitimize this transformation, as it is supposed to redound to the advantage of all. In so doing, modernity has triggered one of the strongest social and political dynamics in the history of mankind (cf. Eisenstadt 2000b: 26). However, the expansion of modernity has resulted not in a unilinear process of modernization and a singular or global modernity but in a variety of


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modernities, i.e. multiple modernities. This expression was used by Shmuel Eisenstadt to stress ‘that modernity and Westernization are not identical’ (2000a: 2f.). Eisenstadt conceives modernity as a culture or cultural form that originated in the West, expanded analogues to the world religions, and evolved or materialized at different places in different ways (cf. Eisenstadt 2006a: 1 and 2006b: 37). Against conventional convictions, which emphasize the primacy of the economic system as the substructure of society, the conception of multiple modernities highlights the cultural dimensions of modernity and its locally specific characteristics. Such a ‘cultural theory of modernity’ (C. Taylor 2001: 172) avoids any universalistic determinism and stresses instead the interaction between global and local influences which always endow modernity with a place and a culturally specific appearance. In the course of this interaction, some aspects of modernity converge, while others diverge, and ‘divergence in convergence’ (C. Taylor 2001: 185) has become characteristic of global modernization processes. These processes have resulted in the apparent paradox ‘that people in the world now share much in common at the same time that they are as differentiated, diverse, and even more unequal than they were before’ (Knauft 2002: 22). However, as a consequence of the multiplication of modernity, designations for these modernities have multiplied too, with not only ‘multiple modernities’, but also ‘entangled’ and ‘uneven modernities’, ‘indigenous’ and ‘alternative modernities’, ‘local’ and ‘vernacular modernities’, etc. They all challenge in varying degrees the universality of the concept of modernity and stress that, as an analytic concept, ‘modernity’ can only be used in the plural or in a localized form. In other words: ‘Modernity has become global (…) [but] is importantly regional, multiple, vernacular, or “other” in character’ (Knauft 2002: 1). As a result of postcolonial criticism and subaltern studies in particular, the West as the origin and engine of global modernization processes ceased to be seen as the world’s centre and became only one province among many other provinces (cf. Chakrabarty 2010: 62). Since ‘modernity is not one but many’, ‘modernity is now everywhere’ – that is, ‘modernity is inescapable’ (Gaonkar 2001: 1, 23). As a consequence of the multiplication of modernity, each and every person is affected by the dynamics of modernity and in some way or other is becoming modern. However, if everyone is modern, no one is. A counter-project to modernity is needed to make it a useful analytic concept. If this counter-project is not pre-modernity, late-modernity or post-modernity, what else can it be? And when Southeast Asian modernity is supposed to be the counter-project to West European modernity, why is it

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called modernity at all? Alongside this Southeast Asian modernity, is there still a Southeast Asian tradition? Has the dichotomy between the modern and the traditional only shifted here from the global to the local or regional level? Or do we now have to conceive of all traditions as profoundly modern and all modernities as profoundly traditional? Beyond these questions, which the present volume tries to address, the advantages of the concept of multiple modernities are obvious: 1 It separates the notion of modernity from the linear concept of progress and development that encompassed a premodern and postmodern period; instead of describing modernization processes teleologically, the concept of multiple modernities covers their complex and contradictory formations. 2 It emphasizes that Europe and the European enlightenment are not identical with modernity; it escapes the dichotomy of the West vis-à-vis the rest of the world so that alternative figures of thought or so-called third spaces become accessible. 3 It recognizes historical and cultural differences beyond existing commonalities, thus establishing a pluralistic understanding of social and cultural transformations. 4 Finally, it emphasizes agency; although modernity cannot be escaped, through creative adaptations it assumes different forms in terms of place and culture (cf. Houben & Schrempf 2008: 11). The last point is important for the central argument of the present volume regarding the specific forms that modernity is assuming in Southeast Asia through creative adaptions, which pertain not least to religion. Religion was considered to be antithetical to modernity, an obstacle on the path to development, with the expectation that modernity would finally overcome it. However, modernity and religion turned out not to be separate domains, but rather intertwined or entangled spheres, with the result that religion had profound implications for social, political and economic transformations and vice versa. Religion mediated modernity on the local level and contributed to its place and culturally bound formation as modernity embraced and mediated religion, which thus does not disappear but takes on different forms: religious traditions are expressed in a modern way. Therefore it is appropriate not only to speak, for example, of an Indonesian modernity, which differs tremendously from a Japanese or West European modernity, but also of an Indonesian Islam, in so far as it differs from Islam in other parts of the world through its locally specific inventory.


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Until recently the veil, for example, was not a central part of this inventory, but started only twenty or thirty years ago to gain broad public acceptance. Being a symbol of backwardness and misogyny in the West, in Indonesia – at least in middle-class circles – it became a symbol of an informed and in this sense enlightened or modern Islam, applied in particular by younger women to dissociate themselves from the supposed ignorance of their mothers. Modernity has neither suppressed religion nor made it disappear; it has merely changed the nature of religious expression, and in sometimes quite unexpected ways as the example from Indonesia demonstrates. In Southeast Asia, modernity is religious and religion is modern or struggles to become modern. The assumption that tradition and modernity, religion and development are antagonistic cannot be maintained with regard to the religious landscape that is under scrutiny here. For the vast majority of people in Southeast Asia, religion never lost its significance, and many countries in this area like Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, which experienced periods of the politically motivated suppression of religious belief systems, are today witnessing a ‘re-enchantment of religion’ (cf. P. Taylor 2007). What has become obvious everywhere is ‘the return of religions’ (Riesebrodt 2001), their renewal and revitalization. Even in parts of Western Europe, where the theory of secularization was not only postulated, but at least in part made sense, these processes are taking place. Against this background, concepts that equate the rise of modernity with the fall of religion completely miss the dynamic relationship connecting modern religions and religious modernities, and not only in Southeast Asia.

Religion − for example The question of what religion is was raised systematically in the West only under modern conditions. Originating at the turn of the seventeenth century, the contemporary notion of religion denotes first what was considered, beyond competing denominations and diverging religious demands, to be binding and mandatory (cf. Kaufmann 1989: 15). The science of religion, however, was only established as late as the nineteenth century. Since that time, religion has been conceptualized as a universal category whose global spread is compared to the emergence of the modern idea of the nation. Both nation and religion are cultural constructs, products of the social imagination, but nevertheless quite effective (cf. Veer & Lehmann 1999: 3f.). However, following Victor Turner (1969), the social effectiveness

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of religion has to be assessed as rather ambivalent: religion is a stabilizing as well as a transforming factor in the foundation of multiple modernities. According to modern understanding, religion is a clearly distinctive entity with a specific dogma and a specific liturgy: orthodoxy is a main requirement, and ritual is performed merely to symbolize dogma (cf. Asad 1993c: 60). Among the first to point out that there are religions that manage almost without dogma was William Robertson Smith (1889). Clifford Geertz (1973b: 177) followed this line of argument by emphasizing that the dogmatism of such religions is restricted to the proper performance of their rituals. However, measured against the Western notion of religion, these orthopractic religions appear to be deficient, as they are not equipped with orthodoxy and, as part and parcel of the social, almost not distinct from other cultural fields. Seen from this perspective, they are not proper religions at all. Against this background, religious studies have attracted strong criticism from a variety of scholars and disciplines. One such criticism is that the categories of the Judeo-Christian tradition, like worship, God and salvation, are applied cross-culturally, where they inevitably lead to distortions (cf. Fitzgerald 2000: 9). Therefore the notion of religion is regarded as ‘part of Western ideology’, the science of religion as an ‘agency for reproducing a mystifying ideology’, while respective publications merely serve ‘the reproduction of hegemonic representations of the world’ (cf. Fitzgerald 2000: ixff.; cf. also Masuzawa 2005). Regardless of whether this critique is appropriate, the proposed suspension of particular notions and their replacement through other notions provides just as poor a solution as to put them – a popular academic exercise – in quotations marks. Indeed, much depends on how one conceptualizes religion and modernity. In the case of modernity, however, the dominant characteristic must be seen in the ability to renew itself constantly on its own terms; therefore any definition in terms of set characteristics which goes beyond modernities’ principled openness for what counts as new and innovative must fail. And in the case of religion, while the notion is indeed fraught with problems, this is true of notions like culture, tradition and ritual, too. Any attempt to replace them with other notions – creed, civilization, ceremony – will inevitably turn out to be no less problematic and cannot provide a solution. Rather, it is necessary to problematize these notions in order to explore their limits and potentials and to analyze how they are used discursively. What counts as religion or superstition and for whom? What criteria are used to distinguish between tradition and modernity? To what extent


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do Western or Christian concepts dominate the respective discourses on religion and modernity? Since what counts as religion or superstition is historically and socially constructed (cf. Asad 1993b: 29), it is necessary not only to investigate how and by whom this distinction was introduced, but also to look for alternative concepts. This does not mean replacing Euro-centrism with Java- or Thai-centrism, for example, but juxtaposing local concepts and vernacular notions with Western ones, discussing them in the light of the respective other and elaborating differences, that is, potentials and limits. This would imply using, for example, Southeast Asia not only as a field for data collection, but also as a source for concept formation, not least with regard to religion and modernity. It was such a juxtaposition of concepts that made clear that in Western discourses the notion of religion is conceptually separated from the domain of power, just as the notion of modernity is conceptually equated with secularization (cf. Asad 1983, 1993b: 28f.). From the perspective of Southeast Asia, the relationship between modernity and religion emerges in an altogether different light, as the contributions to this volume demonstrate. By referring to such a perspective, these contributions describe how conceptual differences condition the way in which people in Southeast Asia creatively adopt and subversively reject features of modernity and religion. It is through these creative processes that they contribute to the establishment of modern religions and religious modernities in this region.

The rationalization of religion Religion and modernity form a dynamic relationship that is fueled and impelled by processes of secularization, rationalization and standardization. Against concepts that set religion and modernity in contradiction, the present volume takes up a line of argument that conceives secularization and modernization as processes that comprise the rationalization of religion. By referring explicitly to this line of argument, a discursive field is addressed to which the present volume tries to make a contribution. According to prevailing Western concepts, secularization unfolds in three dimensions: 1) the differentiation of a religious and a secular sphere; 2) the decline of religious convictions and forms of conduct; and 3) the restriction of religion to the private sphere (cf. Casanova 1994: 22ff.). According to José Casanova, the differentiation mentioned under point 1 takes place all over the world, although in different ways, and is therefore a

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tendency characteristic of all modern societies; however, the other dimensions of secularization (points 2 and 3) have largely failed to materialize. The three dimensions appear together only in Western Europe, and although there is a historical connection, there is no structural link between them. In other words, the decline of religion and its restriction to the private sphere is not necessarily a structural tendency of modernity, but solely a possible historical option (cf. Casanova 1994: 22ff.). As a consequence, the secular nature of modernity and modernization is called into question; if processes of secularization take place at all, they are certainly not monolithic or teleological (cf. Hefner 1998: 85). Up to this point, there is a broad consensus within the social sciences; more controversial, however, is the question to what extent a rationalization of religion has occurred as part of the modernization process. Does the rationalization of all spheres of life in modernity comprise a rationalization of religion and corresponding convictions and practices? Clifford Geertz, for example, describes religious modernization and rationalization as ‘a real process’ and a ‘development in and of itself’, which finally causes ‘a process of “internal conversion”’ (Geertz 1973b: 170, 175, 182). This conversion within the limits of a particular religious community leads to the following result: ‘What used to rest on ritual habit is now to rest on rationalized dogmatic belief’ (Geertz 1973b: 186). According to Geertz, rationalization on the levels of dogma and creed is ‘provoked by a thorough shaking of the foundations of social order’ (1973b: 173). As a consequence, the social elites find themselves constrained to legitimize their claim to power: ‘Authority now (…) demands “reasons” – that is doctrine’ (ibid: 186). The process of rationalization comprises, according to Geertz, the systematization of doctrine, the intensification of religious concern and the expansion of formal religious organizations (ibid: 187). The result of this process is a spatial separation of man and God, a gap between the profane and the sacred which characterizes all rationalized religions. And it was the acknowledgement and appreciation of the rather rational character of these religions that finally propelled and facilitated their global spread (cf. Hefner 1993: 10). However, are modern religions really any more rational than traditional belief systems? Is polytheism really less rational than monotheism, the creed in one God really more rational than the creed in many gods? Since every creed, regardless of how many gods, deduces its certainties from a sphere which is inaccessible to empirical experience, Evans-Pritchard was able to emphasize that ‘Religion is non-rational, even in its rationalized forms’ (1965: 118). Therefore religious rationalization, when addressed in the


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present volume, is in line with scholars like Geertz (1973b) or Hefner (1993), who define it as a systematization and codification of dogma, ritual and authority. Such a conception of rationalized religion and religious rationalization neither implies automatically a higher rationality on the part of modern belief systems nor a lack of rationality on the part of traditional religions, but solely that dogmas are formalized, rituals standardized and authorities institutionalized (cf. Hefner 1993: 19). Conversion to a rationalized religion does not happen, in the first place, out of a need for rationality, but for protection, certainty and access to resources (cf. Hefner 1993: 16). And what could provide a higher degree of authoritative validity than a denomination that is in the comfortable position of appealing to a scripture that was revealed by God and whose message – contrary to the chronically unreliable memory of the elders – was conveyed unchanged from generation to generation? At this point, the scripturalism of world religions becomes crucial as a distinctive feature, and the certainty that one belongs not only to a large denomination but a global one is in agreement with the need to make resources accessible and protection effective. Rationalization as the formal systematization of religious doctrines, liturgies and institutions sets norms that pressurize other religious communities into adapting to similar processes. In this context, the constitution of the Republic of Indonesia is a telling example of the attempt to make religion fit for the challenges of modernity and the normative standards thereby laid down. In other words, Indonesia’s constitution not only reflects a modern concept of religion, it also enforces this concept in Southeast Asia’s most populous country. According to Indonesia’s constitution, a religion must fulfill the following criteria to become officially accepted: 1) it has to be monotheistic; 2) it needs a prophet; and 3) it must possess a revealed scripture (cf. Picard 2011). As ritual is supposed solely to enact scripture, it is taken for granted that every denomination has a unique liturgy. Currently six denominations in Indonesia match these criteria, and at least some of them, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, match only after profound adaptation processes that came close to a second invention. These processes of adaptation or ‘religionization’ (Picard 2011: 2) transfer local religious conceptions into systematized and codified belief systems which comply with a modern concept of religion as they turn themselves into monotheistic and scripture-based denominations with a normative orthodoxy and a distinctive liturgy. Other religious communities that do not match these criteria are not officially accepted but considered to be mere

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local traditions ranging somewhere between negligible profane conventions and backward religious customs. In this manner, local religions are socially marginalized and put under pressure to submit to similar processes of rationalization and modernization. As a result, doctrines and meanings formalized in religious canons increasingly characterize local religions in Southeast Asia too, which strive to meet the requirements of a modern religion in a modern nation-state. This pressure on local religions is exerted through a growing intolerance which undermines the rather multi-religious or ecumenical coexistence of diverging denominations in Southeast Asia and ultimately contributes to possible violent confrontations along ethnic and religious lines.

Truth claims and the expulsion of ambiguity The transformation of religion from a system that is almost identical with culture to an autonomous system was described by the religious scholar and Egyptologist Jan Assmann (2003). This transformation involves simultaneously the shift from a historically developed cult religion to a revealed book religion and the formation of strong concepts of what is compatible with its orthodoxy. Only these concepts make possible what Assmann (2003: 12) has called the ‘mosaic distinction’, that is, the distinction between true and false religion, belief and unbelief, knowledge and ignorance. Such an emphatic concept of truth, which is deduced from a revealed scripture, does not stand beside other truths, but raises claims of exclusivity. According to Assmann (ibid: 14), this is what is essentially new about book religions and scripturalism. Scripturalism implies that book religions must be intolerant if they take their distinctions between true and false as normatively mandatory; they are characterized by a ‘structural intolerance’, which ultimately derives from their exclusive truth claims (cf. Assmann 2003: 26). In contrast, cult religions do not define their knowledge about their gods through the notions of what is ‘true and false’, but accept, according to Assmann (ibid: 28), contradictory statements: the main concern is not the risk of worshipping false gods, but rather of neglecting an important deity (ibid: 38). While cult religions are based on natural evidence, book religions are based on revealed truth, which sets them in contradiction to other religious formations. Only the mosaic distinction allows one to draw a boundary beyond which there exist false gods, idols, superstition, magic, heresy and other forms of religious untruths (cf. Assmann 2003: 155ff.).


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Following this line of argument, the Islamic scholar Thomas Bauer introduced the concepts of ‘cultural ambiguity’ and ‘ambiguity tolerance’ to the current debate on the dynamic relationship between religion and modernity. His investigation starts from the assumption that cultures and epochs differ tremendously in how they deal with ambiguity, diversity and plurality. Bauer defines cultural ambiguity as the coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups, the inconclusive nature of allocations to these groups and the practice of living concurrently in more than only one of them (2011: 39) . Against this background, Bauer characterizes the process of modernization as a ‘process of ambiguity extermination’ (ibid: 15). However, it is not only modernity as a process of rationalization that is hostile to ambiguity; rationalized, dogmatic religions are also characterized by increased ambiguity intolerance (ibid: 36). Bauer therefore comes to the conclusion that the ambiguity intolerance of world religions like Islam is ‘a phenomenon of modernity’ (ibid: 53). As a delayed response to the demands of modernity on the part of Islamic societies, in radical Islamism the West is confronted with its own ideologization and disambiguization of the world (ibid: 52). With this process of disambiguization goes the prevalent assumption that religions are clear-cut and well-defined entities, in which membership – as with the nation-state – can only be acquired exclusively. As a consequence of the idea that religions are mutually exclusive, open religious systems have been marginalized and pushed to the verge of public perception and legitimacy (cf. Kippenberg & Stuckrad 2003: 131). At the same time, religion as a category became ‘a classificatory device, which has to do with the construction and maintenance of boundaries’ (Picard 2011: 3). As an expression of a modern understanding of a religion, scripture is privileged over ritual, doctrine and creed over performance and experience, clear-cut boundaries over inter-faith communalities, etc. In this manner, religion is purified of any ambiguity, and the idea that members of different denominations maintain the same sacred sites or share common ritual practices turns out to be inconsistent with the modern concept of religion. Therefore the current situation is characterized by the rejection of local religions and inter-faith practices based on a cross-cultural ethos on the one hand and the establishment of new boundaries along the lines of ethnicity and religion on the other (cf. Hauser-Schäublin 2011). The dynamic processes of modernization and ‘religionization’ described above are taking place in many parts of Southeast Asia. They convey the impression that modern religions have lost their ability to discharge the social-integrative function still attributed to them by Emile Durkheim and

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many others due to the boundaries they have erected around themselves. At least in multi-religious societies, which now prevail worldwide, the function of religion has obviously been modified, no longer residing in the symbolization of social ideals and the strengthening of social coherence, but in the processing of individual experiences of contingency. Contingency has been defined as everything that is possible but not necessary (cf. Luhmann 1982: 187), and is connected with the view, held by Niklas Luhmann (ibid: 213), that alongside processes of social differentiation the contingencies of everyday life also accelerate. The ‘new obscurity’ (Habermas 1985) became a sign and symbol of modernity, whose dynamics of transformation are subjecting the individual to precarious situations and social dislocations with increased frequency. Against this background, religion and its global revitalization have to be understood as a reaction to ‘modernity and its discontents’, which derive not least from condensed and intensified experiences of contingency. Through the transformation and codification of these experiences, religion finally contributes to making modernity manageable and its challenges meaningful.

The magic in and of modernity The interaction between modernity and religion has resulted in multiple and contradictory reactions, including the apparent paradox that dogma and magic exist side by side in many parts of Southeast Asia. Magic, counted among the ‘techniques’ of religion by Arnold van Gennep (1986 [1909]: 23) and described by Bronislaw Malinowski (1973 [1948]: 71) as ‘practical art’, takes on modern traits as it gives modernity magical features. In this sense, we can talk of ‘magic in and of modernity’ (cf. also Pels 2003: 30, 34); in other words, of the magical qualities that characterize modernity in a dual sense, that is, both literally and metaphorically. The notion that magical practices in modernity prevail has been described frequently. Although magic was previously considered to be the ‘antithesis of modernity’, ‘the other or the past of modernity’, and was expected to disappear as rationalization and secularization progress (cf. Pels 2003: 4), recent studies insist that ‘these practices are thoroughly modern’ (Kapferer 2002: 15). Witchcraft and sorcery are seen as responses to new inequalities and power relations (cf. Geschiere 1997: 6ff.), while spirits and spirit possession are interpreted as discourses on conflict, hegemony and resistance (Lambek 1996: 239ff.). Modernity not only constitutes magic as its counterpoint, it also produces its own forms of magic (cf. Pels 2003: 3).


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However, besides modern forms of magic, there is also the magic of modernity in the sense that modernity is capable of taking religious forms and of assuming a magical aura. According to Jean and John Comaroff (1993: xiv), modernity, characterized as ‘an imaginary construction of the present in terms of a mythic past’, has ‘its own magicalities, its own enchantment’. This enchantment is produced not only by practices associated with modernity (cf. Pels 2003: 5) – technology, education, medicine – but also by images and institutions that disseminate modernity’s ideology of progress and change. They seize and amplify the drive to be or to become modern, the ‘desires for a style of life associated with economic development and (…) material betterment’ (Knauft 2002: 4). The power of these ideas, their intrinsic attraction, contributes to the almost magical aura by which everything modern, or supposed to be modern, is surrounded. The multiplication of modernity, its global spread and its power to renew all spheres of life in particular are both cause and result of the magic aura with which modernity is surrounded. However, magic in and of modernity are two supplementary and complementary aspects (Pels 2003: 4f.). Moreover, since they remain in a relationship that is subject to dynamic transformations, they are dialectically related to one another: the modernization and rationalization of religion, the ‘religionization’ of traditional belief systems, simultaneously produces discourses on magical practices which provide new spaces not only for the expression of ambiguity, but also for the subversion of and resistance to processes of modernization. Magic is therefore a means both to become modern and to repel the unintended consequences of this transformation. At least implicitly, the present volume investigates processes and dynamics that contribute to the magic in and of modernity while avoiding perpetuating the dichotomies between traditional and modern, magic and religion, etc. The reference to the magic of modernity in the title of this volume is therefore more than mere alliteration. With this title, the present volume tries to undermine the dichotomy by which magic, ritual and religion – that is, the whole sphere of the sacred – is pitted against modernity and to bring religion and modernity into an instructive relationship permitting insights into Southeast Asia’s dynamics of transformation. This aim finds expression in the division of the book into three sections that address the apparent paradoxes the contributors encountered in Southeast Asia: ‘Modern Spirits’, ‘Modern Muslims’ and ‘Modern Traditions’. The overall intention of the title and subheadings must be seen as challenging the usual contrapositions of magic and modernity, religion and rationalization, etc. By doing so, the volume makes plain the contradictory

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results of the interaction between modernity and religion in Southeast Asia, especially the idea of modernity as profoundly religious and religion as profoundly modern. The book is not alone in this field, as there have been publications on similar topics with similar titles (cf. Meyer & Pels 2003). Nevertheless, it aims to contribute to empirical and theoretical debates on religion and modernity by explicitly referring to the dynamic processes that transform their internal relationship. As transformation and change only become apparent against the background of a spatio-temporal frame of reference, the contributions in this volume ideally investigate selected regions and religions from an ethnographic and historical perspective in order to come to general conclusions about the dynamics of religion in Southeast Asia. All the contributions were produced by cultural and social anthropologists who are familiar with Southeast Asia through extensive fieldwork in at least one of the countries in this region. To varying degrees they combine ethnographic and theoretical concerns, thus representing not a single viewpoint, but rather complementary perspectives on the same area and the same topic, namely the dynamic relationship between religion and modernity in Southeast Asia. Despite differences that may exist in detail, all the contributors seek to determine the impact of religion on modernity and vice versa; that is, they describe the interaction between religion and modernity and the consequential transformations of their internal relations. In doing so, they provide a variety of ethnographic examples which not only claim that such transformations occur, but paradigmatically describe how they take place, how religion responds to the challenges of modernity, and how the interaction between local conditions and global influences is contributing to the emergence of place and culturally specific formations of religion and modernity in Southeast Asia. It is in these senses that the volume aims to add to the current debate on the dynamics of religion and modernity: it presents ethnographic accounts that convey in detail how people in Vietnam, Indonesia or Laos are contributing in their different ways to the formation of modern religions and religious modernities in Southeast Asia.

The volume and its contributions All the contributions in this book have been subsumed under three thematic headings. Starting with ‘Modern Spirits’, in the first section Peter Bräunlein, Michael Dickhardt, Guido Sprenger and Paul Christensen describe the revival and revitalization of spirits and spirit worship taking place in many


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parts of Southeast Asia. In contrast to the general assumption that spirits will perish in the hard light of science and are bound to disappear when confronted by modernity, they have survived the clash with modernity in good health, as Peter Bräunlein puts it in his synoptic account. Spirits, possession and trance prevail not only in religion but also in popular culture and the entertainment industry and are therefore well suited to reflecting on Southeast Asia’s multiple modernities. Ancestor and spirit worship form part of these multiple modernities. Many Southeast Asian countries are witnessing the revitalization of these religious practices, which are being transformed and re-interpreted at the same time. Michael Dickhardt provides a case from Vietnam, where the socialist reform policy has triggered a complex process in which the role and place of religion and spirituality in society are being negotiated. Religion has become part of a modernist state project and at the same time a means of coping with the impositions of modernity and its uncertainties. The complex interplay of religious traditions, including spirit and ancestor worship, with powerful secular ideologies like nationalism, liberalism and socialism constitute a promising field of research and gives Vietnam a special position in the comparative framework of inquiry. Many ethnic groups in Southeast Asia claim parallel structures of organization for the world of living human beings and the world of spirits and divinities. The homology of the spirit world and that of the living comprises markets, goods and money. As Guido Sprenger illustrates with reference to the Rmeet in upland Laos, ritual money in particular plays an important role in reproducing socio-cosmic relations and in creating bonds of affinity between the living and the dead. These parallel structures constitute relations between market and ritual which take the form of a commodification of religion and a ritualization of the market – to the benefit of both. The pressure placed on the interaction between human beings and spirits in the name of modernity is illustrated with reference to an example from Indonesia. Paul Christensen gives a lively account of traditional horse dances ( jathilan), which are performed in the rural parts of central and eastern Java at weddings, circumcisions and other festive occasions. Local priests invite spirits not only to join in the performance but to take possession of the entranced dancers. Taking criticism from reformist Muslims into account, since the 1980s the state has promoted modernized forms of horse dance without trance and spirit possession to be held in competitions and festivals. Under the influence of politics and religion, nation-building and contested interpretations, local ritual practices like the horse dance

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are gradually being transformed into profane cultural events which make the return of ‘modern spirits’ a subversive act. The contributions in the first section of this volume refer to the impact of the economy on religion by emphasizing that histories of religion and the economy are interwoven. The effect of the ‘spirit of capitalism’ on spirits and spirit worship seems to be a distinctively favourable one, resulting in a ‘spirited modernity’ which is challenging the dichotomy between religion and modernity in a specific manner. As part of the modern world, religion is subject to rationalization processes, which, contrary to the assumptions of modernization theories, tend neither to replace religion nor to make it a private matter, but occur within religious belief systems in order to purify, reform or modernize them. This internal rationalization is accompanied by the scripturalization of religious conceptions and the standardization of ritual practices, which only allow a coherent dogma and a coherent liturgy to be established – both being central requirements for a modern religion in a modern nation-state. Continuing with ‘Modern Muslims’, in the second section Martin Slama, Susanne Rodemeier, Melanie Nertz and Thomas Reuter address transformations not only within Islam but also with regard to Muslim-Christian relations by referring to Indonesia, the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. The attraction of modernity for Islamic groups and their efforts to reform are discussed as driving forces of transformation by Martin Slama, taking Al-Irsyad, an Indonesian reformist Islamic organization established by Arab migrants from Hadhramaut, as an example. Having embraced not only the Salafi ethos of a glorious past but also the modern desire for the new, Al-Irsyad is struggling with the problem of reconciling the progressive forces of modernity with the call for a return to a distant, idealized past. Even their concern with modern education and lifestyle, which once made them confident participants in modern life, could not prevent them from losing their role as the leading reform movement in Indonesia to Muhammadiyah and has confronted them with an unsettling question: how to stay modern? In order to become or stay modern, local religious practices contested by reformist Muslims in Java and other parts of Indonesia often show a flexible response to particular political and religious challenges, as Susanne Rodemeier demonstrates by referring to Mubeng Beteng, an annual ritual at the Sultan’s palace in Yogyakarta. The ritual consists of an anti-clockwise circumambulation of the palace walls with silent prayers for peace and is undertaken by the participant to receive a share in the spiritual power of the palace. However, the volcanic eruption of Mount Merapi and the national


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government’s demand for the Sultan of Yogykarta to be democratically legitimized as governor were perceived as threats to his power. Against this background, the ritual received a reinterpretation through minor symbolic changes which transformed the distribution of the palace’s spiritual power into a demonstration of a socially founded political unity. The complex and ambivalent attitude of Muslims in Indonesia towards political and religious reform is reflected in Muslim Indonesians’ perceptions of the West as frame of reference for modernity. Based on research in Makassar and Yogyakarta, Melanie Nertz points out that perceptions of the West are multilayered, contradictory and contested within Indonesian society. What is present among Muslims in Makassar and Yogyakarta is not just one mental world map but a variety of world maps on which the boundaries between the West and the East are fluid, resulting in a particular uncertainty over where exactly to locate Indonesia. However, Muslims in Yogyakarta and Makassar are not engaged in a general antagonism towards the West but are rather trying to filter out what is considered suitable for Indonesian culture and Muslim religious understandings in and of modernity. A similar flexibility towards the West and current political events characterizes the democratic advances in Indonesia since Suharto’s downfall in 1998. Referring to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the attack on the World Trade Center and the ‘War on Terror’, Thomas Reuter demonstrates how these historical events have influenced the struggle between Islamists and nationalists in Indonesia for moral, cosmological and political supremacy. However, after the minority view of Islamic hardliners gained currency by riding on a tide of anti-American popular sentiment, the political atmosphere changed and gave rise to the revival of Pancasila and other principles that Suharto had long sought to discredit. This shift was due to the reverse impact of domestic terrorism on public sentiment, which made it clear that terrorism had become a major domestic security issue for Indonesia itself. It seems likely that terrorism will defeat itself by alienating the increasingly well-informed public in modern Southeast Asia. The current popularity of world religions in many parts of Southeast Asia has to been seen against the background of the historical events mentioned above. They are spreading at the expense of local religious belief systems, which are confronted by demands that they undergo similar processes of rationalization in order to meet the requirements of a modern religion in a modern nation-state. As far as Indonesia is concerned, only globalized forms of religion are accepted as religion (agama), local forms (adat) being rejected and frequently reinterpreted as profane culture or secular tradition to be promoted as touristic events. Concurrently, boundaries are being erected

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between denominations, thus dissolving cross-cutting ties between them in terms of jointly maintained sacred sites, jointly performed, multi-religious rituals and other ecumenical practices. The disintegration of local traditions and ritual practices, however, is anything but irreversible. Frequently their abandonment, whether due to modernization processes or to pressure from local governments and political regimes, is perceived as a deficit to which the respective social groups respond in a variety of ways. However, attempts to revitalize these traditions can be observed all over Southeast Asia and point to opposed tendencies. Particularly in times of crisis or conflict, traditions are revitalized or strengthened in order to emphasize their supposedly unifying character, resulting in a bipolar confrontation between adherents of tradition and those of globalization – which in the case of Islam is often called ‘Arabization’. In the final section of this volume, entitled ‘Modern Traditions’, Birgit Bräuchler, Volker Gottowik, Annette Hornbacher, Karin Klenke and Judith Schlehe refer to negotiations of local traditions and their revitalization, transformation or reinterpretation in order to meet the challenges of modernity. As a response to violent inter-faith clashes since 1999, Birgit Bräuchler observed a revival of traditions for peace in the Moluccas. A traditional alliance system (pela) binding different villages together for mutual aid, irrespective of religious affiliation, and a village federation (Uli Hatuhaha) which goes back to an event in the mystical past are used as examples of the revitalization of local traditions. The re-emergence of alliances and other forms of co-operation is part of a more general trend to revive and modernize traditions in order re-establish traditional structures and reintegrate people. These modern traditions are expected to bridge the religious divide and to contribute to the restoration of civility in the Moluccas as an essential prerequisite for sustainable peace. In contrast to the Moluccas and many other parts of Indonesia, on Bali the era of reformation (reformasi) after the fall of Suharto was not characterized by violent clashes between different denominations. In order to understand why, at least in the recent history of Bali, conflicts were not staged and decided along ethnic or religious lines but rather among the Balinese population as a whole, in my own paper I refer to a pair of masked sacred figures (Barong Landung) representing a Chinese-Indian or Chinese-Balinese couple as the first ancestors of the local population in Bali. In the course of the financial and monetary crises that shocked Indonesia at the end of the last century and provided a pretext for violent assaults on the Chinese minority in Jakarta and many other cities in Indonesia, the sacred figures mentioned above were revitalized, reminding the Hindu-Balinese that the


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Chinese were part of both their history and genealogy. In so doing, local traditions and respected rituals turned out to be flexible instruments with which to react to modern challenges, thereby contributing to the perception of Bali as being safe – and not only for ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. Beyond the revitalization of local traditions and practices in times of crisis, adat- and agama-based traditions are being negotiated within the Hindu-Balinese religion. What appears at first sight as a simple shift from Bali’s traditional orthopraxy to a Hindu orthodoxy is rather a clash of Hindu doctrine and traditional Balinese ritual, with the particular religious dynamics that emerge from it. Using the Balinese cremation ritual (ngaben) as a paradigm and touchstone for opposing interpretations of Hinduism within Balinese culture, Annette Hornbacher’s focus is on how the programme of a Hindu orthodoxy is being adopted or rejected by local practitioners. Contrary to the assumption that a local orthopraxy is being smoothly replaced by Hinduism as a formally coherent world religion or orthodoxy, the deliberate defense of Bali’s ritual aesthetics and dramaturgy, connected with a subversive adoption of the modernist Hindu doctrines and its principles, is highlighted in this contribution. Another example of negotiations of modernity and tradition within a particular culture comes from the Karo of northern Sumatra, where, under the influence of the Protestant church, local traditions are being modernized. In particular, Karo Batak women perceive modernity not as a threat to culture and tradition, but, as Karin Klenke illustrates, as a positive process bringing about development and rationality. The Christian faith is perceived as a prerequisite and constitutive factor of local modernity and provides a space in which to negotiate acceptable articulations of a modern lifestyle, among them fashion and proper ways of presenting the female body. Christianity is embraced by Karo women, since it provides powerful arguments against the superior position of men and contests the uneven and gender-biased distribution of moral responsibility in Karo society. New traditions were established in the Minahasa, a region in North Sulawesi dominated by Christians, when a pilgrimage site was created to celebrate the freedom from conflict in this area and to manifest the equality of the officially recognized religions in Indonesia. A Catholic and a Protestant church, a Hindu and a Buddhist temple and a mosque were built next to each other in 2002, and despite the fact that Confucianism was excluded, Bukit Kasih, as this site is called, became a symbol of religious and cultural pluralism in Indonesia. However, since no services, religious ceremonies or rituals are held on this site, Judith Schlehe points out that there are no encounters or exchanges between the adherents of the different

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denominations. Apparently, the emphasis is on recreation, not religion, meaning that multi-religiosity functions merely as decorative scenery for leisure activities. Since Bukit Kasih is also a place of supernatural powers where people perform rituals unofficially, it triggers disputes about what is religiously or only culturally acceptable. However, with regard to future possibilities, Bukit Kasih could provide a liminal space for overcoming the boundaries between different denominations. The contributions to the third section of this volume illustrate how local traditions are being produced and transformed, revitalized and defended, in the process of becoming or staying modern. They therefore remind us that invented traditions also characterize modern societies and that modernity is probably the most successful of these inventions, as it provides the basis for the Western imagination that it is a cultural, religious and political unit (cf. Hobsbawn 1983: 5; cf. also Houben & Schrempf 2008: 11). However, since at least the confrontation with postmodern theses at the end of the last century, modernity as a process of rationalization and secularization appears to be oddly exhausted. ‘The will to be modern seems hesitant, sometimes even outmoded’, as Bruno Latour stated (1998 [1991]: 18), who then raises the following question: ‘Why are so many of our contemporaries reluctant to use this adjective today (…)? (ibid: 19; author’s translation). Apparently, the claim to be modern has worn away and does not conform to the ‘Zeitgeist’ anymore. The dialectic of enlightenment, which could also be described as a dialectic of secularization, is obviously producing deficiencies which, at least in part, are being compensated by religion. The dialectic addressed here ultimately provoked the question whether we need a ‘second modernity’, a ‘modernization of modernity’, which, in the sense of a ‘reflexive modernization’, would be able to process or rescue the unintended and problematic side effects of the first modernization (cf. Beck et al. 1998: 9f.). At the same time, there is a suspicion that, as the unabated attraction of religion seems to suggest, we have possibly never been modern (cf. Latour 1998 [1991]: 18). However, when religion and modernity are not conceived as being in contradiction, the concurrency of secularization and sacralization sheds its irritating substance. By referring to this point, the contributions to this volume hopefully provide an answer to the question of whether modernity is still ahead of us or already behind us.

Modern Spirits

Spirits in and of Southeast Asia’s Modernity An Overview Peter J. Bräunlein

Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life. It is neither pre-modern superstition nor individual psychosis; it is a generalizable social phenomenon of great import. To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it. Avery F. Gordon, Ghostly Matters

No scholar in the contemporary field of social sciences or cross-cultural studies would question Peter L. Berger’s observation that ‘today’s world is furiously religious’ (Berger 1999: 9). The once well-accepted ‘modernization theory’ of the 1960s and 1970s, which assumed that the introduction of market economies in Asia would not only institute state-directed democracy and neoliberal reforms but also trigger processes of secularization that would push religion out of the public arena and into the private sphere, has turned out to be wrong. Critical reason, a concept shaped by the ‘philosophical enlightenment’ of Kant and others, obviously did not prevail on a grand scale. Instead, ‘the Internationale of Unreason’ (‘die Internationale der Unvernunft’; Meyer 1989) and persistent outbreaks of religiously motivated violence nourish scepticism regarding such Eurocentric mindsets. This becomes even clearer when seen from a post-colonial perspective, such as that of Dipesh Chakrabarty in his ambitious project ‘Provincializing Europe’ (1992, 2000). Chakrabarty argues against scientific narratives that implicitly take Europe as a benchmark for all of history: ‘“Europe” remains the sovereign, theoretical subject of all histories, including the ones we call “Indian,” “Chinese,” “Kenyan,” and so on’ (Chakrabarty 2000: 27). Western thinkers like Max Weber and Karl Marx saw ‘Europe’ simply as the framework for all historical discovery: ‘The dominance of “Europe” as the subject of all histories is a part of a much more profound theoretical condition under which historical knowledge is produced in the third world’ (Chakrabarty 2000: 29). The actual paradox of third-world social science, according to Chakrabarty, ‘is that we [i.e. intellectuals in third-world countries] find


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these theories, in spite of their inherent ignorance of “us,” eminently useful in understanding our societies’ (2000: 29). In the so-called post-colonial ‘periphery’, however, the imaginative power of Europe is slowly fading away, making it increasingly less plausible to see one’s own future as a mere ‘variation’ on Europe’s past (Kaviraj 2005: 525). The hypnotic singular form ‘modernity’ is increasingly being replaced by concepts like ‘alternative modernities’ (Gaonkar 1999), ‘multiple modernities’ (Eisenstadt 2000a), ‘vernacular’ or ‘the other’s modernities’ (Knauft 2002, 2006). In addition to this new post-colonial terminology, even in the West itself, doubt is being cast on the universality of such apparent conceptual pillars of sociological theory as ‘bourgeois’, ‘capitalist’, ‘modern’ and ‘secularization’. While Shmuel N. Eisenstadt (2000a) posits a relational link between his ‘multiple modernities’ and the ‘pluralization’ of the lines of development of ‘modernity’, Frederick Cooper (2005), in his history of colonialism, sees ‘modernity’ as a completely useless analytical category. In contrast, Bruce Knauft (2002) prefers to see the apparent dichotomy of the terms ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ as in fact interrelated categories, each reinforcing the other. ‘Alternative modernity’ is an articulatory space bounded on the one hand by local cultural and subjective dispositions and on the other by the various opportunities and restrictions presented by the global political economy. However much academics try to revise such terms as ‘modern’ or ‘modernity’, one is still faced with the central and challenging question of locating religion in modernity. That the seemingly inseparable twin relationship of modernity and secularisation has been proven a myth can be seen, for example, in the religious history of the United States. Rather than representing the rule, then, Europe is now more and more regarded as an ‘exceptional case’ (Davie 2000; Lehmann 2004). In other words, it is not the flourishing religious culture of the USA or the ‘global upsurge of religion in world politics’ (Berger 1999) that needs explanation, but the decline in the significance of religion in western Europe. Where this chapter presents observations of religious life and practice in Southeast Asia, it does so within the above outlined frame of inquiry, always including a self-reflective component. The investigation of spirits in Asian modernity is of especially great significance in that context. At first sight, this may seem an odd pairing: what does a belief in spirits and ghosts in mediums and trances etc. have to do with modernity? From a perspective shaped by the promises of the western Enlightenment, belief in spirits (or ghosts) is equivalent to superstition and should be fought without reservation – yet without superstition as its counterpart, the Enlightenment would have been unthinkable. As Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer

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(2002: 2) remarked, ‘the disenchantment of the world means the extirpation of animism’. Yet superstition, from the perspective of the Enlightenment, does not refer to an objective factuality but to a perception shaped and developed from a Christian context. In this perception, reason irresistibly and unstoppably marches forward against all obstacles: as far as spirits are concerned, only children, the mentally disturbed or ‘primitive’ people would believe in them. In fact, I argue, ghosts, spirits and spectres are well suited to reflect on ‘alternative’ or ‘multiple modernities’, and principally on the location of religion in modernity. Aspects of European and Southeast Asian modernity must be compared for that purpose, historically, sociologically and anthropologically. The present article will conduct such a comparison, using material from a number of Southeast Asian countries.1

Christian spirits and faith healers A spectacular phenomenon of Catholicism in the Philippines is selfcrucifixion. In a small number of locations, rituals of this type take place every Easter Week, attracting thousands of pilgrims, ordinary spectators and journalists. Ritualized crucifixion is not a widespread practice, but nevertheless it has sensational value and thus attracts a disproportionate amount of publicity. When I visited several locations in the course of my research on Philippine Passion rituals in order to observe these cases of self-crucifixion and self-flagellation, I soon realized that labels like ‘pre-modern’ or ‘relic of ancient custom’ were quite inappropriate. Those who have themselves nailed to the cross – and, for that matter, the numerous spectators – do not come from a Philippine backwater cut off from national and global events. Kapitangan, the research location, is about fifty kilometres from the capital, Manila, to which it is connected by a motorway. Its chief industries and sources of income are wet-rice cultivation and the production of artificial turf, the latter being much in demand by the middle classes seeking to get 1 This paper results from preliminary thoughts on a formerly planned research project on ‘Spirits in and of Southeast Asia’s Modernity’ – a project that should provide insight into religion’s place in the era of globalization, while simultaneously clarifying what is meant by ‘secular modernity.’ For this preparatory purpose, the paper serves as an inventory or baseline study with an intentional comparative perspective. Due to the thorough and long-term editing process, several recent studies on Southeast Asian mediumship, ancestral spirits, spirit cults and cinematic ghosts are not included (e.g. Ladwig 2013; Endres & Lauser 2012; Kitiarsa 2012; Johnson 2012; Williams & Ladwig 2012; van Heeren 2012; Endres 2011; McDaniel 2011; Scherer 2011). The project has been finally approved and is located within the DORISEA research network.


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out of Manila. The late 1990s were a dynamic period in which megamalls, vast shopping centres and internet cafes mushroomed, with the increasing ubiquity of attendant mobile phones and TV sets. Much of the local population commutes to Manila every day, and in most families at least one member is working abroad in the USA, Europe or the Middle East. The notion that the self-crucifixions that took place in the churchyard of the small town of Kapitangan – in full view of thousands of spectators – must have been some archaic relic of Spanish missionary colonization turned out to be quite wrong. In fact, they were ‘invented’ during the extensive post-colonization period in the 1960s that was dominated by intense modernization efforts. In the town of Kapitangan, it was a 16-year-old girl, Lucy Reyes, who was responsible for this local ‘invention of tradition,’ which happened there in the year 1977. She had herself crucified every year for the next thirteen years and served as a role model for others, chiefly young women. Since then, on average three or four persons a year have had themselves crucified in the churchyard of Kapitangan. Neither the actors on the stage nor the spectators in front of it can be categorized as exclusively belonging to the uneducated lower class. A student of computer sciences was among the crucifiers in 1996-98, and many spectators were distinctly well dressed, their habitus also indicating middle-class origins. No less surprising was the fact that these self-crucifixions did not appear to be punishment rituals. Instead, it was ‘spirit mediumship’ and shamanism that characterized the underlying pattern of motivation and action. All the actors were healers who themselves had experienced a life-threatening illness in their childhood that had brought them into contact with Jesus – either in the form of a cross-carrying Jesus of Nazareth with a crown of thorns, or, more often, of the Holy Child (Santo Niño). Being healed from their illnesses brought with it the calling to become healers themselves. The healer is possessed by the Holy Child, speaks in an altered voice and is afterwards unable to remember what happened. The call to be crucified comes as part of a trance experience or in a dream; crucifixions are rewarded by an increase in ‘healing power’, while to refuse means a possible recurrence of the childhood illness. As the actors understand them, self-crucifixions are not a matter of individual free choice; to the outsider, they appear to be a shamanistic rite of passage in the course of the healer’s career (Bräunlein 2010, 2012, 2013). Filipinos do not see self-crucifixion and self-flagellation as a manifestation of pathology or folklore, but rather as part of the urgent ongoing post-colonial identity debate. ‘Who are we actually?’ is a question that journalists, politicians, churchmen and intellectuals like to bring up every year when the Passion rituals are reported up and down the country on television, the

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internet and the front pages of the daily papers. The phenomenon of spiritual healing, of which self-crucifixion is only one dramatic example, is widespread in the Philippines. It is Catholic saints, together with Mary and Jesus, who heal through mediums. The Spanish colonizers brought Catholicism with them and ‘grafted’ it on to Philippine cosmology without, however, ‘replacing’ the latter. It was not so much a ‘clash of civilizations’ as a ‘clash of spirits’ (Aguilar 1998). The Catholic saints took on the powers and characters of ancestral or protective spirits and gods (nono, anito, diwata) (Scott 1995: 77-93). The numerous local mischievous and benevolent spirits survived this missionary and colonial ‘clash’ in good health. The worship of saints – characterized by a typical ‘patron-client’ pattern – but also fear of evil spirits and the need to be protected from them permeates the whole of society. The traditional trance experts still function today as mediums between ‘here’ and the ‘other side’, between the living and the dead, using a combination of séances, ritualized prayers, amulets and saint worship. Seen against this background, the Imitatio Christi is an extremely effective spiritual technique, and even the dead Christ is turned into a powerful shaman (Cannell 1999, 200). Catholicism and the shamanism of Southeast Asia are indeed inseparable. The Philippine spiritual healing complex is neither an exclusively tribal nor a rural phenomenon. Indeed, it was in urban centres that the Philippine Jesuit and social psychologist Jaime Bulatao noticed an increase in the numbers of spiritual healers after the Second World War, coining the term ‘New Mystics’ to describe them (Bulatao 1992: 54-62). This ‘New Mysticism’ is a further facet of the so-called ‘New Religious Movements’ (NRMs) that have sprung up since the 1960s. Successful examples of the latter are the well-known charismatic Pentecostal groups in Africa and Asia, whose attraction rests on a combination of strict religiosity with the accumulation of wealth. A clearly structured way of life, proscriptions on betting and alcohol, the strengthening of family ties and responsibilities, and the creation of networks produce not only social capital but also real monetary value and the chance to rise up the social ladder. With an estimated nine to eleven million members, El Shaddai is one such charismatic movement in the Philippines and one of the most remarkable NRMs in Asia. The founder of this Catholic reformist movement, Mike Vellarde, started off as an engineer and real estate agent. Inspired by American ‘prosperity preachers’ like Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland, Vellarde propagated an out-and-out welfare ideology: belief in God is rewarded by doing well not only in the afterlife, but also in this world. The affirmation of material prosperity is an attractive moment for aspiring lower-middle-class Filipinos. The positive re-interpretation of life events as a chain of miracles is


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another powerful effect of El Shaddai affiliation. It pays off to invest money in miracles (Wiegele 2005). All members of El Shaddai contribute some of their earnings to the movement as a matter of course. A money bill is always slipped in with the prayer request. One of El Shaddai’s successful marketing strategies is the priority it accords to worker migration, a matter of immense importance in the Philippines.2 Passports and visa applications are given public blessing, and the decision to emigrate is praised as a valuable sacrifice. Through these migrants, the El Shaddai movement is then able to extend its influence abroad. Its organization methods, featuring the use of in-house radio and television programmes, are comparable to those of a commercial corporation. A rational business approach of this kind would seem at first to have little aff inity with a belief in spirits. However, discussions of miracles and participation in local debates on spirits form an important part of El Shaddai’s world view: It is evil forces – in fact, emissaries of the devil – that are responsible for family quarrels, the use of illegal drugs, problems with alcohol and gambling. The El Shaddai radio programme not only conveys the blessings of its charismatic founder figure, Brother Mike, into people’s homes but will also expel nocturnal demons by its 24-hour service. El Shaddai healers perform exorcism and purification rituals and concurrently offer explanations for sickness, misfortune and people’s experiences. In the moral universe of Brother Mike and his adherents, spiritual warfare against evil entities is crucial (Wiegele 2005: 142ff.).

Vengeful foetus spirits Development experts like to see the Philippines as a neo-feudal form of state, incapable of reform and hopelessly backward in comparison with the tiger states of Southeast and East Asia – not least due to the influence of the Catholic Church. The phenomena described above are commonly described as ‘pre-modern’ and – in combination with corruption, nepotism and the obligatory ‘laziness’ – are seen as obstacles on the road to global modernity. The Philippines was and is an ‘anti-development state’ (Bello 2005) and therefore presumably ‘a changeless land’ (Timberman 1991).3 2 After Mexico, the Philippines ranks second as the leading nation for labour emigration worldwide. Cf. Martin 1996. 3 With a view to the political history of the Philippines between the 1960s and 1980s, David G. Timberman comments: ‘There is a sad constancy to the poverty, inequity, and injustice that characterize Philippine society, particularly in the countryside.’ (1991: xii).

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However, a look at the industrially and technologically well-developed societies of East and Southeast Asia shows that spirits are also extremely lively in these regions. Helen Hardacre (1997) and Mark Moskowitz (2001) point to the significance of a ritual complex in Japan and Taiwan connected with the return of aborted foetuses in the form of terrifying spirits. The attacks of these foetus spirits (Japanese: tatari) bring sickness, accidents and unhappiness. While abortion is legal in Japan, the mizuko kuyo ritual is nevertheless offered by Buddhists, Shintoists, Shugendo ascetics, representatives of New Religions and independent specialists like ogamiya (healers) and uranaishi (soothsayers). Ritual services to appease foetus spirits have been in great and increasing demand since the 1970s, the applicants being chiefly young unmarried women, and personal shrines have been erected. These remembrance rituals have been carried out in full view of the public and resulted in an open debate on values, taking in questions of Buddhist ethics, abortion, the position of the family and the changing role of women. Hardacre shows that the reaction to abortion is not mainly derived from Buddhism; instead she refers to a particular feature of the more recent ‘feto-centric’ debate, where mother and foetus are separated in terms of both medical science and society, this discussion having been initiated by the invention of ultrasonic visual technology. Taiwan’s religious landscape is characterized by an anarchic mixture of Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors (Jordan 1999). Awe, and in any case respect, for these entities is widespread in all walks of society, and appropriate temple cults that are growing pari passu with the national economy help to define both local and regional identity (Katz 2003). Aborted or misshapen stillborn foetuses turn into vengeful spirits (yingling) bringing bad luck or death. Foetus ‘demons’ (xiaogui) form an even more terrifying category, reputed to be conceived and manipulated by black magic. Women obviously feel the need to be protected from them. Damage limitation in dealings with returning foetus spirits is offered by Daoist and Buddhist experts and institutions. The Taiwanese foetus spirit cult was taken over (or revived) from Japan in the mid-1970s. Just as in Japan, behind the foetus spirit appeasement rituals lie a whole series of social problems: pressure on women to produce a male heir, the ostracism of single mothers, the Confucian ideal of filial piety and the Buddhist doctrine of the sinfulness of abortion. And again, just as in Japan, criticism has arisen of the creation of an atmosphere of fear by religious leaders and of the commercial exploitation of women’s bad consciences.


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Spirits of resistance In the 1970s and 1980s, electronic components began to be mass-produced in the free trade zones of Malaysia in factories, a success story that facilitated the country’s entry into the global economy. However, the female workers in these factories rapidly developed symptoms incompatible with the general boom euphoria. These took the form of varieties of individual and collective obsession that manifested themselves in outbreaks of violence. Under the name of latah, this bundle of symptoms, which included loss of self-control, manic mockery of authoritarian behaviour, the use of obscene language and destructive urges, has been known since colonial times. Together with amok, outsiders have seen in latah a culturally related pathological syndrome with a certain biological element. The native population, by contrast, connect it to spirits and possession, an interpretation that fits in well with current academic orientalist debates in which spirits, trance and violent outburst stand for irrationality and pre-modern traditions (Williamson 2007; Winzeler 1995). These periodic episodes of ‘possession’ in the high-tech firms of Malaysia have been reconstructed and interpreted by Aihwa Ong (1987). Following the loss of 8,000 production hours through the destruction of machinery and failure to comply with work regulations on the part of possessed female workers, the managers decided to act and, after initial hesitation, put traditional experts or bomoh to work. The slaughter of chickens and goats proved ineffective, however. The rampant spirits did not allow themselves to be contained in this way. The managers therefore felt obliged to resort to more drastic measures: women who had been possessed more than twice were summarily dismissed for ‘security reasons’ (ibid: 204, 209). In the new proletariat composed of former peasant women who were urged to function as factory workers, Aihwa Ong discerns ‘spirits of resistance’ facilitating ‘a mode of unconscious retaliation against male authority’ (ibid: 207). The female workers had been put in a position of dependence on new authority figures. Traditional Islamic religion and family relationships had lost their value as identity-giving attachment supports for these young women, who had been forced to give up or postpone marriage and plans for a family in favour of factory work. Factory discipline took over their bodies, leading to a painful merging of the local with the global. It is the ‘spirit of capitalism’ that drives people mad, and a subversive rebellion to bring about humane working conditions turns into a survival strategy.

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Spirit cults and ‘prosperity religion’ Rates of economic growth are of course highly skewed in Asian countries. But in places where an economic dynamic gets underway, the local religions do not remain unaffected. In Thailand, for example, in the 1980s and 1990s, the economic boom was accompanied by a remarkable religious creativity. The connection between a booming market economy and a booming religious market was noted by Richard H. Roberts in 1995. The collapse of the communist Soviet empire, the stimulus this gave to the expansion of transnational capitalist systems, and religious dynamism in the countries affected are directly connected. Roberts speaks of a ‘resurgent capitalism’ having ‘assimilative and creative power with regard to religion and religiosity in the new synergies of various forms of “prosperity religion” which may lend substance to claims to speak of a “new spirit of capitalism”’ (1995: 1). Different forms of this ‘prosperity religion’ were examined by Peter A. Jackson in Thailand during the boom years (1999a, 1999b). ‘Prosperity religion’ spawns ‘popular movements that emphasize wealth acquisition as much as salvation’ (Jackson 1999b: 246). Consumer attitudes and behaviour are both imbued with religious significance. It was not only the official state religion of Theravada Buddhism that was affected (and denounced for its commercialism); Chinese gods also came to be worshipped, and a cult of King Rama V was encouraged with the aim of increasing earthly happiness through financial windfalls. Spirit mediums have enjoyed an unparalleled boom – in 1995 alone, according to one wellknown newspaper, the people of Thailand spent 800 million dollars on the services of such mediums. All strata of society, including the political and academic elite, have sought to increase their knowledge, level of protection and chances of happiness through contacts with spirits. This has at the same time been accompanied (for over 150 years) by a Western Enlightenment-style criticism of belief in spirits traditionally preached by the Royal Family and the Buddhist organizations, and later joined by the media, television and newspapers. Belief in spirits has been subjected to a harsh ‘reality check’, and fraudulent mediums have been exposed – with mixed results. One popular saying is: ‘You may not believe, but never offend the spirits’ (Kitiarsa 2002). The discourse about spirits has definite formative effects on this society and challenges scientific categorization. Current socio-economic and cultural changes suggest that it is no longer particularly helpful to make a distinction between a complex, state-propagated Theravada Buddhism (with its ‘practical’ tinge) on the one hand and a pre-Buddhist, magical ‘Thai supernaturalism’ on the other, which have consequently been merged


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under the heading ‘traditional Thai syncretism’. ‘Hybridization’ is perhaps a better concept, used by Pattana Kitiarsa as a borrowing from post-colonial theory, by which he seeks not only to describe the variants of Thai religiosity today, but also to show that a purely Buddhism-focused perspective, which of course goes hand in hand with the doctrine of syncretism, is necessarily obscurantist. The Thai ‘spirit medium cult’ is a multifarious phenomenon involving manifestations, in varying hierarchies and combinations, of a galaxy of spirits of departed Buddhist masters and kings, Indian and Chinese gods, and local helper and protective spirits. It is not monasteries and temples that mirror the rapid change occurring in the realm of religion, but ‘department stores, shopping malls and market places [...] where popular Thai religion is commodified, packaged, marketed and consumed’ (Jackson 1999a: 50). The most effective catalysers of religious hybridization processes ‘in the direction of more prosperity oriented religion’ are, according to Kitiarsa (2005: 486), the mass media with their commercial advertising spots for the services of trance mediums. In spite of the contradictions thrown up by economic crises and the criticism expressed by high-ranking representatives of Theravada Buddhism, it is just this notion of religion seen as a commodity that Peter A. Jackson interprets, not as a symptom of a capitalism-induced ‘crisis of modernity’ (Tanabe/Keyes 2002) but as ‘the productive core of new highly popular expression of religio-cultural symbolism and ritual’ (Jackson 1999b: 248). Kitiarsa also sees evidence of open rather than closed articulatory spaces in the urban spirit cults that arose during and following the boom. Efforts to bring these under control reflect both cosmopolitan capitalist policy and national sensitivities. In this view, religious hybridism, which finds a common expression in the ‘cosmopolitan life-style and irresistible desires corresponding to the resurgent spirit of global capitalism’ in spirit cults, should be seen as ‘appropriately relevant and meaningful in contemporary Thailand’ (Kitiarsa 2005: 487).

Possession by spirits and the trauma of war Vietnam has for some decades now been one of the most economically successful countries in Southeast Asia. The opening up of the country initiated by the Sixth Party Congress in 1986 set in motion rapid economic and social change. These reforms, marked by the catchword Đổi mới (‘renovation’), led to the lifting of the US economic embargo in 1993, boosted tourism and gave foreign firms an incentive to invest and set up production in Vietnam. Since then, the country has shown the highest rate of growth in the whole

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of Southeast Asia. Vietnam’s entry into the global capitalist network was accompanied by a general cultural liberalization, which in turn led to the partial relaxation of previously rigid laws controlling religion. Religious practices are no longer stigmatized as ‘superstition’ or a social evil but are, up to a point, exploited for political purposes. The renovation of traditional places of worship, the renewed popularity of pilgrimages, participation in public and private rituals, the sale of religious objects, even the founding of new religions are all no longer forbidden. It is not only the economy but also religious life that is booming in Vietnam in multifarious forms (Taylor 2007). Philip Taylor has devoted a whole study to a pilgrimage in honour of Bà Chúa Xú, a goddess whose monument in South Vietnam attracts more than one million pilgrims a year. For Taylor (2004: vii), this shows a ‘phenomenal growth in interest in recent years in female spirits’. ‘Phenomenal’ is in addition the only possible word to describe the revival of rituals in which spirits can be contacted through trance mediums. Possession and the work of mediums were both strictly forbidden before the Đổi mới reform, being vilified as superstitions and ‘socially harmful’ by communists and Confucians alike. Before the reform era, spirit mediums were only able to practice at night or in secret (Nguyen Khac Kham 1983; Norton 2002). One of the recently revived trance rituals in Vietnam is the len dong ritual that is connected with the cult of mother goddesses. 4 Len dong believers worship the female rulers of the four domains (‘palaces’) of the Universe (Earth, Heaven, Water, Mountains). These Four-Palace Goddesses are in turn linked to a hierarchically organized royal court composed of princes, princesses, mandarins and so on. In the course of a four-hour len dong ritual, members of this court are incarnated in the medium, whose performative actions are accompanied by music and song. To sponsor one of these rituals costs a lot of money. In return for their aid and favours, the spirits demand votive offerings, clothing, jewellery and various accessories. The spirits’ appetite for consumer and luxury goods is immense, but a len dong ritual includes a redistributive element: in return for offerings and devotion, the spirits hand out ‘blessed gifts’ to the participants in the form of money and other material goods. Len dong rituals have high performative qualities and seem to be of therapeutic value (Endres 2007). The good luck that people are hoping to find there is not only in love, partnership and family harmony, 4 No religious history of len dong has yet been written for the whole of Vietnam. While it appears to be lively in the south, albeit mainly practiced by northerners, it is in the north that demand is greatest. In central Vietnam it remains banned by the authorities (with the exception of Hue). I am grateful to Kirsten Endres for these observations.


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but also has a material side: sponsoring a len dong is supposed to guarantee financial success and promotion at work. The mediums themselves are given an opportunity to use the central stage ‘for ritually acting out personal vanities and striving for social status’ (Endres 2006: 93). In addition, the rituals can be seen as creative strategies ‘for addressing a variety of personal concerns ranging from bodily illness and emotional distress to existential fear and the quest for the meaning of life’ (ibid). The appeal of the ‘Religion of the Four Palaces’, as it is now called (Nguyen Thi Hien 2002), is quite remarkable. A first scientific overview can be found in the collection Mediumship in Contemporary Vietnamese Communities (2006) edited by Karen Fjelstad and Nguyen Thi Hien, according to which the len dong cult is well on its way to going global: the ritualized possession of mediums can be found among the Vietnamese expatriate community in Silicon Valley, California, for example (Fjelstad & Maiffret 2006). The ethnomusicologist Barley Norton has recently published the first in-depth monograph on len dong and Vietnamese mediumship (cf. Norton 2009). As in Thailand, elements of ‘prosperity religion’ are also present in the Vietnamese spirit cult. The chance to get rich from one day to the next – so near, yet so hard to capture – needs well-disposed spirits to make it possible. Investments in money and in spirits go hand in hand. The liberalization of the market in religion is by no means left to chance. The Communist Party attempts to impose regulatory measures, criticizing spirit beliefs as outdated customs or superstition, while at the same time propagating the cult of national heroes, in particular of Ho Chi Minh. The fact that the latter turns up as a god in temples and speaks to people in séances through spirit mediums is neither intentional nor ‘politically correct’, but seems to be a logical consequence of the incorporation of Ho Chi Minh into the pantheon of spiritual beings (see Lauser 2008). The ancestor cult that kept family and society together has continued uninterrupted all through the communist era. ‘Contact with the spirits of the ancestors’ is not just a pretty figure of speech but signifies an actual process of communication. The culture of remembrance is accorded great political significance, particularly now that the collective identity of Vietnam has been largely moulded by two major wars. The selfless spirit of sacrifice for the common good in the face of overwhelming odds continues to be called up and celebrated. Wars, however, also destroy families and threaten ancestral continuity, and the ‘bad deaths’ that occur impersonally and in huge numbers on battlefields give birth to restless, dangerous spirits. The anthropologist Heonik Kwon (2006) illustrates this with reference to the after-effects of the My Lai massacre, where the civilian victims received

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neither national recognition as war heroes nor the dignity of reburial after the war. The dead occupied an uneasy middle ground somewhere between harmful revenant and ancestor spirits. The need to get to know the place of death and the whereabouts of the body has in recent times brought good business to ‘ghost-seekers’ who serve an urgent demand of many people. Talented experts in this area are asked to locate the bones of the dead on the former killing fields and to facilitate communication with the deceased. The late 1980s and 1990s witnessed a veritable ‘reburial movement’. Appeasing the restless spirits of the dead is not only difficult but also an existential necessity. Peace for both sides, the living and the dead, can only be brought about through successful ritual contact.5 The traditional form of communication, as in the whole of the Chinese cultural sphere, is the giving of ghost money to the dead (Gates 1987; McCreery 1990). ‘Hell money’, so it is said, allows the restless ancestor spirits to take their proper place in the social hierarchy on the other side, freeing them from the painful burden of the past. The ritual burning of this hell money as a family activity is on the increase. Heonik Kwon (2007) even notes the remarkable phenomenon of a ‘dollarization of Vietnamese ghost money’ and explains how ‘the dollarization of virtual ritual economy and the dollarization of actual political economy’ are related (ibid: 87). The expression of social and cultural life in actual money terms here and now has an effect on currency dealings ‘on the other side’: it seems that the ancestors, gods and spirits have a predilection for the dollar.

Ghosts in the cinema The above examples serve to make it clear that spirits play a major role in the religious life of Asia, not in spite of but because of the process of modernization. So far we have talked of faith healers, the aborted foetus cult, forms of ‘prosperity religions’ and of ancestor worship and remembrance of the dead – all phenomena of explicit religion. We now turn to a non-institutionalized and non-ritualized type of ‘implicit religion’ in the form of popular culture. 5 Sasanka Perera (2001) reports on war, terror and the appearance of spirits in Sri Lanka, where a direct connection can be seen between political violence and spirit possession. The combination of possession and the memory of political terror is to be found primarily in zones that are lacking in all forms of institutional justice or medical provision. Perera sees in the appearance of spirits a compensation for and a reflection of sufferings caused by injustice, powerlessness and terrorist force.


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Here, it is the mass cinema-going culture in Asia that seems to be of most interest, indeed the barometer of felt culture. According to Marc L. Moskowitz (2004), when the film A Chinese Ghost Story appeared on the big screen in Taiwan in 1987, it had the same effect on young people as Star Wars had on Americans. Every Taiwanese knows this film, which adapts the literary ghost stories of an eighteenth-century text, The Remarkable Tales of Liaozhai by Pu Songling (1640-1715). Virtuoso sword fights, frightful demons and the tragic fate of unredeemed spirits – this is the stuff the film is made of. Set in ancient China, occupying a place somewhere between ‘Eastern’ and ‘Fantasy’, the film stands in the thousand-year-old tradition of Wuxia literature combining knight-errant adventures, martial arts and ghostly horror.6 The golden era of Wuxia films, apart from some forerunners in the 1920s, coincided with that of Hong Kong cinema in the 1960s and 1970s (Rehling 2005).7 Along with Wuxia films, where contact with spirits, ghosts and the Kingdom of the Dead is obligatory and which have been serialized for mass TV consumption in South and East Asia, a new sub-genre of spirit film has become popular since the 1990s. This is a type of film that combines elements of thriller, horror and mystery, achieving considerable box-office success not only in Asia, but increasingly also in Australia, the USA and Europe. The action in such films often takes place in the middle-class, white-collar world of the contemporary big city. Hideo Nakata’s Ringu – The Ring (1998), the biggest Japanese hit of all time, set the trend for this kind of film. It tells the story of a female journalist, Reiko Asakawa, who investigates a series of teenage murders. There are various clues and rumours. It is said that a certain video cassette brings death within seven days to anyone who possesses it. The reporter manages to get hold of the video, on which a mysterious woman is to be seen. Asakawa discovers a murderous family drama and realizes that it is indeed the case that the video is burdened with a curse. Time is short. Both 6 When the first Star Wars film was shown in Taiwan, spectators there ‘decoded’ it as a Wuxia film, and it is possible that Lucas’s inspiration for it did in fact come from Hong Kong films. Wuxia is the original generic term for chivalry novels. The main characters are solitary heroes or heroines who use their swordsmanship and supernatural powers to restore order and justice, in the course of which they come into conflict with existing authority. The fourteenth century was famous for Wuxia novels: tales like The Marshes of Mount Liang are common knowledge and continue to be retold in popular culture and the media. On the Wuxia genre in Chinese literature, see Liu 1967, Portmann 1994, and also the website: wuxiapedia.com 7 Wuxia films are now being produced in the People’s Republic of China, and have also proved hits in the West, like Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) or Zhang Yimou’s Hero (China 2002).

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the reporter and her ex-husband, who comes to her aid, as well as her son have seen the video and come under its deadly spell. Ringu, unlike the usual type of horror film, has no explicit scenes of violence. It was not only a sensational success in Japan, but also became an international hit in a Korean dubbed version and as an American remake.8 Shimizu Takashi’s Ju-On – The Curse (2000) also deals with the consequences of a bloody family drama. In a Tokyo suburb, Kobayashi, a primary school teacher, goes looking for a pupil who has been truanting for a long time. He finds the boy (Toshio) lying injured in a wrecked apartment. Reading Toshio’s mother’s diary, he gathers that she had secretly fallen in love with him. Discovering her dead body in a cupboard, he panics and tries to leave the apartment with the boy, but is interrupted by a telephone call from Toshio’s father, who admits that he has murdered his wife in a fit of jealousy, and also confesses that he has just murdered the teacher’s own (pregnant) wife. While Kobayashi is still listening in horror to all of this, Toshio changes shape in the background, and the story continues on its terrible course. Years later another family moves in. It becomes clear that some unspeakable Evil drives everyone who comes into contact with it to madness and death. There is no happy ending, and the horrors continue. Ju-On was so successful in Asia that Sam Raimi, the director of Spiderman, made a note of the plot and later bought the rights for the American and European market. In 2004 he remade the film as The Grudge with a star American cast.9 Chen Kuo-Fu’s Shuan Tong – Double Vision (2002) gave the Taiwanese public the same recipe that Ringu had given the Japanese. The plot of this most expensive Taiwanese film production of all time revolves around a series of mysterious murders. A company director is found dead 8 The literary model for the film was a novel by Koji Suzuki, written in 1991 and adapted for television in 1995. Oddly enough, it was the Hollywood horror film Poltergeist (1982) that inspired him. Ringu 2 followed in 1999, and in 2000 Norio Tsuruta directed Ringu 0: Basudei, which narrates the prologue. The first foreign country to show the film was Korea, where a homemade perennial, Ring Virus, has been produced. A US remake, The Ring, was directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean) in 2002, with Naomi Watts (Mullholland Drive, King Kong) in the lead part, followed by The Ring Two in 2005. 9 In the US remake (which was incidentally directed by Shimizu Takashi), it was an American exchange student, Karen (played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar), who is hired to look after a senile American lady and so finds her way into the haunted house. In the USA, the first eight weeks grossed USD 140 million, four times the production costs. The Grudge 2 followed in 2006. Today there are six different versions of Ju-On worldwide. For the symbolism and socio-cultural contextualization of The Grudge, Ringu and other Japanese horror films, see Kalat 2007 and McRoy 2008. Knowledgeable individual analyses of Japanese horror films can be found in a reader by Jay McRoy (2006).


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in his office on a hot summer’s day – well wrapped up and, as it turns out, drowned. A politician’s mistress rings the fire brigade to tell them that her room is in flames. She dies, but no trace of fire can be found. The third victim is a Catholic priest, who has been disembowelled and sewn up again. The murder squad in Taipei don’t know what to do and ask the FBI for help. Kevin Richter (played by David Morse), an expert on serial killing, flies in from America and goes on the hunt with his Taiwanese colleague Huo-Tu (Tony Leung Ka-Fai). The track leads to an apocalyptic-daoistic sect that believes it has discovered the secret of immortality. The contrast between Western scientific rationality and Eastern mysticism is played out in the pairing of the two policemen Richter and Huo-Tu: this theme becomes more and more important as the film goes on and forms a running obbligato to the question of what is real and what is imaginary. The success of this type of film in Japan and Taiwan encouraged other Asian countries to follow suit. The Thailand-Hong-Kong-Singapore co-production Jian-Gui – The Eye (2002) tells the story of a blind girl, Mun, who receives a retina transplant that restores her sight. However, the retina has been taken from a successful woman medium, and Mun is now able to see frightening scenes from the world of the Dead. She sees not only the way in which souls are ‘snatched’ from dead bodies, but also the torment undergone by those who have died a ‘bad death’, such as suicides, and victims of accidents and murder. There is a long list of ghost films of this kind that make up a considerable part of film production in Asia today, particularly in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong and South Korea.10 These blockbuster movies attract a mainly young audience that is educated and upwardly mobile, and the aspirations and worldviews of the expanding middle class are reflected in the plots. The kind of content that has been described above ought not, according to classic modernization theory, to appeal to bankers, teachers, economists, marketing experts, computer people and designers. These, after all, live in a rational world and share its values. Yet it is the ‘other side’ – haunted houses, the revenge of the undead, etc. – that forms one of the cornerstones of the entertainment industry of Asia at the beginning of the 21st century. Ghosts and their grip on the living, even hell (Jordan 2004),

10 A good overview of the Asian film industry in the various countries mentioned can be found in the reader edited by Anne Tereska Ciecko (2006). Further topics of interest are contained in the collections of Andrew Jackson (2006) and Eleftheriotis and Needham (2006). Details of individual films are given on a variety of websites, such as asian movies [www.molodezhnaja. ch/asian.htm], asiancineweb [www.asiancineweb.de], or asianfilmweb [asianfilmweb.de], etc.

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are not the subject of comedy but are paraded before the viewer’s eyes in full factual cinematic detail. There can be no question that the Asian film world is here in some way reacting to the ‘American semiotic empire’, as Wimal Dissanayake (1996) calls it. Ghosts, the Supernatural and Evil are big business in Hollywood, too. Films like Ghost, Se7en, The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense and The Mothman Prophecies or revivals like the highly praised The Exorcist (1973, revived in 2001) have become box-office hits in the West and served as inspiration for producers, scriptwriters and directors in Southeast and East Asia.11 However, it would be a gross oversimplification to see such films simply as peripheral ‘responses’ to the nerve-centre of pop culture in Hollywood. In Asia, the various social and cultural interfaces are a good deal more complex than in America: the precursors of transnationalism were neither one-way streets nor obvious homogenization procedures. ‘High capitalist poetics’ (Wilson 1991) are increasingly expressed in original Asian linguistic terms that themselves give aesthetic impulses to the West. ‘Newer cultural postmodernities and discrepant cosmopolitanisms’ (Dissanayake 1996: 110) are currently being produced.12 Even when popular cinema is ‘only entertainment’, it still without any doubt constitutes a productive resource of cultural identity (Jackson 2006). The passions, longings and fears that we see on the screen do not merely reflect the shortcomings of reality – or try to compensate for them – but also provide models for reality. Identity in the postmodern world is not formed by a search for solid, overarching, rational essence but by exercising options: ‘identity as choice’, as Lash and Friedman put it (1992: 7). ‘Life-style’ and consumer orientation are thus turned into major areas of social selfplacement. Seen from the point of view of media anthropology and ‘cultural studies’, it becomes clear that humans take upon themselves an active role not only in the production of goods, but also in their consumption. Hepp’s insight that consumption is the active generation of meanings (1999: 70) throws light on the demand for ghost motifs in bestselling books, comics and films.

11 The reasonable question why Western postmodern movie and TV productions do such good business with ghosts, mediums, vampires etc. (Blade, Ghost-Whisperer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Medium, X-Faktor, X-Files and others) is beyond the scope of the present chapter. 12 The history of the Japanese film is a good example of this. According to Dissanayake, from an early stage it was capable of stylistically reflecting back on Hollywood and subversively undermining the ‘semiotic imperialism’ of the USA.


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Closing remarks There are many good reasons why spirits, ghosts and spectres in Asia’s modernity deserve to be given attention and research space. In the following, I shall outline some promising research areas.13 What does it mean ‘to believe in spirits’? The study of public spirit rituals invariably raises one fundamental question: which concept of religion is being used by the scientific observer? A famous minimal definition of religion was given by Edward Burnett Tylor in 1871: ‘belief in spiritual beings’. Belief in God has been the central identifying tenet of Christianity since the Council of Nicaea in 325 and is given permanent form in the Creed. Under Protestantism, a ‘we-hold-this-to-be-true’ attitude has given belief an even sharper definition. Scholars coming from this tradition see ‘belief in’ something as an essential feature of every religion. Tylor’s seemingly innocuous definition has led to the twin notions of ‘spiritual beings’ and ‘belief’ becoming constructs of religious theory that are practically axiomatic. Religious theory, moreover, has a definite Christian touch and in addition suggests an evolution from primitive belief in spirits to a highly developed belief in God. In other words, without ‘real’ belief there can be no ‘real’ religion. Essentialism of this sort was criticized by Rodney Needham as early as 1972. More recently, Catherine M. Bell (2002) has pointed out the problematic nature of this perspective in connection with ‘belief in spirits’ in China, arguing that ‘religion’ is not just a mental process or cognition, but that it can have an equally firm base in everyday, pragmatic concerns. The so-called paradox that we have described in this paper whereby people declare, on the one hand, that they don’t believe in spirits but on the other hand must pay tribute to them in order to avoid damage can be more readily understood against this background. Spirits, religions, rationalities. Scientific research into spirits has been marked by omissions and theological prejudice. For example, European religious history has never taken spirits (always plural!) to be ‘good’ but, at any rate since The Fall of the Angels (Auffarth & Stuckenbruck 2004), to be agents of Evil, which is seen as a singular institution whose destructive machinations can only be warded off by the ‘true religion’, namely institutionalized Christianity. The magical manipulation of spirits – not to mention demoniacal pacts – is a matter for damnation: witness the 13 This chapter is a preliminary draft for an ongoing research project on ‘Ghosts and Modernity’, part of the German network ‘Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia’, which started in April 2011 and is funded by the German Ministry for Education and Research.

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persecution of witches, demonological tracts or even Goethe’s Faust. Frazer’s separation of religion and magic in his Golden Bough (1890) has had major consequences here, with its systematic divorce of ‘popular’ from ‘high’ religion and an accompanying evolutionary ranking in the history of civilization. ‘Real’ religion is the humble worship of God and gives a moral base to the community. Magic, on the other hand, involves the selfseeking instrumentalization of spirits and, in the evolutionary terms just mentioned, has to be relegated to the pre-civilized state of peasants and primitives. A conflict of principles is the logical result: magic and belief in spirits are irreconcilable with ‘real’ religion (based on self-reflective theology) and are bound to disappear when confronted by modernity.14 Magic and spirits perish in the hard light of science: religion receives its raison d’être in the life of the private individual and also becomes a fundamental factor of communal moral cohesion. Seen in this way, spirits simply don’t fit into the modernity of Asia. Concepts of religion are essentially influenced by monotheistic Christian and especially Protestant Christian thought. This in turn makes it clear that models of institutionalized or monotheistic religion are quite unsuitable as a point of departure. Instead, there are ‘coexisting informal – or differently organized – patterns of orientation and interpretation’ (translated from Gladigow 1995: 25) that have to be taken into account. In addition, Stephan Feuchtwang (2010) has impressively shown how Chinese pacification rituals directed towards spirits and harmful powers demand a critical examination of theories of ritual and religion. Presupposed terms and ‘scientific’ concepts such as ‘ritual’, ‘religion’, ‘belief’ or ‘ghosts’ have to be revised if considered from an East Asian perspective. As a matter of principle, cultural theories as well as ‘sociological conceptions of secularity [have] been to a high degree interwoven with self-descriptions of post-Christian European modernity’ (translated from König 2007: 92). The consequences of such impregnations by Christian theology, European Enlightenment and the ideology of progress and modernity have to be taken into serious consideration when spirits and Asians’ modernities are scrutinized. A further essential subject of research is therefore the sources (Western or Asian) that provide material for the critique of the spirit cult, both within and outside institutionalized religions in Southeast Asia. Spirits, the salvation economy and the upwardly mobile middle class. The effect of the ‘spirit of capitalism’ on spirits is a distinctively favourable one, as can be seen from the phenomenon of ‘prosperity religion’. The examples 14 Reflected in the title of an influential study of religion in early modern times: Religion and the Decline of Magic (Thomas 1971).


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we have cited show that spirits adapt with great resilience to economic change. The customer base of spirit mediums is to a remarkable extent made up of middle-class people. The increasing role of money in the world of this class in Asia is reflected (inter alia) in the monetization of spirit cults. Spirits, money and religious practice are by no means mutually exclusive. Research work on spirits in the modernity of Asia is therefore by definition research into value-orientation, the search for identity and economic factors in the middle classes. Communication with spirits and ancestors not only shows the usual pattern of exchange of gifts and accumulation of merit, but also the logic of capitalism and of trading relations.15 Histories of religion and of the economy are interwoven. To gain an insight into interfaces of this kind, it is well worth making a study of the emerging sub-discipline of the economy of religion (e.g. Iannacone 1998; Bourdieu 2000; Kippenberg 2002; Koch 2011). It should be noted here that research into middle-class world views and value systems need not be restricted to the fields of work, economy and education, but that leisure and consumption patterns can be equally revealing. Anthropologically based media studies – on cinema, television, video and computer games – can make a valuable contribution to research into the middle-class world view. Agency, gender and the ‘autonomous individual’. Any anthropological research into the phenomenon of possession is obliged to look into the question of ‘agency’, otherwise it becomes bogged down in problems of pathology. Who exactly is it who is talking or acting through a medium? Within what fields of power do mediums operate? What subject concepts are there? In what gender role do spirits appear, and what sex-specific needs are served by spirit cults? In her book The Hammer and the Flute (2002), Mary Keller developed the concept of instrumental agency. Instead of asking ‘Who is acting – the possessed one, the spirit of the ancestors or God?’, she asks: ‘What is aimed at, and with what means?’ According to this theory, the subject is used either as a hammer or as a musical instrument to be ‘played’, and it is from this apparent passivity that the possession medium derives the specif ic ritual authority accorded to him by the community. The ‘autonomous individual’ seems to be more a European invention (Koepping et al. 2002); at any rate it is of only limited application in the case under discussion. ‘Instrumental agency’ has become a useful 15 Michael J. Walsh (2007) is working out a theory of salvation economy in Chinese Buddhism. Although Walsh’s approach is a religio-historical one in which he looks at monasteries, lay people, donations and notions of merit accumulation, his ideas can just as well be applied to the present.

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cross-cultural concept as well, because ‘agency’ is not only a matter of free will, as Marilyn Strathern (1988) has shown in her anthropological critique of Western notions of individuality, in which she put forward the concept of the ‘di-vidual’. Here, the singularity of individual existence is played down, and the relational aspect – a dominant one in many non-Western societies – is emphasized. The anthropology of possession. Spirits, to achieve a social effect, are tied to mediums, shamans and priests. Thus it is the task of the anthropologist to look at not only the institutional side of spirit cults but also the purely ritual side – their realization through performative and theatrical techniques. The mimetic potential of possession, through which art and therapy come together to form a meta-commentary on perceived reality, has been described by Fritz Kramer (1987) as a kind of indigenous ethnography: ‘the Other’ is mimetically depicted and represented in masquerades and possession cults. Kramer reaches this conclusion following the investigation of such seemingly disparate areas of African culture as ancestor worship, pop culture, secular dance, behaviour towards foreigners and possession phenomena. The incorporation of spirits allows experiences of alienation and power to be acted out. Spirits, afterlife, and the traumatized Self. In the last decade of the 20th century, we observe not only a new interest in ghosts in Hollywood productions, and in East and Southeast Asian cinema as well, but also a reinvention of ghosts. Nils Bubandt (2012), informed by extensive fieldwork in Indonesia, argues that ‘the afterlife is currently being psychologised on a global scale.’ Hollywood blockbusters such as Ghost (1990) or The Sixth Sense (1999) and TV series on ghosts such as Ghost Whisperers, Medium, The Supernatural (2005) and the like became very popular in the recent decade. Bubandt recognizes links ‘between spirits and changing conceptions of self in a global world. In Indonesia, ghosts are becoming traumatised, while in the West spirits increasingly struggle with emotional problems. In different ways spirits are becoming implicated in the globalisation of an interiorised and psychological understanding of what it means to be human. As humans are encouraged to think of themselves as psychological beings, human spirits and ghosts are reinvented in a variety of ways – East and West’ (2012: 1). According to Bubandt, spirits are key sites from which to look at the globalization of ‘individualized, interiorized, totalized, and psychologized understanding of what it means to be human’ (Rose 1998: 3). Spirits are ‘important to an analysis of this because psychological discourse and psychological technologies of social improvement have spilled over into the spirit world’ (Bubandt 2012: 3).


Peter J. Br äunlein

Impertinent modernity. Processes of change and modernization are dealt with and commented on in spirit and possession cults. These commentaries are on the one hand expressed in the voices of ‘gods, ghosts and ancestors’ that speak through trance mediums and tell people what to do in money, family and other personal matters. On the other hand, there is an ongoing meta-commentary from the rationalist camp – made up of politicians, scientists, journalists or representatives of the established religions – that criticizes the booming spirit cults and their adherents. Ethical questions and the relationship between tradition and change are dealt with at both levels. Spirit and possession cults are always in addition reflections of the Self and bring up the question, awkward for both the individual and for society: ‘Who are we, and what do we want to be?’ Spirit cults, possession phenomena and ghosts in films all throw a strong light on the relationship between religion and the modernity of traditions in Asia. Questions arise not only about the meaning of ‘religion’ – whether in its common or its scholarly sense – but also about the concept of modernity itself. Secularity and modernity can be seen in a variety of ways. The foundation and consolidation of an ethical code based on the spirits of the ancestors can no longer be treated merely as the mark of a ‘pre-modern’ society and relegated to the outmoded traditions of ‘the other’ but should force ‘us’ to ask questions about ‘our’ attitudes to our ancestors, and about ‘our’ late modern secularity and its cultural roots. We need to reflect on the Self and the Other, on tradition and modernity, and on the place of religion in the late modern global village. What could be a more suitable field of inquiry than the anarchic and ubiquitous spirits in Asian modernity?

The Social Placing of Religion and Spirituality in Vietnam in the Context of Asian Modernity Perspectives for Research Michael Dickhardt

Dynamics of religion and spirituality in a transforming society The socialist reform policy called dổi mới (renovation), which started in 1986, has changed Vietnam profoundly. The economic and political reforms triggered processes of transformation that deeply affected all parts of social, political, economic and religious life in Vietnam. Although the Communist Party still claims social and political control and leadership in alliance with a normative modernity, many of the consequences of the reform policy do not fit smoothly into the modernist programme of the socialist state under the Party’s leadership.1 Particularly in regard to the spheres of religion and spirituality, the Party’s attitude is often ambivalent and ambiguous.2 For a long time the communist regime was suspicious of spiritual and religious beliefs, practices and communities and tried to control, regulate and controvert them. However, in the wake of the reform policy, people have started to use the new freedoms to develop their spirituality and religiosity in an extraordinarily dynamic and vital way. This dynamic includes the whole range of spirituality and religiosity in Vietnam:3 the great organized religions like Buddhism and Christianity, 4 rites in relation to the 1 Extensive literature has emerged on the consequences of the reform policy, for example, Boothroyd and Nam 2000, Do Hoai et al. 2002, Hayton 2010, Luong 2010, Tsuboi 2007, Waibel 2002 and Werner 2006. 2 Using both terms – religion and spirituality – allows us to speak about a broad range of practices, representations and beliefs, including those that are spirituality organized in religion in cults and social forms, as well as phenomena such as ancestor worship, magic, spirit mediumship, etc. Not all of these are subsumed under the category of religion in emic discourses; cf. Cannell 2010: 88f., and for Vietnam, Pelzer 1992. 3 Cf. Bouquet 2010 and Taylor 2007. 4 Cf. Soucy 2012 or the exhibition on Catholicism in Vietnam of the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology in 2008 (cf. Vietnam Museum of Ethnology 2010).


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life-cycle, such as weddings, funerals or ancestor worship,5 rites in relation to communal houses (đình) and local tutelary deities,6 devotion to legendary heroes and spirits,7 Daoism, and the Religion of the Mother Goddesses, also called the Religion of the Four Palaces.8 Elaborate and expensive rituals and pilgrimages, various forms of possession and spirit mediums, rites for the souls on their way to the otherworld, searching for souls, astrology, geomancy – all these beliefs and practices, heavily criticized earlier as superstitious, feudalistic and backward, are now increasingly practiced vividly and multifariously in public.9 Although control and leadership in the social, political and ideological spheres are still asserted,10 and although state authorities still react contradictorily and ambiguously, the latter are trying to harness and control the presumed potential of spirituality and religion for social and moral integration. Ritual sites and practices are included in the official discourses on morality, identity and the legitimation of the one-party state, and officials of both state and party are increasingly being allowed to live their spirituality and religiosity.11 Contrary to first impressions, all these multifarious and vital spiritual and religious practices and beliefs are not to be understood as simply revitalizations of old beliefs and practices. The social, political and economic contexts, as well as the form and content of these practices, have changed 5 Cf. Luong 2010: 226-245 or Malarney 1996 and Malarney 2002: 108-188. 6 Cf. Endres 2000 and Endres 2001 or DiGregorio 2007. 7 Cf. Lauser 2008 or Pham Quynh Phuong 2009. 8 Cf. Endres 2008 and 2011. 9 Cf. Endres 2008: 147, Kendall 2008: 178f, 187 and 189, Lauser 2008: 121-123, Malarney 1996: 542-546 and Pham Quynh Phuong 2009: 8-10. 10 Vietnam is accused by religious groups and human rights activists of asserting this control and leadership in the social, political and ideological spheres with harsh measures of repression including physical violence, intimidation and legal prosecution, particularly if religious expression is connected with questions of ethnic minorities (e.g., Hmong protestants), of church property and installment of bishops (e.g., the conflicts with the Catholic Church) or of forms of institutionalization to be acknowledged by the state (e.g., the Buddhist Church of Vietnam vs. Unified Buddhist Church). See for example Evers 2002, the reports of the Internationale Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte (IGFM) (http://www.igfm.de/Vietnam.543.0.html [11.10.2011] http://www.igfm.de/Detailansicht.384+M569df5d506b.0.html [11.10.2011]) or statements of Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty-seamran.de/menschenrechte/vietnam/religioese_verfolgung/ [11.10.2011]. 11 Cf. Bouquet 2010 or Lauser 2008. However, there are limits to this instrumentalization of religion and spirituality. Malarney writes, for example: ‘Cadres hoped to create, homogenize, and control a definitive set of meanings, functions, and interpretations for funeral rituals. Their inability to do so was directly related to the polysemic and multivocal nature of ritual practice’ (Malarney 1996: 554).

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dramatically.12 The processes underlying these changes are manifold. The lifeworlds of the actors have changed profoundly, resulting in changed material and spiritual needs as well as in changed social and economic structures of the ritual communities and the distribution of religious knowledge. Thus, revitalization of religious practice goes along with reconstruction, reinvention and reinterpretation of beliefs, places and rituals. Factors relevant are the long period of restrictions under the socialist regime, often blamed for a loss in knowledge, a high degree of mobility of religious ideas and persons within Vietnam as well as within global contexts of religions and diasporas, and the openness to combine different religious forms in accordance with contemporary moral, spiritual and material needs within changing lifeworlds. In this respect, one crucial dimension has been described by Malarney and others as a ‘selective revitalization’ and a ‘transformative dialogue’ between religion and state. The old rituals have not just been brought into the light of day again, but egalitarian and secular categories and values from the projects of the socialist state have been incorporated into them, and they fulfill social, political and economic functions which cannot be derived from prerevolutionary times, but which have to be understood in the context of the new social, political and economic conditions of the reform era.13 Against this background, this article aims to develop perspectives for an ongoing cultural anthropological research using the conceptual framework of the entanglement of modernity and religion and an ethnographic focus on the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi.14

Contexts: economy, politics, changing ritual communities and modernity The recent ethnographic literature and the first stage of my ongoing fieldwork in Hanoi draw attention to several contexts which seem to be crucial for an understanding of how the changes in the wake of the reform policy since 1986 are affecting the religious and spiritual praxis and the role of religion and spirituality in contemporary Vietnam. 12 Cf. Endres 2001: 88f. and 93-95, as well as Malarney 1996. 13 Cf. Malarney 1996: 540 and 552. 14 This research is part of the research network on ‘Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia’ (DORISEA), funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (support code: 01UC1102A); see for details http://www.dorisea.de .


Michael Dickhardt

With regard to the economic developments, the decisive dynamics emerge from Vietnam’s involvement in global capitalism and its relations of industrial production and consumerism.15 In Vietnam, after decades of a state-directed planned economy, the reform policy since 1986 has exposed the economy and society to these dynamics in unprecedented ways. These economic dynamics have impacts mainly in three dimensions.16 Firstly, economic developments since 1986 have helped to overcome the economic crisis of the early 1980s and led to better material standards of life for many Vietnamese. However, the new forms of economy are also causing an everwidening gap between the rich and the poor and are producing economic contexts which are characterized by unpredictability and existential uncertainties of the monetary commodity economy. Religion and spirituality appear here mainly as a means of dealing with the new socio-economic contexts of action, e.g. when actors ask for spiritual support for economic success.17 Secondly, the new economic forms make demands on actors which contradict religion and spirituality, as they claim the time, resources and space required also for religious and spiritual practices. Religion and spirituality appear here as a field of conflicting claims on time, resources and space.18 Thirdly, as more resources are now available, the religious and spiritual spheres are becoming more and more economically structured fields. On the one hand, the production of ritual objects and paraphernalia, the construction and furnishing of temples and the organization of worship and pilgrimage are heavily influenced by the conditions of the monetary economy and mechanical reproduction.19 On the other hand, significant expenditure on worship, rituals, pilgrimages and temples not only secures spiritual assistance but also enables actors to accumulate social and symbolic capital.20 15 Cf. Chong 2005, Tu Wei-ming 1996a and Tu Wei-ming 1996b. Politically isolated for a long time, Vietnam is opening up more and more. It has become a member of ASEAN and the WTO and has improved its relationship with the USA significantly. 16 Cf. Bouquet 2010: 102-104, DiGregorio 2007, Kendall 2008, Kendall, Tam and Huong 2010, Luong 2010: 226-245 and Pham Quynh Phuong 2009: 127-146. 17 Cf. Bouquet 2010: 103-106, Kendall 2008: 178, Pham Quynh Phuong 2009: 127-146. 18 For an interesting example, see DiGregorio 2007. 19 The production of sacred objects, the logistics of pilgrimages and the maintenance of temples have become important economic sectors; cf. Endres 2008: 147 or Pham Quynh Phuong 2009 and Taylor 2004. Under the conditions of mass production and increasing financial resources, the criteria of sacredness and ritual effectiveness are changing; cf. Kendall 2008 and Kendall, Tam and Huong 2010. 20 Cf. Endres 2001: 92f and Malarney 1996: 550-552.

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These dynamics are, however, also to be understood in the context of political developments and the projects of the socialist one-party system. The representatives of this system are still claiming officially to direct and control society and its social and cultural development. Religion and spirituality have become part of different political projects, and attempts are being made to use them in a functional way.21 This use of religion and spirituality can be interpreted as a facet of legitimatory practices as well as a means of implementing specific policies and of controlling religious communities. It is combined with discourses and practices in relation to the contributions of religions to the social and moral integration of society and with discourses and practices in relation to constructing a national identity based on cultural and historical heritage. These discourses and practices are articulated on every level of the political system, from the very peak of the state right down to the People’s Committees of the city wards (phường). It is important to note that the different religious forms are entangled very differently with the state. Buddhism, Daoism and the Religion of the Mother Goddesses, Christianity and other religions all have their specific ways of relating themselves with the state or opposing it. The officially recognized Buddhist Church of Vietnam and the responsibility of the People’s Committees of the city wards for historical and culturally important communal houses and temples (see below) are only two examples for arenas within which the relationships of the state and religious forms are negotiated. These contemporary dynamics outlined so far cannot be understood without the social and cultural developments of a much longer historical duration. The last 200 years have brought a profound change in the lifeworlds of Vietnamese actors affecting deeply the ritual communities with regard to their social and political structure, their economic differentiation, their constitution along the dimension of gender and their spatial distribution and mobility within national, regional and global social, cultural and religious forms. A particularly intriguing ethnographic context to study these developments is the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi.22 Before the French colonial time, the Ancient Quarter was composed of spatially, socially and economically defined local communities sharing a common craft or trade. Each of these localized communities lived in one street separated from the other streets by gates and having religious places such as communal houses 21 Cf. Bouquet 2010, Malarney 1996: 540-543, 1997, 2002, Pelzer 1992, Socialist Rep. of Vietnam. Government Committee f. Religious Affairs 2006, Vu Van Hau 2008. 22 Cf. School of Architecture, Chiba University (n.d.) and Waibel 2002.


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(đình) and temples (đền) worshipping gods and deified heroes related to these communities. French colonialism, the post-revolutionary time and the developments since 1986 have changed these structures profoundly. The old social cum political cum economic cum religious communities are not existent anymore and are replaced by new forms of economic and social differentiation. Many of the old crafts and trades do not exist anymore or have been changed considerably, while new forms of economy have been introduced, in particular tourism and catering. Additionally, there has been a great change in demography, not only quantitatively, as the Ancient Quarter is the most densely populated area in Hanoi with extraordinarily high real estate prices, but also with regard to the ethnic composition, as the once strong Chinese community has almost vanished. Against this background, the religious places changed considerably with regard to their social as well as ritual structure and praxeology, showing multiple entanglements of modernity and religion and spirituality. In the final part of this article, some ethnographic examples will be discussed.

The relationship between modernity and religion and spirituality The contexts outlined so far are crucial to the dynamics of religion and spirituality in contemporary Vietnam. Within my ongoing research project, an attempt is made to understand these dynamics as articulations of ‘modernity’. Thus, it is necessary to develop a clear understanding of ‘modernity’. But where do we have to begin to develop such a clear understanding of modernity? The debates on ‘multiple’ and ‘alternative’ modernities have rendered disputable the concept of a single modernity paradigmatically articulated in Western modernity.23 The claims of East and Southeast Asian countries to develop forms of modernity that are significantly different from Western models of modernity have demonstrated that disputing the concept of a single modernity means more than disputing the normative claims and the teleological inevitability of Western social, political and economic institutions.24 It is the very concept of modernity itself which is at stake: what is modernity all about if there is no single modernity? How 23 Cf. Eisenstadt 2000a, Knöbl 2007: 61-110 and Wittrock 2000. 24 What is crucial here is the debate on ‘Asian values’ and on Confucianism as an alternative ethical foundation for modernity. Cf. Barr 2002, Bell 2008, Chua Beng-Huat 1999, Kim Dae Jung 1994, Ng 2003, Pertierra 1999, Thompson 2001, Tu Wei-ming 1989, 2000, and 1996a, Wee 1999, Zakaria 1994, Zhang 2002. For the Vietnamese context, see Ho Si Quy 2006, Ho Si Quy 2007, Pham Duc Thanh 2000, Phan Ngoc 2000.

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are modernity and its mechanisms of affecting social, cultural, political, economic, religious and spiritual life to be understood if there is no single paradigmatic model? Classical theories of modernization have focused mainly on four forms of processes and principles which were considered to be essential for modernity: (1) differentiation of social spheres, (2) individualization of the person, (3) rationalization of worldviews and human practices, and (4) technological mastery of the social and natural worlds.25 According to these theories, these processes and principles were expressed and articulated practically and institutionally in various forms of rational bureaucratic governance and national states, of capitalism and of scientific, rational worldviews. However, although these practices and institutions can be observed historically and empirically, it is far from clear whether modernity as either an epoch or a process with teleological necessity can be deduced from them. But is it necessary to conceive all these practices and institutions of equal necessity for ‘modernity’? Is it necessary that they have entered into one specific configuration to be considered ‘modern’?26 Against this background, it seems reasonable to put aside for a while concepts of modernity as an epoch or a configuration of institutions and practices and inquire first how modernity can be conceived of as a specific quality of institutions and practices. This would mean to distinguish between historical ‘modernities’ (in German: Modernen) and ‘Modernity’ (written here with a capital M; in German: Modernität) as a specific constellation of fundamental issues and value orientations to be found in any kind of ‘modernities’. From here, we can begin to conceptualize how practical and institutional articulations of Modernity are practically put together as epochal or as specific configurations of institutions and practices in a specific modernity. How is this task to be approached? It is certainly not possible to consider all conceivable perspectives here. However, some tentative reflections can show possible first steps towards such a conception of Modernity. Take, for example, the issue of individualism in the context of modernities as discussed in the debates about so-called ‘Asian values’. For the proponents of these values, individualism is not so much an essential part of Modernity but an expression of Western atomistic individualism.27 Conceived from 25 Cf. Degele and Dries 2005, Knöbl 2007: 10-110 and Stark and Lahusen 2002. 26 Cf. Houben and Schrempf 2008 and Wittrock 2000: 31-36. 27 Cf. de Bary 1998, Ng 2003, Zakaria 1994. For a critique, see Kessler 1999 or Kim Dae Jung 1994. For Vietnam, see Nørlund and Pham Duc Thanh 2000 and Phan Van Cac 2001. For Western


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this perspective as a deeply rooted cultural idea, atomistic individualism seems not to secure modernization but to jeopardize the ethical and moral cohesion of society. Instead, a relational concept of the person is formulated. The person is not reducible to an atomistic nucleus as a value in itself but is always defined within specific social relations. This concept, mainly influenced by Confucian teachings, is used to develop a collectivistic and communitarian model of society and person in which authority, hierarchy and individual freedom are brought into a structure of values that is different from Western models. The practical impact these models have on modernization in East and Southeast Asia makes it necessary to question critically the one-sided idea of individualism as an essential part of Modernity. If Western ideas of individualism were essential to Modernity, how could we understand these Asian models as modern? How, then, is the relationship between individualism and Modernity to be reconceptualized to be able to understand these Asian models as modern? Is Western individualism an essential part of Modernity or only a specific cultural form or expression of some deeper dimensions of Modernity? Are Western individualism and Asian relationalism both modern as they are specific expressions of a dimension of Modernity shared by both of these forms of Modernity? At this point, the thinking of Peter Wagner can be used as a point of departure. For him, Modernity cannot be fully understood in terms of an institutional analysis alone. Instead, the concept of autonomy appears to be crucial in any attempt to define Modernity. Modernity is not to be reduced to a certain configuration of institutions and practices – Modernity is where there is an awareness of the necessity of autonomy, understood here literally as “to give laws by yourself”, an awareness which can emerge in specific historical circumstances which make it necessary to re-legitimize old established rules, norms and values (e.g., in situations of being confronted with another set of rules, norms and values claiming superiority or of expanding the set of rules, norms and values within colonial or imperial projects28) or to find new rules, norms and values instead of old ones that have proved to be no longer valid.29 In this perspective, atomistic individualism as it can be found in Western modernities has not to be conceived of as an essential property of Modernity per se but can be understood as a specific conceptual individualism, see Dumont 1986 and Degele and Dries 2005: 72-94. 28 This is not restricted to Western colonialism but can be observed in other historical situations as well, as Alexander Woodside 2006 has shown for Asian contexts. 29 Cf. Wagner 2009 [2008]: 13-30.

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and practical answer to the experience of a necessity of autonomy in a specific historical and cultural situation. Are there also other possibilities of solving this basic problem of Modernity without the concept of an atomistic individualism? If we look at the spheres of religion and spirituality in contexts of Modernity from this perspective, we have to ask if we can conceive personhood as simultaneously autonomous on the one hand and religiously and spiritually oriented on the other. At first sight, a modern concept of personal autonomy seems to contradict religious and spiritual orientations, as such orientations insert the human actor into an encompassing order which cannot be determined by the actor but which determines the actor. However, to assume this would mean to misjudge Modernity and its relationship to transcendence. Concepts of Modernity have always had an understanding of the human actor being determined by transcendent dimensions such as the cosmos governed by natural laws, the universal conditions of humanity or the society as an integrated system of functional relationships which can be rationally controlled, handled and changed. Further, the assumption of an apparent contradiction between personal autonomy and religious and spiritual orientations seems to imply a misconception with regard to the concept of autonomy. The concept of autonomy should not be dissolved in a simple concept of freedom. Rather, as mentioned above, autonomy is to be understood in its literal meaning: to give laws by yourself. Within modern contexts of experience, such laws are necessary to guide human existence and praxis, since human beings cannot rely intuitively on naturally or otherwise given forms of conduct and behaviour but have to constitute their existence in socio-cultural forms and individual experience, which means that those laws are not directly accessible but have to be conveyed and are thus self-given in socio-cultural and experiential forms. However, the laws do not give complete freedom to choose but follow out of the discernible conditions of being human. Autonomy is not only the freedom to do something, it is not free floating, but a necessity determined by the fundamental conditions of being human. Against this background, it does not seem important what kind of fundamental conditions or of transcendence are believed to be constitutive. Rather, the form in which the fundamental conditions and transcendent dimensions are conveyed is crucial: is the orientation of an actor within a context of fundamental conditions and transcendent dimensions an act of autonomous positing or just the result of an unquestioned adoption? This would mean that religious and spiritual orientations can be conceived as part of a modern personality in so far as they are the result of an autonomous positing.


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The limits of this paper do not allow further elaboration of this line of thought. However, two difficulties need to be mentioned. Firstly, there is the issue of religious experiences that do not fit at all with experiences of autonomy. Many mediums of the Mother Goddesses Religion in Vietnam, for example, describe the way of becoming a medium not so much as an autonomous decision but as a decision forced by a demand of a spirit or by serious problems in life such as mental problems or illness.30 Thus, the concept developed above is only to be used on the level of an ideal type, and the category of personality is to be conceived of as highly complex, allowing for different forms of personality to be found in individual actors simultaneously. The interesting question arising from here is how do actors deal with these different forms of personality they articulate practically in their lives? Secondly, the question arises whether it is sufficient to define Modernity only by referring to the concept of autonomy. Certainly, autonomy is one of the essential values of Modernity, not only on the level of single actors as autonomously acting persons, but also on the level of the processes of differentiating various social spheres, each understood and governed by its own laws and rationality.31 However, autonomy is not a quality that is only to be found in modern contexts. Foucault, for example, makes it possible to understand autonomy as a feature of the moral person in general. In his brief outline of a genealogy of ethics, he shows that a moral person comes into being only in and through ‘transformative practices’ which are oriented within the framework of a moral teleology, such as ascesis, discipline or rational reflection. Thus, a moral person emerges in and through a continuous process of reflexive self-constitution within an ethical project – which means that autonomy is an essential part not only of modern morality and personality but of every kind of morality and personality.32 But then what is the specific characteristic of modern autonomy if autonomy is part of every kind of human personality? At this point, other aspects of Modernity come into focus: rationality, functionality, historicity, this-worldly orientation and a conception of universality in pluralism. From this perspective, Modernity could be defined by a form of autonomy articulated in relation to the means and the cosmological positioning outlined by these aspects: rationality and functionality (including non-Western forms of rationality and functionality!) as value orientations that guide the choice of the 30 Cf. Chauvet 2011 and Endres 2011. 31 For a brief summary, see Degele and Dries 2005: 23-27 and 45-71. 32 Cf. Foucault 2007 [1984]: 202-208 and Schmid 1991: 233-236.

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means to achieve autonomy within social and cultural structures open to self-reflective change; historicity and this-worldliness as the frame of orientation of human agency; and a conception of universalism in pluralism resulting from specific historical experiences of finding oneself in a world not confinable anymore to narrowly defined sociocultural systems. Are religion and spirituality reconcilable with Modernity conceived in this vein? To answer this question goes far beyond the scope of the present article. However, a brief look at the debate on secularization might give some ideas of possible perspectives. For a long time, the assumption that an increasing and sweeping secularization would be part of all kinds of modernization processes was part of many theories of Modernity.33 Thus, three tendencies seemed to be necessary parts of every modernization:34 (1) the declining importance of religious explanations of the world and of existence therein as a consequence of a disenchantment through an ever-expanding rational and scientific worldview; (2) the development of autonomous secular social spheres independent of religious and spiritual spheres as a consequence of processes of differentiation; and (3) the retreat of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices from the public sphere into the private sphere. However, these assumptions seem to be refuted by empirical evidence. On the one hand, religion and spirituality retain great significance in societies that appear highly modern. On the other hand, familiarity with rational-scientific explanations does not necessarily imply the refutation of religious and spiritual interpretations and experiences.35 In addition, the basic premises of modernistic assumptions about secularization proved to be weak in the assumption of a sphere of religion and spirituality on the one hand and the sphere of the secular on the other, which are to be conceived as ontologically given and separated from each other and which are to be closely related to the non-modern and the modern respectively. However, although both of these categories are fundamental to many modernistic discourses, they cannot be conceived as ontologically given. They have become practical reality only in and through a practical implementation of the modernistic ontological scheme. Only after these categories were formed as practical categories in and through a long historical process could they be used to legitimize the political program

33 For brief summaries, see Cannell 2010 and Casanova 2006. 34 Cf. Casanova 2006: 12f. 35 This is impressively shown by works such as Ashforth 2005 on witchcraft in South Africa. See also Asad 2003: 1.


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of secularism.36 This means that Western secularism becomes effective only in contexts where a specific form of ontology has been established. Thus, the distinction between the religious/spiritual and the secular cannot be used unquestioned as a principle of classification. It has to be understood in relationship to the social and political projects of Western modernism and cannot be used to understand the possibility of modernization as a process of unfolding multiple forms of Modernity. Against this background, it is not sufficient to understand the empirical reality of modernization and modernities along the lines of the distinction between religious/spiritual and secular. Rather, an ontological analysis has to be the first step, one which must not follow assumed given structures a priori. How Modernity is articulated in and with all spheres of the actor’s lifeworld without attributing specific parts thereof a priori to the ‘religious/ spiritual’ sphere or ‘secular’ sphere or to ‘Modernity’ or ‘Non-Modernity’ has to be analyzed. This has also consequences for an understanding of autonomy as a this-worldly rational autonomy. If religion and spirituality cannot be clearly separated from the secular sphere a priori, this also means that the latter cannot be restricted a priori to a specific this-worldliness without religious and spiritual dimensions guiding the practices of the actors. Thus, the sphere of a this-worldly rational autonomy, understood as a specific characteristic of Modernity, becomes conceivable as a form of autonomy, including religion and spirituality as dimensions of the modern.

Perspectives The starting point for the argument developed in this paper has been the social, economic and political changes and their consequences for religion and spirituality triggered by the socialist reform policy in Vietnam since 1986. In the effort to understand religion and spirituality against this background in the context of Modernity, it became clear that this concept must be critically reflected upon. Neither a clearly definable configuration of institutions and practices nor an a priori existing ontological structure with regard to the religious-spiritual and secular spheres could be used to understand Modernity adequately. Rather, an ontological analysis of modern autonomy has to lay down the foundations on which the historically contingent configuration of institutions and practices of each specific articulation of Modernity can be understood. 36 Cf. Asad 2003 and Cannell 2010: 90-93.

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How can this be done in the case of Vietnam? Religion and spirituality are articulated in a very broad range of practical fields in the social, economic and political contexts. In these contexts, the roles of religion and spirituality are continuously being negotiated anew. The lines of thought laid out so far open up two perspectives on these complex processes of negotiating the role and place of religion and spirituality in Vietnamese contemporary society. The first of these perspectives emerges from the observation that Modernity is not merely an abstract concept but a set of concrete ideas, imaginations and practices aspired, used and formed in the hands of the actors. These models have to be carved out genealogically to be able to understand them with regard to their actual and potential effectiveness for agency and their consequences for the ontology of religion and spirituality and of a modern autonomy in the sense outlined above. The question of where these values, norms, ideas and models essential for the social placing of religion and spirituality come from and the question of how they are practically implemented lead to the historical roots of these values, norms, ideas and models. The intellectual history of Vietnam relevant here is characterized by a complex interplay of religious traditions like Daoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hòa Hảo and Cao Đài, as well as all forms of worship in relation to ancestors, deities and spirits in the context of religious forms such as the Religion of the Mother Goddesses on the one hand and the powerful secular ideologies of nationalism, liberalism and socialism-communism on the other.37 Of particular importance seems to be Confucianism as the historical foundation of certain values and as a reference point for modernistic as well as anti-modernistic discourses over time in Vietnam, as well as in a broader regional context in relation to the debate on so-called Asian values which gives Vietnam a particular position in a possible comparative framework of inquiry in the different forms of Asian modernities.38 A cultural anthropological inquiry aimed at understanding religion and spirituality in modernity cannot, however, be restricted to an intel37 For this intellectual history, see for example Elman, Duncan and Ooms 2002, Marr 1981, McHale 2002 and 2004, Nguyen Ngoc Huy 1998, Pham Duy Nghia 2005 and Woodside 1989 and 2006. 38 Cf. McHale 2002 and 2004, McLeod 1992, Pham Duy Nghia 2005, Schuler, Hoang Tu Anh, Vu Song Ha, Tran Hung Minh, Bui Thi Thanh Mai and Pham Vu Thien 2006, Slote 1998, Thao 1990, Young 1998 and Whitmore 1984. For perspectives on Confucianism in Vietnam, see Endres 2001: 88, Malarney 1996: 540, Nguyen Ngoc Huy 1998: 102, Pham Duc Thanh 2000, Phan Van Cac 2001, Schuler, Hoang Tu Anh, Vu Song Ha, Tran Hung Minh, Bui Thi Thanh Mai and Pham Vu Thien 2006, Woodside 1989 and Young 1998.


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lectual history of concepts and values. It has to turn to empirical fields for ethnographic studies, too. Religion and spirituality in Vietnam are providing many practical fields in which the social placing of religion and spirituality can be studied in contemporary Vietnam. Various contexts and fields of ethnographic research can be defined in a way that makes accessible intersections bringing together practically different kinds of actors (e.g., local actors, representatives of the administration, priests, spirit mediums, etc.), institutions (e.g., the family, ritual communities, people’s committees, etc.) and principles of structuration (e.g., religious beliefs and practices, processes of rationalization, socio-political structures, economic processes, administrative practices, etc.). To study such intersections means to study the practical placing of religion and spirituality in the actual praxis of actors, institutions and spaces. ‘Placing’ is here understood in its physical as well as in its ideational dimension, meaning more than just relational positioning within a structured context, but also the qualitatively dense constitution of meaningful spaces used as physical sites and ideational reference points for praxis. The most promising intersections of the kind outlined are to be found in the ritual spatiality, understood as the totality of ritual places, the paths actors follow between them and the connectivity brought about by the actors. Ethnographic studies of the revitalization of ritual spaces such as the communal houses (đình) or temples (đền) as destinations of pilgrimages have already shown the potential for cultural analyses of the relationship between religion/spirituality and Modernity in Vietnam.39 Concrete physical spaces and the movements between them provide religion and spirituality with a concrete physical form and are a crucial dimension in the very processes of constituting it. 40 They bring together actors, institutions and principles of structuration and become reference points for various practices, ritual as well as non-ritual. And this means too that ritual practices are becoming related to different forms of praxis, which means nothing less than rendering them total social phenomena in and through spatial mediation, as not only religious and spiritual beliefs and practices are articulated spatially in these spaces, but also social, political, juridical and economic principles of structuration are related to religion and spirituality. Thus, modernity is made empirically approachable in and through physical spaces without getting lost in the thin air of abstraction about ‘Modernity’ as a general concept. 39 Cf. for example Endres 2000 and Endres 2001, DiGregorio 2007 or Taylor 2004. 40 Cf. for example Dickhardt 2003.

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A promising ethnographic context for such an empirical approach is the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi. 41 This densely populated area of about 1.5 square kilometres is defined historically and administratively as well as with regard to identity formations of the people living there. Its complex social and economic structures (including mainly small-scale trading, different crafts and tourism) are the result of a historical development mirroring crucial aspects of Vietnamese history since the founding of Hanoi (then Thăng Long) and brings together different forms of Modernity with a complex religious landscape. Within the context of the Ancient Quarter, different articulations of Modernity in Vietnam become practically relevant: the changing socioeconomic structures resulting in new forms of socioeconomic differentiation deeply affecting the ritual communities and their relation to the religious places, the involvement in regional and global forms of mobility in relation to pilgrimage, migration, tourism and globally distributed religions, a set of governmental actors, and projects of identity formation in the framework of the nation-state and local identity formations within a globalized world. All of these articulations of Modernity have a certain impact on the religious praxis in the Ancient Quarter, but the different places as well as the different religious forms to be found there are differently entangled with these articulations of Modernity. The scope of this article allows for only one example to give an impression of promising perspective for ethnographic research: the entanglement of religious places with discourses and practices related to the projects of cultural and historical heritage. In contemporary Vietnam, conceptions of cultural and historical heritage have become entangled with various modern projects and contexts such as the socialist nation-state organized along lines of bureaucracy and a functional understanding of society, various identity formations in a globalized world characterized by an unprecedented degree of mobility of actors, ideas and images, the global discourses on cultural and historical heritage within global institutional actors such as UNESCO, and the involvement in economic structures such as regional and global tourism using markers of cultural and historical heritage as a means to define touristic destinations. The religious places in the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi are deeply involved in these discourses and practices, in particular because it is located in an area which is per se defined officially as an area of great value for the historical and cultural identity of Hanoi and Vietnam. However, the entanglements of Modernity and religion through the articulations of the discourses and 41 For an overview see School of Architecture, Chiba University (n.d.) and Waibel 2002.


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practices of cultural and historical heritage are not enfolding uniformly in the religious places. All of these places are part of identity formations within political, social and cultural structures on national, regional and global levels, are under pressure to legitimize religion, spirituality and specific ritual practices within the official modernist project of society and state, and are objects of practices to administer, control and functionalize religious places within political and economic projects. This set of shared conditions do result in different kinds of entanglements of the religious places and the actors therein with Modernity depending on several factors such as: the internal socio-ritual organization of the places, the embeddedness in local communities, the structure of the ritual communities, the personal and biographical involvement of actors in the places and in modernist projects, and the involvement of different institutional actors such as the People’s Committees of the individual city wards (phường) or the Management Board for the Ancient Quarter under the People’s Committee of Hanoi. Against this background, different forms of becoming entangled with Modernity can be observed. Take, for example, the Đình Thanh Hà, the Đình Yên Thái and the Đền Quan Đế. The Đình Thanh Hà and the Đình Yên Thái are both communal houses centred on a deified person of historical importance to the local communities related to the communal houses. Both of them are complex ritual spaces combining different religious forms, comprising the cult of the tutelary deity, Daoism, the Religion of the Mother Goddesses, Buddhism and ancestor worship. With regard to the entanglements with Modernity mediated by the articulation of discourses and practices of cultural and historical heritage, there are marked differences between these two places, depending on the factors mentioned above. Both places are recognized officially as places of cultural and historical import and were renovated as part of programmes related to the preservation of historically and culturally valuable places in relation to the one-thousandth anniversary of Hanoi (Thăng Long) in 2010. However, although entangled with the state actors via the discourses and practices of cultural and historical heritage, they are quite differently related to the state actors such as the People’s Committee of the respective ward. In Đình Thanh Hà, the function of the caretaker for the place (called cụ từ by the present caretaker) is following the male line in genealogical connection to the tutelary deity venerated there. Additionally, the present caretaker also refers to himself as ông chủ đền đồng, as the communal house became also a place for the worship of the Mother Goddesses and the related rituals called hầu đồng which have been a major part of the ritual activities taking place at the Đình Thanh Hà since the late 1950s. Against the background of his often

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frustrating biographical experiences as a former soldier returning from the Vietnam War and as a member of the Communist Party and the experience of the repressive policies of the local authorities against the ritual activities at Thanh Hà until the 1980s, the present caretaker takes a reluctant and pragmatic stand towards the involvement of People’s Committee of the ward in the affairs of Thanh Hà. The People’s Committee has formed a special committee taking care of Thanh Hà with regard to renovation works and to providing information material for visitors to be distributed in the communal house. The present caretaker complies with this power structure and its demands, but tries to keep his distance in so far as he claims to be the legitimate owner of the place. Thus, the communal house itself is managed with regard to all ritual activities and furnishings by the present caretaker and his brother as well as by his wife and his sister-in-law, who are both involved in the worship of the Mother Goddesses at a shrine located in the first yard of the communal house. The communal house is even part of the living space of the families living in the adjacent houses and using parts of the communal house for daily activities such as having meals, playing cards and running small-scale business. The situation in Đình Yên Thái is quite different. Đình Yên Thái is much more involved in the modernist project of the socialist authorities for several reasons. The caretakers here are not put into place on genealogical grounds. Rather, they are chosen by the local ritual community which decides on a committee of five people to take care of the Đình Yên Thái. The leader of this committee, referring to himself as thủ từ, served as a member of the People’s Committee of the ward for 16 years and became thereafter caretaker for the Đình Yên Thái in 1993. In his statements he expresses a strong commitment to the aims and the values of the Communist Party as well as to his religious beliefs in the strictly hierarchical pantheon of Daoism. Against this background, his project of taking care of the Đình Yên Thái as a part of the cultural and historical heritage and his commitment to the cult of the tutelary Goddess, representing for him high moral values still important today (e.g., commitment to the nation, to the welfare of the people and to the fight against corruption), are deeply entangled with the project of a nation-state under the guidance of the Communist Party. As a result, on the level of day-to-day activities, the People’s Committee of the ward is involved in many decisions of the management of the communal house, even in small-scale repairs and small changes of the place. The two examples sketched above show that the entanglements with modernity by the articulation of discourses and practices of cultural and historical heritage are to be understood very differently, as the specific


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history and socio-ritual structure of the places as well as the biographical entanglements of the actors relate these places differently to institutional actors such as the People’s Committees of the respective ward. However, there is still another way of getting entangled with Modernity in the context of discourses and practices of cultural and historical heritage producing a quite different kind of religious places in the Ancient Quarter. The practically relevant context here is a large project called “Hanoi, Heritage and Identity. Cooperation between the cities of Hanoi and Toulouse for the safeguard of the Old Quarter” which was started in 2004. 42 Within this project, the concept of ‘conservation’ and its reconciliation with modernization and economic development plays a central role against the background of the national heritage status granted to the Ancient Quarter by the central government in 2004. The Đền Quan Dế is one of the places restored under this programme. It is a temple dedicated to the Chinese general Quan Dế of the 3rd century A.D.43 The socio-ritual structure and its embeddedness in the local community of this temple is quite different from that of the two communal houses discussed above. It is located in an area formerly inhabited by the once big Chinese community in the Ancient Quarter which became the owner of this temple in the early 20th century. However, as early as in the late 1940s, it was already used as a living quarter, losing more and more its socio-ritual function, in particular after most of the Chinese community had left the Ancient Quarter by the early 1980s. In 2009, after the residents had been resettled – a move explained in terms of modernization and an improvement in living conditions – the restoration works began and were completed in 2010. Today, the Đền Quan Dế is used as a Heritage Information Centre housing an exhibition area on the Ancient Quarter heritage and modernist urban planning. But it is also a place of worship for Ông Quan Đế and for Ông Quan Bình and Ông Chau Xương, two figures related to Ông Quan Đế. Thus, within a project initiated by governmental actors, a hybrid space was created, bringing together a conservational concept of historical remembrance, modernist urban planning, touristic consumption and the reemergence of ritual practices. Of particular interest here is the form that the reemergence of ritual practices assumes. The two examples of communal houses discussed above showed different ways of ritual revitalization in relation to different forms of socio-ritual embeddedness 42 Cf. http://www.toulouse-hanoi.org/english/ [16.06.2013] 43 Cf. http://www.toulouse-hanoi.org/english/co-operation-initiatives/restoration-operations/ den-quan-de.html and http://www.toulouse-hanoi.org/IMG/pdf/den_Quan_De_-fr_viet.pdf [16.06.2013]

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in local communities resulting in different ways of being entangled with the modernist projects articulated by the local People’s Committees of the wards. In the case of Đền Quan Dế, the socio-ritual embeddedness was almost non-existent anymore, with the exception of some individual actors interested in the temple. The restoration of the temple, however, opened up space for a ritual re-appropriation for actors living next to the temple. In particular, one successful businesswomen of part Chinese descent seems to be one of the driving forces behind this dynamic, donating money for the restoration, conducting ritual offerings on a daily basis and initiating larger ritual activities such as the cleaning of the statues of the worshipped deities. Several aspects here are of particular interest for my ongoing ethnographic study: (1) How is this ritual re-appropriation linked to identity formations of the actors involved ritually in the temple? (2) As the ritual praxis in the temple was not continued properly for a long time and as the community once in charge of the rituals no longer exists, knowledge of the rituals and the ritual calendar has been lost to a large extent. Thus, ritual re-appropriation means here re-invention. (3) The restoration of the temple created a ritual space for the veneration. However, it did not result in a complex ritual space of the kind we can find in most of the other religious places in the Ancient Quarter not being part of the “Hanoi, Heritage and Identity” project. Instead of being a place for different religious and ritual forms, Đền Quan Dế is only a place for a single form of worship. Buddhism and the Religion of the Mother Goddesses as well as ancestor worship are not part of this ritual space. In sum, issues of identity, ritual knowledge and ritual praxis are brought together in a hybrid space of revitalized ritual praxis and modernist projects of historical remembrance and modernization of urban forms within changing economic structures such as tourism.

Outlook The ethnographic examples sketched above show the different ways in which religious places and the actors involved in them are entangled with Modernity through discourses and practices of cultural and historical heritage in a context of modernist projects. They also show that the spatially defined context of the Ancient Quarter of Hanoi provides a promising ethnographic context for a comparative study in the multifarious entanglements of religion and spirituality with Modernity. So far, factors such as the internal socio-ritual organization of the places, the embeddedness in local communities, the structure of the ritual communities, the personal


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and biographical involvement of actors in the places and in modernist projects, and the involvement of different institutional actors have proven to be crucial for an understanding of how Modernity becomes practically entangled with the places producing different kind of places. My ongoing research project must now go beyond the contextual analysis conducted so far. The concept of Modernity outlined above will be used as an analytical tool to understand how autonomy, rationality, functionality, historicity, this-worldly orientation and a conception of universality in pluralism as aspects of Modernity become relevant for the individual actors, their commitment to religious forms and modernist projects as well as their identity formations and their strategies of reinventing and revitalizing ritual practices. And certainly, this also means that we must ask ourselves whether such a concept of Modernity is appropriate to understand the place of religion in contemporary Vietnam.

Where the Dead Go to the Market Market and Ritual as Social Systems in Upland Southeast Asia Guido Sprenger

Introduction One of the central threads running through the study of religion in Southeast Asia is the question of what makes religion distinctive. Religion as a field, a system, a functional element – whatever theory one subscribes to – implies a differentiation from other fields, other types of action and communication, other ways of relating events, people and groups. A statement to the effect that religion permeates all social activity in Southeast Asia will not answer this question, nor will the insight that all groups of people or categories of communication have blurred boundaries and easily slip from the grasp of definition. In fact, people consistently practice difference-making as a way to render their communications meaningful. Although scepticism of the term ‘religion’ as an analytical device is highly warranted, the notion commonly covers types of communication which are, in various ways, separated by actors from other types of communication. Therefore, ‘religion’ or ‘ritual’ imprecisely indicate social systems that are differentiated from other systems, each defined by their specific relationships. However, it is more appropriate to speak about ‘ritual’ instead of ‘religion’, as this term more immediately brings to mind communication, action and process, rather than doctrine or orthodoxy. The movement from an orthopractic set of rituals towards a type of religion with canonical texts and a doctrine is by itself a local, specific and reflective process (Hornbacher 2008). Therefore, I define a ritual system as a more or less coherent set of communications, structured and bounded by a particular semantic, and based on the assumption that ritual reproduces both social and cosmological relations. This makes rituals like marriage, funerals, calendrical rites, etc. the central and most differentiated events of a community, but it also addresses certain other systems structuring a community, like kinship.1 A ritual is therefore a set of actions recognized by a particular community 1 However, not all ritual systems that are recognized locally encompass the society in question in its entirety; the Len Dong spirit medium cult of Vietnam analysed by Endres (2010) is a case


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as meaningful and as necessary in order to create, maintain or transform relations among human beings or between human and non-human actors; this is accomplished by reference to a level which, in the community’s ideology, is situated above that of the human participants (Sprenger 2006: 13). One of the ways in which ritual systems define themselves relationally is by relating to systems we might equally imprecisely call ‘economy’ or ‘market’ – note that these are not the same. The relationship between these two is often conceived as mutually exclusive or at least problematic in much of Western-European discourse. However, the common occurrence of prosperity cults in many Asian societies and the close relationship between consumption and ritual demands a review of this assumption (e.g. Endres 2010; Kitiarsa 2008a, 2008b) and raises a few questions. When ritual objects and services become subject to market-type transactions – that is, when they are exchanged immediately for money – does this indicate the commodification of religion? Or is it equally fruitful to reverse this perspective and speak of a ritualization of the market? Are the rules of the market a kind of religion or is the market a medium by which religions proliferate? Data from the Southeast Asian mainland suggest that neither interpretation needs to be exclusive: rituals and markets are both forms of exchange. Yet, a perennial anthropological tradition maintains a separation between these two domains. In this view, ritual exchanges concern gifts, while market exchanges deal with commodities (Mauss 1990 [1924]). Rituals are seen as part of long-term cycles of exchange that reproduce societies as wholes and the relations between human beings and the cosmos; thus, long-term cycles are heavily imbued with morality. The market, on the other hand, is the site of short-term cycles, quick exchanges of goods and money between persons who do not need to cultivate extended relationships beyond these momentary transfers. Therefore, market exchange is hardly valued regarding morality and might even appear as amoral from the perspective of the values dominating the long-term cycles. What these authors usually stress is the difference between categories of social relationships in long- and shortterm cycles, not the difference in the material objects being exchanged. Objects like money or goods may appear in both long- and short-term cycles, both in ritual or in the market (Gregory 1982; Bloch & Parry 1989; Sprenger 2005; Maurer 2006). Some authors try to link the two types of exchange in a more organic way (Iteanu 2005), while others attempt to overcome the dichotomy, putting long-term reproduction back into the modern money in point. But even in these cases, ritual systems reproduce and relate sets of socio-cosmic relationships and provide a way to process information produced by other social systems.

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economy (Hart 2007; Preissing 2009) or stressing the similarities between gift and commodity exchange (Strathern 1992). This chapter offers an approach in which market and ritual exchanges are not just different categories of relations but also different perspectives, different modes of creating value, of recognizing relationships and processing information. From the position of the market, ritual appears as an adjunct, as a type of consumption like other such types. From the position of ritual, though, the market appears as another site of socio-cosmic reproduction. Both perspectives are expansive in that they attempt to determine the meaning of what happens in the respective other, the market and ritual respectively. Yet, neither perspective – nor social system – can account for all the valorised differences in the respective other system. Describing ritual in terms of the market reduces much of the complexity of the ritual process. On the other hand, understanding the market through the semantics of ritual and cosmology equally misses much of the detail and connects information in a way that is alien to the market. In short, one particular system, with its specific semantic repertoire, cannot fully process the complexity of the other system (Luhmann 1984).

Debating commodification This raises the question of commodification, a term currently in wide use for the description of relations between economy and religion. This term usually refers to the process by which objects and services are increasingly produced for exchange under monetised market conditions for the gain of profit. The process is thought by many economists and social scientists to penetrate ever more areas of social life (Williams 2002: 526-7). In the realm of religion, this means that religious ‘products’ – ranging from objects like amulets and relics to services like pious advice or the performance of rituals by specialists – become subject to monetary exchange. However, I want to argue that the term commodification implies only one particular perspective on a process that can equally be described as ritualization of the market. Commodification describes the appearance of religious objects and services on the horizon of the economy. This is apparent in Wim van Binsbergen’s definition that addresses more explicitly the relationship of the market to other systems or contexts: ‘the way things and social relations are effected by the market’ (van Binsbergen 2005: 11). This definition suggests that the economy establishes a perspective that gives certain connections between social acts priority over others – connec-


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tions that are made plausible (and for some, even inevitable) by the values and semantics of market exchange. ‘Commodification’ thus stresses the connectivity of (religious/ritual) objects and services within the economic system, their potential to be valorized by economic notions of value, in particular in terms of money. Ritualization of the market, on the other hand, focuses on the economy as a source of objects and services that can be valorized in terms of religion and ritual, for example by using them for the establishment or reproduction of long-term, socio-cosmic relationships. Therefore, the very same transfers of objects and services can be seen from an economic or a ritual perspective, or rather, can be treated as being part of a chain of economic or religious communications. The fact that ‘commodification’ is currently used more commonly to describe these processes indicates the dominant position of the economic system and its specific semantics in modern discourse. But as Jackson correctly points out, the interpenetration of market and ritual does not need to be seen as ‘commodification’, that is, as an expansion of capitalist market principles into a domain that was previously free of such ideas. A view that stresses ‘spiritualizing […] capitalism’ (Jackson 1999a: 54) highlights the connectivity of the transfer of religious objects and services within a ritual and cosmological system, which is subdued when the same processes are described in terms of the economy. The implicit acknowledgement of the dominance of the economic in the use of ‘commodification’ is notwithstanding the fact that talk about it – both in academic and public discourses – is often lined with a certain moral panic about the decline of religious values. In this respect, ‘commodification’ does not just denote a particular category of empirical phenomena, it creates this category by suggesting a particular interpretation of them: relations between persons (including cosmological ones) are transformed into relations between objects. ‘Commodification’ appears not only as an analytical category but as a construct that betrays particular hopes and fears regarding the development of global society: Will everything become a commodity sooner or later? Will all subsistence economies be replaced by monetized production? Will the market encompass the sacred and private domains? As Pattana Kitiarsa (2008b) has shown, mainland Southeast Asia provides examples for both this type of worry about the improper mixing of economy and religion and the establishment of relay points between the two systems. Let me specify what I mean by the latter. Many Southeast Asian scholars would argue that religion and economy are not separated as systems in Southeast Asia, as they are in Western modernity. However, there are strong indications for the following. Firstly, a system of ritual and

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cosmology is indeed functionally separated from the system of the market. These do not need to be identical with the differentiation of economy and religion in Western modernity, as the semantics of their respective ways of reproduction and how they relate to each other are different. Yet, the differentiation of market and ritual in Southeast Asia provides an inroad for the adoption of the Western-modern form of differentiation between religion and economy. Secondly, certain rules, habits or codes serve to connect the two systems and define their relationship to each other. These rules or codes function as relay points which make it possible to formulate a particular transfer in both ritual and market terms. Let me give two examples, one from mainland Southeast Asia, the other from Indonesia. The value of Buddhist amulets, which are subject to intense trade and collecting in Thailand, is not just derived from their material or the labour invested in making them but from the relationship they create between their holders and a sacred person, divinity or cosmological power. In particular, the monk who has consecrated an amulet functions as a conduct for these relationships. When the amulet moves to another holder because the original owner sells it, the cosmological relationship is supposed to move along with it, now being attached to its new owner. Thus the relationship between holder 1 and the cosmos is transformed into the relationship between holder 2 and the cosmos by means of the exchange of object and money between the two holders. Thus, two definitions of ‘value’ are related here: the qualitative value of the cosmological relation, which is defined by the contrasting or complementary values of other relations (e.g. the holder’s karmic fate), and the quantitative value – the price – which is defined by other values equally expressed as amounts of money. The price, however, bypasses the cosmological power, although the latter is by definition the superior part in this set of relationships. The question is how the two categories of relationships – those between holders and cosmos and those among former and later holders – relate to each other. Are they just two relationships within a single system, or does the cosmological relationship that valorises the amulet in the first place create a moral problem when related to the market? If there was no differentiation between market and ritual, there would be no moral problem involved. However, there are strong indicators that there is indeed such a problem and that the two valorizations of the object refer to two different systems in mainland Southeast Asia. The word for the amount of money given for the amulet is not ‘price’ (rakha), but ‘worship value’ (kha bucha) or ‘rental value’ (kha chao) (Jackson 1999a: 10-11; see also McDaniel 2010). This indicates that the relationship between the buyer, the seller and


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the Buddhist cosmos differs from normal objects of trade. Paying a ‘price’ would cut off the relationship between an object and its former owner. But in the case of the amulet, its relationship with the sacred needs to be preserved, as it would otherwise lose its value. Thus, ‘price’ is replaced by terms pertaining to ‘rent’ or ‘worship’, both terms pointing at an ongoing relationship between the object and the divine origin of its value. While the transaction might resemble market trade perfectly, the terminology used sets it off by stressing the continuing relationship embodied in the amulet, that is, its inalienability. Thus, these terms serve as relay points between market and ritual. The transfer can be interpreted in terms of the market system as purchase, but just as well in terms of the ritual system as a ritual exchange. For the market system, the value of the amulet is defined by the relation of supply and demand, but its cosmological value is no information at all for this system. However, in the ritual system the number of other, similar objects on the market is no information, compared to the reputation of the monk who consecrated it or its proven worth as a protective device against misfortune. This suggests that the relation between markets and Buddhism in Thailand is not just close but still fraught with moral dangers, as Pattana Kitiarsa’s historical sketch of the local perception of crises of Buddhism demonstrates (Kitiarsa 2008b: 121). The moral dangers projected into this relationship indicate the differentiated connectivity of the market transfers of religious objects and services and therefore the differentiation of systems. The second example is the trade in weapons and hunting devices like machetes and fishhooks among the Tobelo in Halmahera, Indonesia. It is the ancestors who enable the living to kill humans and animals, and the relationship with them is embodied by the hunting devices. At the moment of their sale, the seller – by virtue of selling them – represents the ancestors and is therefore the only authority able to determine their price. For that reason, hunting devices are exempt from bargaining. If the buyer attempts to influence the value of the items in terms of money, he would destroy their relationship with the ancestors and render them inefficient (Platenkamp 2013: note 21). These observations suggest that market and ritual establish different perspectives on the value of things and actions and locate their transfer in different chains of communications. Therefore, the relationship between the value of a regular commodity and a ritual one are subject to careful scrutiny and elaboration. At the same time, and at least in mainland Southeast Asia, market and trading are not simply intrusive to but formative of cosmology and ritual. They appear both as a means to proliferate the ritual

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system – as in the example of prosperity cults – and a cause of its possible crises, due to the different values the systems operate by. From the point of view of the ritual system, the ritual values encompass the relationship of trade. The exchange of money for object is subordinated to the cosmological relationships implied by the exchange, the presence of Buddhist blessing or the ancestors. It is these relationships that encompass the money-object relationship in a hierarchical order. The term ‘ritualization’ thus focuses on the cosmological conditions of market exchange, the position of the relationship between buyer and seller in the socio-cosmic order of relationships, and the qualitative value of things and money. From this vantage point, let us now look at types of interpenetration of market and ritual in a context that cannot easily be described as ‘commodification’. I describe here a ritual system that does not produce a lot of things and services for sale, nor is it centrally concerned with the increase of material wealth. The example at hand is the Rmeet (Lamet), an ethnic category comprising about 20,000 non-Buddhist swidden farmers in the upland of Laos.2 Rmeet rituals address an array of ancestor spirits, spirits of houses and villages, and spirits of the sky and the forests beyond the village border. Many rituals take the form of sacrifice, ritual gifts or offerings, signifying an exchange between people and spirits, or among certain kin types. The Rmeet I studied were living in a mountain village without roads and shops at the time of my major research in 2000 to 2002. Their access to markets was mostly restricted to a monthly market in an ethnically mixed village on the Nam Tha river, called Ban Mo, about three to six walking hours away. By 2009 there was a dirt road and numerous motorcycles making the trip easier, and a small stall for food and soft drinks had been opened by one villager. But even before that, the presence of the market was very much in evidence in ritual and socio-cosmic representations. First of all, many of the objects that are exchanged in rituals originate in the market, including money, clothing, pots and jars, as well as the most important sacrificial animal, the buffalo (Sprenger 2005, 2007). This is not a recent development. Already in the 1930s, bronze drums and other commodities played an important role in ritual, and the steel bars bought from traders probably originated in Sweden (Izikowitz 2001: 101, 116-17, 313). As with the above example of 2 Research was conducted in 2000-2001 and 2002 with funding from the German Research Council and in 2005 and 2007 with funding from the Academia Sinica, Taipei, and the Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt am Main. An earlier version of this paper was presented at a workshop of the network ‘Religious Dynamics in Southeast Asia’, Freiburg, 18-20 July 2008.


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amulets, the value of these objects in the market and the relationships they embody are quite distinct from the relations and values they assume when employed in a ritual exchange. However, in cosmological terms the market is more than just the source of ritual objects, and it is here that we can acquire a clearer view of the relationship between the two domains, the market and the ritual, as constituted within the Rmeet socio-cosmic order. The relationship between the two is specific to this cosmology. Also, the ability to process the other system’s complexity is limited.

Spirits and markets The cosmomorphic societies of this part of Asia claim parallel structures of organization for the world of living human beings and the world of spirits and divinities. Spirit markets are a common concomitant notion of this principle, constituting a major factor facilitating the ritualization of the market. Thus, the spirits of the dead Rmeet live in villages and make fields – the graveyard appears as a village in dreams, and the wooden constructions that mark graves are called ‘houses of the dead’. They are built complete with entrances, stacks of firewood, little gardens or fishponds, and a ‘rice field of the dead’ a few metres away from the grave in the forest. Besides such village-centred versions of cosmomorphism, we find the Taoist cosmos of China where the world of the gods is organized in the form of an imperial state, with the Jade Emperor at the top and earth gods as local officials. This idea has strongly influenced some of the upland non-state societies between China and Southeast Asia and also contains ideas about spirit markets (e.g. Lemoine 1982; Tapp 1989; Mueggler 2001: 5; see also Sivin 1995). In Rmeet cosmology, spirit markets play a well-recognized role. Money placed on the dead body during the mortuary rituals, interlocutors explain, will be used by the deceased to buy things in the spirit market. Also, sleeping and dreaming is jokingly referred to as ‘going to the spirit market’. This refers to klpu, an invisible component of the person, a ‘soul’, which sees the world of spirits in dreams and later turns into the spirit of the dead. These souls are able to communicate with spirits and also visit their markets. Yet, the homology of the spirit world and that of the living is pushed even further, beyond cosmomorphic replication and into identification. People whose close relatives – particularly their parents or someone living in the same house – have died should refrain from visiting the market for about three years, as they might meet the spirits of these relatives there face to face. While few people seem to thoroughly observe this prohibition, it highlights

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important aspects of the relationship between spirits and markets. The rule that spirits are invisible to the waking eye is suspended in the market. This is linked to two other ideas. Every time the day of the death of a relative and/or his or her burial returns in the ten-day week, house members should observe certain prohibitions, including those against working in the rice fields or in the forest. House members who knew the dead person well are supposed to observe these rules for the rest of their lives. Spirits of the dead roam the forest and the graveyard, which is beyond the village boundaries, but usually they only relate to their close kin, the people they lived with in their lifetime. This notion refers to the personalized appearance of the individual dead, not to the house spirit, as I will explain below. The other idea is that the dead sell their coffins in ‘Müang Loong’, again in order to buy provisions. The latter term may refer to the provincial capital, Luang Nam Tha, or to Luang Prabang, the capital of the King of Laos before the revolution of 1975. However, the term also means ‘capital city’ in a more generic way. The selling of the coffin concludes the process of separation of the dead from the living, at the end of the dry season following the death. At this time, when the first rain showers occur in about April, sowing begins and a new agricultural cycle is initiated. This is also considered the beginning of the new year, which does not start at a fixed date. Thus, the conclusion of an annual field cycle and the beginning of a new one also signals the final establishment of the full ancestral status of the dead, as indicated by their relationship to an external centre. While many Rmeet explicitly doubt the truth of the idea of the coffin sale, they still use it to explain certain rituals and prohibitions like the above one. These ideas indicate certain classifications that structure Rmeet cosmological order. From the point of view of the ritual system, both the market and the spirits belong to a realm outside of village society. Village society is defined by relationships among kin and by the performance of certain rituals that promote the integrity of persons and the reproduction of social relationships. Neither the market nor the spirits of the dead in their personalised form belong to this sociality but to one defined by being outside, being subject to different rules and, often, of more fleeting relationships. The same is true for paid labour, as performed by many Rmeet men and women in the Lao lowland and in Thailand. While experiences like these do influence the way in which village sociality is valorized, there is a clear sense of the two being separate. ‘Sociality’ in this sense is not a sum of entities, sites or persons, but a type of communication. Hence, some beings belong to the village sphere if communicated with correctly, but may shift outside when the relationship


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is disturbed. Different beings emerge when the type of communication changes. One example is the house spirit, a kind of conglomerate, nonindividualized ancestor spirit who watches over the residents of a house, normally their descendants, and therefore is different from the more individualized spirits of the dead in the graveyard. The type of communication with the dead that focuses on their separateness as single persons renders them external beings with potentially dangerous demands, while communicating with the dead as conglomerates establishes them as benevolent protectors of life in the village. Yet, even these latter spirits, which are part and parcel of social life and security inside the village boundaries, may become angered if they are ignored on ritual occasions. If they do not receive their share of a slaughtered animal, they may turn into powerful forces of the domains beyond the village boundaries. A house spirit may appear as a tiger and attack the domestic animals of his own household. Thus, it is not just the parties involved that define the nature of communication but the communicative acts themselves. A house spirit who is ignored or avoided like an external spirit turns into a predatory animal in the forest. Similar communicative issues emerge regarding the market. Again, both the market and the spirits of the dead are classified as ‘outside’. They thus demand different kinds of communication. The market is mostly conceived of as a site of rather passing exchanges different from kinship. Similarly, the individualized spirits of the dead are removed from village society during the mortuary rituals in a way that makes communication with them terminable – a small coin is put into the dead person’s mouth to keep him from talking to the living. The means of communication on the market is used to signal that the communication between the individual dead and the living acquires the same fleeting quality. Both sorts of relationship, with the market and with the ancestors, are deemed necessary but are very consciously restricted.

Qualitative value on the market The production and origin of commodities, their itinerary and their ultimate price are major differentiating factors producing the information that can be processed by the market system. It is a system that is geared towards recording the values and trajectories of objects rather than persons. Markets and shops in the villages and towns of northern Laos offer goods that primarily originate in Laos, Thailand and China, with the latter two providing mostly industrial and agro-industrial products, while agricultural surplus

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and forest produce are local. The suppliers of the market in Ban Mo acquire most of their goods from one of the larger towns, Luang Nam Tha upriver and Ban Houeisay on the Mekong and the border with Thailand (see Walker 1999; Yokoyama 2010). There is even a trading post on the Thai side of the Mekong where Nam Tha river traders obtain goods. For buyers, the origin of goods does make a difference. Chinese goods are said to be cheaper but of much lower quality than Thai goods. They are expected to break after a short period of use. Yet, this difference is not acknowledged anywhere in the ritual system. If commodities feature in ritual, they are ritually not differently valued on the basis of their provenance. Other than ritual knowledge, for example (Sprenger 2011), the origin of consumer goods is not information for the ritual system and does not lead to different follow-up communications within ritual discourses. This is maybe less obvious than it might seem at face value. There is indeed a type of object for which market exchange and ritual exchange make very similar differentiations, but, it seems, within an entirely different frame of reference. This object is money. In the rural Rmeet area, four different kinds of currency are in use, two of them in trade and market relations, one restricted to ritual, and a fourth one that is mainly used in ritual but whose value extends to the market. The two trade currencies are the Laotian kip and the Thai baht. The one restricted to ritual is cowry shells, which are recognized as the oldest type of currency. They feature as single items in certain healing exchanges, as talismans and, in the form of bamboo replicas, as gifts for spirits. The form of currency used mainly in ritual is piasters, French colonial currency that was valid between the end of the nineteenth century and 1932. Piasters present a curious case regarding the valorization of means of exchange. Their value stems both from the market and from ritual, that is, from their assumed intrinsic value and from their embodiment of relationships. The question is, do they have these values at the same time or in different contexts? Piasters contain 28 grams of silver and were common currency during the colonial era. In 1932, they were replaced by a new series of piaster coins that contained less silver and featured a different design (Touzet 1939: 133-4). These latter coins are not found in circulation any more. However, the original piasters are commonly traded in markets in many parts of Laos, and at least among Rmeet they are still highly valued in ritual. They are displayed during blessing rituals and on dead bodies during mortuary rituals, and they serve as bride wealth. Thus, they play an important role in reproducing socio-cosmic relations, creating bonds of affinity and rela-


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tions between the living and the dead. Their value in these contexts arises from their use in various ritual exchanges. In some exchanges, they even embody the klpu-soul of a person. Accordingly, the value of the smaller coins of colonial currency, the 50-cent or 20-cent pieces, is qualitatively, not quantitatively, different from the piaster coins in ritual. A 20-cent coin is used in a particular shamanic potion, but not as a fifth of a piaster in bride wealth. At the same time, the piasters have a market value. They not only circulate ritually but can be bought in the market. It is even possible to buy commodities with them, although this seems to be rare. But the two major currencies for market exchange, the Laotian kip and the Thai baht, are differentiated in the market realm as well as in the ritual realm. In the market, they are defined by their exchange rate. Many Rmeet, in particular young men and women, regularly travel to Thailand for wage labour or trade. These are occasions to obtain Thai baht, which is used quite freely as a market currency in northern Laos. With an exchange rate of 220 kip to one baht in 2002 (and somewhat more now), the higher value of the Thai currency is obvious to its users. In market exchanges, the exchange rate is used to determine the value in money of particular commodities. However, the two currencies are also used in ritual, but here their relative value is not determined by their exchange rate. In mortuary rituals, the money placed on the dead person’s body by his or her agnates usually consists of piasters, but occasionally baht are used as well. This money represents the immediate lineage members of the dead person, as all of them display their stocks of piasters on these occasions. Rmeet who do not own piasters reason that the baht is the ‘younger sibling’ of the piaster and thus is just as valuable in the spirit markets. Kip bills, in comparison, are mostly ornamental, appearing in mortuary rituals on little flower-pot-like constructions that are placed beside the dead person’s head, not on his/her body. These objects, consisting of money bills fixed to the tips of a bundle of bamboo straws in a bottle, resemble similar items in Lao Buddhist rituals, called don kalapeuk. Thus, the value ascribed to baht and kip in the market and in ritual is a function of their different relationships with objects and with the spirit realm. The exchange rate provides a quantitative relationship between the currencies, making them replaceable in Lao markets. Yet, in the ritual system, it is the quality of the currency that determines its use, and replacement would be improper. The different types of valorization of kip and baht in both ritual and the market emerge from a specific understanding of a singular, unifying idea belonging neither to Rmeet ritual nor to the market. The Thai currency, many Rmeet argue, carries the image of the living king and derives its

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value from this particular relationship. The king is seen as a representation of the wholeness of the Thai state, a relationship that valorizes the means of those exchanges that reproduce social relations within and beyond that state. In this sense, the king’s sovereignty is partially grounded in the state’s ability to transform very diverse exchanges into money (see Aglietta et al. 1998; Platenkamp 2013). On the other hand, the Lao kip has no comparable imagery. The smaller denominations of this highly inflationary currency show the symbols of work, progress and nationhood that reflect the socialist country’s slow development of a nationalist profile. Only bills of higher denominations issued later, of 2,000 kip to 100,000 kip, show the image of Kaysone Phomvihane, the revolutionary leader, Chairman of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and President of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic until his death in 1992. Confusingly for many Rmeet, his image was put on money only about a decade after his death, making this attempt to valorize money virtually meaningless. In contrast, Thai currency always shows the living king. Again, this is not a quantitative difference of value but a qualitative one.3 In this differential construction of currency value, the semantics of the market and the ritual system are concurrent. The fact that different currencies gain different values in a field of qualitative social differences and on a market where quantitative valorization is the main means to communicate value is far from unique (e.g. Chu 2007; Platenkamp 1988: 237-8). What seems to be the case here is that currencies are not only evaluated according to their exchange rate but also as representations of the larger social systems of states. For some Rmeet at least, the integrative power of the Thai monarchy is superior to the form of government in Laos – in fact, some even claimed that Laos has no proper government, in the sense that its legitimacy is deficient. Thus, Thai and Lao currencies are seen as representations of societies of a qualitatively different nature with regard to their constitutive values. This is the ultimate source of their difference, which encompasses qualitative and quantitative aspects. However, this ideological construction subordinates the quantitative difference to the qualitative one – the higher exchange value of the baht is a result of its belonging to a qualitatively different whole. 3 For an analysis of this imagery, see Tappe 2007. Interestingly, the more recent the kip bill designs are, the more prominent allusions to monarchy become. On one special issue of the 100,000-kip bill, issued in 2010 for the 450th anniversary of the capital, Vientiane, Kaysone has retreated into the watermark. Instead, the bill features the national symbol, the That Luang pagoda in Vientiane, with the statue of its founder, King Setthathirath, prominently in the foreground.


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How does this difference in socialities, as manifested in the relative values of exchange media, relate to the ritual system of the Rmeet? On the one hand, neither the Thai monarchy nor the Lao single-party government is part of the Rmeet ritual system. This means conceptually that as social systems, both states produce information that can be processed by the ritual system in so far as they concur with certain ideas relevant within it; yet, the processing is mostly undifferentiated. The two governments or states are clearly classified as ‘outside’ the ritual system, and the terms of the ritual provide a semantic with which to view and interpret the states. 4 On the other hand, the ritual system as it stands today relies heavily on certain conditions for exchange which the states have established. Without the opportunity to use money to buy important items for sacrifice and exchange, like buffaloes, clay jars, clothing and not least piasters, the ritual exchanges would appear in an entirely different form. Therefore the ritual system constructs an environment that is reliable with regard to the provision of such items. The reproduction of the ritual system thus depends on the expectation that the market system works, but the semantics of ritual are incapable of accounting for the way it works in terms of the market system. Therefore, the reliability of resources cannot be described in merely economic terms since it lies in certain values and ideas that are ascribed to the items of exchange and the wholes they represent. The durability of the socialities that produce currencies is one of them, as is the case with nation-states or the monarchy. But also the entirety of a non-state-based exchange system can be such a value. This is the case with piasters, which are not representations of the colonial state anymore. If they were, the more recent piasters (from 1932 to 1954), which contain less silver, would be valid as well. But the value of the supralocal exchange system which the piasters represent is embodied by their silver content. Even when forgeries of these old coins with little or no silver content appear in the markets, as has been very common in recent years, the Rmeet acknowledge the difference and assign a lower rank to the forgeries in the ritual system. These larger exchange systems and the nation-states provide the local or ethnically defined systems of ritual exchange with the means to communicate beyond their boundaries. Thus, from a certain perspective, the Rmeet ritual system is a function of these larger systems, although it operates on its own specific semantics. Superficially seen, this seems to corroborate the economic point of view that money is a universal means of exchange. However, the value 4 The separation of state and ritual system is by no means universal as the aforementioned cosmomorphism of the Chinese empire suggests.

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ascribed to money and to currencies here is not at all universal but derived from locally specific concepts of sociality and ritual – ritual that always takes its environment into account. Thus, the larger systems do not need to be defined by economics at all, even though they perform operations that can be interpreted as economic.

Conclusion Insofar as rationalization is the ideological hallmark of both Western modernity and the economy embedded within it, Southeast Asian economies seem to be suffused with magic. However, I have argued that this does not indicate that market and ritual are just undifferentiated in Southeast Asia, but rather that they are differentiated in a locally specific way. The differentiation of the economy from other domains of social reproduction, like politics and religion, is a very specific and fairly recent phenomenon in European history (Dumont 1977) and characteristic for the functional differentiation of modernity (Luhmann 1998). But (capitalist or global) economy should not be confused with the market (Hart 1999). Certainly, markets demand a specific mode of communication, one that is able to ignore some of the values and motifs of the people acting within them. In particular in Southeast Asia, local markets are paradigmatic sites of transcultural communication, a type of communication that effectively reduces some of the cultural complexities of the societies and actors involved. They share this process of reduction with the functional differentiation of Western modernity. But does that necessarily imply that the differentiation of market and ritual is a reliable indicator for the appearance of the same type of differentiation that we know from the West? First of all, it seems that communication in these markets is not as complex as the differentiation of economics in contexts like the stock exchange or banking. The fact that there is a difference between ritual exchange and market exchange in Southeast Asia does not mean that it is the same difference as between any other pair of ritual and market systems – or that it can be reduced to a version of the differentiation of religion and economy in European or American societies. The differences are more specific. Therefore, one should be wary of contrasting economy and ritual. The ritual system of the Rmeet, as of other upland societies, does not cultivate its difference from the ‘economy’ as a kind of universal mechanism. However, it does differentiate itself from the ‘market’, considered as a specific phenomenon in its environment. The market here is not merely defined by


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economic transactions. There are also more qualitative and cosmological values and ideas at work. Currencies are valued according to particular ideas of supralocal exchange that are specific to the region, embedded in history or the comparison of communities. Markets are also sites of spirit-human interaction. Thus, markets, among other systems, provide a means of communication that bridge several, more local or ethnically specific exchange systems. Yet, the way this is accomplished also plays to the specific understandings and semantics of local exchange systems. The bridging devices are thus comprehensible from these local points of view. The market system thus integrates more differences than the ritual system, but it is not global. On the other hand, it does not account for all the differences that the ritual system employs in its operation. Both systems are selectively blind to each other, while at the same time interpreting each other and thereby expanding into each other. Insofar as modern types of differentiation feed into the differentiation of ritual and market, it may increasingly acquire the features of the Western-modern differentiation of the subsystems of economy and religion. However, the relationship between these will ultimately be quite different in a Southeast Asian context, as the Southeast Asian modernities link market and ritual in rather different ways. What I have observed in the field were the means by which a localized ritual system produced its difference from the market by selectively processing information embodied in currency values and commodities. This did not commodify the ritual system, although it strengthened the linkage between the two systems. Cases like the amulet trade in Thailand represent fully institutionalized versions of such linkages, in which objects or acts become differentially valorized according to the perspective under which they are considered. Such relay points between systems, among others, help to establish modern types of differentiation between ‘economy’ and ‘religion’. It is the relation between systems institutionalized in a particular way that stabilizes them as what they are. In this sense, the Rmeet ritual system is not a religion in any modern sense of the term. However, it might turn into one in the near future.

Modernity and Spirit Possession in Java Horse Dance and Its Contested Magic Paul Christensen

Introduction In October 2007, some friends invited me to attend a ‘Javanese dance show’ in the evening. Naturally, I agreed. The show was in a village near Mount Merapi outside the city of Yogyakarta where I was spending a semester abroad. Long after sunset, we set out on our motorbikes. A few kilometres outside the city, the fog became so thick that we had to focus on the white road markings just in front of us to avoid crashing. Turning off the main road, we rode through a series of sleepy villages, finally arriving at a lively, brightly lit centre, where people from the surrounding area had congregated. Some 100 people had gathered here. Some were selling tea and fruits. It was relatively cold and silent; a number of people tested the loudspeakers. After buying some tea, we walked to the well-lit centre of the small village. A small stage, surrounded by a wooden fence, had been erected in front of one of the houses. Pairs of painted horse puppets, made of intricately woven bamboo, were placed on the middle of the stage. Next to the stage was a small gamelan orchestra with metallophones, drums, gongs and other typical instruments. The dancers – male and female – were in a house dressing and putting on their make-up for the performance. They were wearing costumes inspired from classical Javanese theatre with small whips and wooden swords. Heavy make-up covered their faces. When I came in, the first group was just ready and they waited inside the house to appear on stage. When the musicians started to play, the crowd pushed to the front and my friends and I found us huddled against the wooden fence in front of the stage. A man in dark clothing appeared, walked to the middle of the stage, threw flowers on the stage and closed his eyes. He bowed his head, seemingly in prayer, and stood silent for a moment before leaving. Another darkly clad man appeared on stage, this one with a huge whip. With fierce intensity and concentration, he cracked the whip in different directions and


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left the stage. Eight young male dancers then came on, smoothly dancing in pairs in a slow style, their emotionless faces revealing their concentration on the music and the choreography. The music stressed two notes in high frequencies, interrupted by short, fast drumrolls, where the dancers suddenly moved fast. They started to pick up the horse puppets and hang them by the strap over their shoulders. Although the choreography was complicated, the dancers did not show signs of difficulty. The music became faster and louder, and the dancer’s movements became increasingly exaggerated and free, losing the precision of control. They were lifting their wooden swords and mock-fighting each other. The music built to a chaotic crescendo and then came to a sudden stop. The performance lasted about 15 minutes. A woman began to sing from offstage without music. The exhausted dancers moved to the centre of the stage, many of them sitting on their horse puppets. Just when I thought the dance might be over, the two men in dark clothes appeared from behind the dancers and threw flowers over them. At this point, all the dancers jumped up and tumbled to the ground, some screaming, others crawling all over the place. One dancer, right in front of me, stiffened so much that he resembled a plank leaning against the wooden fence. The man with the whip beat the stiff dancer until his body relaxed and fell to the ground. He opened his eyes, but they were all white: he seemed to me like someone on the verge of death. As I had been expecting a ‘classic’ Javanese dance, I was shocked by this performance. I felt faint and dizzy, and I was relieved to see some of the other dancers slowly wake and become active. They began to move completely freely. To me they seemed to be crazy: some ate straw, others inhaled thick smoke, others crawled and drank water from a bowl, another simply ran off stage. A table of beautifully arranged food was brought in, and within minutes the dancers had completely destroyed it by grabbing the food to give to the audience or to eat themselves. Some teenagers in the audience were now dancing; except for the performer directly in front of me, the horse dancers were now all on their feet again. He was still lying on the ground and was being occasionally whipped. The chaos became too much for me; I made my way through the audience and, after going into the house at the back, I fainted. We left the village in the dead of night. The fog had lifted. My mind was dull, stunned. I had never seen anything like this before. It was as if unknown stages between life and death had been revealed to me. It was on this night, without knowing it yet, that I began my research on jathilan. In this article, I develop my arguments based on data collected not only during my first experience with jathilan but also on further experiences

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during five months of fieldwork that I carried out between 2007-2008 in Yogyakarta on the Indonesian Island of Java. I did my research with the great help of two of my classmates, Saifuddin and Yulisant, with whom I was able to find jathilan groups in D.I. Yogyakarta. Together we found and made contact with jathilan groups in D.I. Yogyakarta. They helped me conduct and translate extensive interviews with four complete jathilan groups. We also interviewed pawang (person with spiritual power) and other people involved in spirit possession rituals. During my research I was able to witness fourteen jathilan performances, all of which were documented in videos, photographs, drawings and field notes. In the following section I introduce jathilan as its own horse dance, focusing on the distinctive aspects of the dance groups and their performances. The introduction is followed by the explanation of different interpretations of jathilan. Drawing on these different ‘readings’ of jathilan, I ask how its ‘magic’ is classified. Further, I analyse where this classification may derive from and introduce interpretations made by agents of the government and Muslim reformists, who can be seen as opponents of jathilan and its spirit possession rituals. Following that, I present the interpretations by the performers themselves and show their reactions to the aforementioned allegations made against their dance. I then investigate the dance actors’ motivation for carrying out the performances. In the final section, I summarize the processes analysed in the paper and provide a perspective on the future of the dance.

The jathilan horse dance of Yogyakarta Horse dances are well known on the island of Java. They are mostly performed in East and Central Java and places where Javanese migrants live today.1 Horse dances are generally referred to as kuda képang, jaran képang or kuda lumping (literally ‘woven horses’). These terms are used in many parts of Indonesia and in West Java (Foley 1985), where horse dances are not as prevalent as it is in East and Central Java. Other names, such as jaranan or réyog, refer to local horse dance styles in East Java (Onny, Listia & Deddy 2011; van Groenendael 2008; Kartomi 1976). In Central Java, èblèg (posses1 There are two examples of the horse dance from Malaysia (Nasuruddin 1990; Burridge 1961), performed by Javanese migrants; it would be interesting to conduct further research on the spread of the horse dance in Southeast Asia. See Elwin (1942) for an idea of the worldwide spread of the horse dance.


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sion dance) or jaran èblèg is the term used to the west of D.I. Yogyakarta2 (Marschall 1995), whereas in Yogyakarta city they are typically referred to as jathilan3 (Browne 2003; Kim 1996). Jathilan is mainly performed in rural areas. These performances are based on a spirit possession practice known as kasar. 4 Since the dances are not performed as an alus court dance in the Sultan’s Palace (keraton), it is not easy to determine how popular the style is. In the 1980s, the Suharto government carried out a survey to document regional dramatic dance forms in Indonesia. This survey found that, after wayang (shadow puppet play), jaranan was the most popular and widespread ‘traditional’ dance form in East Java (van Groenendael 2008). In his survey in the suburbs of Yogyakarta, Soedarsono (1976) found only a few jathilan groups. Things must have changed considerably since then. Two decades later, Kim (1996) reported five jathilan groups within 19 villages, a figure that roughly corresponds to my calculations. On average, I found one jathilan group for every ten villages in the areas I researched in D.I. Yogyakarta. Most groups said that they do not perform very often (twice a year on average) and all said that they have had difficulties in recruiting young people. I could not find any jathilan dance groups in the city centre of Yogyakarta or in the other larger cities. Since the jathilan groups are hired by their hosts, the dance is performed on various occasions that require providing people with entertainment. These include wedding ceremonies, circumcisions, community celebrations like the bersih desa (village purification ceremony), Independence Day celebrations or private occasions such as the dedication of a house. The dance performances are held either during the day or at night. Each performer in a jathilan dance (and the other horse dance types) has a specific role to play. The spiritual group leaders or pawang, who do not dance themselves, are responsible for the well-being of the spirits, as they are essentially the only people with the ilmu gaib (which can be translated as ‘magical power’) that allows them to see the spirit world (alam gaib). 2 Its own province since 1950 on the island of Java, ‘Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta’ is the name for ‘special region Yogyakarta’. Including the city area, D.I. Yogyakarta covers more than 31 hectares and has more than three million residents. 3 According to Sumandiyo Hadi, ‘Jathilan was an initiation ritual. It was seen as a rite of passage into adulthood. If the child has the skill to mimic a horse, he/she can cross over into adulthood. The word “Jathil” means mimicking a horse’s movement. That’s why it’s called Jathilan’ (Tucker 2011). 4 As Geertz (1960) has already shown, arts in Java are classified in fine (alus) and vulgar (kasar) practices.

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Normally, between two to six male or female pawang are involved in a jathilan performance. The pawang make the spirits enter the bodies of the dancers during the dance and, more importantly, they ensure that the spirits leave the dancer’s bodies afterwards. Various kinds of spirits are also part of the performance. The most common spirits during jathilan are animal spirits (especially horses), but sometimes ancestors or djinn (Muslim spirits) are involved as well. Some spirits, like the tutelary spirit of the village (dhayang desa), the spirits of the dead or ancestor spirits have been embodied in other horse dances in East Java, but jathilan performers deny the presence of such spirits in their performances. Figure 1 The group Turonggo Jati Manunggal

Photo: Group’s Facebook page, used with permission

Most horse dance groups have between six to twelve dancers with horse puppets5 and one to six dancers with masks.6 A few successful groups (such as Turonggo Jati Manunggal) have a group of young males and other groups of boys, and men and women up to age 70. An average group has only one group of male dancers in a wide range of age. The accompanying musical group also varies in age, gender and number. There are generally one or 5 When I asked the groups why they use horse puppets, they responded that warriors in ancient times rode on horses and hence so do they. For more information about the ‘invention of horses in Southeast Asia’, see Bankoff & Swart (2007). 6 The groups used different masks representing various characters of Javanese mythology. However, neither the dancers nor the pawang could say who these characters were or what they represented.


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two singers (often a male and a female) and five to fifteen people playing instruments. Most jathilan music groups in D.I. Yogyakarta combined traditional gamelan instruments with modern instruments such as drum sets or electric guitars. In addition, there is always a group of helpers involved, most of whom are teenagers. They have no costumes, and their tasks include helping the pawang and supporting the dancers.7 The props used by the jathilan groups are an interesting topic that deserves more research. It is worth mentioning here, for example, that the stage props can host spirits: the flowers (kenanga), the whips and especially the horse puppets, which are put in a ‘scary place’ (tempat angker) on the night before the dance to attract the spirits. Concerning the process of the performance, a jathilan performance can be separated into five stages. The first stage starts with the preparation the night before the dance. This stage includes meditation practices for one of the pawang, who invites the spirits to the performance. The second stage begins with the commencement of the performance. The horse dancers appear and perform a practised routine.8 The third stage can be called a ‘caesura’. In comparison to other horse dances in East or Central Java, this seems to be unique in jathilan, because only in jathilan do the dancers quickly separate into those who are possessed and those who are not. The not-possessed run off stage the moment that the others collapse (as described above). The fourth stage, in which all the dancers are now possessed, is defined by an apparent chaos on stage: there is dancing, the wild consumption of ‘spirit food’, and the opening up of space for radical feats such as eating glass or straw. The fifth stage, which I had missed in my first jathilan performance because I fainted, is the disbanding of spirits that is conduct by the pawang on one dancer after another. The entire jathilan performance typically lasts about an hour but can last up to three hours if, for example, bystanders or pawang become possessed or dancers run away. Now that we have a good idea of what the jathilan is as performance, I will discuss the various interpretations of these performances. Given that, to date, jathilan has remained an oral tradition, no attempts by group members or others have been made to inscribe an ‘official’ meaning of the 7 I observed that helpers are predetermined (more than others) to become possessed by spirits as well. It is said that touching a possessed person increases the probability of one becoming possessed. 8 When I asked why all dances included similar dance movements, the groups mentioned classical dance VCDs as well as jathilan VCDs, which are available in local markets. Watching other dancers on television performing jathilan or other dances provides enough inspiration to plan one’s own choreography.

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performance in general. This has resulted in a number of various interpretations of the dance. After a short summary of the literature on horse dances in Indonesia, I will analyse the most influential discourses of dissent, which can typically be traced back to governmental policies and Muslim reformist actors.9 Furthermore, I analyse how the participants of jathilan respond to the confrontational discourses, which have had a major influence on the practice of spirit possession during jathilan.

The contested magic of jathilan as a matter of interpretation What is striking in the literature on horse dances in Southeast Asia is that, while their general forms (actors, properties, occasions, course of action) remain quite similar throughout time and space, the interpretations as to why the performers dance, fight, become possessed and carry out (more or less radical) feats could not be more diverse. Common explanations include social and individual release, contact with the spirit world, emotional involvement and entertainment. Aside from these common understandings of the dances, the lack of information about the origin of the dances has created an open space for interpretation that has been the focus of much academic debate. Many researchers agree that the horse dance is an old practice and that it forms a part of the ‘ancient’ or ‘animistic heritage’ of Java (Hughes-Freeland 2008; Nasuruddin 1990; Kartomi 1976; Soedarsono 1976; Holt 1967; Burridge 1961). These theories are typically based on three key factors: 1) the range of horse dances in Indonesia (referring to the sanghyang jaran in Bali or sirih puan in Sumbawa; see Boomgaard 2007), 2) the presence of animal spirits in the dances (loose spirits that do not originate from religions such as Hinduism or Islam), and 3) the references to common legends of kings and princesses (not directly related to Hindu or Muslim stories). Other re-enactments of legends or historical events were associated with the Mataram Kingdom of the fifteenth century (van Groenendael 2008; Snethlage 1939; Inggris 1923), the struggle against the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC) in the seventeenth century (Burridge 1961) and the wali songo, the nine Muslim Sufi teachers who are said to have brought Islam to Java (Nasuruddin 1990) in the fifteen century. The performances I saw in D.I. Yogyakarta made some vague allusions 9 Even though the separation of the state and Islam forms artificial and maybe simplistic categories, it provides a good tool for me to bring forth the main points of my paper.


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to these common legends; however, most references in the dances were made to the Panji tales and their main actor, Panji Asmoro Bangun (van Groenendael 2008; Staugaard 1921). Figure 2 Jathilan dancers having entered the stage of spirit possession; Turi, D.I. Yogyakarta

Photo: Paul Christensen

Two negative interpretations of jathilan and a new style of dance Groenendael shows that all folk genres ‘need to function on two different levels, namely on the original (regional/ethnic) as well as on the new (national) level’ (2008: 35). During Suharto’s ‘New Order’ (orde baru) regime, great efforts were made to support ‘national arts’, Indonesian ‘culture’ (budaya) and ‘tradition’ (tradisi) as part of the Suhartian process of ‘modern’ nation-building. Many art forms like the wayang (van Groenendael 1985) or bedhaya (Hughes-Freeland 1997; Brakel-Papenhuijzen 1992) were modified to fit the national level. These alus arts were hence carried out not only on the local level but throughout the country as public events or in political institutions such as the Sultan’s Court (keraton) in Yogyakarta. Since there are no alus arts that include spirit possession, jathilan in its ‘magical form’ was never performed on formal occasions and was mostly marginalized (Hughes-Freeland 2008). Nevertheless, the style of jathilan in which dancers were not allowed to enter deep trance was promoted as a ‘cultural’ event. This does not, however, mean that the dances with spirit

Modernit y and Spirit Possession in Java


possession had not yet reached village populations (Hughes-Freeland 2008; van Groenendael 1985). Even possessed dancers were anxious to please the regime to the extent that the actors promoted Suharto’s party ‘Golkar’ in their performances by wearing the party’s representative yellow T-shirts (Tucker 2011). When claiming to promote ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’, jathilan groups could even perform ‘spirited’ dances, but not without suspicion. After the fall of Suharto in 1998, spirit possession in jathilan performances became much more popular. The dance remains famous for the radical practices of the performers during the spirit possession stage. Today, the political and religious elite are still making concerted attempts to hinder or eliminate all dances that include spirit possession. This implies that, if jathilan is to ‘function on the national level’ as an alus practice, certain elements of the dance must be eliminated. As I will demonstrate, spirit possession and the radical practices performed during this possession are not considered ‘modern’ by reformists10. These interpretations of jathilan as a ‘pre-modern tradition’ made many of my informants (including the jathilan group members themselves) say that while jathilan ‘still’ exists, it would soon disappear. Groenendael (2008) documented the ongoing efforts of a jaranan group to fit into a ‘modernized’ horse dance genre called jaranan képang, as required by the state under Suharto. These attempts have included emphasizing the aspects of entertainment and aesthetics and excluded the fourth stage in which dancers become possessed. Drawing on Pemberton’s findings (1994), Browne (2003) gave an account of ‘domesticated’ or ‘tamed’ jathilan performances without spirit possession or other ‘spiritual’ behaviour. In fact, all horse dance styles have a ‘tamed’ format as well, which are mostly performed by the same groups. In addition to Groenendael’s differentiation, Browne differentiated between ‘domesticated’ or ‘tamed’ performances and ‘hard’ performances (2003). Onny et al. (2011), however, distinguish between ‘obyongan’ and ‘festival’ performances. In the following, I prefer their suggestion because it was a distinction also used by some of my interviewees. To provide an example of the influence of the Suharto era’s state policy on current jathilan practices, I will now share my experience with the ‘festival’ form of jathilan, where no spirit possession is allowed.

10 Different from other parts of the world, in the Indonesian context, the ‘orthodox’ Muslim tendencies (in Indonesia best exemplified by the Muhammadiyah) are better named as ‘reformist’, since they are relatively new in the history of Indonesia.


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Figure 3 Jathilan festival group in front of the keraton; Yogyakarta

Photo: Paul Christensen

Today there are national competitions for these ‘festival’ horse dance genres. In 2008, I witnessed such a jathilan festival in front of the court of the sultan (keraton) in Yogyakarta. Due to the popularity of the location and the excellent timing (both days fell on a weekend), the festival attracted hundreds of visitors and tourists. The costumes and choreographies were highly elaborate, and each performance took less than 15 minutes. Interestingly, the horses were much smaller than in the obyongan performances. A few women’s groups participated in this well-organized festival, something I had only seen twice in the obyongan form. Nearly every group was largely unfamiliar with the ‘festival’ form. Indeed, many groups normally performed jathilan by inviting the spirits, but here spirit possession was forbidden, a circumstance that proved difficult for the dancers, particularly because the music is the same as that played in the obyongan form. Especially the male dancer groups struggled with these strict regulations, sometimes unintentionally falling into trance and therefore being expelled from the competition, as one bystander told me. The female groups did not become possessed, mainly because most of them were practising nothing other than the ‘festival’ form. I was told afterwards that the dances were restricted by the national organizers so that there would be no provocative movements.11 11 Similar regulations were documented at the reyog festival (Onny et al. 2011), or jaranan képang (Groenendael 2008).

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By setting up regulations for the dance demonstrations in the example above, the national organizers tried to modify the dance into a ‘modern’ form. Although the earliest records of the horse dance (Snethlage 1939; Pigeaud 1938; Staugaard 1921) already mention forms without trance, since the 1980s serious efforts have been made to promote new horse dance genres without trance. Today, These efforts are part of the government’s attempt to construct a modern nation-state and fit with a Muslim reformist critique. As an example of the latter, ‘erotic movements’ (which I never saw) were explicitly forbidden during the performance. The claim that the dance promoted (homo)sexuality can be seen as part of this religiously based critique, which I now present. Building on Groenendael’s analysis, I argue that the horse dance must also function on a global level. All the people I talked to were Muslims and, like most people in Yogyakarta, they locate the ‘ideal Islam’ in the Middle East. Their religious interpretation of the dance implies that jathilan is an indication that Indonesian Islam is still too closely connected with local traditions and ‘improper’ practices. They state that horse dances like jathilan are ‘full of tradition and customs inherited from old generation [sic] such as erotic dance, liquor party, and homosexual relationship’ (Onny et al. 2011: 1) and that it is a ‘form of free, spontaneous and rules-free entertainment for common people’ (ibid). The dances ‘often cause controversy to emerge among people because of their contradiction toward present customs of ethics and politeness.’ (ibid). This is an accusation against jathilan and other similar dances in Java that I heard repeatedly when I informed people of my research. As mentioned by Onny et al. (2011), the claim that the horse dance is not masculine, or even that it is a sign of homosexuality, has affected réyog in East Java. As most men are now ashamed to perform the dance today, male dancers have been replaced by female dancers. This is not only because the dance has a bad reputation for its apparently non-hetero-normative behaviour 12 but also for alcohol abuse (of the audience and the dancers) and/or its allegedly erotic aspects. Those involved in the dances were reluctant to talk about this aspect with me, and I presume that the 2010 12 The discourse on homosexuality related to the horse dances relates to the gemblakan, a system that functions within a master-student relationship (perguruan). The dancers, who were described as young and handsome (Kartomi 1976), were called gemblak or jathilan (Groenendael 2008) and lived with their master, the warok, in one house. Due to their lack of sexual intercourse with women, they were presumed to be homosexuals (Groenendael 2008; Kartomi 1976). The hosting of gemblak by warok has been outlawed since 1983. For more recent information on gemblakan, see Wilson (1999).


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anti-pornography law will not make such enquiries any easier. Teachers (kyai) at a famous pesantren (Muslim confessional school) ‘have actively pressured local government to bring reog [réyog] culture more into line with their own particular version of religious orthodoxy’ (Wilson 1999: 9). Jathilan performances are nonetheless still dominated by male dancer groups. Different from other regions in Java, jathilan from Yogyakarta did not modify their performances due to these kinds of accusations. However, the interpretation held by reformist Muslims that jathilan promotes ‘improper’ or impolite behaviour and that it breaks the rules of morality made it difficult for me to convince my fellow university students to accompany me to observe jathilan performances. Jathilan group members felt offended by my questions about their ‘belief’ and ‘religion’; I was perceived as a stranger passing by only for an interview. They tried to position themselves as ‘proper Muslims’ and emphasised their involvement as hardworking preservers of ‘original Javanese culture and arts’ (budaya/seni asli jawa) and ‘nothing more’. In my interviews, all the pawang as well as the jathilan dancers agreed that jathilan has nothing to do with religion (agama), custom (adat) or belief (percayaan). This was exemplified when a pawang told me: ‘You don’t have to believe in spirits – everyone knows that they exist’ (my emphasis). They would only nominate jathilan as culture (budaya) and tradition (tradisi). As I have shown above, this is the same interpretation that was made during the Suharto regime. As Pemberton (1994) has shown, this reference to ‘tradition’ was one of the features of ‘domesticated’ performances in the New Order regime, and still today this classification lacks potential controversy, disorder or conflict.13 The group members stressed these references to ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ so empathetically that, in reverse, one can easily imagine the conflicts between the three levels of the global, national and local meanings of jathilan. The claims made by high-ranking political agents or well-educated Muslim actors have had a serious impact on the members and audiences of jathilan dance groups. Before I present the interpretation made by the dance’s performers and audience, I wish to show the ongoing struggle to retain jathilan as a magical practice in one example, excerpted from my personal field notes. ‘One rainy night, a jathilan performance involving two male groups was held near the Merapi. The second group was already in the last stage, and almost all the dancers had already helped to leave the stage of possession. Only one dancer remained: his spirit was proving reluctant to leave. Two 13 For a discussion of this aspect, see Lysloff (2001/2002).

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or three times, the two pawang tried to ‘push’ the spirit out of the body by moving their hands along the dancer’s body and then making a gesture of throwing something away. The dancer seemed to recover after each attempt, but his possession soon relapsed. He appeared nervous and showed increasing resistance to the pawang. The atmosphere in the audience began to change: discomfort and disquiet was evident on the spectators’ faces. It was already quite late (around 11 pm), and this dance was supposed to be the last one. After the two pawang had failed to remove the spirit, a calm and older pawang came on stage. He managed to approach the angry spirit. He used another technique to convince the spirit to leave that involved whispering spells (mantra) in the dancer’s ear. Again, the dancer seemed to recover. His body, now totally exhausted, was brought to the dressing room with the help of other dancers. Yet just as the relieved spectators were about to leave, the dancer suddenly became possessed again. He collapsed, then stood up quickly and ran to the orchestra, which was still playing a popular song. The audience resumed its uncomfortable air, which was reinforced when the dancer then shouted: “Where is your responsibility?” and requested a Muslim song. Although the orchestra promptly obeyed his request, the dancer still seemed nervous and restless. The pawang approached him carefully and brought him into the dressing room. The music subsided and the spectators left. In the dressing room, the pawang tried to remove the reluctant spirit again and again and finally appeared to be successful when most people were already returned home.’ This example nicely illustrates the contested status of jathilan: while the possessed dancer was apparently unwilling to leave the stage, the pawang were unable to make the spirit leave. People in the audience stated that this might have been a djinn (Muslim spirit) that was more powerful than the pawang. For those I talked to, it demonstrated the power of Islam in comparison to jathilan as a ‘cultural event.’ Like many urbanites I talked with, they saw a contradiction between Islam and jathilan. This shows that the criticisms of the dance’s antagonists, such as the ‘modern state’ or Muslim reformists, are highly influential among the group’s members. It also proves the importance of the narratives and the audience’s engagement in interpreting jathilan, which I will now present.

Interpretations of the jathilan groups and the audience During my interviews, I often had the feeling that every pawang and dancer had a different focus in interpreting jathilan. An analysis of all the


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interviews revealed three prominent interpretations of jathilan, namely: 1) to entertain the audience, 2) to please the spirits, and 3) the emotional involvement of the audience and the performers of jathilan. My f irst idea of any ‘function’ of jathilan was that the dance was a re-enactment of an old legend. I recognised a number of similar features between the different jathilan groups in their dance steps and gestures. When watching the (second) stage of the choreographed dances, I became convinced that all of these movements would certainly have detailed explanations of their functions and therefore were retelling a shared literal source. However, it appears that these details did not matter to the performers themselves. Few knew much about the history of the dance, save for a few names such as Panji Asmoro Bangun, who is the main actor in many legends in Java. As it was in the New Order era, it was much more important for every dancer or pawang to highlight how their practice was a secular form of entertainment. This aspect is not only a ‘strategy’ to cope with the accusations from government and religious figures described above; it is also the economic basis for the existence of their group. Since groups are mainly hired by hosts and/or sponsors to entertain the guests for various celebrations, their future depends on the success of their show. If their audiences are amused and entertained, the groups are more likely to be hired in the future and thus be able to afford better props to improve their appearance and so forth. As such, the groups are often very flexible in fulfilling the wishes of their hosts: Groenendael describes an occasion in which a possessed dancer blesses a penis after a circumcision (2008: 102-104) and a lesson for young people to perform a slametan ritual (ibid: 93-97), conducted by dancers who were possessed and therefore inheriting a high form of authority. It is important to satisfy not only the host with the performance but also – and even more importantly – the onlookers who like to see wild possession dances and who express a certain demand for unexpected behaviour which marks the ‘thrill’ during the spirit possession stage. I saw people walk away in disappointment if too many dancers ran off stage, because they have not achieved the goal of ‘emptying themselves’ and becoming possessed (which was quite common during female dance performances). To entice the audience, the dancer may not only perform feats but also play games with each other or the spectators, like a cat and a mouse play or fetch the stick. The pawang also have their ways of impressing the audience. Since they have the ‘magic power’ (ilmu gaib) to communicate with the invisible world of spirits (alam gaib), some of them express their secret communication with slow sweeping hand gestures. These theatrical aspects are part of the

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entertainment interpretation made by the dancers and pawang. Younger group members especially repeatedly stressed these features of the dance. The ‘spiritual’ interpretation of the dance was much more difficult for me to understand. Some performers of jathilan stressed the secular meaning of spirit possession as a practice of ‘entertainment’ and ‘preserving tradition’. While some aspects of the dance provoked religious associations for me, those employing this interpretation said that the dance had no ‘religious’ meanings. Before I discuss that in depth, I will present three short examples of this ‘spiritual interpretation’ of jathilan. Some pawang, for instance, told me that they are very careful to remember the invitations sent to all spirits the day before the jathilan performance. If they forgot any spirit to invite to the dance, it was possible that members of the audience could become involuntarily possessed. Another example of a ‘spiritual’ interpretation of the dance is the offerings (sesajen) made to the spirits. In fact, most possessed dancers eat right until the end of the performance. Besides rice, coconuts, bananas and ‘spirit food’, they also like to eat fragrant oil, incense, straw, glass and flowers. Even a live chicken may be killed by a dancer biting into its neck. As Groenendael (2008:78) mentions, this often marks the fulfilment of a kaul14 made by someone, in many cases by the host of the performance. The third aspect of the ‘spiritual interpretation’ of the dance is the fear of the anger the spirits might have should the fulfilment of their wishes be ignored or delayed too long. The pawang’s helper and the musicians in particular were instructed to respond to all wishes immediately, even if the dancers ask to eat glass or if the required songs change every few minutes, because all possessed dancers have their own favourite song. If the reaction to the demand comes too late, the dancers sometimes attack members of the orchestra or helpers, usually by clenching them. A pawang told me that if some spirits were not satisfied, incidents such as involuntary spirit possession can occur days after the dance. When I asked why these preparations and practices are not connected to religion or belief, all my interviewees agreed that ‘religion’ (agama) and ‘belief’ (kepercayaan) are only associated with Islam. The categorisation is not surprising, as the notion of agama as ‘institutionalised religion’ is predominant. For example, each Indonesian has to choose one of six of14 A kaul is ‘a vow to perform some special act (to offer a sacrifice or hold a party, for instance) upon fulfilment of some urgent wish’ (Groenendael 2008: 78). Hosting a jathilan performance can be an offering to satisfy a rather large kaul, for example, healing a close relative of a serious illness.


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ficially recognised agama for their passports. Nevertheless, I was surprised that ‘belief’ is reserved for agama, Islam, as well. The explanation for this again relates back to the Suharto era, where folk performances had to be ‘modern’, that is, universal and separate from local beliefs. Interestingly, these group members argue that spirit possession dance is essentially the same as the spirit-free festival form of the dance. In essence, they argue that both forms are not spiritual at all because ‘you don’t have to believe in spirits, everyone knows that they exist’. Nowadays, this is the most contested of the interpretations. This contestation has in turn led to a gradation of the spirits involved. The pawang told me that they most often invite animal spirits or place spirits (demit) to jathilan performances, which both belong to the lowest classes of spirits (Daszenies 1987). However, a new development seemed to be on the rise during my stay: some pawang told me that recently more Muslim spirits (djinn) were requesting to be invited for a jathilan performance, which may be a response to the audience’s desire. While this may constitute a reaction to the Muslim allegations against the spirit possession of the dance, further research is necessary to investigate this development. Having shown the allegations, reactions and contesting interpretations of jathilan, I wish to present the factors that keep the dance alive. Why do boys, men and (both young and old) women perform jathilan in its ‘spiritual’ obyongan form? More explicitly, which aspects of emotional involvement and inclusion illustrate the motivation of the jathilan group members and their commitment to spirit possession? In the following section, ‘emotional involvement’ will be analysed as an individual state of consciousness, while ‘inclusion’ forms an evocation of communal affiliation. Communal affiliation can be seen in the fact that almost all members of a jathilan group that I encountered belonged to the same village or its close surroundings. Groenendael writes that the groups ‘considered themselves to form one big family’ (2008: 47), which is true of most of the groups I met. Some dancers stressed the trust they feel for their pawang, which is necessary to ‘empty their mind’ (pikiran kosong), a necessary pre-condition for becoming possessed. Especially in situations where one’s bond with one’s own family is weak or broken, belonging to a jathilan group can be a resource of communal activity. In Tegalrejo, Imogiri in southeastern D.I. Yogyakarta, I talked with Pak Cemplus, who was the director of a jathilan group called Turonggo Seto (white horse), which included twelve dancers and thirteen musicians. Imogiri was the epicentre of the earthquake in 2006, and almost all the huts in the village had been destroyed, leaving many people dead. He told me

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that it took some time to revive the dancing after the earthquake, but they had since begun performing jathilan every Monday in the village centre. This frequency is far greater than for any of the other groups I interviewed from other regions, who dance only irregularly. It shows that jathilan can create a sense of belonging and togetherness within the community. Another important feature of the dance for most performers and followers of jathilan was an emphasis on the dance as a form of release and free expression. Possession dance is seen by many performers as fostering a general feeling of release from shame, shyness and social norms (Tucker 2011; van Groenendael 2008; Browne 2003; Burridge 1961). The individuals I talked to – group members and spectators – understand jathilan as way to reduce both individual and communal stress and tension. ‘Everyday Javanese behavior is expected to be calm, smooth, modest, and moderate. Outright conflict is avoided and expressions of passion are frowned upon. This may put a lot of psychological pressure on individual members of the society, who must work hard internally to control themselves and manage their external presentation. Behavior during jathilan is the polar opposite of what is expected of daily comportment and selfexpression. Possessed performers may engage in, and audience members in turn may witness or even spontaneously join, extremes of behavior that would be outright forbidden in everyday life’ (Tucker 2011). After seeing and following fourteen performances, I agree with Tucker that the release the audience and group members feel is due to three main ‘performative’ aspects to jathilan: music, dance and involuntary possession. The music is especially effective in altering one’s state of consciousness, as it features very high and very low frequencies, a monotone drumbeat, and rapid, sudden changes between extremes of high and occasionally low tempos. This had an effect not only on the dancers but also on myself (see Introduction), on my Indonesian friends and, it appeared, on the audience in general. Sometimes, when we were overcome by dizziness and queasy feelings, we had to get away from the speakers to return to normal. Another performative aspect, which forms the audience’s interpretations of jathilan, is the opportunity to take part in the dancing. In some nighttime performances, young people from the audience also danced. While they did dance, they did not do so on stage, nor did they become possessed. If anyone became possessed, a pawang is needed to remove the spirit. In fact, they typically only danced to the popular songs that were often performed while the possessed performers were dancing. However, it is not only the music that is stirring, it is also the atmosphere in general. Seeing different people break moral rules and norms is both abhorrent and fascinating.


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Therefore, in this way I argue that the jathilan audience becomes emotionally involved, too. The most striking part of the performative elements provided by jathilan is when people from the crowd become so tangled up during the dance that they themselves become involuntarily possessed. The involuntary spirit possession is, for most spectators, a hint that there are ‘real spirits’ involved. I do not analyse ontological questions here, but for bystanders this question is a permanent and entertaining feature of the dance, too. Many people in the audience like to determine who is really being ‘possessed’ (kesurupan) and who might be pretending (pura-pura). When I told pawang about how I fainted during my first jathilan performance, they all told me that I had ‘emptied myself’ and was ready to become a vessel for a spirit who wanted to enter my body. If I had achieved this off stage, they said, I could be a natural horse dancer on stage. They told me that I might have a gift for learning ilmu, and they asked me to practice dancing with them. Until today, I have refused this offer.

Conclusion This paper illustrates that magic and modernity are not as distinctive or separate as one might think. As I have shown above, the horse dance groups were pressured into dropping the elements of spirit possession practice from their performances during the Suharto era (1967-1998) under the Orde Baru policy. Suharto’s nation-building policy stressed arts and ‘culture’ as part of national identity, untying them from localised beliefs and practices. An emphasis on the aesthetic and theatrical elements of the dances made them both more comprehensible and palatable for foreign tourists and for Indonesians from other parts of the country. In this way, jathilan performances became labeled ‘cultural’ events. After 1998, the practice of spirit possession became popular again, and many new jathilan groups were founded in D.I. Yogyakarta. Some of them now perform both forms of the dance, with and without spirit possession. The two forms are so fundamentally different that I identify them as distinctive styles in the third section. The re-emergence of spirit possession practices has attracted renewed and increasingly powerful criticism. A common discourse among religious reformists is that Indonesian Islam is too closely connected with indecent practices, identifying jathilan as such a practice. The reformists argue that jathilan is ‘improper’, both in terms of sexual and moral behaviour. Furthermore, they argue, the dances are not proper Muslim practice and, as with governmental criticisms, are

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too localized. These discourses appeared to reflect popular opinion about jathilan in Yogyakarta city, where horse dances with spirit possession are typically dismissed as pre-modern and outdated. As I showed in this paper, the performance groups in the countryside struggled with these discourses. My interviewees seemed to find them especially problematic, given that I was both a stranger and a foreigner. They argued that jathilan, even with spirit possession practices, is a part of ‘culture’ rather than ‘belief’ or ‘spiritual practice’, just as during the Orde Baru era. By doing so, a striking transformation process is revealed: if spirits, super-powers and extreme practices in spirit possession are part of ‘culture’, then ‘culture’ turns out to be what most would call ‘magical’ and ‘magic’ simply becomes ‘cultural’. I call this a ‘modern’ explanation, because it is an attempt to sidestep religious and political allegations and the discussion about what belongs to ‘modernity’: for nobody can deny that ‘culture’ should itself be preserved. But, if modernity becomes magical, what is the benefit in still calling it ‘modernity’? This paper is another illustration of the difficulties in defining religion and belief. Furthermore, it demonstrates that spirituality rather than religion is an integral part of public life, and with all of its inherent implications is far from being pushed away from it. I therefore question the benefit of using ‘modernity’ as a category at all, and rather regard the present time in Indonesia and Southeast Asia as something entirely new. On a practical level, the performance groups will change and many are likely to disappear due to a lack of interest from young people. ´Nevertheless, I have the impression that some ‘major players’ will remain, such as the group Turonggo Jati Manunggal who have become very popular in D.I. Yogyakarta. They have modernised their performances, using new media to promote themselves, as well as being very flexible and entertaining in their shows, shifting focus away from performing radical feats during spirit possession to entertaining games, where possession plays a minor role.15 During the time of my field research in 2007-08, I saw several performances that adopted this shift to a kind of ‘new’ spirit possession dance. Such shows featured a number of games in which spirit possession is no longer a key element of the dance but still allows the groups to benefit from the open space of action it offers. The dancers perform their ‘show’, and it is not clear whether they are really possessed or not. In this space, they are free to act in unusual ways, something that is highly entertaining for the audience. Another important element of the debate over jathilan is already part of a 15 Groenendael has already given an account of a group called ‘Samboyo Putro’, which was very flexible and offered more entertaining games with the audience than extreme practices.


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‘magical discourse’ of Indonesia, that is, the audience and the pawang feel the increasing presence of Muslim spirits. But in calling forth these spirits, the pawang may be putting them in a dangerous position in which the powerful djinn mentioned in the Qur’an are too strong for them to control. The process of ‘inscription’, in which people’s actions become inscribed and therefore regulated (Howe 2000), would in this case be a development of the standardized ‘festival’ form of jathilan. As I have shown, this process has already started, and it will nevertheless continue. Hughes-Freeland has already noted that students are learning the horse dance at an official dance academy.16 Yet given that this regulation is negotiated on several levels – religious and national, local and individual – it is far from disappearing. Just as it has over the centuries, the dance will continue to change, evolve and remain dynamic.

16 In Hughes-Freeland’s online paper, ‘Performance in Indonesia: Traditions of Court and Country’ at http://www.swan.ac.uk/sssid/indonesianperformance/newtraditions.htm

Modern Muslims

Hadhrami Moderns Recurrent Dynamics as Historical Rhymes of Indonesia’s Reformist Islamic Organization Al-Irsyad Martin Slama

Introduction In his analysis of religious dynamics in Java, M.C. Ricklefs, the eminent historian of Indonesia, recalls Mark Twain’s observation that ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes’. Twain’s remark leads Ricklefs (2008: 115) to explore ‘the possibility of historical rhymes in the history of Islam in Java’ (see also Ricklefs 2007 and 2012). This chapter, which focuses particularly on Al-Irsyad, an Indonesian reformist Islamic organization established by Arab immigrants from the Hadhramaut, discusses social processes and dynamics that can best be grasped by employing a notion of historical rhymes as sensed by Twain and Ricklefs. By comparing Al-Irsyad’s founding phase in the colonial period with its more recent developments in the last two decades, the chapter examines similar (yet not identical) social dynamics in these different eras. Whereas contemporary scholarly work on Islam in Indonesia tries to keep pace with the changing and increasingly complex religious landscape of the country (e.g. Fealy & White 2008), this study of Al-Irsyad – inspired by the idea of historical rhymes – emphasizes recurring dynamics and continuities amidst all these changes, adding another aspect to the complex picture. This chapter is also inspired by another work on religion in Indonesia, Webb Keane’s Christian Moderns (2007), which examines modernist features of Indonesian variants of Christianity that resemble Al-Irsyad’s attitude towards modernity in certain ways. For Keane, the Calvinism he investigates on the eastern Indonesian island of Sumba is intrinsically connected to a ‘moral narrative of modernity’ informed by concepts of agency and progress that advocate a ‘rupture from a traditional past, and progress into a better future’ (2007: 48). Like Protestants, for whom ‘to reveal more directly the ultimate divine agent meant liberating individuals from the domination of illegitimate clerics and their rituals, and restoring to people their own principled agency, including freedom to read (if not necessarily to interpret) scripture and form congregations’ (ibid: 49), the founders of Al-Irsyad wanted to free themselves from traditional Islamic authorities and


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practices by inviting Muslims to study and interpret the Islamic scriptures by themselves, which they saw as a basic prerequisite for leading Islam into the modern world. Thus, members of Al-Irsyad connected with modernity through this reformist variant of Islam and its new forms of agency that were exceptionally appealing to them. For these modernists, the ‘almost magic aura of modernity’ – to which Volker Gottowik is referring in his introduction – appeared in the guise of finding new, more egalitarian ways to interpret their religion and, as will also be explicated below, of new educational institutions designed to keep pace with modern times. In light of these new forms of agency, another significant parallel between Webb Keane’s Christian Moderns and the Hadhrami Moderns that this chapter is concerned with comes to the fore, namely ‘the pattern of recurrent reform movements’ (Keane 2007: 50) that can be observed in Christianity as well as in Islam.1 To reform the faith becomes an imperative once modern moral narratives have rooted themselves in the communities of believers, ‘producing new factions and denominations at an extraordinary pace’, as Keane observes for Protestant Christianity (ibid); in the case of the Hadhrami diaspora, similar calls for reform led to the establishment of new Islamic organizations such as Al-Irsyad in the colonial period and later, in independent Indonesia, to the division of Al-Irsyad into competing factions. It is these recurrent dynamics conceived as historical rhymes that this chapter attempts to analyse in more detail aiming at a comprehensive understanding of recent developments of Al-Irsyad as it is embedded in Indonesia’s changing Islamic field. Jam’iyyah al-Islah wa’l-Irshad al-Arabiyyah (the Arab Association for Reform and Guidance) was the organization’s full name when it was established by Hadhramis in 1914 in Batavia, the capital of what was then the Netherlands East Indies.2 Having changed its name from Al-Irsyad alArabiyyah to Al-Irsyad al-Islamiyyah after the independence of Indonesia, the organization is usually referred to as Al-Irsyad for short,3 a practice I will 1 See also Ernest Gellner, who regarded Islam and Christianity as examples of what he called ‘Reformation prone religion systems’ (1995: 281) generating reform movements that sometimes develop in a fundamentalist direction. 2 Despite the earlier presence of Hadhramis in Southeast Asia, they started to migrate in larger numbers only from the middle of the 19th century, especially after the advent of steam shipping and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. This flow of migration lasted until the middle of the 20th century, when, due to the establishment of nation-states, borders became less porous. In the late colonial era, the Dutch counted 90,000 ‘Arabs’ in the Netherlands East Indies (Lekon 1997: 265). 3 This is how the organization is spelled today.

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follow in this chapter. Today, Al-Irsyad runs 131 educational institutions, from kindergartens to high schools, as well as two hospitals.4 By Indonesian standards, Al-Irsyad is a rather small organization compared to Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, the country’s leading Islamic organizations representing the so-called traditionalist and modernist camps of Indonesia’s Muslims respectively. However, Al-Irsyad belonged to the first organizations in the country to be based on Islam. Although at the time of its foundation Al-Irsyad was mainly a Hadhrami endeavour, it managed to occupy a salient position in Indonesian Islam due to its creative implementation of modern education. Al-Irsyad’s beginnings and its growth up until Indonesia’s independence in 1945 have been extensively studied.5 This provides an opportunity to explore the movement’s more recent developments by means of temporal comparisons6 revealing its historical rhymes as they are associated with both the internal dynamics of the Hadhrami organization and broader developments in the religious field in contemporary post-Suharto Indonesia.7 Consequently, I start with a discussion of Al-Irsyad’s foundation. 4 See the Al-Irsyad website: www.alirsyad.or.id (consulted 12 January 2006), now replaced by www.alirsyad.org (consulted 11 December 2013), on which there are no exact figures for schools etc. The earlier website listed 105 branches all over Indonesia. Abdullah Al-Jaidi, the elected Al-Irsyad chairman for the period 2006-2011, told me that there are 134 Al-Irsyad branches in Indonesia. He also claimed that Al-Irsyad has ‘about 80,000 members’ (interview with Abdullah Al-Jaidi, Jakarta, 9 November 2007). 5 See particularly Natalie Mobini-Kesheh’s seminal book The Hadhrami Awakening (1999). 6 Richard G. Fox and Andre Gingrich distinguish between three main registers of comparison: regional, temporal and macro. In this article I employ especially the temporal dimensions of comparison (see Fox & Gingrich 2002: 20). 7 My research on the Hadhrami diaspora in post-Suharto Indonesia was made possible by two projects based at the Institute for Social Anthropology (ISA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, namely ‘Hadhramis in Indonesia: Ethnic Identity of Yemeni Diaspora Groups Today’ (duration: March 2003 until August 2006; project director: Helmut Lukas), and ‘Networks of a Diaspora Society: Indonesian Hadhramis in the Homeland and in Peripheral Regions’ (duration: February 2007 until July 2010; project director: Andre Gingrich). Both projects were funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). I would like to thank the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) for issuing research visas for both projects. I also wish to express my gratitude to our Indonesian partner institutions for their excellent cooperation, namely the Centre for the Study of Culture at Gadjah Mada University, led by Faruk HT, and the Centre for the Study of Religion and Culture at the State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah, directed by Chaider Bamualim. The data for this article mainly derive from field research conducted in the years 2003 and 2004 in the main cities of Hadhrami residence on Java, i.e. Jakarta, Pekalongan, Solo and Surabaya. A post-doctoral grant from the APART programme (Austrian Programme for Advanced Research and Technology) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences allowed me to complete my data more recently through the project ‘Among National Elites and Local Muslims: The Hadhrami Diaspora in Contemporary Indonesia’ (duration: January 2010 to April 2013). In the years 2003 and 2004,


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The foundation of Al-Irsyad In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Hadhramis entered an expanding colonial economy which, despite the discriminatory colonial policies directed against them (see Jonge 1997), provided opportunities to develop their businesses. As Ulrike Freitag has shown, the most successful among them led a lifestyle fitting the colonial modernities of British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies. In Southeast Asia, a Hadhrami bourgeoisie came into being which engaged in various intellectual, social and religious activities (Freitag 2003: 233-234; see also Freitag 2002). They took part in what Takashi Shiraishi (1990) has aptly called ‘an age in motion’ that witnessed the foundation of modern organizations such as Al-Irsyad. At that time, the Hadhrami and Chinese trading communities both played a pioneering role. Both groups had set up their organizations even before the ‘native’ population had done so, the Hadhramis with Jam’iyyah Khayr (the Benevolent Society). Founded by Hadhramis of sada as well as of nonsada origin8 around 1901, its main concern was education. Jam’iyyah Khayr opened its first school in Batavia in 1906. The curriculum was composed of Arabic and traditional Islamic subjects, as well as English, geography, arithmetic and Islamic history; reasoning instead of rote learning was the preferred way of study. Thus, this school and later ones opened by Jam’iyyah Khayr differed considerably from traditional centres of Islamic learning in the Indies, such as the madrasha (Arabic ‘school’) and the pesantren research was partly carried out together with my ISA colleague Johann Heiss, with whom I have been able to discuss the basic ideas presented in this chapter, for which I am very grateful. For their comments on earlier versions of this chapter, I would like to thank Ilse Mirnig (Vienna), Stefan Khittel (Vienna), and John Brownlee (Brighton, UK). In Kuala Lumpur in August 2005, I presented the very first version of what would evolve into this chapter at the conference on ‘Yemeni Hadhramis in Southeast Asia: Identity Maintenance or Assimilation?’ hosted by the International Islamic University Malaysia. William Roff was the prominent discussant of the panel ‘Arabic Press and Reformist Organisations’; I am grateful for his critical remarks. Last but not least, let me particularly thank all members of Al-Irsyad who shared their time and knowledge with me. 8 Sada is the plural of sayyid, a title used for the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. In the Hadhramaut, the sada traditionally represent the religious elite. The first sayyid who came to the Hadhramaut was Ahmad bin Isa al-Muhajir, an eighth-generation descendant of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet. The Hadhrami sada are also called Ba’Alwi or Alawiyyin, after Ahmad bin Isa’s grandson Alawi. The sada are known for maintaining their genealogies and for observing a strict endogamy. For a discussion of the social structure of the Hadhramaut, see Camelin (1997). For the significance of genealogies among Hadhrami sada, see Ho (2006). For the varying importance of genealogies in the Hadhrami diaspora in Indonesia in general, see Heiss and Slama (2010).

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(Javanese ‘boarding school’), not only in their curricula and pedagogy but also in their appearance, as students were divided into classes, sat at desks and used modern textbooks (Mobini-Kesheh 1999: 36-37). The schools of Jam’iyyah Khayr received fresh impetus from the young Sudanese scholar Ahmad bin Muhammad Surkati, who quit his prestigious teaching post in Mecca in 1911 in order to join the organization as an inspector of schools, in which capacity he contributed significantly to their development. He also invited more teachers of Sudanese origin to the Indies who had been educated in centres of Middle Eastern scholarship like Cairo and the Hejaz. Ideologically, Surkati and his newly arrived colleagues ‘injected the spirit of Islamic reformism’ into the Hadhrami community (Mobini-Kesheh 1999: 55). However, certain reformist views did not meet with the approval of the more conservative leaders of Jam’iyyah Khayr, leading to quarrels within the organization. The trigger was the question – provoked by a complicated case in Solo, central Java – of whether a woman of sada origin was allowed to marry a non-sada Muslim man, which would have challenged the traditional sada demand of the equality of marriage partners (kafa’ah). Surkati was asked for his opinion on the matter and came to the conclusion that such a marriage would be in accordance with Islamic law. For conservative sada, who valued their customary endogamy and noble genealogies, this was unacceptable. The quarrel that followed eventually ended with Surkati’s resignation from Jam’iyyah Khayr in 1914. Since Surkati had already acquired a large following, his resignation resulted in the schism of the organization. Those who left Jam’iyyah Khayr, almost all of them Hadhrami traders of non-sada origin, established a new organization, Al-Irsyad (Mobini-Kesheh 1999: 54-56). At that time, Hadhramis who could not trace their descent back to the Prophet Mohammed became increasingly dissatisfied with the hierarchy in their community, most openly expressed through the obligatory kissing of sada hands by non-sada (taqbil). The ideas that Surkati introduced and represented in person were a welcome weapon with which to counter sada hegemony. The reformist interpretation of the basic Islamic texts emphasizes that there is no superiority among Muslims except ‘in knowledge and godliness’, an argument one can still hear from Irsyadis in present-day Indonesia. The name of the organization, which calls for the guidance (irshad) of Muslims and the reform (islah) of how they interpret their faith in words and deeds, reflects this new ideology. For example, the constitution of Al-Irsyad says that the funds collected will be used ‘to spread Arabic customs which are consistent with the Islamic religion’, implying that there are ‘un-Islamic’ customs identif ied with


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sada practices (Mobini-Kesheh 1999: 56).9 But the constitution of Al-Irsyad reflects more than just anti-sada sentiments: it represents a clear vision for modernizing the community. Arabs in the Indies had to be taught to read and write in Arabic as well as in Dutch ‘and other necessary languages’, and schools and libraries had to be established ‘to collect useful books in order to illuminate thoughts and educate minds’ (ibid). Furthermore, Sumit Mandal (2009: 165), in his analysis of Al-Irsyad, emphasizes the anti-hierarchical spirit that informed the organization, as Surkati ‘set in motion a radically new phase in which not only a modernist Islamic education but with it notions of social equality were introduced’. This message was also attractive to non-sada Hadhramis residing on other Indonesian islands, to which Al-Irsyad had spread. However, as in colonial times, today the strongest branches are still located on Java.10 In Al-Irsyad schools, students had not only to deal with modern subjects but also with a new lifestyle: ‘learning to be modern’, as Mobini-Kesheh put it (1999: 84), was a main exercise in daily school life. By boarding in the schools and being allowed to receive visitors for only a few hours a week, students entered a world of its own. The spacious school buildings, all built of brick and equipped with electricity and running water, were themselves manifestations of modernity and its magic-like appeal. Students had to wear shoes, socks, trousers and sometimes even neckties. They were examined by a Western-trained medical doctor once a week. Great emphasis was placed on cleanliness and hygiene. Sports, especially gymnastics and soccer, belonged to the curriculum, and the schools promoted boy-scouting as a spare-time activity. At the end of the school year, Al-Irsyad held examinations in public, and students were awarded with certificates and prizes (Mobini-Kesheh 1999: 84-90). The community was thus invited to see how a generation of Hadhrami moderns was being created.

9 Irsyadis count rituals like maulid and haul celebrations among the practices they wish to see abandoned. At maulid, the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed is celebrated, whereas a haul commemorates the anniversary of the death of a prominent Islamic scholar; maulid and haul are the major rituals Hadhrami sada like to hold. 10 For a comparison between Hadhrami communities on Java and Sulawesi, including differences in Al-Irsyad’s influence on the two islands, see Slama (2011a). For an analysis of relations between sada and non-sada Hadhramis in north-eastern Indonesia, see also Slama (2011b).

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The call for reform in the colonial era Islamic reformism turned Irsyadis into self-assured representatives of Islam, as well as confident participants in modern life. A short discussion of this influential current in Islamic thought will provide a better understanding of Al-Irsyad’s basic ideological orientation and, closely connected with it, its recurring dynamics. In his classic study, Albert Hourani introduces Islamic modernism as a ‘stream of political and social thought which began when, in the first half of the nineteenth century, educated men in the Arabicspeaking countries became aware of the ideas and institutions of modern Europe, and, in the second, started to feel its power’ (1962: vii). Among those educated men, Muhammad ‘Abduh was to become most influential, as his career brought him to the apex of Cairo’s prestigious Al-Azhar university. The Egyptian scholar dealt with the growing power of Europe through an assessment of his own tradition. The outcome of this endeavour was quite self-critical, as he reasoned that, in the course of time, Islamic practice had undergone serious deviations, causing a general decline in Muslim societies. He regarded a practice as deviating or bid’ah (actually meaning ‘innovation’) when it was not handed down by the Qur’an and the Sunna. Hence the famous call of ‘Abduh to ‘return to the Qur’an and the Sunna’, demanding that well-educated Muslims should interpret these basic sources of Islam by themselves. This call for independent interpretation or ijtihad undermines the power of the four madhzab (schools) of Islamic law, breaking with the dictum that Muslims have to adhere to one of these schools. For ‘Abduh, to follow these schools and its teachers blindly (taqlid) constitutes one of the main reasons for the inner decay of Islamic societies. By contrast, Islamic societies will flourish when Muslims follow Islamic law and engage in ijtihad. This is ‘Abduh’s vision of an ideal Muslim society, but, as Hourani emphasizes (1962: 149), ‘for ‘Abduh it is also a society which once existed’. What ‘Abduh had in mind was the early community of Muslims, that is, the salaf al-saleh, the pious elders or forefathers.11 In Surkati’s writings and the texts produced by Al-Irsyad, the influence of ‘Abduh’s reformism clearly makes itself felt. Although Surkati himself never studied at al-Azhar, he began to read Muhammad Abduh’s texts and corresponded with teachers at al-Azhar during his time in Mecca. 11 For ‘Abduh, the exemplary elders consist of scholars up to the generation of al-Ghazali, yet among his disciples various interpretations emerged. Rashid Rida, his influential successor at al-Azhar, counts only the first generation of Muslims who had known the Prophet Muhammed as the true forefathers (cf. Hourani 1962: 230).


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Moreover, his Sudanese companions were familiar with the reformist texts, as two of them were former students of ‘Abduh in Cairo (Affandi 1999; Abushouk 2009). For example, Surkati’s handling of the marriage case in Solo shows the influence of reformist thought. Surkati solved the problem of the equality of marriage partners (kafa’ah) and other questions of sada superiority by stressing that basically all believers are the same before God; in this reformist vein, he also attacked sada religious practice. According to Bisri Affandi, who wrote the most comprehensive but unfortunately largely neglected study of Surkati to date, he considered the veneration of saints (wali), the blind reliance on Islamic texts other than the Qur’an and Sunna (taqlid), the gathering in the house of a deceased person for prayer (tahlil) and other popular practices as manifestations of bid’ah (Affandi 1999: 201). Indeed, for Surkati, practices prevalent among Hadhramis and Indonesian Muslims alike and not in line with reformist thought were later inventions deviating from what he imagined to be the true, genuine Islam. Similarly reformist were Surkati’s views on the modern age, as he repeatedly stated that Islam does not contradict rational thought, the sciences or the challenges of modern life (ibid: 138, 226).12 Like ‘Abduh and Rida and Islamic reformists in general, Surkati and his Al-Irsyad disciples were critical of European imperialism. However, their reformism sought for the causes of the weakness of Muslim societies first of all within the Islamic tradition. Indeed, Hadhramis had every reason to do so, as Mobini-Kesheh (1999: 76) states: ‘For the Irsyadis, the decline of Islam could not be blamed on European colonialism or the rule of nonbeliever over Muslim, because Islamic religion and civilisation displayed the same symptoms of decline whether in the Dutch controlled Indies or in the still-independent Hadramawt.’ Consequently, Irsyadis concentrated on their own community as well as tried to reach local Muslims, since they saw Islam as practiced by the majority of Muslims in the Netherlands East Indies as being in need of reform. Being part of the vanguard of the reformist Islamic movement in the Indies, their message was met with some success. For example, alumni from Al-Irsyad schools became important figures in Muhammadiyah, what was to become Indonesia’s largest reformist organization (Noer 1973: 73-82).13 Consequently, the organization itself stated in 12 This is especially true of those texts in which Surkati not only addressed the Hadhrami community but also intended to reach more secular-minded Indonesian nationalists (Affandi 1999: 226). 13 For Indonesia’s second largest reformist Islamic organisation, Persatuan Islam, and its relations with Al-Irsyad, see Federspiel (2001: 85-89).

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1939 that ‘Muhammadiyah is the student of Al-Irsyad’ (Affandi 1999: 220). This perfectly suited the Hadhramis’ self-perception, widespread among sada and non-sada alike, that they possessed some kind of superiority in terms of religious matters over the native population (Mandal 1997, 2002).14 Surkati’s view was no different on this issue, as he stated that the future of Islam in Java would depend on the future of its Arab population (Affandi 1999: 170).

Post-colonial dynamics In post-colonial Indonesia, however, the moderate growth of Al-Irsyad did nothing to confirm Surkati’s prediction, especially if one compares the organization’s performance with the impressive rise of its former ‘student’, Muhammadiyah. Al-Irsyad did not succeed in recruiting substantial numbers of Indonesian Muslims from outside the Hadhrami community and is still widely perceived as an ‘Arab’ organization, as Irsyadis regret today. As a matter of fact, all big branches of Al-Irsyad are led by Hadhramis. Despite this limited expansion of their organization after Indonesia’s independence, for Irsyadis, their initial mission of spreading reformist Islam within their community and beyond remained of the highest importance, since Hadhrami sada showed no signs of changing their views and Islamic practice; similarly, the majority of Indonesian Muslims, the growth of Muhammadiyah notwithstanding, only slowly, if at all, embraced the reformist agenda.15 Thus, reformist Muslims like the Hadhrami moderns of Al-Irsyad are far from having accomplished their mission. Yet in independent Indonesia, Al-Irsyad was not able to retain the salient position in the reformist Islamic movement it had once occupied in colonial times. This and the dynamics within the Hadhrami community contributed to a profound crisis of the organization in the last decade of the 20th century. What started with a struggle over the leadership of the organization at its 14 Mandal (1997) argues that the hierarchical social order of colonial society, which placed the Hadhramis (together with the Chinese) as vreemde oosterlingen (foreign orientals) above the native population, as well as the regime’s Islamophobia, contributed considerably to their role as ‘natural leaders’ in the field of Islam. 15 From this follows that I cannot support Federspiel’s assessment (2001: 28) that Al-Irsyad ‘was important until the 1950s when its mission was made largely irrelevant by developments in the Arab community itself which began its integration into the larger Indonesian society’, since the integration of non-sada Hadhramis was not as complete as this quotation suggests, especially with regard to their interpretation of Islam.


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congress in Pekalongan in 1996 ended in a de facto schism around ten years later. This period generated two camps within Al-Irsyad, one siding with the long-serving chairman, Geys Amar, the other with his challenger, Farouk Zein Badjabier, both of whom held congresses and claimed to represent the organization exclusively.16 The legal battle that accompanied this quarrel was finally decided by a ruling of Indonesia’s High Court in 2005 in favour of the camp of the old chairman. However, refusing to acknowledge the legally recognized leadership, the other camp continued to use the name AlIrsyad for their activities, as at the Al-Irsyad headquarters in Kramat Raya Street in Jakarta, which is still under their control. Thus the organization remains divided even today, in Jakarta as well as in Indonesia’s provinces, where local branches adhere to one or the other camp. Hussein Badjerei (2003: 208), who served for a long time as secretary general of Al-Irsyad and became the organization’s chronicler, remarks in his autobiography with some frustration: ‘I often ask myself sadly, when all this will come to an end. Ramadan after Ramadan passes by, my hopes are dashed, because one [of the two camps] still invites people to break the fast together, deliberately deepening the schism by using the flag of the organisation.’17 The camp of those who challenged the old leadership demonstrated particularly strong activities in the years before the High Court ruling in 2005. For example, from 16 to 18 May 2003 it organized a seminar for cadres of AlIrsyad’s Javanese branches in Pekalongan. This town, located on the island’s central north coast, has a significant Hadhrami community traditionally engaged in batik production and trade (Vuldy 1985).18 The seminar bore the title ‘Orientation in Organisational Management’ (Orientasi Kepengurusan Perhimpunan), including panels on theological topics, the Islamic umat19 (community of believers) and the ‘vision and mission’ (visi dan misi) of Al-Irsyad. The latter topic was addressed by the camp’s chairman, Farouk Zein Badjabier, in a paper of programmatic nature. In what follows, I will discuss this paper in more detail, since it contains excellent examples of 16 For more details of this rivalry, see Hussein Badjerei’s autobiography (2003), in which one can find a great deal of information about developments within Al-Irsyad (see also Badjerei 1996). 17 The camp that Hussein Badjerei is criticizing here is that of the old leadership, as he finally sided with the camp of the challengers. All translations of Indonesian sources in this article are by the author. 18 Batik is a special wax-resist dyeing technique used mainly in textile production. In Indonesia, the word batik also refers to the dyed textiles themselves, especially to clothes. 19 I follow here the Indonesian spelling, since the Arabic ummah has become part of the Indonesian language.

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how the basic tenets of Islamic reformism were reinvigorated and utilized in this particular situation of crisis.20 The paper starts with Al-Irsyad’s motto, sura al-Imran 110 of the Holy Qur’an, where Allah confirms to His followers that they are the best community (umat) among all human beings, implying that Irsyadis should particularly exemplify this community of the best. Also at the beginning of his paper, Badjabier tells his cadres that history has shown that those who did not follow the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunna, and thus did not follow the first generation of believers, plunged into deviant thoughts and practices (Badjabier 2003: 1).21 Under the sub-title ‘Historical background and the foundation of Al-Irsyad’, the chairman then briefly introduces important personalities in Islamic history who combated what reformists regard as deviations, from Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawwziyyah in the 13th and 14th centuries via Muhammad Abdulwahab to Jamaluddin alAfghani, Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, he also asserts that Islam in Indonesia, being mixed with ‘Hindu’ and ‘animistic’ beliefs, remained unaffected by these currents until the 19th century. After discussing the divide et impera politics of the Dutch colonial regime, Badjabier focuses on Ahmad Surkati and calls him in English ‘the Founding Father’. He underlines Surkati’s role in the dissemination of Islamic reformism in Indonesia, stressing his ties with the Muhammadiyah founder Ahmad Dahlan and the ‘teacher-student relationship’ of the two organizations. He also proudly mentions students of Surkati who have become important figures in independent Indonesia like H. M. Rasyidi, Indonesia’s minister of religious affairs in 1945/46, or Kahar Muzzakir, who belonged to Sukarno’s inner circle, which prepared Indonesia’s independence. Badjabier also quotes a statement of Sukarno saying that Surkati belonged to those who accelerated the birth of Indonesia’s independence movement (Badjabier 2003: 5-9). However, according to Badjabier, after independence, Al-Irsyad’s educational institutions soon experienced ‘deterioration’ (kemunduran). He regrets that nationalist policies have prohibited the teaching of other languages than the national one in primary schools; in addition, Al-Irsyad suffered from a lack of teachers competent in religion and Arabic. However, 20 I want to express my gratitude to Farouk Zein Badjabier, who invited Johann Heiss and me to participate in the seminar while we were conducting fieldwork in Pekalongan. 21 Badjabier thus follows here Rida’s rather than ‘Abduh’s interpretation of who belongs to the pious forefathers (cf. footnote 11).


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he cites the foundation of hospitals in Surabaya and Pekalongan as an achievement of the post-independence period.22 The paper then becomes more critical and outspoken. Concerning Al-Irsyad’s religious orientation, he writes (2003: 13): ‘Since the passing away of Syeikh Ahmad [Surkati], his disciples and friends, the religious life among Irsyadis experienced a lot of deviations’ – which was due to the decreasing quality of the religious and Arabic instruction in Al-Irsyad schools. Badjabier further laments that there are Al-Irsyad cadres who never received an Al-Irsyad education or who were even educated in Western countries. They would not only have secular thoughts, he regrets, but would also call ‘the salafi view ... old-fashioned and not in accordance with modern Islam as they understand it. For years Al-Irsyad was drowned in a mood in which the educational and religious life almost contradicted the mission of Surkati. Their references were no longer the books of the great ulama like Ibnu Taimiyyah, but they used Western books and views which of course are in conflict with the basic principles of Islam’ (ibid).23 These developments had caused a ‘spiritual uprising’ (pemberontakan jiwa) of Al-Irsyad cadres who wanted to see their organization ‘returning’ (kembali) to its original mission.24 They were graduates from Islamic boarding schools and salafi schools located in Indonesia and in other parts of the Islamic world, especially the Middle East.25 With their activities, the spirit came back into the organization ‘to uphold Islamic law’. Given the ‘backwardness’ (ketertinggalan) of Al-Irsyad compared to other Islamic organizations, especially Muhammadiyah, it was their desire to catch up (ibid). Badjabier sees ‘Al-Irsyad’s backwardness’ as also being caused by the low salaries of their teachers and officials, and he wants them to see how non-Islamic organizations work, especially Christian ones. For the training of cadres, he argues, Al-Irsyad is in need of role models preventing 22 Badjabier comes from Surabaya, and the Al-Irsyad branch there is the major base of his camp. 23 In the contemporary Islamic world, salafi or Salaf ism became another designation for Saudi-derived Wahabi versions of Islam that also stress the early Islam of the time of the Prophet Muhammad as the only legitimate expression of the religion. Since Surkati had taught in Mecca before he came to the Netherlands East Indies, Al-Irsyad had close ties to the Hejaz from its very beginning. These relations continued after the take-over of the Hejaz by the Saudis in 1925 and the foundation of Saudi Arabia in 1932 and are still well and alive today. However, the camp of the old Al-Irsyad leadership emphasizes that the financial help it received from Saudi foundations did not alter its ideological outlook. By contrast, the camp of the challengers is much more influenced by Wahabism and prefers to send young Irsyadis to Saudi universities. 24 Badjabier sees himself as representing these cadres. 25 Badjabier himself, however, graduated from an Australian university.

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deviations in Irsyadis’ lives. He further states that Al-Irsyad has a lot of rich members who do not help the organization anymore because they cannot be sure that their donations serve ‘Islamic interests’ (kepentingan Islam). Besides that, there are also rich members who prefer to live a lavish lifestyle instead of supporting the organization. Yet internal conflict also makes it unattractive for members to support the organization (Badjabier 2003: 14-15).26 After his critique of Al-Irsyad’s present condition, Badjabier offers a programme of improvement. He proposes an enhancement of Al-Irsyad education, especially in religion and Arabic, the implementation of an appropriate salary and pension scheme for the teachers and officials, and the development of an education system that is in line with the Qur’an and the Sunna as well as the national education laws. By providing a learning environment that generates ‘curiosity and self-confidence as well as Islamic attitudes and conduct’, students should become ‘religious, pious, smart, professional, trustworthy, human, and competent in their subjects’. In order to ‘achieve a position among the national elite’ and to be able to compete in the job market, one strategic option, he proposes, is the establishment of a ‘high school of excellence’. Furthermore, the organization should conduct a feasibility study of the foundation of a university (Badjabier 2003: 12). In the interview I was able to conduct with Badjabier, he added that Al-Irsyad high schools should become boarding schools and hence more expensive, as they had been in Surkati’s times. The present schools he described disparagingly as ‘cheap’.27

Rhymes of decline and reform All the papers given at the seminar in Pekalongan, particularly Badjabier’s, leave no doubt about Al-Irsyad’s position among Islamic intellectual currents. Time and again, the Qur’an and Sunna are invoked as the sole sources of Islam; and the Prophet Muhammad and his companions are referred to as the only legitimate examples for proper religious practice. Important figures of Islamic history are celebrated for their struggle to ‘return to’ – or kembali pada in Indonesian – what is envisaged as the early, authentic Islam of the time of the Prophet. Inherent in this feature of Islamic reformism is a certain view of history, which Hourani (1962: 8) summarised as follows: 26 This is obviously a reference to the crisis within Al-Irsyad. 27 Interview with Farouk Zein Badjabier, Jakarta, 27 May 2003.


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‘With the full articulation of the message of Muhammad in a universal community obedient to divine command, what was significant in history came to an end. History could have no more lessons to teach, if there was change it could only be for the worse, and the worse could only be cured, not by creating something new but by renewing what had once existed.’ It is this view of history that is salient in Badjabier’s paper, where it appears with reference to two periods: to the time of the prophet, and remarkably also, though not expressed in the same language of unconditional admiration, to the time of Surkati. Just as – according to standard salafi discourse – Islam generally has experienced a decline since the age of the pious forefathers, the same has happened to Al-Irsyad since Surkati had passed away. Now that the decline has become evident, which is beyond doubt for Badjabier and his camp, they regard it as their religious duty to call for reform, as their ancestors had done in colonial times. It is particularly with regard to these recurring dynamics of decline and reform that Al-Irsyad’s history rhymes. This example demonstrates also how Irsyadis, in their attempt to make sense of their organization’s recent developments, have literally embodied the salafi discourse of reform in calling for a ‘return’. Yet not every aspect of their reformist endeavours is oriented toward particular pasts. Al-Irsyad, like the whole Islamic reform movement starting in the late 19th century, is also characterised by another relationship to time, which for Keane (2007), as outlined above, is related to the ‘moral narrative of modernity’, implying the imperative to distance oneself from practices regarded as outdated and, in the case of Al-Irsyad, as ‘un-Islamic’. Keane’s reflections on the modern condition link his work with a more recent strand in anthropology, being especially salient in the anthropology of Southeast Asia, which is occupied with the concept of modernity.28 By working in settings or on topics that are difficult to confine to the realm of the ‘traditional’, ‘pre-modern’ or ‘pre-capitalist’, anthropologists have employed this concept, as Suzanne Brenner has emphasised (1998: 10), in order to ‘capture the sense of the modern as something experienced subjectively by individuals through their awareness of becoming part of a new age and a new way of life, but which also reflects the objective changes in social institutions and social relations that have everywhere been associated with modernity’. As a consequence, another distinguished anthropolo28 See e.g. Miller (1994), Appadurai and Breckenridge (1995), and for a recent review of the literature Thomassen (2012). For Southeast Asia, see particularly Brenner (1998) and Kahn (2001). See also the publications of the series ‘Southeast Asian Modernities’ (LIT Verlag), edited by scholars based in Germany.

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gist of Southeast Asia, Joel Kahn (2001: 11), has suggested that ‘modernity becomes as much a state of mind as a set of objective historical processes’.29 These scholars rely heavily on Jürgen Habermas’ reflections on the subject (1988). Habermas identified, again in Brenner’s terms (1998: 88), a unique “’historical consciousness of modernity”, in which the modern is always imagined as a break with the past and a simultaneous transcendence of it’. This implies ‘a reflexive understanding of time that stresses the newness of the present era’ (ibid: 13).30 However, the attempt to reconcile the progressive forces of modernity with the call of a return to a distant, idealized past can cause difficulties, as Hourani (1962: 161) remarked on ‘Abduh: In ‘Abduh’s thought there was always a tension between two facts, neither of which could be wholly explained in terms of the other, but each of them bringing with it certain inescapable demands. On the one side stood Islam, with its claim to express God’s will about how men should live in society; on the other, the irreversible movement of modern civilization, beginning in Europe but now becoming worldwide, and by the very nature of its institutions compelling men to live in a certain way.

The tension Hourani referred to can also be understood as generating frictions between the longing to be up-to-date and the longing for a return to the old, presumably better days. So when, back in colonial times, Al-Irsyad was not only in the vanguard of Indonesia’s Islamic reformist movement, newly introducing salafi ideology against sada hegemony, but also among the first champions of a modern way of life, this tension inherent in Islamic reformism did not come to the fore. In contrast, it is felt much more strongly among today’s Irsyadis, as is evident in Badjabier’s paper. In accordance with salafi thought, he calls for a return to the Islam as practiced during 29 For a discussion of what prominent scholars theorised as ‘objective historical processes’, see Miller (1994: 69-74). 30 This is also stressed by Miller (1994: 76), who sees the objective characteristics overshadowed by one feature: ‘Modernity may not have consistent attributes, but there remains a consistent underlying problem, one in which a new temporal sense has undermined the conventional grounds for moral life.’ Modernity’s obsession with the new, with being up-to-date, seems to be its constant feature; this is also acknowledged by scholars of postmodernity like Fredric Jameson (2002: 5), who sees ‘a dependence of the postmodern on what remain essentially modernist categories of the new ... [a]nd this is indeed no small or insignificant contradiction for postmodernity, which is unable to divest itself of the supreme value of innovation’.


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the times of the Prophet Muhammad as well as Surkati as key to solving the current problems of Al-Irsyad; and, at the same time, he wants Irsyadis to become part of the national elite and to catch up with those in Indonesia who are at the forefront in organizational and educational matters, in other words, those who will own Indonesia’s future. Yet the big difference between the Al-Irsyad of today and the Al-Irsyad of the colonial era is that, for the former, it is much less clear how such a ‘return’ could help the organization regain its elite status, whereas the latter achieved emancipation from the Hadhrami sada and a leading position in Indonesia’s Islamic movement by embracing the new ideology of Islamic reformism which meant also a ‘return’ to the presumably egalitarian past of early Muslim society. However, the problems that Al-Irsyad is struggling with are certainly not unique to the organization; rather, they are genuine to the modern age at large, since modernity, as Brenner (1998: 13) argues, ‘is not a state that is achieved once, definitely and in perpetuity. It must constantly be renewed, because yesterday’s modernity is today’s past, and therefore must itself be overcome if one is to retain a notion of the modern as the ever-new’. Having embraced not only the salafi ethos of a glorious past but also the modern desire for the new as the most up to date, Irsyadis suffer from the fact that their organization, once among the modernist elite, has lost its position as role model in progressive Muslim circles. This is most severely felt with regard to the heart of Al-Irsyad, i.e. its educational institutions.

Old and new modernist schools It should therefore not come as any surprise that Badjabier’s criticism of Al-Irsyad reveals his dissatisfaction with Al-Irsyad’s educational institutions. He does not mince his words when he talks of a deterioration of Al-Irsyad schools, the deviations of its officials and the backwardness of Al-Irsyad generally. The view that something did go wrong with Al-Irsyad, however, depends on one’s expectations and pretensions. For example, the headmaster of the Al-Irsyad school in Solo, Central Java, seemed quite pleased with the performance of his institution, as he told me that his school, i.e. the junior high school, is usually ranked between 30th and 35th out of 90 Solonese junior high schools based on the outcome of nationally held final exams. Yet, another official of the Solo branch, one generation younger than the headmaster, wanted to see the school in Solo’s top ten

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and called for its improvement. Resembling the dynamics on al-Irsyad’s national level, yet with a much clearer outcome, this critical official was elected as the new chairman of Al-Irsyad Solo. He immediately began to reform the schools by turning the primary school into a ‘primary school of excellence’ (Sekolah Dasar Unggulan). New teachers were recruited, as were their trainers who lecture at a local university. The school became computerised as well as more expensive. The new financial burden had to be borne by the parents as well as by the Al-Irsyad branch in Solo.31 In Pekalongan, echoing Badjabier’s paper, one Al-Irsyad official blamed the low school fees attracting children from lower-class families for the average performance of Al-Irsyad schools. Self-critically he remarked that, although he had been active in the organization for a long time and is a well-known Irsyadi in Pekalongan, he did not send his own children to the local Al-Irsyad school.32 As these are examples of Al-Irsyad officials’ own assessments of their schools which are mainly in line with the views of Badjabier and his camp, my visits to Al-Irsyad schools in Java left the impression that the quality of the schools seem to vary considerably from branch to branch.33 The different quality of Al-Irsyad schools corresponds with the high autonomy that Al-Irsyad branches enjoy, meaning that a great deal depends on the abilities of the local officials in managing their educational institutions. My fieldwork also led me to the conclusion that Badjabier’s dissatisfaction with so many Al-Irsyad schools may partly be rooted in the fact that he comes from Surabaya, where the local Al-Irsyad school is obviously in good shape and regularly performs well in the national exams.34 When discussing education, Irsyadis often mention Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s largest modernist Muslim organization. In Badjabier’s paper, Muhammadiyah plays two different roles. The first is to show Al-Irsyad’s importance in the transfer of reformist Islamic thought to Indonesia by emphasizing its influence on the development of Muhammadiyah. The 31 Interviews in Solo with the headmaster (3 May 2003) and the official of the branch (11 May 2003) and with the latter again after he became the new chairman (4 October 2004). 32 Interview in Pekalongan, 13 May 2003. 33 In addition to Solo, Pekalongan and Surabaya, I also visited Al-Irsyad schools in Banyuwangi, Bondowoso, Kraksaan and Pasuruan (in February 2005). Compared to the former, the Al-Irsyad schools in these East Javanese provincial towns do not face such high levels of competition with public and other private schools. 34 Interview in Surabaya with the headmaster of the Al-Irsyad school, 9 March 2004. During a recent visit to Surabaya in May 2011, I observed a banner fixed to the fence of the Al-Irsyad school proudly stating that ‘100%’ of its high-school students had passed the final examinations.


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second is to illustrate Al-Irsyad’s ‘backwardness’ by comparing it with Muhammadiyah today. Indeed, in Solo, for example, reformist Hadhramis explained to me that they hold the local Muhammadiyah schools in higher esteem than the Al-Irsyad school.35 In the field of education, Al-Irsyad has to face competition not only from the big player Muhammadiyah but also from other, smaller Islamic foundations with a modernist outlook. Some of them have won a nationwide presence, while others are just active in one (or only a few) of Indonesia’s big cities. Though the country witnessed their precursors in the 1970s, these schools were mainly established in the 1990s, when, in the wake of a global movement of Islamic ‘resurgence’, Indonesia’s growing Muslim middle classes increasingly stressed their Islamic identity. Islamic middle-class parents wanted their children to receive an education enabling them to compete in the modern sectors of Indonesia’s economy without leaving behind their religion. They were also willing to spend considerable sums of money on their children’s education, as a consequence of which Muslim elite schools, unlike Al-Irsyad schools, virtually became unaffordable for the majority of Indonesians. In addition, these schools challenged Christian schools, which thus far have enjoyed an image of superiority among Indonesia’s elite (Azra 1999). With their rise in the last three decades, Indonesia’s field of education has changed considerably.36 Al-Irsyad, however, did not take part in this boom of new Muslim elite schools, a fact many Irsyadis regret today. Even the best among Al-Irsyad schools cannot compete with those of the new Islamic foundations, at least not in the eyes of representatives of the Islamic-minded middle and upper classes in Indonesia, among whom the organization has clearly lost its reputation for providing high-quality Islamic education. For them, in the words of Brenner, Al-Irsyad represents ‘yesterday’s modernity’.

35 Merely in terms of organizational size and national influence, a comparison between the two organizations evokes the picture of a giant vis-à-vis a dwarf: Muhammadiyah has 12,258 educational institutions, from kindergarten to universities, 525 health centres and hospitals, and 2,624 branches all over Indonesia. These figures are valid up until August 2003, based on statistics I obtained from the Muhammadiyah headquarters in Yogyakarta on 13 November 2003. There I also learned that the organization has issued more than 942,000 membership cards, with around 25 million people being considered its supporters and sympathizers. Since then, Muhammadiyah has certainly experienced further growth. 36 The establishment of Muslim elite schools is part of a general trend of the rapid expansion of Islamic schooling in Indonesia (see Hefner 2009).

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Concluding remarks By way of exploring the historical rhymes of Al-Irsyad, this article delivers deeper insights into the dynamics of the Hadhrami diaspora in Indonesia and its entanglements with Islamic reformism. In the 1910s, this new Islamic current provided Hadhramis with the ideological tools with which to question the hierarchy prevalent in their community and to fulfil their desire to become part of the modernizing stratum of colonial society. With the foundation of Al-Irsyad, Hadhramis of non-sada origin emancipated themselves from sada hegemony and attained a position among the vanguard of Indonesia’s Islamic reformist movement. At that time, the call for reform was directed against Islamic practices that were mainly associated with their rivals, the sada, against traditional Islamic education, which was regarded as inadequate in modern times, and against notions of social hierarchy that were associated with sada interpretations of Islam. In addition, the ‘return’ to an earlier Islam – this central feature of salafi thought – meant at that time that Irsyadis would distance themselves from a present that was perceived as the outcome of periods of decline within Islam, as well as allowing them to adapt the principles of the modern European education system to the teaching of their religion. Being modern in the colony implied to a certain extent conforming to European standards, especially in the field of education. As Mobini-Kesheh has shown, Irsyadis were certainly among those who embraced such standards, which contributed to the high reputation of their schools as sites where the ‘magic of modernity’ could be experienced. Beginning in the 1990s, the call for reform was voiced again by resorting to a discourse reminiscent of the one the founding generation of Al-Irsyad had already relied on. Yet this time the critique was aimed at Al-Irsyad itself. Though Irsyadis still criticize sada practices as not conforming to the ‘right’ Islam, at the present the notion of decline refers almost exclusively to Al-Irsyad itself, including its members. They are criticized for having abandoned the idea of a ‘return’ to the Islam of the prophet and for having instead oriented themselves towards ‘the West’. Echoing the discourses that have developed in recent decades in the Islamic world, Euro-American influence on Irsyadis is partly held responsible for what went wrong with the organization. Consequently, the ‘return’ of today entails a move away from ‘the West’ and ‘Westernized’ Irsyadis, whereas in colonial times it represented mainly a disassociation from the sada and other Muslims who represented what, according to reformists, had gone wrong within Islam. As a matter of fact, the reformers of today add another schism to the already


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existing sada-non-sada division of the Hadhrami community,37 namely that among Irsyadis themselves. We can thus discern examples of ‘the pattern of recurrent reform movements’ Keane (2007: 50) emphasizes with regard to Christianity not only among the Hadhramis in colonial times but also among today’s Irsyadis, whose calls for reform rhyme so perfectly with the past. These dynamics within Al-Irsyad are fuelled by the problem that many agents of modernity, not only but particularly also Hadhrami moderns, encounter: How to stay modern? How to remain up to date? And how to catch up when one has fallen behind? In the case of Al-Irsyad, this is of particular relevance given that Irsyadis demand of themselves that they exemplify the best community of human beings on earth; furthermore, Irsyadis share Hadhramis’ widespread self-perception as leaders of native Muslims. It is against this backdrop and in memory of past successes that many Irsyadis today see their organization, which has not participated in the boom of Muslim elite schools in recent decades, as having fallen behind. Al-Irsyad schools were truly modern according to the standards of the early 20th century, when salafi thought was also new and liberating, given the traditional hierarchy in the Hadhrami community. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, the situation has considerably changed. Al-Irsyad is no longer a leading Islamic organization in Indonesia, Muhammadiyah or other organizations no longer ‘learn from Al-Irsyad’, its schools no longer have an image of excellence, and Irsyadis no longer belong to the national elite. As these developments show, the history of Al-Irsyad certainly did not repeat itself, but it is informed by rhymes that fit the metre of Islamic reformism’s dialectical logic of decline and reform. In trying to live up to the modern expectations and desires that have guided Al-Irsyad for so long, Irsyadis today resort to this logic in their attempts to reform the organization. Yet at the same time their efforts have produced a schism that points to another dynamic inherent in this process. In these times of globalizing modernities, with which Christian and Muslim groups (and not only them) try to keep pace, recurring dynamics of decline and reform are certainly not limited to the case of Al-Irsyad. Yet Al-Irsyad, with its Hadhrami background, might represent a particularly salient example of this trend, given the long history of the organization and its having deeply embraced Islamic reformism and modernist desires. We thus should not be surprised if Al-Irsyad’s Hadhrami moderns engage in historical rhymes to come. 37 This division, however, is much stronger in the large Hadhrami communities on Java than in most parts of eastern Indonesia (see Slama 2011a).

Mubeng Beteng A Contested Ritual of Circumambulation in Yogyakarta Susanne Rodemeier 1

Introduction When President Suharto’s rule ended in 1998, democratic structures were initiated under the national motto reformasi or ‘change’. This was accompanied by a decentralization of administrative structures, as well as the officially abolishment of the censorship of religious and ethnic topics, thus allowing for scrutiny of existing structures and opening the way for new alternatives in various aspects of daily life. On Java, this now includes religious experimentation on an individual basis, often unconstrained by longstanding family traditions. The new freedom has provoked an ongoing dispute over contrasting forms of Islam. Violent Reformers, who are trying to adapt their lives to what they see as an orthodox ideal of Islam, stand at one end of the scale. On the other end are Muslims who regard Islamic mysticism as essential for Javanese people to live a life in harmony with mankind and nature in their traditional home territory.2 For the time being, these currents exist side by side. In most situations, both sides behave as if the other side does not exist. To outsiders, this looks like religious tolerance. In fact, it is a conscious attempt not to acknowledge the others as important streams making their contribution to the Javanese society. Analyzing the agitated interreligious atmosphere as well as the discourses accompanying the ritual will offer insight into Javanese modernity by taking into account the idea of multiple modernities (Eisenstadt 2000a). On Java in recent years, critical and rational analyses of religion and tradition are most vivid. This is as true for Javanese Muslims who want to reform Javanese Islam as for those Muslim Javanese who are activists in practicing mystic Islam in a Javanese way, known as kejawen (‘the essence of Javaneseness’). These Javanists are activists because ongoing discussions brought them to reinvent kejawen as a way of life they see as a local necessity to 1 Research for this article was possible thanks to funding by the Cluster of Excellence ‘The Formation of Normative Orders’ at Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, and a two-year position as a research assistant at this cluster, funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation). 2 Cf. van Bruinessen (1999).


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ensure both security and harmony. The Muslims who want to purify Islam from local traditions – Reformists – regard their own religious behaviour as a global necessity and as something that, in the long run, everyone in the world should follow. They regard Javaneseness as nothing more than nostalgia or backwardness. The confrontation of these two currents looks like a revival of an old hostility that escalated in 1965/66 in the murder of Javanese Muslims (abangan) who were accused of being communists. Kejawen Javanese received a further setback when, in the 1970s, local mystic Islam (kebatinan) was not recognized as one of the nationally accepted religions (Geertz 1960; Bruinessen 1999). Today, a growing number of people are reinventing kejawen practices that they regard as a vital necessity to guarantee survival for all people living in Yogya and the surrounding areas. To show how agitated the atmosphere is, I will give some examples in the first part of this article. These examples also illustrate the unusualness of how and why the community of Yogyakarta (henceforth, ‘Yogya’) in Central Java, starting in 2010, began subordinating their animosities to jointly participate in the annual ritual of ‘circumambulating the palace walls’ (Mubeng Beteng). In the second part of the article, this ritual will be analysed. I will focus on the rituals’ diverse and renewed interpretation when in 2010 the volcano Merapi erupted devastatingly and almost simultaneously the national government demanded an end to feudalism in Yogya by implementing democratic elections for the position of the governor.

Rising tensions between indigenous Muslims and reformist Islam Islam has become visible all over Java. The public dress code, inter-gender behaviour and even the content of conversations have changed. Only some years ago, one did not talk of going to the mosque or following the fasting rules during Ramadan. Today, both topics are part of daily conversations. Furthermore, there are a number of quite aggressive actions against other Muslim sects such as the murder of three members of the Ahmadiyya3 community in February 2011 (Buchsteiner 2011: 4; Crouch 2011: 1). The lack of protection by the police and the light sentences handed out to the murderers 3 Ahmadiyya is a Muslim sect that believes that after Prophet Mohammad there was another prophet after Mohammad by the name of Ahmad. For decades they were accepted in Indonesia like any other Muslim sect. But the renewal of the so-called blasphemy law in 2005 strengthened those Muslims who regard this belief as blasphemous and therefore began to pursue them by pushing provincial governors to forbid Ahmadiyya.

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strengthen the radicals’ feeling that the murderers are being supported by the national security apparatus (Lamb 2011). 4 So far, this has been the most violent outbreak of aggression amongst Muslims. However, these intra-Muslim conflicts are fought on many stages. M. Dawam Rahardjo from the Islam Liberal Network (JIL)5 explains this on the network’s webpage by looking back in history when Ahmadiyya (in Pakistan) and the Muhammadiyah movement in Indonesia were created (in 1912 in Yogya) ‘in order to purify the creed and rituals of traditional Islam, which it regarded to be infiltrated by TBC “disease”, namely Tachayul, Bid’ah and Churafat (superstition, heresy and myth)’. The emergence of the traditionalist mass Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) in 1926 was meant as a reaction to this Wahhabi mission of Muhammadiyah (Rahardjo 2005). Muhammadiyah still is a reformist movement in Javanese Islam, whereas the appearance of Nahdlatul Ulama changed by itself. Most NU members are no longer in any danger of being regarded as having the ‘disease’ of TBC. It is true that some still accept local tradition; others are active in the Islam Liberal Network doing de-radicalization programmes and educational work. Other members are engaged in purifying activities to get rid of ‘un-Islamic’ rites. They even go against national law, as in 2010 when they accepted ‘child marriages of girls below 16 years of age’ (kawin dini) (Feillard 2011: 253; Rachman & Osman 2010). Regardless of its inner organizational diversity, Nahdlatul Ulama became one of the targets of reformist Muslims. An especially subtle action took place in Yogya, where dozens of NU mosques faced a serious change as the prayers were more and more often led by people from the radical HTI (Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia). NU members talked of mosques that ‘disappeared’ into the hands of ‘transnational Islam with substantial financial resources’ (Feillard 2011: 254). My NU informant in Yogya6 described the incidents as ‘stolen mosques’ (masjid dicuri). The problem arose because NU members did not visit their mosques frequently. When they finally noticed the change in mosque leadership, it was because a practice of praying had arisen which is uncommon in NU. To get back 4 When I interviewed Ustadz Chairul, the head of FPI in Solo, he commented on the court’s decision. He regards the court verdict as proof that the murder of three Ahmadiyya people by FPI is just as wrong as self-defence. His assumption results from the fact that one Ahmadi member who seriously injured but did not kill one of the attackers in self-defence received the same level of penalties as the FPI murderers of three people (Interview on 21 December 2011). 5 The Islam Liberal Network (JIL) is interested in individual freedom and the liberation of all forms of oppressive structures. It tries to develop a liberal interpretation of Islam and to promote it in society. (http://islamlib.com/?site=2&cat=page-about ; accessed on 13 June 2013). 6 Interview, June 2010.


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the leadership of their mosques, the local community had to prove its right to do so by presenting the donation documents for the land on which the mosque is built to the Hizbut Tahrir organization. This was already enough to solve the dispute without making that fact publicly known. To solve the problem once and for all, all mosques are now marked with signs of those religious groups that ‘own’ it. Nevertheless, the whole action can be regarded as a success for those Muslims who want to bring people nearer to ‘strict’ religious daily practices. Those NU members who had become complacent are now reengaged as a consequence of the ‘stolen mosques.’ Now they are committed to religious issues by frequenting their mosque and even organizing events for reading the Koran and for the discussion of religious and social issues (pengajian). All in all, they moved closer to the Islamic scriptualists, to use Geertz’s category (Geertz 2001). Somehow, the NU problem seems to have been resolved in the eyes of Reformists. But there are further Javanese Muslims7 whose practices are still regarded as superstition or heresy and whose ritual events are therefore in danger of being interrupted by radicals. The violent stopping of performances of the shadow-puppet theatre (wayang) on a private compound is only one example that became public in October 2010. Local people did not report it, as they wanted to avoid making a big issue out of it, though the police eventually learned of it through newspapers (Malik 2010a). The German-Javanese Jesuit Franz Magnis-Suseno would explain this kind of public silence by referring to the Javanese principle of avoiding conflict and confrontation (the ideal of rukun) (Magnis-Suseno 1981). It might also be explained in the words of the Dutch sociologist Niels Mulder: ‘[…] the good is to encapsulate the other, to absorb the other. They should be in harmony – because disharmony is threatening. Harmony at all cost’ (2006: 47). This way of thinking has consequences for wayang performances in general. To avoid unpleasant situations and for self-protection, people rarely organize wayang performances anymore or rather do not visit them. Sometimes only Javanists show up to stress the importance of the performance as an integral part of local culture. Also, UNESCO tried to strengthen local culture by putting wayang on the ‘Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ in 2003. Being an ‘intangible heritage’ makes it a tourist attraction with high entrance fees. Local people, who are the only ones who would understand the language used feel rejected and stay away.

7 The term Javanist fits best to describe them, as it includes their interest in being an activist in traditional Javanese matters.

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Now in many places wayang is only a tourist attraction, thus diluting the tradition. A more serious problem is a growing trend to see discrimination against local culture supported by political decisions. A quite prominent case took place in Wonogiri, where the newly elected district chief (bupati), Danar Rahmanto, decided to withdraw public funding for three rituals: Jamasan Pusaka, Larung Ageng, Sedekah Bumi (Malik 2010b).8 All named rituals are connected with the Sultan’s Palace in Solo (Mangkunegara), a ‘brothercourt’ of the palaces Hamengkubuwono and Pakualam in Yogyakarta. All courts were founded in the 17th century as Muslim courts practicing mystic Sufi tradition. The ritual Sedekah Bumi is somehow special, as it is not only connected with the palace in Solo but is even linked to a number of courts on Java. The Muslim district chief ignored any royal connection of the rituals and therefore also rejected any Javanese Islamic tradition. His decision was justified by Ahmad Sukino, the chairman of MTA (Majelis Tafsir Alquran: ‘Council of Qur’anic Interpretation’). He is located in Solo and was engaged in promoting Danar Rahmanto during elections. Afterwards, the MTA chairman demanded that pre-election promises be implemented and explained the necessity of this decision in the following words: The traditional ceremonies are misleading people. And the offerings to the sea include a buffalo’s head and harvest produce. Rather than let the food be wasted like this, why don’t we give it to the poor? [...] He added that traditional ceremonies were not going to help people get closer to God and would not guarantee them protection. (Malik 2010b)

His accusation that food is being wasted unnecessarily is not at all convincing, as a buffalo’s head has only very few edible parts and is not a staple of the Javanese diet. Most probably, Sukino in fact disliked that there is a traditional Javanese ritual at all. Being district chief, he is part of the ritual even if he does not like it, as it is common practice to give the head of the sacrificed animal to a deity or to a person of high rank, in this case most commonly the district chief. Obviously enough, the new district chief is a reformist Muslim and therefore dislikes receiving this offering. Instead 8 ‘The Jamasan Pusaka involves the cleansing of sacred weapons, including two kris [Javanese ceremonial dagger] and a spear that belonged to the founder of Solo’s Mangkunegara dynasty. The Larung Ageng has been held since the 17 th century and is held in cooperation with the House of Mangkunegara, while the Sedekah Bumi commemorates the spiritual journey of an ancestor of members of the four royal houses in Central Java’ (Malik 2010b).


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of rejecting it, he went against the whole ritual with a religious explanation, thus separating religion from culture: ‘We cannot exclusively rely on revenue from cultural events, nor can we let the people get confused about what’s part of religion and what’s part of custom (…). To promote tourism, we will develop the potential of nature’ (Malik 2010b). By mentioning tourism in this context, he opened up a further field of discussion that is running at the national level. Until recently, culture was under the Ministry of Tourism, which gave the new chief’s predecessor a reason to financially support the ritual as a tourist attraction. The new decision to stop even that promotion interestingly enough took place when culture came under the Education Ministry, for some years. This connection – culture and education – arrested attention by Reformists. They felt they had to react, stressing that traditional rituals are against their idea of good religious education. To get rid of these rituals once and for all, the village chief of Wonogiri stressed, ‘custom’ should be part of neither religion, nor a tourist attraction. Instead, for tourists, nature will be promoted.

Followers of local mystic Islam: Efforts to strengthen this position Javanist Muslims’ deep appreciation for local tradition is the reason why they try to handle any hostilities and provocations without losing their ideals. Being Javanist means to open the mind to local mysticism ‘through silencing the power of thought. (…) If you maintain a high tension, the ego vanishes, and you’ll speak God’s word, whatever you do. Then heart and brain are both operating on direct current, and the mind will be calm’ (Mulder 2006: 55). It is important to hold up inherited ideals of a good Javanese person: avoiding conflict situations (rukun), keeping calm (halus), speaking in a low voice or staying silent (diam) when provoked, and showing respect (hormat) even to an aggressor. Javanists seek to achieve this behaviour through different practices such as meditation (budi), nocturnal visits to cemeteries, staying in caves for days, or sitting for hours in a river in the middle of the night (kungkum). In January 2009, their goal was still to ignore any provocation by Reformists. Even when they were labelled being as dangerous and infectious as TBC, they behaved as if someone throws water on them but it does not even wet the body. When explaining this, my informant made a gesture with his hands to stress that his body is water-repellent.9


Interview, January 2009.

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Some Javanists are conducting research on historical monuments of the Hindu-Javanese Majapahit Empire to prove that even in the pre-Islamic period of Java, Islam was an integrated part of the culture. Their findings lead them to the assumption that Islam on Java is almost as old as in Saudi Arabia and therefore both must be held in equal esteem (Janutama 2010). Using this assumption, they then compete with reformist Muslims who base their authority on a claim of seniority as well, in this case by stressing the longer existence of the Koran as well as its universal range of validity. In August and September 2009, when I visited Yogyakarta for the second time in the same year, the same Javanists still felt ‘repellent,’ but there was a slight change in their use of terminology. When responding to the hostility of violent Muslims, now they speak of a necessary resistance to ‘Wahhabism’, to the fundamentalist Islam from Saudi Arabia. The aim is to avoid associating violence with the term ‘Islam’ in order to maintain the good reputation of Javanese Islam. In addition to meditation, research and the reflective use of terms when talking about Islam, Javanists are organizing events to preserve the distinctive character of Javanese life. They call them ‘pengkajian for traditional or cultural knowledge’, which means assessment, study or research and has no religious connotation at all. It is organized to remember local tradition and culture. Gamelan or wayang might be played and discussions may take place about possible strategies to meet any of the challenges of life. The term pengkajian pronounced with ‘k’ sounds almost the same as pengajian, meaning ‘training in reading the Koran’. The linguistic play with the almost identically sounding words is certainly intended by the Javanists as competition. Thus it is never commented upon when pengkajian meetings are timed to coincide with the nearby mosque’s pengajian. In August 2011, their resistance against reformist Islam by referring to tradition became more open, even leading the German journalist Jochen Buchsteiner (2011) to mention it in an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He had observed in West Java what I observed in Central Java, too. People demonstrate that they are conforming neither to Muslim extremism nor to governmental norms by wearing neither Western clothes nor the now fashionable Arabic or Pakistani garments, but instead dress in Javanese sarong and even the hand-knotted headscarf for men (ikatan). They also prefer to use the local language10 in greeting instead of an Indonesian or 10 The Sultan of Yogyakarta (who is also the Governor) ordered that on Wednesdays, the employees in all governmental offices have to speak Javanese only. His intention is to support local identity, but at the same time ignores the reality that all offices in Indonesia became a


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Arab-Muslim greeting. Again, this is a deliberate, and moreover distinctly modern, decision in its articulation of language and regional identity. As Reformists tend to speak Arabic and dress in Arabic garment, the Javanists also dress and speak in a certain way, which looks old-fashioned and is in accordance with a traditional local form of Islam, and is meant to show a clear position against Muslim extremists. The same is true when Javanists ostentatiously shake hands with members of the opposite sex, rather than avoiding any bodily contact as Muslim Reformists do. The situation was stirred up in October 2010 when Mount Merapi erupted. On Java, it is common knowledge that natural disasters, as well as political or social unrest, are signs of an imminent danger to the whole area: The most common emic interpretations of unrest in the countryside of Java refer to the complex perception of disorder in society. External crises are linked to internal ones, natural disasters are linked to cultural dynamics, to conflicts, to current or imminent divisions or splitting, even to negotiation processes between traditions and orientations, conceptions of progress and modernity, and to new positions in the world. (Schlehe 2006: 234-235; translated by the author)

Javanist Muslims believe that certain traditional rituals are required to calm down the volcano. Others even feel responsible for acting in accordance with the Javanese worldview to protect the city of Yogyakarta and its surroundings. This idea is quite strong, not only with Javanist Muslim intellectuals. My observation is conf irmed by Judith Schlehe’s insight of a few years ago following a strong earthquake in Yogyakarta in 2006. Rarely and only when asked did people articulate their assumption that ‘the earthquake is a reminder or a warning that the local tradition has to be strengthened again, as conservative, fundamentalist Islam […] is threatening it’ (Schlehe 2006: 231; translated by the author). Schlehe asked why people were not articulating their feeling of threat and received the following answer: ‘It is not adequate to talk about such suspicions openly [...] as one lives in an atmosphere with an increasingly strict Muslim-oriented environment. But by talking of the threat to tradition, a critique of such forms of Islam is implicit’ (Schlehe 2006: 231). Interestingly enough, as a Javanist, one does not blame others of guilt. Being conscious of a threat to tradition, one cannot name the problem directly but can try to slow the mirror of the ethnically intermingled society that developed during thirty years of Suharto’s government.

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development down by behaving in a traditional way and organizing events to strengthen tradition. Javanists’ activities are meant to support the head of Yogyakarta and his Province (Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta, DIY) in the task of protecting his people and nature. On the other hand, reformist Muslims believe that a disaster can be provoked by neglecting the prescribed Muslim rituals and conducting traditional Javanese ones instead. This dispute is mirrored by the different interpretations of the death of the royal spiritual guardian and gatekeeper of the volcano, Mbah Maridjan.11 The head of Yogya should merge all these streams of interest in his person, holding the highest position in spirituality, religion and politics. His different positions are expressed by his three titles: Raja or Gusti, Sultan and Governor. This implies that any kind of disturbance taking place in the area, be it a natural disaster or acts of violence, is interpreted as resulting from his weakness. Javanist Muslims assist him by joining in rituals organized by the Sultan’s Palace (kraton). The annual ritual of circumambulating the palace walls (Mubeng Beteng) is one of these rituals. It is regarded as especially effective in situations of crisis or immediate danger. Pemberton (1994: 163), referring to the circumambulation of the Sultan’s Palace in the nearby town Solo/Surakarta, found evidence that until the 1970s this ritual was a ‘ritual on demand,’ organized only in situations of crisis. When the custom changed, it became an annual ritual on New Year’s Eve of the Javanese calendar. Most likely the same change took place in Yogya, where my informants asked for permission to organize the ritual as an emergency measure, not waiting until the New Year. In the following section, I will elaborate on this ritual, starting with my observations among a loosely structured group of Javanist Muslims. All of them feel responsible for securing life in and around the town of Yogya. Their actions are somehow a prelude to the Mubeng Beteng ritual, as it was conducted shortly after several blows of fate occurred during the Javanese year Dal (December 2009 to 2010).12 The calamities led to a growth in popularity of the ritual, with many participants – regardless of their religious affiliation – understanding their joining in as a political intervention in aid of defending the special status of Yogyakarta against national interference. 11 Malik, Candra et al. (2010) and my social network on Facebook which connects me with some of my informants from Indonesia. Some of these informants like to post long articles on their account to express their concerns on special issues. 12 The year is of the highest spiritual importance. It is the fifth in the circle of eight reoccurring years of the Javanese calendar.


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Living in the immediate vicinity of the volcano My Javanist informants have known each other since the 2006 earthquake, when they met in refugee camps in Yogyakarta, some being refugees themselves while others coming to help. During their nightlong discussions on religion and belief, they became friends and now regularly meet to justify Javanese Islam as a necessity for all people on Java and to show why any Javanese should prefer it to any other religion. The formation of this group follows a modern pattern of friendship which is structured along the lines of a shared topical interest. In September 2009, when I joined one of their irregular meetings, the latest observations in the night sky were discussed. A relative of the Sultan, who monitors the volcano Merapi on behalf of the Palace, felt alarmed as he had observed a red and green fireball, one flying from the mountain in the direction of the sea at midnight and the other one flying from east to west. He had observed a similar sight only days before the disastrous earthquake in 2006. Now, three years later, the recent observation was interpreted in the same way as the recurring daily fever attacks suffered by the daughter of a friend. Her fever only lasted two or three hours before going down again as if nothing had happened. According to her parents, the girl is hypersensitive to all signs of nature and hence they regarded her disease as a prediction of an imminent natural disaster. These observations were interpreted as signs of a serious threat to all people living in the vicinity of the Merapi volcano, as they show that society, nature and the cosmos have lost their harmonious balance. The only person who could prevent a catastrophe is the Sultan.13 According to a local myth, Ratu Kidul, the queen of the south sea and simultaneously the supreme ruler of all spirits of Java, for generations married each Sultan in a spiritual manner and protected him and his realm. According to rumours, it is unproven whether the present Sultan followed this tradition or has to be regarded as her grandchild (Schlehe 1998: 115-121). If he is ‘only’ her grandchild, a reason for his weakness might be his relative distance from the spiritual protection of Yogya. The male spirits of the volcano Merapi have their closest links with the female spirit in the marine realm. Yogyakarta, with the Sultan’s Palace in the spiritual but earthly centre, is located midway between Merapi and the sea. (Schlehe 2006: 225-226 quoting Magnis-Suseno 1981; translated by the author) The palace and the worldly head of this palace are equipped with different kinds of power: kesakten and wahyu. The latter might be visible 13 Anderson 1972: 5-8; Magnis-Suseno 1981: 85.

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as a flash or beam of light transmitting a divine task to an individual. The problem in our example is that the nightly green and red light (andaru, pulung) bypassed the palace, thus connecting mountain and marine spirits directly (Anderson 1972: 16; Magnis-Suseno 1981: 89). These spirits seemed to ignore the Sultan. Obviously the King’s divine power (kebatinan wahyu) is fading away. Therefore he can no longer be regarded as equipped with the divine power of a ‘Just King’ (Ratu Adil),14 which is regarded as extremely dangerous (Woodward 2011a: 174-176). That is why people interpreted the nightly lights as a sign calling for urgent action. They felt the need to strengthen the Sultan in his efforts to restore the balance of power to the whole province of Yogyakarta. The royal volcanologist who observed the light in the sky asked for permission to inform the Sultan personally. But the Sultan ignored his request. This is not at all surprising, as immediate action on his part would be interpreted as the behaviour of a weak king. Even so, ‘his people’ were dissatisfied and felt that their fears were not being taken seriously, as the Sultan was not even in town to deal with their concerns. ‘Playing golf in Malang’ became a metaphor for the Sultan’s ignorance in the face of local people’s fear. Therefore, the volcanologist began to act on his own accord. He reported his observation to one of my friends, who immediately asked the oracle to determine how acute the danger was. His impression that there was still some time left allowed for various approaches. In the first place, he supported the idea that it is vital to ask the Sultan for permission to organize a circumambulation ritual around the palace walls (Mubeng Beteng) in order to calm down the apparently uncontrollable forces of nature. The idea was to get permission from the Sultan to revive the original idea of the ritual, organizing it in response to the overall situation (Pemberton 1994: 163). This permission never came, but a few months later the ritual was performed on New Year’s Eve, as was the habit for many years. One might think the date makes it a secular ritual but, as it was New Year’s Eve on the Javanese-Muslim calendar, it was also marked as a ritual in Muslim tradition. Apparently the Sultan was not willing to organize the ritual Mubeng Beteng unscheduled. Nevertheless, my informants hoped that at least he would give others the permission to perform the rite. In this case, no palace treasure would be carried in front of the procession so my friend prepared himself by sewing a batik flag which would replace the treasure symboli-

14 Cf. Sindhunata 1992; Magnis-Suseno 1981: 87.


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cally. The fabric used was a Batik Kawung 15 with the repeated motif of four ovals in a rectangular arrangement with an ‘empty space’ in the middle. The motif refers to the centre as a mystical space16 where ‘power’ (kesakten) is concentrated. It is a symbol of the Sultan’s Palace and its surroundings (cf. Woodward 2011a: 162). Secondly, the group took immediate action to protect themselves and their families. The idea was to visit a certain mosque between Yogyakarta and Parangtritis on the south coast at night to ask for protection. This special mosque appeared particularly suitable because in 2006 it was affected neither by the earthquake nor by the tsunami that took place almost simultaneously. The group assumed that the same place would again be protected, since everything pointed to a repetition of the 2006 catastrophe. It took several days for the plan to be put into practice. It was organized as a side event when a ritual for name-giving was performed. All the guests ate together, but they also talked about the celestial signs. Around midnight, some of the guests went to a nearby mosque. They went individually, probably to make sure not to create a sensation. Again, the praying relieved their minds only a little but gave space for additional planning of further actions. They still felt responsible for all the people living in the vicinity of the volcano. So, as a third course of action, they met with a medium, a man who had the paranormal ability to look in the future during a séance. About forty men came together during the night on the porch of the medium’s little house, hoping this could provide more clarity. The royal volcanologist, some of my informants and a geologist from the State University (Universitas Gadjah Mada) were present. When the séance started, everyone was silent, the medium shivered and then told the audience what landscape he saw. During a short break from shivering, coming out of his concentration, the medium asked the people whether they knew the place he had described. They confirmed the description and mentioned some place names. After several phases of concentration, the medium was sure that there would soon be a volcanic eruption. This was not big news as Java lies on what has been aptly described as the ‘ring of fire’ and Merapi is one of the most active volcanoes. The geologist confirmed that the location in question had emerged as a result of a landslide during the 2006 earthquake and that 15 Cf. picture of Batik Kawung at: http://www.makassarportal.com/2011/10/batik-sejarahmotif-dan-filosofinya.html (accessed on 29 February 2012). 16 The empty space might be interpreted as symbolizing the centre of the Sultan’s palace, which is an empty room with an always burning fire in its middle, and the four ovals around the centre can be read as the four cardinal points leading to the centre (cf. Woodward 2011a: 162).

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geologists believed the next eruption would take place in this weakened area. After that, they felt they could not do much more except wait and hope. When the annual ritual Mubeng Beteng finally took place on New Year’s Eve, they arranged for all their families and friends to join.

The ritual of Mubeng Beteng Two months after observing the flying light-balls in the night sky, the Mubeng Beteng ritual took place on New Year’s Eve, the night before the first Suro of the Javanese and first Muharram of the Islamic calendar. In 2009, the ritual took place according to the Gregorian calendar on 18 December 2009, the night of kamis wage jumat kliwon, i.e. at the transition from Javanese day wage which happens to fall on a Thursday to the Javanese day kliwon which happens to fall on a Friday. This constellation appears every five weeks, when the five-day week of the Javanese and the seven-day week of the Gregorian calendar overlap. If such a special day coincides with a holiday in the Javanese cyclical calendar, the event gains special importance and anything that might happen is regarded as being of special quality. The Mubeng Beteng consists of a counter-clockwise circumambulation of the palace walls walking barefoot and without speaking.17 Abdi Dalem (‘servants of the palace’) lead the procession, carrying certain palace heirlooms (pusaka), followed by citizens of Yogyakarta. There is a second procession of citizens from adjacent areas that are affiliated with, and therefore also protected by, the court. They symbolize the ‘world’ (buwono) that is protected by the ‘umbrella of the kingdom’ (songsong). About a hundred people circumambulate while praying in silence ‘in their hearts’ for protection and peace, for a life without worries and distress for the family, for the Sultan and for the entire region. This December, no specific incidents were observed during the ritual. My informants regarded it as a positive omen that their walk around the palace was not interrupted violently by Muslims from Muhammadiyah.18 But as the day marks only the beginning of a year, any event during that whole year has to be observed with special care. My informants’ discomfort arose from the idea that reformist Muslims regard the circumambulation as blasphemy because of its similarity to 17 The ritual is also known by the name of tapa bisu lampah mubeng beteng Keraton Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat (‘walking around the walls of the palace Nyayogyakarta Hadiningrat without speaking’) (Wibisono 2010: ANTARA News). 18 Personal email communication with one of the participants shortly after the ritual. 


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tawaf, i.e., the circumambulation of the Kaaba during the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. It is the direction people take in Yogya and Mecca that also marks the Yogya ritual as a Muslim one. In both places, one walks counterclockwise around the centre, thus distinguishing it from clockwise processions at Buddhist or Hindu rituals. This conformity is absolutely deliberate, as people in central Java regard the palace as their religious centre, erected in 1756 for the worship of Allah. The palace is considered sacred for two primary reasons. First, because of the treasure kept in the palace: Kangjeng Kyai Ageng Plered, a spear which is said to have originally belonged to Seh Maulono Maghribi, one of the nine wali [revered saints in Javanese Islam] and later to have been used by Senopati in the founding of Mataram [the predecessor realm of Yogya and Solo], and Kangjeng Kyai Tunggul Wulung, a black flag […] made from the cloth used to cover the grave of the prophet Muhammad. (Woodward 2011a: 161)19

Interestingly enough, the flag20 is intended to link the palace with the prophet Muhammad and is thus meant to prove that the palace is rooted in early Muslim tradition. But even more important among the sacred objects is the building Bangsal Prabayeksa with its innermost part, the eternal light Kyai Wiji. The light of this lamp [is] thought to be an actual manifestation of the divine essence. The symbolism of Kyai Wiji is significant for three reasons. It is a representation of the Javanese/Islamic view that divine appointment (J. wahyu) is manifest as light. It also recalls the architecture of the Ka’ba, the interior of which is empty except for lamps hanging from the roof. The third and probably most important is that it is a representation of the concept of God found in the “Light Verse” of the Qur’an (2:35–36) upon which Javanese and other Sufi doctrines concerning the “light of God” are based. (Woodward 2011a: 161-162)

Following Woodward’s interpretation, the palace is equivalent to the mosques in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, all raised for the celebration of 19 Cf. the official webpage of the kraton: http://www.kerajaannusantara.com/ id/yogyakartahadiningrat/bendera (accessed on 24 October 2011). 20 A picture of the flag can be found on the following webpage: http://www.kerajaannusantara. com/id/yogyakarta-hadiningrat/galeri-foto/foto-non-pusaka/slide-681 (accessed on 24 October 2011).

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the name of God. This marks a longstanding dispute, as Edwin P. Wieringa (2001) has noted in an article on ‘true believers or heretics’: In Wedhatama (“the highest wisdom”) […], a moral-didactic work that Mangkunagara IV wrote in the late seventies of the 19th century […], the poet speaks proudly of the local Javanism and condemns these young people who claim to adhere to a foreign, orthodox Islam. Mangkunagara IV says “people who travel to Mecca to seek the highest wisdom deny their Javanese identity.” This phrase has a long history that begins with the familiar tale of Sunan Kalijaga [15th century] who once wanted to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. While walking on the sea bottom he met al-Hadir, who advised him not to do this pilgrimage: If Sunan Kalijaga would go to Mecca to pray, he would behave like pagans who worship an idol. Something similar is written in Suluk Wujil, an ancient text from the 17th or 18th Century. Here it says that Sunan Kalijaga would do his pilgrimage to Mecca for nothing, because there would be only a stone building. (Wieringa 2001: 137; translated by the author)21

Interestingly enough, the Muslim State University of Yogya carries the name of Sunan Kalijaga, thus stressing that local Muslim tradition is kept in mind unaffected by any curriculum that might be taught inside the university. Although I have not conducted in-depth research at this university, my impression is that the lecturers try to teach the multitude of Muslim currents in their full diversity. This does not always meet with the approval of the students. Many seem to dislike the local Muslim mysticism, with its concentration on oneself and on the Sultan’s Palace as a religious and spiritual centre. They are more attracted by global currents of Islam, whether influenced by the Arabic countries or by Turkey.

Catastrophes bring a reinterpretation of the ritual Mubeng Beteng In December 2009, the Mubeng Beteng ritual took place with only a small group of attendees. This is astonishing, as it was the beginning of the year Dal (meaning ‘life’), which is of special symbolic and mystical importance to the Javanese. The next important ritual in the Javanese annual cycle is 21 This story is part of common knowledge on Java.


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Sekaten, a festival of several days to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday during the Javanese month of Maulud.22 In the year Dal, it is the Sultan who opens the Sekaten in person; in 2010 it took place on January 15th.23 Part of Sekaten is the ritual of Miyos Gongso, a procession to bring two sacred Gamelan orchestras of the palace heirloom from the palace to the mosque (Masjid Gede Kauman). The Gamelan orchestras, bearing the names Kyai Nogowilogo and Kyai Gunturmadu, are played in the mosque’s compound for seven days before returning to the inner parts of the palace. This custom was invented long before loudspeakers existed to call people’s attention to the mosque. During azan, the call for prayer and during the prayers, the Gamelan orchestras keep silent. The instruments are especially valuable and supposedly have sacred power. They are regarded as members of the palace, of very high status and bearing the title Kyai, i.e., a Javanese expert in Islam. Were anything to happen to these instruments it would be interpreted as a sign that the Sultan was too weak even to protect those things in his immediate vicinity. One can easily imagine how shocked people were when, during the transport, two of the instruments fell to the ground. It was such a terrifying incident that, to my knowledge, no newspaper wrote about it. I assume the journalists did not want to be the bringers of bad news, thereby stirring up fear among the public. They might even have wanted to allow the incident to go unnoticed, thereby rendering it inconsequential by ignoring it and not publishing anything about it. I found only one note by a friend on Facebook who witnessed the incident and expressed his concern that terrible things would most likely happen during the upcoming months with consequences for all of Yogyakarta. Sure enough, there were two incidents in the following months that had far-reaching consequences for the area. The volcano Merapi erupted on 10 October 2010 for exactly forty days – an important number in Javanese mysticism as well as for all Muslims. And, while the volcano was calming down, on 5 December 2010 the national government renewed its demand that the Sultan of Yogyakarta should be elected to his position as governor in a democratic fashion. He should no longer insist on the privileges of his inherited position. The volcanic eruption and the government’s demand were both regarded as far-reaching threats to the all-encompassing power 22 Tessa Filzana Sari (15 January 2010), ‘Sultan Hamengkubuwono X Buka Sekaten 2010’, in berita. liputan6.com (accessed on 24 October 2011). 23 Sekaten begins on the fifth day and ends on the twelfth day of the month of Maulud, corresponding with Rabi’ al-awwal, i.e. the third month in the Islamic calendar.

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of the Sultan (i.e. Raja and Governor) and therefore to all the people living in the region of Yogyakarta. The volcanic eruption alone had already provoked a dispute over who was to blame for the natural disaster. Was it those who neglected all traditional rituals that are required to keep the volcano Merapi calm? Or was the disaster provoked by neglecting prescribed Muslim rituals, making it the fault of anyone preserving local tradition? But, regardless of who was to blame, only the Sultan has the ability to ensure that the power of nature is well disposed towards the people. If, in the event of an emergency, he had to accept the government’s demand, his position would be weakened because he would lose one part of his three-part power, and the threats from nature as well as acts of violence might increase. In the days that ensued, the newspapers were full of stories covering the national government’s demand. The Sultan might have had this in mind when he opened a ceremony the same day in the main street of Yogya, in Jalan Malioboro. It was a ‘feast where rice is served with various side dishes’ (selametan tumpang or kenduri tumpang)24 with a huge rice dish given by the Sultan and hundreds more brought by the people of Yogyakarta. The Sultan had organized this event to hold a speech to encourage people to come to Yogya again, as in his mind the volcano was no longer a danger to anyone. Finally he even addressed tourists directly, speaking in the Indonesian national language: ‘My Yogya is our Yogya, and thus Yogya belongs to all of us. Its kindness and comfort are awaiting us. Come to Yogya!’ (Prasetyo 2010).25 Most likely, these words did not reach the ears of any tourist, either domestic or foreign, but with his talk the Sultan used tourism as a symbol for ‘normal life,’ a life without volcanic eruptions. His words also reminded the people of Yogya that they are dependent on tourism and that tourism is an integral part of the town. Two days after the Sultan’s speech, the year Dal came to an end and the annual New Year celebration of Mubeng Beteng took place again, on the night of 7-8 December 2010. This time, the number of participants was much higher than in previous years. Many people joined in to strengthen the Sultan’s spiritual power, hoping to make life in Yogya secure, peaceful and pleasant again. A further motivation for joining in was most likely that 24 Erwin Edhi Prasetyo; Glori K. Wadrianto (5 December 2010) Ribuan Orang Ikuti Kenduri Jogja. Kompas.com (http://regional.kompas.com/read/2010/12/05/ 10414284/Ribuan.Orang.Ikuti. Kenduri.Jogja; accessed on 24 October 2011). 25 ‘Yogyaku adalah Yogya kita, oleh karenanya Yogya adalah milik kita semua. Keramahan dan kenyamanan Yogya menanti. Ayo ke Yogya’ (translated by the author).


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people hoped to strengthen themselves by receiving a little bit of spiritual power (wahyu) that supposedly ‘flows’ out of the palace on this night and is released into the surrounding area. With an eye to the future, it seemed that others were politically motivated and came to demonstrate the unity of Yogya in order to make sure that the special status of the area (daerah istimewa), the spiritual centre of the universe, would not be displaced by another centre, the national government, with its call for democratic elections. This latter reason was very much encouraged by the palace itself when it announced at the opening ceremony that the ritual is meant to be a demonstration of the unity of all the people in the Yogyakarta area. This made for a publicly pronounced change in the meaning of the ritual: it should no longer be seen as a distribution of spiritual power, but rather as a demonstration of a socially founded political unity. The change was signalled in many ways. First, there were changes in the ritual’s timetable, as Ahmad Eko Saputro, a journalist of Ekonomika online, observed. His observations are most interesting, as they provide a picture of how the palace managed to give the ritual a new meaning. Yet still in line with other kraton rituals was its opening by GBPH26 Joyo Kusumo, a brother of Sultan Hamengku Buwono X. What was special this year was a number of pre-ceremonies which caused the main ritual, the circumambulation, to start an hour late, exactly at midnight and not, like other Javanese rituals, at 23:00. This is the most obvious mark of the transformation of a mystical ritual. Before the start of the procession, GBPH Joyo Kusumo held a speech to explain the meaning of the ritual: ‘Its aim is to deliver the feeling (rasa) of thanks to the creator, and to learn patience, and to control our inner self, even if we in Yogya for the time being are confronted with many problems’ (Saputro 2011).27 His words stressed the religiosity of the participants without giving preference to any particular religion or belief. He also mentioned Javanese virtues like patience and control of the inner self. And finally he pointed out that one should not forget to pray and behave properly even in difficult times. After he finished his speech, everyone sang a kind of national anthem of Java, the tabang jawa, thus adding a political symbol of unity. Saputro explained: ‘The song is meant to stress that the population 26 The noble title GBPH is a short form of Gusti Bendoro Pangeran Harya, a title only used for close relatives of the Sultan who have distinguished themselves (Kuhnt-Saptodewo 2006: 13). 27 ‘(…) intinya bahwa kegiatan mubeng beteng seperti ini tujuannya sebagai ungkapan rasa syukur kepada Sang Pencipta, agar kita diberi kesabaran, mawas diri, dan ketegaran meskipun di Yogyakarta sedang dilanda berbagai masalah’ (Saputro 2011).

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of Yogyakarta Area, with its special status (daerah istimewa), wants to have only two rulers, i.e., Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X and Pakualam [the heads of the two palaces of Yogya]. It is totally unnecessary to organize an election for these leaders as some currently demand’28 (Saputro 2011). After singing the anthem, a Muslim prayer was spoken by Abdi Dalem Suronoto who then allowed the people to start the procession. Abdi Dalem, who are employees of the palace, and the people of Yogya and its surroundings did the circumambulation together. Later that night, the journalist Saputro interviewed GBPH Joyo Kusumo, who stressed the theme of unity and pointed out that ‘the duty of the kraton [= palace] people themselves, i.e. the Sultan and his relatives, is to bring all these people onto the right path.’ This, of course, implies that the ‘kraton people’ do not move, they stay and fill the centre. The only action done by them, he says, is to bring the others on their ‘right path’. Then he went on with the following words: This ritual’s meaning is nothing more than to keep up culture (budaya); it is connected with prayer; and it is freed of all mysticism. (…) This is a regular ritual, always held at Suro 1st (New Year’s Eve) and not at all connected with a memorandum on the special status of Yogyakarta. (Saputro 2011)29

GBPH Joyo Kusumo sees culture (budaya) as most important. For him, part of culture is religious praying but not spirituality or mysticism. Probably he has a similar definition of mysticism as Niels Mulder’s informant, who distanced himself from mysticism, calling it ‘hypnotism, telepathy and suchlike’ (Mulder 2006: 56). In the interview with the journalist, GBPH Joyo Kusumo denies any political intention of the ritual. To understand his words, it is helpful to bear in mind the Javanese idea that merely mentioning something makes its existence self-evident. Therefore, stressing that no one should regard the ritual a political instigation of the palace in fact makes it

28 ‘(…) inti dari tembang tersebut adalah masyarakat D.I Yogyakarta tetap menginginkan kepemimpinan Dwitunggal yaitu Sri Sultan HB X dan Pakualam tanpa harus melalui pemilihan seperti yang belakangan sedang hangat diperbincangkan’ (Saputro 2011). 29 ‘GBPH Joyo Kusumo mengatakan bahwa, masyarakat antusiasme sekali dengan hal seperti ini karena pada dasarnya tapa bisu mubeng beteng adalah laku budaya yang diiringi dengan doa, dan terlepas dari hal-hal berbau mistik. (…) Beliau juga menambahkan bahwa kegiatan ini merupakan ritual rutin satu suro dan bukan merupakan bagian dari kegiatan memorandum terkait status Istimewa Yogyakarta (...)’ (Saputro 2011).


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political. Also singing the anthem before the procession started was a clear political symbol of the local centre opposing national centralism. Obviously, many people regard the ritual as a way to provide support for the local government in holding up its special status. During the months to come, politically engaged groups organized several ‘circumambulations of the palace walls’ (Mubeng Beteng). These Mubeng Beteng in fact were overtly political events, though they were given a traditional name. The transformation is evident, as they now took place during daytime and street banners were carried to demand Yogyakarta’s independence from the Indonesian nation. Some were even accompanied by theatre performances.30 These demonstrations were highly successful. In 2011, the national government signed a contract guaranteeing the Sultans of Yogya, Hamengkubuwono and Pakualam, lifelong positions as governor and vice-governor. The initial reaction to the contract took place in the main tourist area of Yogya, in Jalan Malioboro. Countless retailers took a one-day holiday, to cook and eat together without selling anything. I joined the annual nightly ritual Mubeng Beteng again on 26-27 November 2011, shortly after the lifelong guarantee was signed. By now, it was no longer a hardly perceptible event in the middle of the night. On the contrary, several thousand people joined in. Clearly, they came to demonstrate unity, the unity of the centre of the world, of Yogyakarta. Never again would the home region be questioned by another centre, the national government in Jakarta. Seemingly it was merely a demonstration of power, but it was much more, as Javanese cosmology (…) [makes] no sharp division between the terrestrial and the transcendental world. (…) For the traditionalist Javanese, possessed with the idea of divinity immanent in the world, virtually all aspects of behavior had, as it were, a ‘political’ content insofar as they might affect the distribution and concentration of that Power which alone made the society they lived in well ordered, prosperous, and stable. (Anderson 1972: 60-61)

Hence, democratic elections in Yogyakarta are regarded as a threat against Javanese cosmology and therefore have to be repulsed by united action. Obviously this is a general and uniting opinion that pushes people to join 30 Cf. 27 February 2011 (http://mesdihandoko.blogspot.com/2011/04/ mubeng-beteng-prokeistimewaan.html) and April 2011 (http://www.solopos.com/ 2011/channel/jateng/ribuanorang-mubeng-beteng-perjuangkan-penetapan-keistimewaan-yogyakarta-93647) (both accessed on 20 October 2011).

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the ritual regardless of their personal religious background. An increasing number of people regard it as necessary to strengthen the palace and are willing to contribute their share to it.

Concluding remarks It is quite obvious that the process of modernity is forging ahead in all Muslim groups in Yogyakarta. Nevertheless, the observed ritual makes clear that alongside globalization, rational decisions and disputes about normative orders, there is still something people in Yogya regard as more important. It is a kind of essence that became observable as soon as the tripartite spiritual-religious-secular position of the Raja-Sultan-Governor was regarded as being threatened from the outside. In this case, the national government’s demand for democratic elections was interpreted as something that was weakening the position of the Governor and consequently also his tripartite position. This secular ‘threat’ terminated the hostility between different Muslim groups. In order to strengthen the local situation, they all joined in the ritual Mubeng Beteng. This ritual seems to be predestined for redefinition. Up to the 1970s, it was exclusively organized in situations of crisis; later it was secularized and therefore performed on New Year’s Eve; now, according to the Palace, it should demonstrate the unity of the people living in Yogya. This makes space for multiple interpretations of the ritual’s meaning and, therefore, everyone can join and express their personal concerns. As no one talks during the ritual, they will not even recognize differences. Thus the Palace stays what it always was, an umbrella under which the different currents existing in the region can mingle harmoniously; and as always, anyone can join in the ritual under the auspices of the Palace and at the same time strengthen the Palace.

‘Muslim Modernities’ in Makassar and Yogyakarta Negotiating ‘the West’ as a Frame of Reference1 Melanie V. Nertz

It cannot be questioned that the project of modernity in Indonesia was sought to be achieved in the past with a strong reference to the West. In the colonial era as well as under Suharto’s New Order regime (Orde Baru), modernization was equated with Westernization and the taking up of Western norms and practices. After 1998, though, the country has experienced a tremendous political change (democratization and decentralization) and has seen the increasing influence of religion, evoking the question of the West’s recent significance for modernization in Indonesia. This chapter explores Muslim Indonesians’ imaginations, knowledge of and experiences with the West and Western modernity. The emphasis lies on the question of what role these ideas and experiences play for self-perception and own narratives and practices of modernity in relation to research participants’ religious identity. After some introductory remarks on the socio-cultural and religious context of the field sites and the research design, I will give a brief overview of the conceptual framework. Following this, I will turn to the empirical data which is based on eleven months of field research in Indonesia collected in two cities on different islands of the archipelago: Yogyakarta in Central Java and Makassar in South Sulawesi. It will be revealed that most Muslim Indonesians refer to notions of ‘the modern West’ to define what they do (not) consider necessary to constitute modernity in Indonesia. Yet, as Western modernity is judged ambivalently and thus turns out to be a 1 I would like to express my gratitude to the German Research Foundation (DFG), which supported the research on which this chapter is based through the interdisciplinary research group, ‘Beyond Occidentalism: Concepts of “the West” in Asia’, led by Judith Schlehe. Within the anthropological project, ‘Knowledge of “the West” in Indonesia: Anthropological Investigations in Urban and Rural Spaces on Java and Sulawesi’, Judith Schlehe, Vissia Ita Yulianto and I are collaborating intensely. I also wish to thank the BMBF-sponsored research group, ‘Grounding Area Studies in Social Practice: Research on Southeast Asia in Freiburg’. Finally, I would like to give many thanks to colleagues, collaborators and research participants in Indonesia for their support.


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narrative of desire and disdain, it only serves as a starting point to create and perform own modernities.


Urban sites: Fieldwork in Makassar and Yogyakarta

Makassar and Yogyakarta are cities in Indonesia that have structural similarities as well as socio-cultural differences. Makassar or Ujung Pandang2 – referred to as the ‘Gate to the Eastern Islands’ (Antweiler 2002: 103) – is the provincial capital of South Sulawesi and constitutes a regional hub as seaport and commercial town as well as in terms of education and Islam. It has approximately 1.3 million inhabitants: Makasar3 and Bugis4 are the most numerous ethnic groups, followed by two other predominant ethnic groups on the peninsula, namely Mandar and Toraja (Antweiler 2006: 50-51).5 The city of Yogyakarta – capital of the Special Region of Yogyakarta (Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta, DIY)6 – has 493,9037 predominantly Javanese inhabitants. Hence, Makassar is culturally more diverse and, in addition, is populated more densely than Yogyakarta. Nevertheless, the latter is considered to be ‘Indonesia’s proverbial melting pot’ (Wahyuni 2008) due to a steady influx of non-Javanese students from across Indonesia. The students are attracted to this city because of its more than 100 state and 2 From 1971 to 1999, Makassar was named after a pre-colonial fort in the city. The word ‘Ujung’ means ‘end’, and ‘Pandang’ is the term for a leaf of the Pandan tree, a pine tree. In recent times, the two names are often used interchangeably (Blechmann-Antweiler 2001: 59). 3 See Röttger-Rössler (1989). 4 See Pelras (1996). 5 A valuable overview of the four prevailing ethnic groups in South Sulawesi is provided by Antweiler (2000: 148-161). 6 The status of special region goes along with the perpetual Governorship of the Province of the Special Territory of Yogyakarta held by the sultans of Yogyakarta. Traced back to the Indonesian struggle for independence, when the then sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengku Buwono IX (1912-1988), supported the republican leaders and the city became the interim capital from 1946 until 1949, the hereditary position of governor was granted as a reward. However, the question of whether the position of governor should continue to be inherited or rather elected has recently again become subject to public debate. Conversely, the city of Makassar is famous for having been a base for the so-called Darul Islam movement, which rebelled against the central government in Jakarta from 1950 until the death of its leader Kahar Muzakkar in 1965 and was in favour of the establishment of an Islamic state (Dahles 2001: 57; Daniels 2009: 19-20; Drakeley 2005: 78; Pelras 1996: 282-286; Schuhmann 2002: 838; Sunaryo 2011). 7 According to the 2000 census of BPS Statistics Indonesia (Pemerintah Kota Yogyakarta 2002).

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private universities8, making Yogyakarta recognized nationwide as an educational centre (Daniels 2009: 16; Pemerintah Kota Yogyakarta 2002). Makassar and Yogyakarta share as characteristics that they are urban sites and have a Muslim majority population. Comparable to the diversity of Islam in Indonesia9, the respective ummat (the Muslim community) of these two cities is by no means of monolithic nature but particularly multi-faceted and goes beyond the classical distinction of Muslims into santri, abangan and priyayi,10 as proposed by Clifford Geertz (1960) for Java11. Apart from cultural and traditionalist Muslims, there are Modernists, Neo-modernists (or Pluralists) and Islamists (Dinkelaker 2008; Magnis-Suseno 2007).12 A specific feature of Yogyakarta and the DIY is that it is a stronghold of the so-called Islam Pribumi13 and the place where the two main organizations of Indonesian Muslims – Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)14 and Muhammadiyah15 – were founded. Jaringan Islam Liberal (JIL)16 is a forum related to the rather loose group of mostly intellectual Neo-Modernists all over Indonesia (Anan 2009: 1; Magnis-Suseno 2007: 221, 223-224). In 2002, a ‘Committee for the Preparation of Enforced Islamic Sharia’ (Komitee Persiapan Penegakan Syariat Islam; KPPSI) was established in 8 Best known are Gadjah Mada University (UGM), the first state university, and the State Islamic University Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta (UIN Sunan Kalijaga), in addition to the private Islamic University of Muhammadiyah and the private Islamic University of Indonesia (UII). 9 Indonesia is the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Approximately 86.1 per cent of the Indonesian population are adherents of Islam. They are primarily Sunni Muslims (who at 90 per cent are in the majority across the globe, while 10 per cent are Shiites) of the Shafiite legal school and regarded as moderate (Schreiner 2001: 159; Wanandi 2002: 104-105; Thoraval 2005: 338). 10 Santri are orthodox Javanese Muslims who let their whole way of life be strictly guided by the main sources of Islam, the Quran and the Sunnah, while abangan are concurrently bound to Hindu-Buddhist and Javanese beliefs and traditions. The priyayi (Javanese bureaucrats), like the abangan, unite pre-Islamic and Islamic elements but place emphasis on mysticism instead of animism (Geertz 1960: 5-7). 11 See also the controversy between Daniels (2009) and Woodward (2011a). 12 The several groups are, to varying degrees, in favour of and against the integration of local traditions into Muslim faith and practice and differ in the ways they interpret the verses of the Quran (literal or contextual interpretation). 13 Islam Pribumi is a term used by young intellectuals of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) to promote support for local Islam (Slama 2008: 6-8). 14 NU, representing the traditionalists, was founded in 1926, and nowadays around 30 to 40 million Indonesian Muslims are affiliated to it (Magnis-Suseno 2007: 221). 15 Muhammadiyah, representing the modernists, was founded in 1912 and has approximately 30 million members (Magnis-Suseno 2007: 221). 16 Jaringan Islam Liberal (Liberal Islam Network) was founded in 2001 by Ulil Abshar Abdalla and propagates democratization, pluralism, liberalism and secularism (Anan 2009: 1).


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Makassar. This is seen as evidence of the increased Islamization of South Sulawesi because various shariah-related bylaws (perda syariat)17 were promulgated in close succession in the district of Bulukumba, among others. Additionally, the city hosts not only the State Islamic University Alauddin but also numerous non-Islamic universities18 and various private Islamic universities19 (Asi 2007: 2-3, 8-9; Bush 2008: 185-186; Zamjani 2008). Even though Yogyakarta and Makassar cannot be defined as global or mega cities20, as urban sites they are nonetheless affected by today’s global conditions. In the 1980s, Makassar was gripped by the globalization process, with luxury hotels being built. This process was accelerated in the 1990s and 2000s with the rapid improvement of communication technology. International media became widely accessible and shopping malls opened that preferentially sell American, European and Australian products over domestic products. As a result, the townspeople are facing ‘global cultural flows’ (Appadurai 2000: 33; Antweiler 2006: 52/53). A similar situation occurred in Yogyakarta, where shopping malls have popped up one by one in the latter years and have led to an increasing consumption of food, fashion, films and other popular culture from the West (Lukens-Bull 2008: 221; Noviani 2008: 59). Moreover, both cities participate in the domestic and foreign (albeit to a lesser extent) tourism industry (Antweiler 2000: 204-205; Dahles 2001). While conducting anthropological fieldwork in these two research sites, I applied classical ethnographic methods (interviews, informal conversations, participant observation and the collection of written material such as newspaper and magazine articles). Muslim research participants21 comprised examples of different social strata and educational background who had (no) experience with Westerners or in Western countries and came

17 These laws, for example, prescribe an Islamic dress code, forbid alcohol, make Islamic alms (zakat) obligatory and demand quranic recitation skills from schoolchildren and engaged couples. They have not only been promulgated in South Sulawesi but also in West Sumatra and East Java (Dinkelaker 2008: 28). 18 Among the non-Islamic universities, Hasanuddin University (UNHAS) is the most prominent. 19 Private Islamic universities in Makassar include the University of Indonesian Muslims (UMI, Universitas Muslim Indonesia), the Islamic University of Makassar (UIM, Universitas Islam Makassar) and Muhammadiyah University Makassar (UNISMUH). 20 For a definition, see Slama (2011c). 21 Gender distribution was nearly balanced in the sample.

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from a broad spectrum of Islamic branches, ranging from those that defined themselves as Muslim KTP (identity-card Muslims)22 to Islamic militants.


Modernity, religion and occidentalism

To focus on Muslim Indonesians in specific local but globally interrelated contexts and to deal with the question of how imagined and experienced differences of the West and Western modernity connect to self-perception and own ideas and practices of modernity will be embedded in the conceptual framework of the concept of occidentalism, theories of modernity and several approaches to religion. What follows, therefore, is a brief introduction to the theoretical background. 2.1 Occidentalism James G. Carrier (1992, 1996) was the first who introduced the term occidentalism for imaginations of the West and conceptualised it following Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism (1978).23 As a synonym for reductionist representations of the West, occidentalism is in most cases defined as the projected image of the Western world by non-Western people (Pye 2003: 91), in contrast to being understood as ‘a Western project of self-invention’ (Bonnett 2004: 7). Occidentalism is then the essentialist construction of the West as ‘Other’ which goes along with the simultaneous creation of an essentialist image of ‘the Self’, as conceptualized by the term auto-orientalism24 (Deeg 2003: 31). What interests us here is what kind of occidentalist images of the West that relate to the issue of modernity exist among Muslim Indonesians

22 Muslim KTP are people who (almost) do not fulf il Islamic religious obligations such as praying five times a day or fasting during Ramadan but rather practice their pre-Islamic religious belief. Islam plays no major role in their life but is only written down as their religious affiliation in their identity cards because every citizen in Indonesia has to have a religion that is officially recognised by the state (Schreiner 2001: 159, 161). 23 For an overview of and critiques about Edward W. Said’s concept of orientalism – the hegemonic images of the East, the Orient, constructed by Western scholars, artists, writers and politicians of the 19th century – in his 1978 book, see Sardar (2002). 24 Max Deeg has enhanced the concepts of orientalism and occidentalism by adding the supplementary terms auto-orientalism and auto-occidentalism. These two terms describe the fact that within the process of the construction of ‘the Other’, people also create an essentialist image of ‘the Self’. If non-Westerners do so, it is referred to as auto-orientalism, while auto-occidentalism is when Westerners do so (Deeg 2003: 31).


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and what role these images play for self-identification and local forms of modernity. 2.2

Modernity and religion

The paradigm of classical modernization theory is based on the general evolutionary assumption that modernization is the result of processes of structural differentiation, urbanization, industrialization, growing communications, rationalization, secularization, individualization and the rise of capitalism (Goody 2004: 6-7) and that ‘the cultural program of modernity as it developed in the West will “naturally” be ultimately taken over in all modernizing societies’ (Eisenstadt 2003: 521). Global diversity, however, decries Western claims of monopoly on notions of modernity in a way that a range of scholars25 have introduced and examined alternative or complementary visions of it. Samuel N. Eisenstadt (2000a), for instance, speaks of multiple modernities, a concept that acknowledges the existence of a multiplicity of cultural programmes of modernity: One of the most important implications of the term “multiple modernities” is that modernity and Westernization are not identical; Western patterns of modernity are not the only “authentic” modernities, though they enjoy historical precedence and continue to be a basic reference point for others. (Eisenstadt 2000a: 2)

The concept of multiple modernities aims to refute the notion that modernization is a process of linear diffusion and progressive standardization whereby non-Western societies adopt one-for-one what Western societies have established as modern practices and institutions. It emphasizes instead that elements of Western or European modernity undergo transformation and reconstruction or deconstruction when transported to other parts of the world in an attempt to shape their own modernity (Eisenstadt 2003: 535-537, 548-550). However, as own and foreign modernities are historically and continuously interwoven and embedded in asymmetric power relations and dependencies, the idea of ‘entangled histories of uneven modernities’ has been developed additionally by Shalini Randeria (2002). Especially with regard to religion, the concept of multiple modernities is a useful analytical tool for scrutinizing the seemingly universalistic premise of modern societies being imperatively secular. As Talal Asad states, ‘a 25 See Eisenstadt (2000a), Gaonkar (2001), Randeria (2002).

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straightforward narrative of progress from the religious to the secular is no longer acceptable’ (2003: 1). It is nowadays obvious that secularization (the disappearance of religion or at least its displacement from the public to the private sphere) does not have to be the only necessary consequence of modernization. What can be observed is that secularization in Western countries (Asian countries indeed have never undergone this process) and the global revitalization of religion go hand in hand. Instead of falling victim to disenchantment, religions have gained (or regained) importance by rising as a political26 and moral force, shaping individual and societal identity (Riesebrodt 2001: 35, 48-50). Hence, the role that religions play in modern life may not be underestimated but carefully examined – one subject to investigation being, for instance, the commoditization of religion. The latter is a remarkable and recent phenomenon offering new forms of religious expression. Thus, in Indonesia, increased consumption among the Muslim middle class and a particular interest in or the growing popularity of ‘Islamic’ commodities (sharia banks, Islamic dress, websites, books and films, herbal medicine, etc.) go together (Fealy 2008; Lukens-Bull 2008; Muzakki 2008). Interestingly, pious Islamic consumption means special ‘semiotic burdens’ (Jones 2010b: 624) for women who are, more so than men, ‘required to consume religious commodities to achieve piety yet are, nonetheless, more susceptible to critique for their use of these objects’ (Jones 2010b: 627) that are seen as materialistic and hence superficial (Jones 2010b: 624-628). The struggle over religion and modernity is thus connected to gender issues. In the following, I will explore what is locally seen and practised as modern and how this relates to imaginations of and experiences with the West and Western modernity and Muslim religious identities in the chosen Indonesian research sites.


‘The Western Other’: A narrative of modernity

Talking about the West is common practice in everyday life – in academic literature the term Occident is sometimes used – and gives the overall impression that what the terms describe is a clearly defined area on the world map. However, these terms are rather ‘spatial imageries’ (Coronil 1996: 52) that pretend to correspond to a concrete and separated world region, 26 For a discussion of the relationship between the state and Islam in Asia (and in Indonesia in particular), see Hefner (2005).


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as is the case with the notion of the East and of the Orient (ibid). West, East, Occident and Orient exist in public discourse as representations that are often combined into binary sets of opposing characters (West vs. East, Occident vs. Orient) and conjure associations that go beyond a geographical organization of the globe. What Muslim Indonesian research participants in Makassar and Yogyakarta had in mind when they spoke of the West was varied in terms of which countries would be part of it and why. Similar to Lewis and Wigen’s ‘Seven Versions of the West’27 (1997 cited in Bonnett 2004: 8), the scope of those countries included as part of the West varied from the USA as ‘the American West’ to the USA and European countries (by name: Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Spain)28 as ‘the Euro-American West’ to the USA, Europe, Australia, Japan and, on occasion, Turkey and Indonesia as ‘the Euro-American-Asian West’. Apart from just looking at the cardinal points of the compass, the set of unifying criteria underlying these several classifications was based on the physical similarities (white, tall, blonde hair, sharp nose, blue eyes)29 and shared religion (adherence to Christianity) of so-called bule or londo30 and/or on totally or partially accomplished features of modernity within the respective countries.31 27 Mainly from a Western perspective, these are: ‘(1) One extreme incarnation, where the West includes only England (...). (2) The standard minimal West, essentially Britain, France, the Low Countries and Switzerland (...). (3) The historical West of medieval Christendom, circa 1250. (4) The West of the Cold War Atlantic alliance, or Europe and its ‘settler colonies’ (with Japan often included as well). (5) The greater ‘cultural’ West (...). (6) The maximum West of the eco-radical and New Age spiritual imagination. In this formulation, all areas of Christian and Islamic heritage are included. (7) The global (future?) West of modernization’ (Lewis and Wigen 1997 cited in Bonnett 2004: 10). 28 Russia or other countries in Eastern Europe were hardly mentioned or only were referred to as the former communist bloc. 29 These most visible characteristics of Westerners were almost always mentioned first by less educated people from lower social strata in order to define who belongs to the West. The admiration for Westerners’ look, however, is true of people from all walks of life. According to Sairin, being white – as a symbol of superiority – was since the post-Suharto era promoted as an ideal of beauty and has stimulated a remarkable level of consumption of whitening lotions (2007: 6). 30 Both terms are synonyms for people from Western countries. Londo derives from Belanda (‘Dutch’) and is therefore a reminder of the time that Indonesia was under Dutch colonial rule (much more for the older generations of informants than for Indonesian youth, of course) and is said to be used exclusively by Javanese people, while bule is a nationwide term. 31 Japan was assigned to the West due to the argument that its economy and technology sector was on an equal footing with those of Western countries. Turkey was considered Western due to the secularization process it has gone through, and Indonesia was Western as a result of its established democratic political system.

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Thus, one decisive property of belonging to the West was the fulfilment of modernity for the very reason that the West was doubtless considered a symbol of modernity by all research participants: ‘If you search for the modern world, go to the West, to Europe, to America’32. ‘The modern West’, as they described it, was characterized by advanced technology, economic strength and capitalism, high-quality education, rationality and discipline, secularization, human rights, the rule of law, democracy, liberalism, materialism and individuality. In addition, listing these aspects went hand in hand with judging some of them positively and others negatively and revealed that the vast majority of research participants perceived the West and its modernity ambivalently.33 In concrete terms, the aspects that received a positive assessment were: – outstanding scientific and technological know-how along with rationality and discipline (for yielding socio-economic safety); – the rule of law and human rights (for ensuring personal freedom and social peace); – individualism (understood in terms of self-sufficiency and autonomy). A negative evaluation was given to: – secularization, or rather the loss of religion and liberalism (for causing moral decay); – individualism (understood in terms of isolation, loneliness, egoism, anonymity and social disintegration); – materialism (as an improper substitute for religion).34 In this context, several research participants showed admiration for the guaranteed freedom of expression (men and women alike) and freedom of religion. Having visited Europe a few times, the head of a modernist Islamic boarding school (pesantren) said: ‘They [Westerners]35 have an opinion and are allowed to articulate what they think. I noticed this with a married 32 Interview, 2 November 2010. As interviews with research participants were conducted in Indonesian, I have translated the quotations in this chapter into English. 33 People who were totally in favour of or neglected Westerners and the West could not, or in the second case could hardly, be found in the study. Nonetheless, I would like to add that interviewees of certain conservative Islamic movements clearly distanced themselves from a ‘Western way of life’ that was only equated with moral decay, and from atheistic Westerners, who, as such, could not be differentiated from animals and were considered to be unfortunate. 34 ‘Materialism is their [Westerners’] ideology … some do not believe [in God] anymore’ (interview, 7 February 2001). 35 Square brackets enclose additional information given by Nertz.


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couple that discussed everything together’ and ‘I also experienced that people were very tolerant. At no time when I was fasting [during Ramadan] were there any problems. On campus, for instance, they [Western students] apologized when eating their lunch.’36 On the negative side, it was striking to see that most research participants devalued liberalism when it was related to the practice and propagation of ‘free sex’,37 the consumption of alcohol and drugs, and indecent female clothing. Employed as an operational manager of a medium-sized hotel, one research participant stated: Their doctrine is the idea of freedom. They are free, I mean … they have a free live. Yes, they live unhampered lives, especially when they come in couples, man and woman. Excuse me, not all are like that, they usually say: free life, free sex, drinking alcohol … they [Westerners] call it freedom, liberty … free means they can do whatever they want. This is true in their countries. But if they come to Indonesia, they will have to respect our culture.’38

However, images, knowledge and evaluations of ‘the modern West’ held by Muslim research participants in Makassar and Yogyakarta were accompanied by expressing ideas of ‘the Self’ which are further examined in the following section.


‘Muslim Indonesian Self’: Constructions and reflections

Along with critical reflections on Western modernity displayed above, research participants often discussed how modernity and/or modernization in Indonesia should and does look like. The overall estimation given by them was that the project of ‘Indonesian modernity’ had not yet been brought to completion, painting an unfavourable picture of ‘the Self’ and Indonesian government and society. Contrasting current cultural, social and political circumstances in Indonesia with Western conditions, most research participants were particularly dissatisfied with a deficient educational system, an absence of legitimate governance and democracy (undermined by corruption) and a lack of respect for human rights (as evidenced by 36 Interview, 2 November 2010. 37 Ranging from promiscuity to all relationships outside marriage. 38 Interview, 2 January 2011.

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violent attacks of militant Islamists on Ahmadiyah39 members, for instance). While they engaged in such open self-criticism, it was also frequently seen in the context of the interlocutor’s religious identity. In the case of one Muslim lecturer who taught at both an Islamic and a Christian university and saw himself as an ‘outstanding liberal’ due to his familiar crossing of religious boundaries: As a Muslim I sometimes had the impression that Islamic values40 can be found over there [in the West] but not here [in Indonesia]. Although in the West they do not say they are Muslims, I recognised that they put Islamic values to use. On the contrary, in Islamic countries, including here [Indonesia], all people say: ‘I am Muslim’, but I realised that they are not because they do not promote Islamic values. 41

Another dimension of negative self-perception and descriptions occurred with regard to phenomena of Western modernity deemed undesirable but nevertheless having found their way into Indonesian society due to global (or rather Western) influence. Certain research participants were especially worried about the fact that Indonesian young people were imitating a ‘Western liberal lifestyle’, while middle and upper-class Muslims were falling prey to consumerism or, more precisely, ‘Western materialism’. With respect to her peers, one employee of a non-governmental organization in Yogyakarta pointed out the increasingly pro-Western attitudes of young Indonesian women in terms of fashion: When you look at fashion, for example, people in Indonesia know quite quickly about fashion in Paris. When hot pants became the latest trend five years ago, you could not see women wearing them in public

39 The Ahmadiyah is an Islamic religious movement founded in 1889 in what is now Pakistan by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908). His followers, the Ahmadis, invoke the same canonical textual Islamic sources as other Sunni Muslims, namely the Quran and Sunnah. However, seeing Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a prophet contradicts the doctrine of the finality of prophethood with Muhammad and led to the Ahmadiyah being banned in Pakistan and excluded from the entire Islamic community by the Muslim World League (MWL). Having often faced persecution and systematic oppression, the Ahmadiyah movement has recently also been banned in particular parts of Indonesia. The Province of South Sulawesi, for instance, issued a ban of Ahmadiyah in March 2011, though the incumbent Governor of DIY, Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, refused to issue such a ban (Wijayanti & Hardiyan 2011; Pistor-Hatam 2006: 30; Tribun Timur 2011). 40 Rationality, discipline, honesty, justice, among others. 41 Interview, 11 January 2011.


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in Yogya [Yogyakarta], but now [you can]. That means with Western influence you now see a lot [of hot pants on the streets]. 42

Remembering his years working as waiter, the operational hotel manager in Makassar told: I observed that when Westerners come, they usually like beer. Once I worked as a waiter in a café … they ordered a lot of beer. Those who come to this café are not only Western tourists, our people do so as well and are probably influenced by them. Shameless social intercourse has already been adopted from the West. It is extraordinary how shameless social intercourse has already entered Indonesian society. 43

Other research participants, by contrast, portrayed a ‘spiritual East’ (in opposition to a ‘materialistic West’) and so emphasized the advantage of Eastern societies over Western societies because of the perceived mental and spiritual strength of Indonesians, considered to be a crucial ingredient of human well-being: Society here [in Indonesia], societies in the East in general, although their basic material needs have to be met, have a strong spiritual orientation in life, spirituality is strong … Looking at the West, how to put it? They are disorientated in their lives because they are already rich in terms of material needs. It is beyond question that this leads to discomfort and uneasiness because there is a spiritual dimension, a spiritual need that they [Westerners] ignore. Yes, it is unfulfilled. Thus, that is not good, there is no balance. 44

Thus, the assessment of ‘the Western Other’ in terms of both the strengths and weaknesses of its modernity accompanied mystified and demystified constructions of ‘the Self’, as well as a self-reflective awareness of what sorts of impact Western elements of modernity had on Indonesian society.

42 Interview, 18 September 2010. 43 Interview, 2 January 2011. 44 Interview, 11 January 2011.

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Filtering is the key

Being clear about the pros and cons of Western modernity and conscious about Western inflows into Indonesian society, several research participants engaged in the so-called process of ‘filtering’ in order to contain the negative impacts associated with the West (then perceived as a potential threat). Expressing the need to defend and maintain what was seen as constituting their own identity – local culture, traditions, religious views and rules as well as commonly shared moral and social values – they explained: ‘We do not have to adopt things that are not appropriate to our culture, right? There is a filter, whatever fits will be adopted [everything else will not].’45 The application of this ‘filter’ subsequently had led to the cultural demarcation of inappropriate Western practices. Simultaneously, however, some of the research participants were quite pessimistic as to whether the wider Indonesian society would be aware of the necessity to ‘filter’. In a conversation with three university students in Yogyakarta46 who had formerly attended a traditionalist pesantren together (and therefore turned out to be well-trained in the Quran and hadith, Islamic jurisprudence ( fiqh), Islamic theology (kalam) and the Arabic language), one of them remarked: We, young people, have a bad filter; our screening is soft. Thus, we are happy to follow their [Westerners’] way of life, like plagiarism. Moreover, as young people we are still unstable. Thus, what enters is probably only screened superficially and has an impact because Indonesian youth prefers to follow foreign [Western] culture. 47

Interestingly, the process of ‘filtering’ was as valid for global or foreign influences from the West as for inflows from the ‘Islamic East’48, but that is another matter. 49

45 Interview, 18 February 2011. 46 The conversation was conducted together with Vissia Ita Yulianto. 47 Interview, 16 August 2010. 48 The ‘Islamic East’ or ‘Arab world’ was equated with countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Morocco. 49 ‘As we are open, we learn more about Islamic nations or about Western nations ... neither is a problem, so long as we absorb positive things and throw away the bad things …’ (interview, 18 September 2010).



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‘Muslim Modernities’

Despite tendencies of alienation and distantiation inherent in the process of ‘filtering’, efforts were also made to appropriately realize positive aspects of Western modernity within contemporary Indonesian society. In this context, the key issue dealt with was how to define the relation between, or rather how to implement the combination of, modernity and religion and more precisely modernity and Islam in various realms of everyday life, among them education and consumption. In Muslim academic circles, for instance, there was no doubt about the need to learn from the West in terms of scholarship and science. Maintaining well-established relationships and student exchanges with universities in Malaysia and the Middle East, Islamic universities in Makassar and Yogyakarta thus also endeavoured to establish and/or maintain scientific collaborations with Western universities,50 including also the new trend of studying Islamic sciences at educational institutions in Western countries.51 Universities over there have recently gained more appeal for their strong methodological approach to the Quran: The right methods to do research, the West has an advantage in this case. Students of Islamic sciences are sent over there. In the Middle East they do not know enough about the right methodology. How to read the holy texts like the Quran, you have to use the right methods; Westerners know how to do it.52

Yet, it was also widely stressed that Western knowledge lacks the moral framework to ensure its ethically responsible application – a task to be performed by Islam. Subsequently, some Muslim intellectuals and students thought of an explicit model of how to create and guarantee a ‘synergy of religion and sciences’53 inspired by the idea of the Islamization of Knowledge54 and its inherent efforts to alter theories of Western sciences colliding with basic Islamic knowledge. Others, by contrast, were in favour of the 50 McGill University (Canada), Arizona State University (USA), University of Hamburg, among others. 51 See also the discussion on where to study Islam in the Jakarta Post (Assyaukanie 2010; Burhani 2010). 52 Interview, 4 January 2011. 53 Interview, 25 January 2011. 54 For an overview of prominent representatives and their attempts to synthesize Islamic ethics and science, see Zaidi (2006).

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unchanged introduction of Western sciences but combining them with respect for Islamic norms55: Knowledge cannot be changed, whether it is a communist, an atheist, a religious person, someone from the West or someone from the East who discovers it. It is not necessary to Islamize knowledge. We can adopt [Western] knowledge immediately. What is global is [Western] knowledge and methodology, these are very beneficial.56

In the case of a modernist pesantren in Makassar (whose head has already been given voice to above), providing education at the primary and secondary school level meant the following: Biology, chemistry and physics together with religion, that is modern and is taught here. After this school you can become doctor, engineer, you can become everything: that is modern and we give priority to the Quran. [The problem to solve is:] How can we build up leaders who are complete? The solution is to build up people who – if they [for instance] become doctors – have a scientific education but hopefully are deeply entrenched in religion.57

Directly related to the benefits and detriments of Western sciences, the final aim was often to modernize by ‘becoming more Western than the West’58, as one member of the Muhammadiyah Students’ Association (Ikatan Mahasiswa Muhammadiyah, IMM) in Yogyakarta emphasized. Acquiring secular Western sciences and combining them with respect for Islamic norms would advance the East, in particular Indonesia, to a leading position. In terms of popular culture, the landscape of consumption in Indonesia offers a great variety with products from multiple origins – ‘Asian’, ‘Western’, ‘Islamic’ (Gerke 2000; Heryanto 2008). This fact was also true for 55 The Islamic state universities in Indonesia, for instance, combine studies in science with teachings on Islamic moral values in order to ensure a proper use of the former – something that, as mentioned, research participants did not see guaranteed in the West. Thus cloning, for example, was considered unethical. At the individual level, lecturers spoken to differed in their view and practice as to whether subject matters like the Big Bang theory conflict with Islam and therefore should not be taught. 56 Interview, 4 January 2011. 57 Interview, 2 November 2010. 58 Interview, 25 March 2011.


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the two research sites Makassar and Yogyakarta and gave a high level of consumer choice to research participants. Examining the latter’s consumer behaviour, what could be observed was that, despite the critical stance generally expressed towards ‘Western consumerism’, consuming Western commodities was very popular and common for those who could afford it, namely the middle- and upper-class research participants. For several of them, shopping malls had a strong appeal because of the Western fashion labels (e.g. Mango, Hugo Boss, Aigner)59, fast-food chains (e.g. McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken), coffeehouse and supermarket chains (Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Carrefour) which symbolized a modern lifestyle: ‘it is modern, it is its modernity; eating in the Western Kentucky means being modern.’60 However, Asian food and beverages chains (e.g. Singaporean bakery chain BreadTalk, Singaporean coffeehouse chain J.CO Donuts and Coffee) also met with great popularity for the same reason as the Western ones, resembling the latter in appearance and menu. Moreover, malls in Makassar and Yogyakarta also provide Islamic commodities (Islamic dress, music, books and magazines). Admittedly, these offers are much less prevalent and mostly presented at mobile stalls located in the foyer or the corridors of the shopping malls. Nevertheless, a peak of sales offers of Islamic commodities can be observed every Ramadan, filling bookstores with a surplus of Islamic literature, positioning a myriad of prayer matts (tikar sembahyang), female praying veils (mukena) and copies of the Quran in the midst of Carrefour supermarkets’ sales floors or even in the centre of the malls’ entrance halls. This was accompanied by accusations of moneymaking by several research participants that even extended to relatively large Muslim department stores existing in Yogyakarta (e.g. Karita) and (rather small) Muslim boutiques and special hair and beauty salons for Muslim women (Salon Muslimah). These stores and salons that are rapidly increasing in number were criticized for using the label ‘Islam’ in order to earn a profit,61 both in Yogyakarta and Makassar. A young female student and member of Fatayat62 said:

59 With respect to Western fashion labels, however, visiting shopping malls was actually mostly restricted to window shopping. The malls in Makassar (e.g. Ratu Indah Mall, Panakukkang Mall, Transstudio Mall) are very crowded from Fridays until Sundays, just like the malls in Yogyakarta (e.g. Malioboro Mall, Galleria Mall and Plaza Ambarrukmo). 60 Interview, 2 November 2010. 61 See also Prasetyo (2007). 62 Fatayat is the women’s organization of Nahdlatul Ulama.

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Muslim Boutiques and Salon Muslimah are already booming. I sometimes can’t help laughing: It’s OK to have a salon for women only, it’s more comfortable to have one salon for women and one for men, but what is the difference of a salon for Muslim women?63

On the contrary, other female research participants appreciated products explicitly marked as ‘Islamic’ because this would not leave a doubt about whether make-up, tops, skirts, trousers, jewelleries, veils and other accessories offered for sale in Karita, for instance, would be halal64 and hence meet Islamic purity requirements. This was a need on the part of some female research participants who were well aware of being much more subject to public judgement than men, which was reflected in the fact that Muslim shops provide far more products for young Muslim women than for Muslim men. One female student I accompanied to Karita expressed her feeling of ‘being obliged to buy everything presented here because it seems to be part of being Muslim today’.65 The above-mentioned staff member of a Yogyakartan NGO was pleased with the proliferation of Islamic commodities, as she took it as a sign of the growing importance and increasing modernity of Islam: Islam is flourishing. There is more and more Islamic fashion, veils are no longer something old-fashioned which is not trendy. Now there are veils that let Muslim women look as fashionable as those women not wearing a veil. They can also be very modern looking with Islamic salons and big stores opening. Now being veiled is beautiful.66

Her impression is reflected in the maxim of the Muslim department store Karita whose intention is to offer Muslim fashion that ‘promotes a particular form of feminism for young Muslim women that is elegant, dynamic, selfconfident and up-to-date’67. Interestingly, on the whole, consuming Western and Islamic goods was not mutually exclusive, leading in individual cases to seemingly paradox combinations of fashion such as a veil ( jilbab) together with hot pants or skin-tight jeans ( jeans ketat). 63 64 65 66 67

Interview, 7 April 2011. Halal means ‘pure, allowed’ in opposition to haram (impure, forbidden). Conversation, 12 April 2011. Interview, 18 September 2010. See http://www.karita-indonesia.com/ (accessed on 6 June 2013).


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7 Conclusion How to understand modernity in Indonesia? Referring to empirical data gathered by means of anthropological fieldwork in the cities of Makassar and Yogyakarta, this chapter explored the connections of Indonesian research participants’ imaginations, knowledge of and experiences with the West and Western modernity to self-images and own concepts and performances of modernity against the background of their religious identification as Muslims. The most broadly shared notions and practices among the research participants illustrate that the West is today still perceived as a symbol of modernity. Features and conditions of modernity ascribed to the West reproduced those proposed by classical modernization theory and remained a basic reference point when considering and driving modernization in Indonesia. In the manner of essentialist binary thinking, research participants constructed the West as ‘modern Other’ (occidentalism), leading simultaneously to the construction of self-images and self-evaluations of a ‘not yet modern Muslim Indonesia’ (auto-orientalism). Among the aspects of Western modernity named by the participants, some were judged positively and others negatively. The West was thus a symbol of modernity but by no means an undisputed model of modernity for local efforts to live a modern life and to create a modern society. Remarkably, the production of difference or othering and the related process of ‘filtering’ what is threatening to befall or what already exists as ‘inward Other’ (e.g. ‘free sex’) within Indonesian society was not merely for the reason of demarcation and protecting local specificities from negative foreign influences. Rather, the distinction between ‘Western Other’ and ‘Muslim Indonesian Self’ brought forth a careful identification of advantages and disadvantages of Western modernity in order to engage in processes of integration and modification and to profit from the former. Creating and performing modernity in Makassar and Yogyakarta thus was and still is an active process that has less to do with blindly copying the West and much to do with shaping various own forms or multiple modernities. In contrast to the secularization thesis, Islam thereby clearly turned out to remain important as a frame of reference providing the basic moral rules of behaviour for Muslim Indonesians. To prevent themselves from suffering from Western modernity’s illnesses, such as an unethical implementation of sciences, Muslim modernities were considered to be necessarily rooted in religion. However, in the realm of consumption, the commoditization of Islam was seen ambiguously. Even though it provided new forms of expressing one’s religious identity and was welcomed as modern and ensuring diligent

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consumption, some research participants were also suspicious of the boom in ‘Islamic’ commodities. They felt it fostered soulless materialistic thinking and the trivialization of religion, similar to the way in which ‘Western’ goods infiltrated the Indonesian market and replaced religion. Nevertheless, the research participants chose to give up neither the consumption of the former nor the consumption of the latter.

Cosmological Battles Understanding Susceptibility and Resistance to Transnational Islamic Revivalism in Java Thomas Reuter 1

A wave of religious and cultural revivalist movements has swept through Indonesia since the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998. A desire to revive moral values perceived to be under threat by the advent of a late modern consumer society can now be observed across the full spectrum of the archipelago’s many different religious, ethnic and regional identities, and not just among Muslims. In part, this revival reflects a new freedom of expression and political organization that arose in the subsequent Reformasi period and has allowed Indonesians to voice revivalist sentiments and associated political aspirations openly for the first time in three decades. However, the current proliferation of religious revivalist movements is not simply an Indonesian or even a Southeast Asian phenomenon, but has been a dominant feature of global politics and numerous conflicts throughout the post-Cold War period. This phenomenon makes a mockery of the so-called secularization theory of religion, which foretold that religion would vanish from the public sphere under the impact of modernization. Late modern societies, however, are now displaying a resurgence of religion and a return of religion to the public sphere. Does this mean that the magic of modernity has failed to captivate them? Or is this the magic that makes life under conditions of late modernity liveable? My aim in this chapter is thus to consider what makes ethnic or religious revivalism so attractive to late modern Indonesians, to others in the wider Southeast Asian region, and throughout the world, and what may be the defining features of the late modern way of life and the new world order that it seeks to address. The search for an explanation for this phenomenon must necessarily begin with an analysis of the present moment in Indonesian national history and politics to answer to the specificities of this particular empirical study, given that there is more than one way of being modern or late modern. However, because the wider phenomenon of religious revival 1 Dr Thomas Reuter is a future fellow and professor at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne. His research is supported by the Australian Research Council. Contact: treuter@ unimelb.edu.au


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is a global one, I will also take into consideration the broader context of contemporary geopolitics, which reflects global processes of change in this present era of late modernity. The best-known contemporary form of revivalism in Indonesia, and in the world at large, is the rise of a global movement based on fundamentalist and literalist interpretations of Islam. This Islamic revival has attracted much attention from the media, academic researchers and intelligence services since the 11 September 2001 attacks in the US and, within Indonesia, since the Bali bombing of 12 October 2002. Media and academics alike have tended to ignore the many other forms of Islamic and non-Islamic revivalism in Indonesia and elsewhere. This sudden enthusiasm for the study of Islamic revival has been justified on the grounds that it is indeed the largest such movement today and that its programme has major implications for world politics. Nevertheless, this one-sidedness has prevented proper recognition of the fact that the underlying causes that drive this and numerous other forms of revivalism are global and not unique and intrinsic to Islam or any other particular religion or ethnicity. Why would Hindus in Bali, Indonesia choose to engage in revivalism (Reuter 2008) at the same time as their Muslim compatriots are reviving Islam in Java and Sumatra? Why is it that the latter share so much of their mode of thinking with Christian fundamentalists in the Bible Belt of the USA? Clearly we are not dealing with an Islamic phenomenon but with a more generalised response to the conditions of late modernity. I argue that the comparative study of revival or revitalization movements is of crucial importance for understanding revitalization in general, including its Islamic form (see also Reuter 2008, 2009). First, and on account of their similarity, a comparison between the aspirations of different revival movements provides us with a better understanding of the underlying motivations of such movements than if we were to look at the radical fringe of Islamic revival in isolation – a case that, to make matters worse, has become highly politicized in the context of the American ‘war on terror’. Secondly, other new revitalization movements often stand in opposition to the Islamic movement, in Indonesia and elsewhere in the world, sometimes creating what Tariq Ali (2002) has dubbed a ‘clash of fundamentalisms’. In this context it is important to recall that the term ‘fundamentalism’ was used to refer to Christian revivalism in the United States long before it came to refer to revivalist Islam, and that there are direct and enduring links

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between the Muslim terrorist organizations and the leading proponent of the ‘war on terror’ discourse in the US.2 In order to explore revitalization in the contemporary Indonesian setting, I will therefore look at both Islamic and anti-Islamic revival movements. My focus will be on the archipelago’s most populous and politically central island of Java, where I have been conducting continuous and extensive field research for the last twelve years. The two major forms of revitalization in Java are based, respectively, on Islamic puritanism and cultural nationalism. Indeed, Javanese society has been torn by a bitter struggle between the two ideological camps over which should provide the new cosmology that, as all sides agree, is desperately needed in order to lead the nation toward a better future and to fulfil the cultural and economic aspirations of its citizens within a changing geopolitical context. There is ample evidence of the depth and intensity of this struggle. Any researcher with long-term experience of Indonesia will have noticed how the majority of Muslims in Java, whose religious orientation has long been based on a variable degree of accommodation between Islam and traditional Javanese culture and religion (Islam Jawa or kejawin), are now participating in a national revival of Islamic piety. Consequently, many Javanese have shifted to a less syncretistic and more puritanical form of Islam. Broad popular support for this Islamic movement has led to a significant shift in social mores and public behaviour. Examples include increased piety or observance of religious precepts such as the five daily prayers and fasting, the increased use of Islamic dress, the mushrooming of new mosques, the provision of prayer rooms (mushollahs) in public buildings and work places, Islamic hospitals, universities, schools and child-care centres, the rising popularity of studying Islamic texts in the Arabic original in local study groups, and the enormous demand for and supply of revivalist Islamic literature in local bookstores and on the internet. A host of new Islamic political parties have also been founded in Indonesia since political liberalization began in 1998. Their leaders promote various degrees of change along a graded scale of options on the Islamic revivalist agenda. Some call for the application of Islamic principles in managing the affairs of the state, and there are also proposals for national legislation that could seriously intervene with people’s private lives, such as the recent bill on pornography (Allen 2007). Action has also been taken to Islamize the 2 The creation and arming of Al Qaeda by the CIA to fight the Russian invasion of Afghanistan is an early example, and this strange alliance continues until today, with Western governments supplying arms to allied jihadist groups to fight the Assad government in Syria.


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economy by creating an alternative Islamic banking system in accordance with Islamic law (syariah) (Maurer 2002), and there has been much public pressure on successive governments to Islamize foreign policy by lending unquestioning support to the causes of fellow Muslim countries. In the light of these developments, it would be foolish to deny or belittle the popularity and impact of political Islam and renewed Islamic piety in Indonesia. At the same time, this is clearly not the whole story. Many Indonesians – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – have rejected the more radical proposals for Islamization or have their own, very different ideas about how Indonesia should move forward. Many choose to resist Islamic puritanism by not participating in more elaborate and public displays of Muslim piety. Others do participate but draw a sharp line between their enthusiasm for religion and the agenda of Islamic politics. This kind of nuanced resistance to political Islam is often not visible in the media, but it is quite strong and has broad-based support. The best evidence for this scepticism toward Islamic politics is the poor performance of Muslim parties in parliamentary elections until now, and the overwhelming support voters have given instead to political parties that promote a pluralist model of state and society, usually based on a non-secular, nativistic form of cultural nationalism which I shall describe later. The current battle over the soul of the nation is ultimately a battle between two cosmologies, both of which have revivalist and utopian features. Both strive to develop a model for a new self-understanding and a better future for Indonesia within a context of rapid geopolitical change. The option promoted by one faction is to revive the spirit of an indigenous Javanese and ultimately pan-Indonesian culture and religion and associated ideals of divine kingship, to be realised within an official political framework of pluralist (rather than secular) democracy and nationalism. Their hope is that native culture and ethics will help to build a culturally unique form of modernity for Indonesia, and deliver social justice and a sense of selfdetermination for its citizens. The second cosmological option is to fight what is widely perceived as ‘foreign imperialism’ and the associated global culture of capitalist materialism and hedonism, not by becoming more authentically Indonesian but by stressing Islamic identities and joining a global spiritual, cultural and political struggle ( jihad) based on puritanical Islamic values and Muslim solidarity. The outcome of this struggle is not likely to be determined solely from within the internal historical dynamics of Indonesia’s changing identity as a nation. The tug of war between supporters of the two factions is informed and greatly influenced by the persistence of global structural injustices, by key events in international politics and by key ideas within global po-

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litical discourses. I will therefore begin by examining the self-perceptions Indonesians have developed in the post-colonial period, especially over the last decade, through their historical experience of significant geopolitical events, from the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center to the ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan up until today. I will analyse Javanese responses to show how such events have influenced the struggle for moral, cosmological and political supremacy between the Islamist and nationalist camps. The data on which this paper draws are from an ongoing ethnographic research project on religious movements and social change in Java. This research has taken me to many places, giving me the opportunity to talk frequently to a wide range of people, from peasants to prominent leaders of religious mass organizations and political parties, about their aspirations for the future of the nation. As it happens, I began this research on 11 September 2001. I was also in Java to observe firsthand how different groups reacted to the US-led attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as to terrorist attacks abroad and at home. Through countless interviews and observation of the local media I was able to gain a good picture of how these events – both the terror actions of Muslim extremists and the American ‘War on Terror’ – influenced the way Indonesians rated the usefulness of revivalist Islam as an alternative cosmology, relative to the more established cosmology of a nationalism based on Javanese culture. I will then consider how both of these camps are attempts to revive earlier social forms in order to domesticate modernity and make it more liveable.

Indonesian identity in the wake of S11 and America’s ‘War on Terror’ The very first response among ordinary Indonesians to the 11 September 2001 attacks was one of horror and sympathy for the victims. Islamic hardliners, however, soon were celebrating “S11”, the first significant breach in the security of the US mainland since 1812, as a major victory revealing the vulnerability of American hegemony. A sense of Schadenfreude began to spread, fuelled by intense anti-imperialist sentiments that have a long historical pedigree in Indonesia. Expressions of sympathy became perfunctory and were sidelined by lengthy, detailed analyses of what the American empire had done over many decades to deserve being ‘struck in its vital organs by almighty Allah’, as Bin Laden put it (Ali 2002: 2). It became fashionable among sympathizers for this point of view to wear Osama T-shirts with slogans such as ‘He’s My Brother’ next to his image. While Bin Laden was thus widely cast as a hero


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for challenging US military hegemony, few of the people wearing Osama T-shirts could actually tell me what kind of ideas he stood for at that time. As the United States began to retaliate by launching attacks on the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, which was accused of giving shelter to Bin Laden, there was an even more broad-based outburst of anti-Americanism fuelled by a sense of solidarity with the Afghan people. What kind of action this Muslim solidarity called for was a matter of debate, however. Some organizations openly roamed the streets enlisting volunteers to join an international Muslim force to be dispatched to Afghanistan. As far as I have been able to ascertain, while some funds were gathered and dispatched ‘for the struggle in Afghanistan,’ few of these volunteers ever left the country. Interviews showed that only a small minority of Indonesians had any proper understanding of, and thus ‘informed sympathy’ for, the Islamist programmes of the Taliban. Another small minority was better informed and rejected the ideologies of the Taliban regime. In the public media, however, the debate on US intervention in Afghanistan was characterized by angry opposition to ‘US aggression’. Possible reservations about Taliban-style Islam were brushed aside. Javanese newspapers focused prominently and uncritically on the domestic activities of the Islamic right, who conducted protests in all major Javanese cities. The minority view of Islamic hardliners who knowingly endorsed radical interpretations of Islam thus gained currency by riding on a tide of anti-American and anti-imperialist popular sentiment. Few moderate Muslims, Hindus or Christians in Java dared to speak out against the views of radical revivalist groups at that time. It was simply too difficult and risky to try and separate Islamist rhetoric from anti-Americanism, and much easier simply to join the chorus of condemnation – for one’s own reasons. Even when militant Islamic groups such as the Front of Islamic Defenders (or FPI; Laksamana 2001) and the Laskar Jihad (Fealy 2001) began to issue threats of so-called ‘sweepings’ against foreign nationals when I was in Java in early October 2001, there was still a conspicuous lack of objections from moderates. The government of then President Megawati Sukarnoputri was silenced or at least constrained by the powerful surge of public support for radical Islamic voices, who were busy putting out the message that American imperialism called for a unified response from all Muslims around the world and for each Muslim to make a contribution, either on the battlefields of war or on the moral battlefield of culture. In order to explain the inactivity of the government and of the nationalist faction overall with regard to Muslim militant groups at this time, I will now examine more closely the internal dynamics of Indonesia’s recent political history.

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The struggle for Indonesia’s soul: A brief history of a cosmological battle Following the collapse of Suharto’s military dictatorship in 1998, Indonesia was rocked by a wave of religion-flavoured terrorist actions and regional conflicts. In 2000 alone, some 250 bombs or fire attacks on houses of worship were reported in the media, not to mention murders of individuals motivated by religious sentiments or acts of mere verbal intimidation towards religious minority groups, including Christians, Hindus and Chinese Buddhists (see State Department Report on Religious Freedom, 2001). While the New Order regime had managed to keep a lid on such interreligious violence, the brutal and systematic persecution of any political opposition by the same regime was probably responsible for radicalizing Islamic and other ethno-religious constituencies in the first place. Under Suharto’s iron rule, religious and cultural identities provided the political opposition in Indonesia with some of the best cover available. Religious affiliation provided a safe zone within which to build up organized resistance without attracting full-scale persecution. Recognizing both the difficulty of questioning the moral authority of religion and the political threat that religious groups could pose if ignored, Suharto started a campaign in the 1990s to woo Islamic groups and to provide them with financial and operational support (Hefner 2000), hoping thus to appropriate or at least appease Islamic revivalism. In addition, the army supported militant groups like Laskhar Jihad to stir up trouble in areas with inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions. This served to discredit the moderate majority of the Islamic revival movement and also helped maintain a state of insecurity in order to justify the continuation of an authoritarian, military-backed regime. In the end, such attempts to appropriate, manipulate or discredit Islamic movements only led to their strengthening and at least partial radicalization. In answering the question posed by Bubandt (2002) as to why religious affiliation – along with ethnic and other forms of particularism – could become so integral to the rhetoric of political conflict in post-Suharto Indonesia, I would suggest that there was no other political movement ready to fill the power vacuum fast enough when Suharto stepped down, with the possible exception of Megawati’s centre-left nationalist party, PDI-P. Megawati Sukarnoputri was able to draw on the enduring popularity of her father, Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno, and could also lay claim to some moral authority for having opposed and suffered persecution under Suharto. The subsequent electoral success of her party supports this conclusion.


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However, Indonesia’s difficulties in dealing with religiously inspired terrorism cannot be explained by reference to a domestic history of political oppression alone. The revitalization of religious values also reflects the country’s experience of cultural and economic globalization and foreign domination. The widespread accessibility of electronic media has allowed ordinary Indonesians to gain a much better and more self-conscious appreciation of their own position within the broader arena of world affairs for the first time in history. What Indonesians have discovered upon entering the late-modern information age is that their nation has been devastated, and continues to be devastated, by a world system based on Western cultural, economic and political hegemony. They also have come to know about an international Islamic movement which presents itself as a legitimate attempt to fight this same imperialism elsewhere, notably by opposing British and US interventions in the countries of the Islamic world, which also happen to be major oil producers. As for the US-led ‘war on terror’, many Indonesians believe this to be a global imperialist conspiracy to perpetuate Western domination of the Islamic world and that Indonesia, like it or not, is being targeted because it too is classified as an Islamic country and as a third-world target for lucrative business ventures. My Javanese informants, on both sides of the Indonesian political divide I have described above, are convinced, for example, that the CIA interfered in Indonesia by helping to stage the ‘communist’ coup attempt of 1965 that provided the pro-American General Suharto with the excuse to remove the left-wing nationalist President Sukarno from power (Tempo 2001). The Indonesian military is said to have been used by the US to stop the country from falling into the hands of international communism, which was allegedly spreading in Southeast Asia during the Cold War. That time it was ‘mission accomplished’ at the expense of up to a million Indonesian lives. Forty-six years later, and with Sukarno’s daughter as its current president, there was much speculation that the US once again had its eyes on Indonesia. This was more than just paranoia among Islamic groups. Some radically anti-Islamic nationalist groups with whom I was in contact did indeed flirt with the idea of enlisting foreign military aid to unleash a domestic ‘war on (Islamic) terrorism’, while the left wing of the nationalist movement firmly opposed this kind of intervention, fearing it would sacrifice democracy and herald a return to military dictatorship. Members of many Islamic groups, however, were convinced that US intervention would continue under any kind of nationalist government. Many of them also felt that the repression they and others had suffered under Suharto in the 1970s and 1980s was due

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to US influence, and there was much resentment at the crony capitalism that Suharto had facilitated at the behest of his foreign supporters. Given repeated finger-pointing in Indonesia’s direction after S11 by US allies, such as Li Kwan Yu’s description of the country as a ‘terrorists’ haven’, Indonesian Muslims feared that the next intervention was likely to be directed at them. Rumours of US intervention began to escalate when Laskar Jihad leader Ja’far Umar Thalib was arrested on 4 May 2002 for inciting conflict between Muslims and Christians in Sulawesi, just two days before US Ambassador Ralph Boyce was due to visit this strife-torn region and while US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was busy at home trying to convince Congress that ties with and financial aid for the Indonesian military should be resumed as soon as possible, regardless of the military’s participation in the East Timor massacre two years earlier (see ICG 2002). These rumours were perhaps not so far-fetched as we might think. Indeed, a US State Department strategy statement concerning the ‘war on terror’ released briefly on its website, soon after S11, proposed direct military intervention in places like Afghanistan or Iraq and ‘more indirect measures in Indonesia and countries with similar problems’ (State Department 2002). This may not constitute proof of the sinister nature of US intentions towards Indonesia, but many ordinary Indonesians find it safe enough to assume that there is a general and longestablished pattern of imperialism, intervention and US collusion with the military. Regardless of whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, right- or left-wing, modernists or traditionalists, fundamentalists or moderates, my informants all tend to share fundamentally similar negative perceptions of the US, though with a wide range of views, from reasonable suspicion to wild conspiracy theories, from measured criticism to mindless condemnation. The issues Indonesians consider in forming such views are not confined to politics as such, let alone religion. Many view with deep suspicion their economic dependence on the IMF, World Bank and the so-called Paris Club of creditor nations (Lane 2002), fearing their country may be travelling along the same IMF-dictated pathway as the Argentineans, whose economy, incidentally, reached meltdown on 5 September 2001. Many people in Reformasi Indonesia assumed that Suharto had in fact sold out to the Americans, procuring massive loans on the pretext of pursuing national development, but in reality embezzling and splitting the money with his foreign cronies, thus indebting the whole nation beyond hope of redemption, now and for generations into the future. The anger and distrust that has arisen from this injustice is significant. All this helps to explain why the government’s response to Islamic radicalism was slow and cautious. The Megawati government, like the Suharto


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government before it, was most definitely a representative of the nationalist faction. This aspect of Megawati’s public image became less prominent as the memory of the oppression suffered by her and her party under the Suharto regime began to fade. By 11 September 2001, many reform-minded groups and citizens, Islamic and non-Islamic, already distrusted her. Many saw her mutating from a hero of Reformasi into another representative of the same corrupt national elite who had betrayed their own people under Suharto’s leadership and feared she might become the next American puppet. Megawati was thus in constant danger of losing moral authority by appearing to be pro-American. Her government increasingly lost control, even of its own Islamic spokespeople. For example, leaders of the government-sponsored Islamic institution Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) openly joined calls for an armed jihad against America when the US invaded Afghanistan. Despite these difficulties, the Megawati government and its successors, and the cultural-nationalism faction in Javanese society which all of these governments represent, slowly began to regain popular support for curbing Islamist terrorism, though not for stemming the broader tide of Islamization. This slow shift away from militancy was greatly aided by the reverse impact of domestic terrorism on public sentiment.

The impact of domestic terrorism and the revival of cultural nationalism The first public expressions of moderate views from within the culturalnationalist sector in response to S11 were official statements by the government, designed for consumption by an international audience of Western allies. These statements offered limited support for America’s anti-terrorism campaign. ‘Sweepings’ directed at foreign tourists and expatriates in Indonesia were also condemned by the government, but the main argument was to prevent a decline in foreign investment rather than to protect the innocent. There was as yet no concern that Islamic terrorism might be a problem for Indonesia itself, and there was little natural sympathy for the war-on-terror agenda of the US and its allies (compare Ravenhill 2002). Another example that reveals the government’s official attitude at that time is the manner in which it dealt with some wayward leaders of the statesponsored MUI who had called for a jihad. The latter were subsequently forced to explain publicly and at some length how their usage of the word jihad (Arabic ‘struggle’) had never meant to endorse terrorism but only

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a struggle by peaceful means. Still, they did not retract their statement entirely, and nobody was forced to resign. The government’s attempts to appease the US were thus half-hearted, strategic and ultimately unconvincing, so that Indonesia did indeed suffer a drop in the rupiah exchange rate and a decline in tourism and foreign investment. The government coalition itself was also internally divided, and S11 made this obvious. Hamzah Haz, Megawati’s vice-president and leader of a coalition Muslim party, the PPP (United Development Party), was busy undermining her promise of support to President Bush, even while she was still in Washington in September 2001. Also, in the forefront of the 2002 National Assembly (MPR) meeting, Hamzah Haz revived the debate on the Jakarta Charter (see also Platzdasch 2001), which represents the idea of using Islamic syariah law as the constitutional foundation for an Islamic Indonesian state (Negara Islam Indonesia, or NII). He is on record as saying that the imposition of syariah would ‘not adversely affect non-Muslims in Indonesia’. He raised the stakes further by visiting Laskar Jihad leader Umar Thalib in prison and holding a meeting with the now notorious Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, then leader of the militant Majelis Mujahedin Indonesia, who was already at the time being accused of having links to Al-Qaeda (Straits Times 2002). Hamzah Haz was also involved in efforts to consolidate Indonesia’s numerous Islamic splinter parties into a single anti-secular alliance in advance of the 2004 elections. It is thus difficult to gain an accurate picture of Megawati’s own views, constrained as she was by her party’s alliance with PPP. The government’s efforts to crack down on militants were weak. The chairman of the FPI paramilitary group, Habib Riziek Shihab, for example, arrogantly refused to come in for questioning, and the police were too afraid to arrest him at first, following a number of threats against them. Little was done to investigate radical elements within Darul Islam, a longstanding radical Muslim organization, whose spokesman, Al Chaidar, publicly admitted that one of its splinter factions was behind the bomb attacks on an Australian International School in South Jakarta in November 2001 as well as the Petra Protestant Church bombing in North Jakarta. By mid-2002, the situation slowly began to change. The media and the public lost interest in Afghanistan after the Taliban had been routed from the capital and as information spread about their rule of terror. Islamic radicals became a little less willing to broadcast their views for fear that some of the government’s intelligence services might be watching after all. Moderate Muslims and mainstream Islamic organizations had had plenty of time to reflect on how exactly their own views differed from those of the


Thomas Reuter

radicals, and how to make this distinction intelligible to the public. There was much public debate about the role of Islam in modern life, in Indonesian politics and in the world at large. What remained as a more permanent and dangerous legacy, however, was a new sense that certain ‘Islamic sensitivities’ among a growing proportion of fundamentalist-leaning Indonesians had to be played up to by anyone wishing to survive in the domestic political scene, and that proponents of such views should enjoy impunity because their ideology draws on the authority of religion. A fearful, apologetic attitude towards radical Islam thus became deeply entrenched. This status quo changed to some degree in the aftermath of the 12 October 2002 bomb attack in Kuta, Bali, which killed more than two hundred people, among them many Indonesians (Reuter 2003). This attack finally made it clear that terrorism was a major domestic security issue for Indonesia itself and that the politics of appeasement towards radical Islam had reached and indeed exceeded all reasonable limits. Radical Islamic groups lost a great deal of public sympathy, and most statements in the media were unanimous in condemning the use of violence against civilians. The response of Indonesian government to the Bali attack was swift and effective. National police arrested most of the perpetrators within a relatively short time. There was also a new willingness to accept foreign assistance, mainly from the Australian Federal Police. Many radicals within and beyond the so-called Jema’ah Islamiya network went under cover for a while, fearing arrest.3 As it turned out, their fears were largely unjustified. There was insufficient political will to authorize or, perhaps, sufficient wisdom not to authorize the pursuit of Islamic radicals on a broader scale beyond the arrest of those immediately involved in the Bali bombing. Further domestic terrorist attacks – on a McDonald’s restaurant in Makassar on 5 December 2002 and the Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta on 5 August 2003 – have shown that the more vehement pursuit of terrorists introduced after the Bali bombing was still insufficient to disband and discourage Islamic extremists. The reasons for this failure are complex. Most importantly, as already mentioned, there is an entrenched fear of speaking out against Islamist ideology, and public opinion has still not swung enough to support a major anti-Islamic purge, though some nationalists would have liked to have 3 The label Jema’ah Islamiya means simply ‘Muslim community’, and hence it is widely rejected in Indonesia as an inappropriate term imposed by outsiders, and as insulting to other Muslims.

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seen that. 4 The nationalist faction, however, was suffering its own internal divisions and crisis of identity. The only major alternative to Islamic puritanism, the cosmology of cultural nationalism, indeed remained almost completely hidden from public view, even after the Bali bombing. One could say that everyone in Indonesia knows this perspective so well that it does not require any further publicizing, but there is more to it than that. Unfortunately, cultural nationalism had been espoused and then abused by Suharto as legitimation for his military dictatorship. A paternalistic interpretation of tradition was promoted, together with the idea that ‘national development’ required a central authority. Thus the key concepts of cultural nationalism – Pancasila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (The ‘Five Pillars’ and ‘Unity in Diversity’) – were heavily tarnished by the memory of association with Suharto’s New Order discourse and enjoyed little credibility in the early Reformasi environment. In any case, religion (‘belief in one God’) had been one of the five pillars of Indonesian nationalism from the outset, and this assumption became undisputed after the routing of the country’s most secular party, the PKI, in 1965. The public nevertheless ended up endorsing what they thought would be a left-wing variant of nationalism, sympathetic to Sukarno’s memory, by electing his daughter in the first free presidential election in 2001. From my study of kejawen (Javanese mystical religion) revival movements, it also became evident that the surge of Islamic radicalism and the ongoing popularity of puritanical interpretations of Islam were noted, discussed and viewed as a massive threat to the future of Indonesia within the nationalist camp. At that time, however, there was no consensus among the leadership on how to revive cultural nationalism to compete better with revivalist Islam on cosmological grounds. This was not due to a lack of motivation or a lack of ideas, but was a result of almost complete absorption with internal divisions among the nationalists, particularly within the armed forces, which had long been their main power base. Most nationalist leaders I was able to interview were therefore of the opinion that the best way to promote their cause at that time was not through the promotion of nationalist ideas, old or new, but with the help of a strong and charismatic new leader. Megawati was living proof of the fact 4 I have heard several unconfirmed reports that, under the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, elite military commandos such as Tensus 88 have eliminated numerous terrorism suspects in an extrajudicial manner, without arrest or trial, in order to address the issue without arousing negative publicity.


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that charisma is not hereditary, and the search was on for a replacement. The new leader would need to be able to unite the army and police under his/her command, and it was thus assumed that the likely candidate would probably need to be a retired army general. Through my personal connections with some of the intellectual and spiritual leaders of the nationalist faction, I was able to witness some of the behind-the-scenes deals and ritual acts that led to the selection of a new jago or champion, namely former army general Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono. After he was elected president in September 2004, SBY, as he is popularly known, appointed a new head of police and several new generals with strategic portfolios, all of whom are strongly committed to a cultural nationalist perspective. His running mate for the presidential election, Jussuf Kalla, was a representative of the secular-minded Indonesian business elite. Together, they were able to curb as well as politically exploit domestic terrorism, though in my opinion the government of SBY, now in its second term, has not been able to provide the kind of charismatic leadership needed to win the much broader cultural and cosmological battle with revivalist Islam. Indeed, SBY has surrounded himself with conservative Muslim advisors. So the battle for the soul of the nation continues. One example of this struggle has been the recent mob murder of members of the Ahmadiyah sect, who see themselves as Muslims, while fellow Muslims tend to view them as heretics for recognizing an additional prophet. Instead of protecting this minority, the government of East Java and other provinces imposed a ban on the sect (Ahmadiyya Times 2011). This intolerant attitude towards difference or dissent from within Islam is a major concern. An earlier example was the targeting of Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, the outspoken founder of the moderate Islamic group Jaringan Islam Liberal. In 2003, a group of East Javanese religious leaders (ulama) issued a fatwa saying he should be killed for an article he wrote in the magazine Kompas that was critical of narrowly literalist and militant forms of Islam. Acts like the issuing of this and similar fatwa, which may not be binding on the Muslim public but do intimidate Islamic moderates and non-Islamic minorities in Indonesia, are still permitted to take place, though there are fewer incidents. The consequence is that strong moderate or alternative voices continue to be in short supply in the public domain, even though militant Islamic attitudes have lost ground. The underlying problems and main constraints on government action remain the same, namely the still strong public support for violent responses to what is perceived as Western and especially American ‘imperialism’. This sentiment saw itself confirmed by the unilateral American attack

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on oil-rich Iraq in March 2003 and the subsequent lack of evidence for the presence of weapons of mass destruction. This has tended to fuel the suspicions of many Indonesians about the foreign policy of the US and its allies toward the Islamic world. Similar reactions could be seen in Muslim majority countries elsewhere in Asia and in the Middle East.5 The shift in the American foreign-policy discourse under President Obama from 2008 onward has also had a significant impact on local perceptions of US intentions, aided by his personal connection with Indonesia. This positive shift is evident, for example, in the response of the Indonesian public to news reports of the death of Osama bin Laden, purportedly in late April 2011. There were some small protest actions by members of the FPI and other fringe groups, but they were short-lived, and in the general population there was little sympathy in evidence. On another hopeful note, I have detected a gradual but strong increase in reflexivity among my Indonesian interlocutors. People from all walks of life are quite thoughtful in their reflections about Islam, politics and terrorism nowadays; they are well informed and less prone to drawing premature conclusions. Public debate on Islam in the mass media is also more refined now. In my opinion, if the government is firm without overreacting, terrorism will defeat itself by alienating the public. At the same time, it is probably still true that if the ‘war on Islamic terrorism’ were to continue in a spirit of unilateralism, new terrorists would be produced in Indonesia faster than they could be found and arrested. Most of all, I think now would be a good time to start treating Indonesia as a friend and equal partner, beginning by asking creditor institutions like the IMF and World Bank to accept their fair share of responsibility for foreign debt accrued under the corrupt Suharto regime, given that funds earmarked for development were in large part embezzled, and with their knowledge. It would also be helpful if, instead of flirting with the idea of a global jihad, Indonesia could find some alternative ways of improving its geopolitical position in relation not only to the US but also to China, the EU and India. Most sensibly, perhaps, this goal could be pursued through closer economic and political collaboration within the ASEAN alliance, or by demanding genuine concessions through bilateral agreements with the major powers.

5 The much more recent intervention in Libya is somewhat less controversial, given that it was approved by the United Nations. This indicates that the unilateralism and the ‘preemptive strike’ doctrine of the previous US government have had a particularly negative impact.


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Concluding remarks The fate of political Islam is likely to be decided not in Indonesia but on the international scene, where terrorism has served as a useful trope for legitimizing the erosion of civil rights at home and military adventures abroad. Broader issues of cultural globalization are more difficult to address, and we can expect religious revival movements (Islamic and other) to enjoy considerable popularity well into the future. There is considerable panic in Indonesia today over the threat that the characteristic consumerism of late modernity poses to personal and public morality, and religion is seen as the best antidote. In particular, education towards an attitude of religious piety helps to overcome the massive ‘aspirational gap’ experienced by the very large lower and lower middle-class sectors of Indonesian society, whose youth are well exposed to the magical siren song of modern consumerism but cannot financially afford to heed it. Rising personal debt levels from the purchase of consumer items nevertheless show that the revival of Islamic or Hindu identities in modern Indonesia has not sufficed to overcome this aspirational gap entirely. Within Indonesia, the key will be the resumption of the war on corruption begun by Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in his first term, which would allow the government to become effective in fighting poverty and encouraging the growth of a local manufacturing industry and thus create jobs, especially for disaffected young people. Religious revival need not be seen as problematic because it is, in many ways, a legitimate and potentially constructive response to the current crisis of late capitalist civilization, which is being experienced around the world. Even in wealthy countries where many can put a fair proportion of their consumer dreams into practice, a lingering sense of inner emptiness and social alienation is in evidence, as well as a growing awareness of the devastating environmental consequences of consumer capitalism. In Indonesia, such sentiments are not unheard of either, but the religious response is not fundamentalism. My latest research is showing that a growing number of people who lament this ‘black magic’ aspect of modernity turn their attention instead to new forms of spirituality based on direct experience and encompassing elements of deep ecology.

Modern Traditions

Modes of Interreligious Coexistence and Civility in Maluku Birgit Bräuchler

Introduction Evangelical churches are spreading like wildfire throughout the world, Islamic faith is becoming increasingly fashionable, religious radicalization is on the move, and religious conflicts frequently make it into the headlines. Contrary to widespread assumptions that secularism and modernity will bring about the demise of religion, we encounter its return and revitalization in many parts of the world (Hornbacher & Gottowik 2008: 19). In parallel and contrary to the assumption of globalization causing the demise of local cultures, we are encountering a worldwide trend to revive traditions and the emergence of so-called modern traditions. This represents an effort to return to one’s culture, weakened or destroyed through (neo-)colonial interventions or processes of modernity and globalization, often as a way of reclaiming resources such as land and political leadership (Bräuchler & Widlok 2007). Indonesia comprises both trends. While religious and ethnic tensions and conflicts – in fact, any tension related to ethnicity, religion, race and class (Suku, Agama, Ras dan Antar golongan, SARA) – were kept in check during the authoritarian Suharto regime, the reins loosened after his stepping down in May 1998, and some of the long-suppressed antagonisms exploded. After the Bali bombing in 2002 and the prolonged ‘religious violence’ in the Moluccas (1999-2003), Indonesia entered the universal mind map of a radical Islam on the rise. Until then, few people were aware of it being the largest Muslim nation in the world due to its moderate version of Islam, which had entered a close relationship with local pre-Islamic traditions in most parts of the country. Until December 1998, people in the Moluccas (Maluku in Indonesian) were also praised for their interreligious harmony. In parallel to rising radicalism, the recent liberalization and democratization of Indonesian politics brought in a decentralization process that was accompanied by a trend to revive local adat (tradition and customary law) and traditional structures all over the country.1 In Maluku, 1 For an excellent overview of these developments in Indonesia and the ambivalent role of adat, see Davidson and Henley (2007).


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this revival became an important means of building interreligious bridges in the people’s search for peace. The ambivalent picture of religion versus adat, of harmony versus religious or ethnic strife, somehow reflects the ambivalent character of Southeast Asia as such. Hornbacher and Gottowik (2008: 22, 23) describe the peaceful coexistence of and cooperation between world religions and between world religions and local belief systems such as ancestor worship as a unique feature of Southeast Asia. At the same time, however, Southeast Asia is depicted as a region ‘of divisive ethnic particularism complicated by a recent history of seditions, annexations, border conflicts and civil wars’ (see Gomes, Kaartinen & Kortteinen 2007: 4). The Moluccas conform to both images. This chapter aims to outline two ways in which Indonesians, particularly in the Moluccas, try to cope with interreligious clashes, one that is focused on adat as a seemingly neutral means to reintegrate people, and the other focused on religious dialogue. The contribution intends to deconstruct the simplified image of religious harmony versus religious strife that neglects the diverse and complex processes of negotiation that the two fields – religion and adat – have always been involved in, and thus, more generally, aims to reflect on the interrelationship between religion, tradition and modernity. To grasp the meaning of the current dynamics and modes of interreligious coexistence (including adat) in the Moluccas, it is helpful to take a look back at history. A short overview of the history of Islam and Christianity in the region reveals that relations between the two have never been easy and that the relationship between the world religions and local adat has depended greatly on the changing sociopolitical context. The next section focuses on the revival of adat as a means for peace and is based on ethnographic fieldwork I have conducted in the Moluccas over the last couple of years. As examples, I will introduce two traditional adat systems – pela and Uli Hatuhaha – that bind villages together irrespective of their religious affiliations. Here I will discuss the complex nature of Islam-Christianity-adat relations and their role in the recent conflict. What these analyses reveal is that: 1) conflicts between religions and between religion and adat are as prominent as religion-internal and adat-internal conflicts, and 2) that conflict lines change over time, with religion and adat both becoming a means for inclusion and exclusion. Likewise based on fieldwork, I subsequently describe the Moluccan Interfaith Council as an initiative focusing on religion and religious dialogue as a means of preventing future conflict. The final part of the chapter discusses the role of adat and religion in the current peace process in Maluku and the reconciliatory potential of modern

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traditions. It makes use of the concepts of civility and coexistence, with particular reference to Alberto Gomes’ notion of ‘quotidian’ and ‘organic civility’ (Gomes, Kaartinen & Kortteinen 2007) and a term I would like to introduce here, ‘informed civility’. The chapter thus tries to contribute to ‘more ethnographically-informed studies of the processes of peace and civility’ that would also ‘enable us to probe divergent meanings of what constitutes “civility” and “peace” in different Indonesian contexts’ (Mee 2007: 35) and underlines the multiplicity of Southeast Asian modernities.

Two ways to cope with interreligious clashes In Indonesia and in particular in Maluku, we find two ways to cope with and try to prevent interreligious clashes. One is to promote interreligious dialogue, the other to promote a common culture – very much linked to the revival of tradition mentioned above – that goes beyond religion and is thus able to provide common roots for Indonesia as a nation or the Moluccans as a people. Whereas on the national level it is a rather top-down process, in the Moluccas it is the people at the bottom who are becoming active. On 28 January 2010, a decade after former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid founded an organization called the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP),2 the leaders of Indonesia’s six official religions (Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism) launched a forum called the Inter-Religious Council (IRC) which ‘aims to build communication among communities from various religions, promote peace and tackle horizontal conflicts, by developing an understanding of pluralism within Indonesian society’ (The Jakarta Post 2010). The founders emphasize that this is not a government initiative but was born out of the founding leaders’ awareness that future religious conflicts can only be prevented by beginning and fostering interreligious communication and dialogue, possibly from the national down to the regional level. This was unable to prevent the incidents that occurred on Java in early February 2011, which contributed to the image of an increasing radicalization of Indonesian Islam. The marginal Islamic sect Ahmadiyah was attacked in Cieusik, West Java, killing three. Three Christian churches in Temanggung, Central Java were attacked and burned down in retaliation for what the mob considered to be too light a sentence imposed on a Christian man for his alleged blasphemy against Islam; the protestors called for the death 2

See http://v2.icrp-online.org.


Birgit Br äuchler

sentence instead of five years in prison (The Jakarta Post 2011a). Exactly at that time, the ‘Interfaith Harmony Week’ – part of the celebration of the UN’s World Interfaith Harmony Week3 – was officially opened at the Jakarta Convention Center (Gadarian 2011; Regional Interface Network 2011; Sijabat 2011). As Din Syamsuddin, chairman of the nation’s second-largest Muslim organization (Muhammadiyah) and founder of the IRC, stressed: ‘As a pluralistic nation, we all have to enhance religious tolerance. Each community has to remain open to others, develop better communications and work hand in hand to develop the nation’ (Sijabat 2011). As an alternative approach to coming to terms with the increasing religious violence on the national level, some students and politicians demanded the revitalization of the state philosophy of Pancasila4 as the embodiment of Indonesian national culture that the first president Sukarno had fought for. In the Suharto era, Pancasila became corrupted and was used as an excuse to bring about unity by force. Most prominent were the regime’s initiatives to make the official religions compulsory, to depoliticize religion, to folklorize local cultures, to unify governmental structures down to the village level and thus destroy local traditional ones, and to suppress any SARA conflicts. The present era reformasi not only led to local empowerment but also to the explosion of so-called ethnic and religious conflicts. For some in this new setting, Pancasila seems to have become an umbrella again to promote a return to tradition and as a stronghold from which to counter religious radicalism and overcome religious divisions. In a speech given on Pancasila Day in 2006 (June 1), President Yudhoyono called for a revival of Pancasila and the spread of its original ideas, such as tolerance and pluralism, as part of the government’s campaign against violent Islamists (LaMoshi 2006). Aiming in the same direction, on Pancasila day in 2011, student demonstrators in Jakarta demanded that the government ‘reeducate the public on the five ideological principles of the Pancasila in response to growing radicalism in Indonesia’ (The Jakarta Post 2011b). It may suffice to hint at these trends on the national level. The remainder of this chapter will explore in more detail their shaping and specificities at the local level in Central Maluku. As background, it is useful to provide a short (and hence quite selective) history of Islam and Christianity and their relationship with adat in the Moluccas. 3 It was launched on 1 February 2011 with the aim of campaigning for the importance of a harmonious life between adherents of different faiths and is to be celebrated in the first week of each February. 4 Literally ‘five principles’: belief in one god, just and civilized humanity, unity of Indonesia, democracy guided by wisdom, through consensual decision-making and representation, and social justice for all Indonesians.

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A short history of Islam and Christianity in the Central Moluccas5 The coming of Islam and Christianity Before the invasion of the Europeans in the early 16th century, Islam had already established itself in various parts of the Central Moluccas, most prominently the northern peninsular of Ambon Island (Leihitu) and parts of the Lease Islands (in particular Uli Hatuhaha on Haruku Island and the former kingdom of Iha on Saparua Island). The long-term isolation of Moluccan Muslims during the Dutch spice monopoly from the 17th to 19th centuries led to a harmonious fusion of Islam with local adat (F. and K. von Benda-Beckmann 1988, 1993; Chauvel 1980: 44; Cooley 1961: 290; Fraassen 1972). This substantially changed in the 19th and 20th centuries, when the rising number of pilgrims from Indonesia to Mecca caused a rapidly increasing influx of reformatory ideas from influential figures in the Middle East. This led to a split in the Muslim community in Indonesia into so-called ‘modernists’, who were eager for reform, and their ‘traditionalist’ opponents (see Becker 1996: 203-204; Benda 1958; Mulder 1966: 73; Wawer 1974: 10; Wertheim 1956: 208). These new movements spilled over into the Moluccas, enabled by the lifting of the spice monopoly in 1863. The transport system constantly improved, and the mobility of Moluccan Muslims, their contact with Islamic centres in Indonesia and the number of pilgrims to Mecca all increased, thus raising awareness of the local peculiarities of Islam in the Moluccas. Whereas in some parts of Maluku these developments left the Islam-adat linkage untouched or even encountered strong resistance (Chauvel 1980: 56-57, 1990: 162-168), in others it led to a split in the Muslim community (see Hatuhaha below). As the first European colonial powers, the Portuguese arrived in the Moluccas in 1512 and brought Catholicism to the islands. The Dutch established themselves in the region in the early 17th century in the form of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC). As a trading company, economic interests clearly prevailed. However, the VOC followed the same principle as the Portuguese (cuius regio, eius religio) and forced those who had been baptized by the latter to convert to Protestantism and expelled the Catholic missionaries (Becker 1996: 57; Enklaar 1963: 38-39). In the early 19th century, the VOC was replaced by the Dutch colonial 5 Revised and shortened parts of this section are to be included in my contribution to Bernhard Platzdasch and Johan Saravanamuttu (eds), Religious Minorities in Muslim-majority States in Southeast Asia: Areas of Toleration and Conflict, Singapore: ISEAS (forthcoming).


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government, and the Dutch missionary society initiated a more systematic proselytization. The colonial government was well aware of the advantages of winning over as many people as possible to their faith to keep them compliant and easy to handle (Enklaar 1963: 146). The lack of professional missionaries was compensated for by the high number of laymen who felt called to contribute to the mission, something not common in the Catholic Church in Indonesia and often a cause for concern among Muslims (Müller-Krüger 1968: 105-106, 146-147; Wawer 1974: 212, 214). These laymen and indigenous preachers were stricter than those from abroad in promoting a purified Christianity and in taking action against adat that was not in line with it. Only in 1935 did the Moluccan church achieve independence, making the Protestant Church of the Moluccas (Gereja Protestan Maluku, GPM) the oldest evangelical church in Asia (Cooley 1966, 1968: 52-53).6 Christian-Muslim relations Ever since the Portuguese introduced Christianity to the area, religion had become increasingly politicized. Here, in their deadly effort to push through the spice monopoly, the colonial powers made massive use of existing local power struggles and traditional rivalries, thus sharpening existing group boundaries (Andaya 1993; Fraassen 1987: 460-512). Under Dutch colonial rule, Christians were given preferential treatment in education and the bureaucracy, while Muslims – being the ‘natural’ enemy of the Europeans and moreover competitors in the spice trade – were either neglected or treated with hostility. To profess faith in Islam became an expression of anti-colonial resistance, just as to profess faith in Christianity allied one with the Europeans (Andaya 1993: 3, 15, 37, 100, 122-123; Schumann 1995: 287; Tjandrasasmita 1971: 6; Wertheim 1956). To improve its control of the area, the VOC had forced the Moluccans to resettle from the island interiors to the coast and thus formed new village constructs (negeri) that were, with very few exceptions, mono-religious in order to prevent conflict and deepen the religious divide. Whereas in the first decades of European colonization in the Moluccas, religious affiliation was still pretty flexible and crucially determined by political and economic factors (Andaya 1993: 146-147, 194), the border lines became increasingly rigid the longer the colonial powers stayed on and the more Moluccan Muslims became linked to a ‘pan-Islamic’ movement (Kraemer 1958: 23). Under the Japanese occupation, and even more so 6 For a discussion of the systematic attempt of the GPM to destroy adat, see, for example, Bartels (2003: 136-137).

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after independence, Muslims increasingly gained equal access to education and better jobs, which led to the emancipation of their community. Between 1945 and 1949, when the Dutch persistently refused to grant the Indonesian people independence, hundreds of Christians in the colonial army fought side by side with the Dutch against their brothers and sisters who favoured an independent Republic of Indonesia. Still today, Ambonese Christians are reproached for their closeness to the former colonial government and their sense of superiority (Cooley 1966: 125-126; Kraemer 1958: 13-14, 17). However, discrimination against Muslims was not only a strategic move by the colonial government; their segregation was also based on a prevailing attitude among Muslims that, for example, sending their children to Dutch schools would be tantamount to surrendering them to the Christian faith. After independence, the situation was at least as complicated, since the Christians were now living in a predominantly Muslim country. Indonesia’s first president Sukarno immediately turned the federal state of Indonesia, as the Dutch had left it, into a unitary state, thus robbing the Eastern Indonesian State, of which Maluku was a part, of its special status. Many Moluccans feared being abandoned by the Dutch and overpowered by a Muslim majority, which led a minority of Western-educated and politically active Moluccan figures to hastily proclaim the independence of a South Moluccan Republic (Republik Maluku Selatan, RMS) on 25 April 1950. However, Moluccan independence – a stigma that still affects Moluccan Christians today – was short-lived and crushed by the Indonesian military only a couple of months later. It did not help that Christian missionary work in the Moluccas became more ruthless after independence and was perceived by conservative Muslims as a growing threat (Wawer 1974: 213-214, 221). Suharto became Indonesia’s second president after the suppression of an alleged communist coup in 1965 and the murders of hundreds of thousands of alleged communists throughout Indonesia that followed. From then on, Indonesian citizens had to profess one of the official religions by law, thus making religion an inherent identity marker. Due to Suharto’s unification efforts and the weakening of the adat system, the increasing infiltration of church organizations into daily life, the increasing influx of non-Moluccan Muslims through spontaneous and government-sponsored transmigration, and Suharto’s pro-Islamic policies from the mid-1990s onwards, the role of the world religions as identity markers was pushed further (see also Bartels 2010). However, the historically rooted antagonism between Christians and Muslims in Maluku should not encourage simplistic stereotypes. Despite all the differences, Christians and Muslims in Maluku had and still have a


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great deal in common, such as family ties, common history, ancestry, myths and adat (see also Chauvel 1980), as I will show below (section on Pela and Hatuhaha). Also, Christians and Muslims often fought side by side against the colonial powers. Commonalities were so predominant that the Moluccas used to be an example of interfaith harmony in Indonesia. Adat and religion (Neo)colonial powers – including the Indonesian government – had a tremendous impact on the political landscape in the Moluccas and tried to detach adat forcibly from the fields of politics and law. Moreover, through the introduction of the world religions into the area and the often harsh action taken against local beliefs and their symbols, adat became, as Lee (1999: 70) put it, ‘analytically separated … from religion and spiritual practices’. This implied ‘the devolution of adat to the domain of culture in the most folkloristic sense’ that could easily ‘be identified as parts of the whole national culture’ (Lee 1999: 82). Similarly, Hornbacher (2008: 55) describes agama (religion) and adat as two terms in the political discourse in Indonesia giving expression to the contrast between the revelation of a religious truth (associated with scripturality) and merely contingent custom (associated with orality), which implies a normative assessment of their claim to validity (Geltungsanspruch). But, as indicated above and as Franz and Keebet von Benda-Beckmann argue (1988), there is a substantial difference between the relationships of Islam and adat, and Christianity and adat in the Moluccas, due to the sociopolitical circumstances of their introduction into the area. Whereas Islam peacefully entered the area through trade and encountered a still fairly flexible social and political setting, Christianity was, to put it simple, forcibly introduced by colonial powers that also reshaped, essentialized and institutionalized political structures and functionaries. Adat and Islam therefore constitute a harmonious unit in Moluccan villages, and there is a lot of overlap, if not congruity, between adat and religious functionaries (F. and K. von Benda-Beckmann 1988: 206). Quoting Ambonese Muslims, the von Benda-Beckmanns (1988: 195) state that ‘adat is made at the mosque’. However, since the emergence of a modernist reformist movement in Indonesian Islam, the Islam-adat interface was renegotiated in many places. The example of Hatuhaha discussed below shows the emerging splits and struggles. The relationship between adat and Christianity has been different from the outset. Prominent missionaries such as Joseph Kam were unambiguously out to destroy local belief systems and ancestor worship, which he

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associated with the realm of Satan (see, for example, Enklaar 1963: 57). Although other missionaries were more accommodating than Kam and the church also had partly to integrate traditional ideas and rituals into its practices (Simatupang 1976: 80), the relationship with adat was never as ‘cordial’ as that between adat and Islam. Another reason is that Protestantism was established when in most villages political structures had already been fixed by the colonial government. Adat and the church thus constitute two different institutional hierarchies that are opposed to each other, with the village head and the priest always competing for the people’s favour (F. and K. von Benda-Beckmann 1988: 204, 206-209). The legacy of the past leaves the Moluccan population in a difficult situation where not only interreligious relations (Islam – Christianity) and the relationship between religion and adat but also intrareligious and adat-internal ones are problematized. History provided the necessary background for the population to be mobilized through religion on such a massive scale and made to slaughter its ethnic brothers and sisters. As a so-called religious war, the Moluccan conflict was mainly carried out between Muslims and Christians, who, however, form far from homogenous blocks. It is true that they all united under the labels ‘Islam’ and ‘Christianity’ during the crisis, but this does not mean that other local differences or, conversely, unitary adat alliances had disappeared – again, a warning against dangerous simplifications.

When adat comes first and religion second: pela and Uli Hatuhaha7 Whereas in the historical overview presented above the focus was on tensions and conflicts, here I will turn my attention to adat as a foundation for overarching alliances that are able to bridge the religious divide. The discussion focuses on two institutions, the pela system in the Central Moluccas, and the Hatuhaha union (Uli Hatuhaha) on Haruku, the neighbouring island of Ambon.

7 If not mentioned otherwise, the findings and interpretations presented in this chapter are based on several months of fieldwork I have conducted in the Moluccas over the last couple of years.


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Pela and Uli Hatuhaha The institution that was mainly held responsible for religious harmony in the Moluccas is pela, a traditional alliance system binding two or more villages together for mutual help, irrespective of their religious affiliation. Most of these pacts were established to end warfare in both pre-colonial times (mostly headhunting raids) and the colonial period (joint resistance against the colonial intruders), or after help had been provided by one of the parties to the other after an accident or a natural disaster. Some partners even claim to have descended from a common ancestor, which justifies the marriage ban between those villages. In addition, pela partners are obliged to offer help to each other in times of crisis or in carrying out larger projects such as the building of churches, mosques and schools. When entering the territory of a pela partner, people are allowed to harvest food for their immediate needs. Bartels described the pela system as the ethnic religion of the Ambonese people. What he calls ‘Nunusaku religion’ is, according to him, the only and central institution that integrates Central Moluccan society, which otherwise mainly defines itself in terms of small-scale village identities.8 Since the 1970s, however, pela has declined in significance due to the increasing importance of religion as an identity marker, as well as to processes of modernization and globalization and the accompanying weakening of adat. Before the outbreak of the conflict, I would have had my doubts about Bartels’ idealized depiction of pela as an overarching and uniting ‘Nunusaku religion’. Since the conflict, however, we have to see his thesis from a new perspective (see below). Common ancestry is a factor figuring most prominently in the establishment of harmonious interreligious relations (see also Kraemer 1958: 22). Uli Hatuhaha is a case in point.9 The village federation is worth a closer look since, at the same time, it embodies the complexity of relations between adat and religion, Christianity and Islam, as well as of internal religious disputes and violence. Hatuhaha is also a good example of how borders shift or blur depending on the changing socio-cultural context and the segmentary principle. The union lies on the northern half of Haruku and goes back to an event in the mythical past in which five brothers came 8 Nunusaku is the mythical mountain on Seram where all (Central) Moluccans claim to originate from (see, for example, Jensen 1939). For a detailed description of pela in the Central Moluccas, see Bartels (1977). 9 For a more detailed discussion of the Hatuhaha case, see Bräuchler (2010). I will use part of the material here.

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from the mother island of Seram to Haruku, climbed Alaka Mountain and founded Hatuhaha Amarima Lounusa (literally, ‘five villages gather on the island on a rock’), where they jointly converted to Islam: Rohomoni, Kabauw, Kailolo, Pelauw and Hulaliu. Uli are traditional Moluccan village federations. Most of them were destroyed by the Dutch for fear that such overarching structures could challenge their supremacy. The adaptation of Islam to local circumstances was quite radical, and adat often kept the upper hand in this process because of the remoteness of Hatuhaha settlements in the interior mountains of Haruku and the brief stays of passing Muslim traders and missionaries (see Chauvel 1980: 43-44). Hatuhaha Islam thus developed peculiarities such as its weekly prayer on Friday instead of the obligatory five daily prayers, a particular architecture of the mosque integrating pre-Islamic elements such as the lingam and yoni at the top end of the building, the reduction of the yearly fasting period to three days, the calculation of Muslim festivals such as Idul Fitri or Idul Adha according to a method handed down from Alaka times, and the pilgrimage (haj) to a local shrine (keramat) instead of to Mecca. The Hatuhaha union – a stronghold of anti-colonial resistance and strong opposition to the RMS – was constantly being pestered by the Portuguese and the Dutch to convert to Christianity. Through flattery and promises, the colonial masters finally succeeded in converting Hulaliu (Rumphius 1910: 275; Titaley 2007). The forced nature of this conversion encourages Hatuhaha Muslims to this day to see Hulaliu as part of their adat union, or even to celebrate it as making a heroic sacrifice for the sake of the others. After Hulaliu had turned away from Islam, its Muslim relics were distributed among the four other villages. Still today, Hulaliu has to participate in Hatuhaha ceremonies such as the renovation of the Hatuhaha mosque. Hatuhaha people also help each other when a church or a mosque needs to be built. The five villages have preserved at least parts of their common adat and present a harmonious unity to the outside world to this day, making them an example of the supposedly unifying character of adat. The union still shares a traditional meeting place to deliberate over common matters (the asari in Pelauw) and a mosque (Mesjid Hatuhaha in Rohomoni), and they still come together for important ceremonies and the renovation of mosques and traditional community houses. However, Hulaliu’s conversion to Christianity was one of several factors contributing to the weakening of the Hatuhaha union (see also Sahusilawane & Sopacua 1996/1997). Another was the relocation of the union’s former settlements (aman) from Alaka Mountain to the coast and its division into autonomous village units, called negeri, by the Dutch in the mid-17th century. A more recent factor was the


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village law passed by the Indonesian government in 1979 in an effort to unify governmental structures down to the village level, which had an immense impact on local adat throughout Indonesia. Hatuhaha’s unity was severely undermined, and its functions were reduced to adat ceremonies (Sopacua, Pattinama & Noya 1996: 56-59, 68-72). Internal clashes In addition, and in contradiction to the depiction of an ideal Hatuhaha union welded together by joint events in both the mythical and the more recent past, Hatuhaha is internally torn by conflicts, power struggles and religious clashes – not between Christians and Muslims, but within Islam. The encroachment of reformatory Islamic ideas in the 19th and 20th centuries (see above) led to a split in the Muslim community in Hatuhaha into traditionalists (kaum/golongan adat), who continue to stand for the Hatuhaha-specific version of Islam (Islam Hatuhaha), and modernists (kaum/golongan syariat), who support a purified version of Islam (Islam syariat) and thus aim to move closer to the broader non-Moluccan Muslim community, both within and beyond Indonesia. As Bartels (2010: 229, n. 12) argues, this split led to ‘fanaticism and religious polarisation’ in parts of Hatuhaha, which in turn led to the reduced involvement of Hulaliu in adat matters after 1910. However, as the only Christian village in the union, Hulaliu is seen less as a religious opponent, and occasionally even acts as a mediator in these internal fights. These developments, among others, led to violent confrontations and the division of Pelauw village in the 1930s. The followers of Islam Hatuhaha stayed in Pelauw, while the followers of Islam syariat were moved to Ori, east of the neighbouring Christian village of Kariu. To elucidate Ori’s position to me, a former head of the high school in the village compared their situation with that of Hulaliu, which, although converted to Christianity, still follows most of the Hatuhaha adat ceremonies. This is meant to express a good relationship but has nothing to do with religious beliefs. As a retired teacher in Ori expressed it, adat must not be ‘religionised’ (mengagamakan adat). To this day, one of the most controversial subjects between traditionalists and purists – or, as Kraemer (1927: 82) wrote a long time ago, between the adat and the religion parties – is the calculation of Muslim holidays and the beginning of the fasting month. Whereas syariat Muslims in Hatuhaha follow the decisions of the Indonesian Ministry of Religion, followers of Islam Hatuhaha listen to Rohomoni village, where adat elders calculate the proper dates. Due to increasing mobility, Islamic education, and involve-

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ment in politics and economics beyond the local level in recent decades, those who remained in Pelauw in the 1930s were increasingly split into kaum adat and kaum syariat. In order to put an end to the confrontations, the Raja of Pelauw decided that Pelauw should follow the calculations of Ori, Kailolo and half of Kabauw (Islam syariat), and thus the common practice in Indonesia. This was followed by a phase of relative peace, but in the long run it caused strong resentment among certain clans in Pelauw and led to more Hatuhaha-internal conflicts after 2000 (sometimes with a fatal outcome). Involved are struggles between village clans over who has the power to define what adat is, what needs to be continued, and what can be replaced or adapted to the wider cultural and religious context,10 and, in the end, the struggle between what is perceived to be a traditional and a modern/universal version of Islam. In an attempt to cope with the internal split in Pelauw, a small mosque (mushollah) was built at the edge of the village for the followers of Islam syariat. But boundaries are difficult to draw. Although many of my interlocutors in Ori and Pelauw still consider the majority of Pelauw to belong to kaum adat, an increasing number already favour the version of Islam practised in Ori. This is mostly due to the strong influence of the charismatic and adat-conscious Raja of Pelauw (who succeeded his father in 1986).11 The raja has to perform a difficult balancing act (between tradition and modernity), since he has to serve all his people as the traditional village head. To this day, the divide is an extremely sensitive topic. Pelauw people not only celebrate the same religious holidays on different days, but are also divided over the question of who is then allowed to make use of the village mosque. The Aroha festival, which used to be quite excessive in the past, and the pilgrimage to the keramat that some call the small haj are 10 This close interconnection between Islam and adat is also apparent in conflicts internal to other Muslim adat communities in Maluku. Another ‘traditional’ conflict, for example, which erupts time and time again and causes people to fight and kill each other up until today, is a dispute between Hitumessing and Hitulama, two Muslim villages in the northern part of Ambon Island that were formerly part of the Hitu kingdom, destroyed and divided up by the Dutch in the colonial past. The dispute is essentially about different interpretations of adat and supremacy, among others about land disputes and who is allowed to enter the common mosque first on the occasion of Idul Fitri. 11 The raja’s policies are emblematic of a situation in which the decision of whether to belong to kaum adat or kaum agama is also a political one. For such leaders, their reputation in the broader region benefits from adhering to a version of Islam that is shared by their electorate. This has become increasingly important in the course of decentralization in Indonesia, where, since 2005, not only the president but also the heads of the local government – governors, district heads and mayors – are directly elected by the people.


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topics that are not willingly talked about in public either. Another problem emerges with religious education in government schools. According to a primary school teacher in Pelauw, the children are quite confused when they learn about Islam syariat at school as stipulated by the government, while growing up in an environment where Islam Hatuhaha is practised. The Moluccan conflict The Moluccan conflict broke out in Ambon town in January 1999. It caused thousands of deaths on both sides and completely divided Moluccan society along religious lines.12 Among Muslims, this polarization brought memories of past repression to the fore, as well as the trauma of the RMS period and pride in the anti-colonial resistance. Many Muslims in the Moluccas (and outside) were even convinced that the Christians had staged the conflict in order to revive the RMS movement and promote independence. These issues were among the motives for Hatuhaha Muslims fighting on the front line. Kariu, the neighbouring Christian village of Pelauw that is not part of the Hatuhaha union, was completely destroyed in February 1999 and its population forced to flee.13 At the end of 1999, Hulaliu was attacked by its Muslim Hatuhaha brothers as a result of the overpowering religious polarization and the exceptional violence in the whole of the Moluccas, but the attackers soon withdrew without entering the village centre. Most people involved by that time claim that the ancestors called them back. This was followed by a Hatuhaha internal reconciliation ceremony, a peace march to Ambon town in 2002, and a huge two-week-long restoration ceremony for the Hatuhaha mosque in Rohomoni in 2006 to promote Hatuhaha as a symbol of internal unity and peace between Christians and Muslims. Internal problems among Muslims were hushed up (although not ended); the focus was now on the relationship with Hulaliu as a Christian member of the adat family, and on their relationship with other Christian (former) enemies. The re-emergence of Hatuhaha as a village union is part of a more general trend to revive or strengthen traditional alliances and forms of 12 On various aspects and interpretations of the Moluccan conflict (with a focus on the Central Moluccas), such as its local roots, instrumentalization theories, the role of the media and the role of the Laskar Jihad, a fundamentalist Islamist group from Java, see, among others, Aditjondro 2001; K. von Benda-Beckmann 2004; Bertrand 2002; Bräuchler 2003, 2005, 2013; Human Rights Watch 1999; International Crisis Group 2000, 2002; Klinken 2001, 2007; Pannell 2003; Schulze 2002; Spyer 2002. 13 For a detailed account of the conflict in Kariu and Hatuhaha, their search for peace and the culturally informed repatriation ceremony of Kariu, see Bräuchler (2009c).

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co-operation in order to build interreligious bridges in the post-conflict Moluccas. Another effort to provide common roots that all Moluccans can identify with and to reintegrate Moluccan society is the rise of pela to become the symbol for Moluccan brotherhood (as the realization of Bartels’ ‘Nunusaku religion’?) and the symbol for the resilience of adat in the face of all the destructive forces in the past and during the recent conflict – including modernity and religion. Although pela could not prevent the conflict, pela partners usually claim that they did not attack each other during the conflict and tried to help each other as much as the difficult situation allowed them to. In post-conflict Maluku, a lot of public occasions, such as the installation ceremonies of traditional village heads and traditional boat races, are used to bring pela partners together again, especially if they come from different religious backgrounds, and to re-enact the history of the pela pact.14

When religion comes first and adat second: the Moluccan Interfaith Council Spending some time in the Moluccas, both in towns and in the countryside, it is obvious that religion very much determines daily life, and the majority of people are involved in church or mosque organizations that keep them busy. In the face of a weakened adat system, it is not realistic to suppose that Moluccans will exclusively return to it and give up religion (see also Bartels 2003). Although the revival of tradition for peace seems to be very successful and Moluccans are very enthusiastic about it, a complementary approach is needed that initiates and fosters religious dialogue. One initiative aiming in that direction is the Moluccan Interfaith Council (Lembaga Antar Iman Maluku, LAIM). The Council was founded in December 2003 and consists of representatives of the main religious bodies in the Moluccas: the Moluccan Protestant Church (GPM), The Catholic Diocese of Amboina and the Council of Islamic Clerics (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, MUI).15 The council is described as ‘an attempt to raise awareness about the common14 For a more detailed discussion, see Bräuchler (2009a). 15 There are huge fluctuations in the population statistics for the Moluccan province over the last decade, among others due to the uncertainties and the difficulties of data collection during the years of conflict. The government statistics of 2003, for example, claim that 65% of the population of the Moluccan province was Muslim, 28% Protestant and almost 7% Catholic, the majority of whom have stayed in the Southeastern Moluccas (Badan Pusat Statistik Propinsi Maluku 2003). In 2008, the shares seem to have shifted quite a bit: 50% Muslim, 39% Protestant


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alities between the religions and to teach the positive values inherent in each faith that guarantee peaceful co-existence. The Council provides a forum for religious leaders to meet and discuss issues facing the society and respond to any arising tensions’, but it also wants to extend its activities to the common people ‘to strengthen inter-community relationships’ and promote interfaith education (Maluku Reconciliation and Reconstruction Meeting 2004). This is quite a challenging task, and not only in the face of the Moluccan conflict, which left deep scars in the peoples’ psyche and the social and physical landscape. As I see it, one of the biggest problems in the fabric of Moluccan society is that the relationship between Christians and Muslims is merely based on passive tolerance, or something Kriesberg (2001) would call a ‘minimal level of coexistence’, but not on mutual respect and understanding of the ‘others’’ religion. This is very much rooted in history as sketched above. The way church members described the good relationship between Muslims and Christians to Kraemer (1958: 22) almost a century ago is illustrative of this: ‘They leave each other completely alone.’ Although interactions took place as daily routines and pela pacts were celebrated regularly, no dialogue took place with regard to religion. Although Christians and Muslims used to visit each other for festivities such as Christmas or Idul Fitri, religion was generally a topic not to delve into. Bartels’ term ‘religious endogamy’ (1977: 24), with which he referred to marriage rules, can thus be transferred to the intellectual level: Christian thought does not mix with Islamic thought. Due to this missing tradition of interreligious dialogue at the grassroots level, there was nothing to fall back on during and after the conflict – nothing except shared traditions that go beyond religion. That is why, from the very beginning of the conflict, not only students and adat figures but also religious figures reminded people to think of their common roots, their common ancestry and their pela pacts, and therefore to stop fighting. One of the first workshops organized by the Interfaith Council, which took place in July 2006 on Ambon, was entitled ‘Building peace: Learning from the failure of religions’ (Membangun Perdamaian: Belajar dari Kegagalan Agama-Agama) and was very much focused on such shared traditions that go beyond religious affiliation. More generally, the council wants to advance a more open attitude towards adat and a more in-depth understanding of others’ religions in religious institutions. In 2007, the council arranged a sleepover for imams and priests, with imams staying in a Christian house and 10% Catholic (Badan Pusat Statistik Propinsi Maluku & Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Daerah 2010).

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for a night and priests in a Muslim one. In 2009, it set up a teleconference between hundreds of Christian and Muslim young people in Ambon and Solo (Java). To stimulate discussion, guest speakers were invited on both sides, among them (former) hardliners such as Ja’far Umar Thalib, an Islamist leader who had sent his jihad troopers to the Moluccan conflict. In 2010, LAIM organized a youth exchange, where Muslim youths stayed in Christian neighbourhoods for four nights and vice versa, concluded by a session to reflect on how the perception of ‘the others’ had changed, in almost all cases leading to positive results. The exchange was followed by a youth camp where all participants came together again in Ambon town in early 2011 to build up an interreligious youth network.16 Another initiative that goes in this direction is the exchange of lecturers between Christian and Islamic universities such as the Indonesian Christian University of Maluku (UKIM) and the State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) in Ambon. Muslim lecturers teach about the history, content and social, political and cultural perspectives of and on Islam at UKIM and the other way around. One of the lecturers involved in the programme stresses that he also tries to reflect with students what to learn from the other religion, ‘what to get out of it’. However, the programme has thus far been restricted to students of religious studies (Islam or Christianity). An important step in the future is to introduce joint religious classes into primary and high schools. Another strategic move in the peace process has been to open a Reconciliation and Mediation Centre at IAIN in 2010. IAIN has been known as a radical hotspot during the conflict but now wants to set an example and transform itself into a centre for dialogue and encounter. MUI Maluku had already founded a special Sector for Harmony between Religions (Bidang Kerukunan Antar Agama) back in 2002. According to its head, it uses the Interfaith Council, in which he is involved, to operationalize its activities. All these initiatives are important steps in getting a more far-reaching and inclusive interreligious dialogue going.

Reconciling religion with adat and tradition with modernity This final section explores the possibilities for restoring civility in post-conflict Maluku through adat and religion and to reconcile tradition with modernity.

16 This is not an exhaustive list of the Interfaith Council’s programmes, but examples of its major activities.


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The Institute for Civility in Government, a US American non-profit organization that works to reduce polarization in society, defines civility as follows: Civility is about more than merely being polite, although being polite is an excellent start. Civility fosters a deep self-awareness, even as it is characterized by true respect for others. Civility requires the extremely hard work of staying present even with those with whom we have deep-rooted and perhaps fierce disagreements. It is about constantly being open to hear, to learn, to teach and to change. It seeks common ground as a beginning point for dialogue when differences occur, while at the same time recognizes that differences are enriching. (Institute for Civility in Government 2011)

In line with the quotation above, civility is not to be equated with mere politeness, but ‘true respect’ for others, including the openness to listen to and learn from them. Civility implies the development of a common ground and dialogue as effective means for conflict prevention. Whereas tolerance means to endure, to forbear, to respect but not interfere (Whyte 2002: 182) and ‘is maintained through social distance or detachment’ (Gomes, Kaartinen & Kortteinen 2007: 6), the concept of civility draws attention to ‘intersubjectivity, interdependence, and reciprocal respect in the pursuit of a common good’ (ibid: 5). Referring to Whyte’s (2002: 183) notion of civility, Klaits (2005: 654) points out that ‘incivility arises when people no longer feel compelled to take into account “what others might think and what consequences that might have” since they have put a decisive end to their interdependence.’ The Moluccan conflict had a deep impact on existing modes of coexistence. Internal and external, local and national factors – existing local tensions, the rise of religion, historical developments, economic imbalances, high unemployment rates, transmigration and islamization programmes at the national level, the long-lasting exploitation of the outer islands by the centre, the taking of sides by the military and the police in the conflict, the incompetence of the government to solve it and the role of the media as warmonger – made up an explosive mixture that led to ‘exceptional violence’ (Baumann & Gingrich 2004).17 Established modes of conflict prevention and solution no longer worked, annihilating what Gomes would call ‘quotidian civility’, and paralyzing ‘organic civility’. The ‘civility of indifference’ (Bailey 1996) proved to be insufficient in this context to prevent mass violence. The question is how to restore civility as an essential 17 Compare also Kriesberg’s concept of ‘destructive fighting’ (2001: 53).

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prerequisite for sustainable peace. Can adat and religion become suitable means? Here it is important to put the various top-down initiatives that are so prominent in peace and reconciliation literature to one side and turn to an analysis of the ‘structure and patterns of everyday intercultural civic engagement and quotidian aspects of daily life involving civility and routine’ (Gomes, Kaartinen & Kortteinen 2007: 5).18 In the Moluccas, thousands of initiatives were taken by national and international NGOs and the government, but people were often not even aware of them. For them, peace and reconciliation came rather naturally, without interference from the outside, due to the revival of daily economic, educational and social ties (compare Varshney 2002) and the re-strengthening of (imagined) common ancestry or shared adat, that is, the restoration of quotidian and organic civility. Alberto Gomes differentiates between four types of civility.19 These are comparable to the different forms of co-existence described by Kriesberg (2001) that depend on the degree of integration and the degree of unilateral imposition. Gomes first mentions quotidian civility, which ‘refers to forms of social relations whereby people and communities maintain contacts and social networks across racial, ethnic and religious divides on an everyday and routine basis’ (Gomes, Kaartinen & Kortteinen 2007: 7). As he suggests, ‘quotidian forms of civility provide a counterpoint to the hierarchical framing of ethnic relations by colonial and national power and a potential for resistance against these larger political orders’ (ibid: 9). The relationship between Muslim and Christian office mates in Ambon town, between Christian teachers and Muslim pupils, or between Christians in Kariu and Muslims in Pelauw could be described in terms of quotidian civility. Kariu is located right in the middle of the Hatuhaha village federation but does not belong to it. It is not connected to any of the villages through adat ties. Instead, its relationship with neighbours such as Pelauw is mainly determined through daily economic interaction, such as the exchange of fish and vegetables, or teachers from Kariu being employed in Pelauw’s schools. Gomes’ (2010: 16) second category is organic civility, which ‘is characterised by forms of civil interactions and exchanges that stem from, or are undergirded by, social connections or imagined relatedness or real and putative affinities between the interacting parties.’ Examples of this type of civility are pela pacts and the Hatuhaha union, where a real or a mythical common ancestry 18 Unfortunately, conflict attracts much more attention in the media than such peacebuilding processes and non-violent efforts, as reflected in the number of publications available (Bräuchler 2009b; Gomes, Kaartinen & Kortteinen 2007: 4; Kahn 2003: 35; Mee 2007: 27). 19 For a more detailed description, see Gomes, Kaartinen & Kortteinen (2007).


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is imagined, and partners are always categorized in terms of younger or elder brother. Next comes imposed civility, implying ‘an external or extracommunity determination. These forms range from national legal sanctions and edicts to government-sponsored programmes designed to build community cohesion to the interventions of civil society geared towards instilling and fostering communal harmony’ (Gomes, Kaartinen & Kortteinen 2007: 8). Examples in our case study would be top-down approaches to conflict resolution or the instrumentalization of decontextualized adat principles by the government or by non-governmental organizations without involving the people. Following Homi Bhabha, Gomes (2010: 24-25) names sly civility as his last category, ‘a form of civility which conceals or evades the true feelings of a person to avoid reprisals, humiliation or oppression … often practiced in relations between people of unequal status.’ I suspect that the relationship between many Muslim and Christian people and villages after the conflict is still tainted by this kind of civility. Kariu and Pelauw might be a case in point, where quotidian civility seems to have been restored after the conflict, but a lot of bad feelings left over from it have not yet been dealt with and might come to the fore again in the future triggered by minor incidents; quotidian civility stands on shaky ground. As the Hatuhaha and pela cases illustrate, organic civility almost failed due to the explosion of exceptional violence, but in the end it was able to resist and might even emerge out of the conflict stronger than before. The unifying power of local ancestor worship in the face of doctrinal differences has also been emphasized by Hornbacher and Gottowik (2008: 23). Particularly common rituals that transcend religious affiliation and are based on a shared cosmology could provide effective conflict prevention (ibid: 26). In this spirit we have to understand the enthusiasm in Maluku for a revival of adat. In agreement with the common saying, only those who live according to adat are civilized (beradab), whereas those who live without it are barbaric (biadab). Quotidian civility had a more difficult position in the Moluccan conflict. Varshney (2002) argues that those communities in India that have a higher level of daily interaction between their Hindu and Muslim populations compared to others are much less prone to communal violence. This means that quotidian civility can help to reduce violent encounters, but, as the Kariu-Pelauw case and many others in Maluku prove, it was not strong enough to resist religious mobilization. Quotidian civility, it seems, only provides a minimal level of coexistence that urgently needs to be strengthened, for example, through the fostering of interreligious dialogue involving the whole Moluccan population. Organic civility on the one hand, provides for

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in-depth transreligious relations, but on the other hand is rather exclusive, since each pela or village federation only consists of certain villages, not Moluccan society as a whole. There are ideas for how to ‘modernize’ traditions and transfer adat concepts such as pela to the whole society through social engineering (Ohorella 1999), but caution is needed in order not to create imposed or even sly civility, instead of civility that is based on daily routine or even on newly created or imagined kinship ties. Adat unions such as Hatuhaha also need to provide more space for religious variation and interpretation of its adat rituals that allows for the integration of all Hatuhaha people, be they Christian or followers of Islam Hatuhaha or of a more orthodox version of Islam.20 Otherwise, the conduct of, for example, shared rituals that include religious prayer that is not integrative might rather make people more aware of their differences and thus widen the gap between them. Very much in line is Gottowik’s (2008a: 31-32) argument ‘that these multi-religious rituals can emphasize commonalities as well as differences between the ritual actors’, which questions theories that only emphasize the integrative character of rituals. In this regard, we even have to be careful with pela, the symbol of brotherhood and reconciliation. As Kaartinen (2007: 43) argues, pela marriage prohibitions ‘underline the existence of a social boundary even as they help carry amiable relations from one generation to the next.’ But it is not only internal boundaries that are emphasized, but also those to the outside world. Pela pacts were often concluded in times of war, and pela partners allied against a third party, often also part of Moluccan society, thus questioning the vaunted integrative character of pela (see Hohe & Remijsen 2003). What I want to indicate with these critical remarks is that we need to analyse carefully what civility is actually based on: tolerance, ‘passive noninterference’ (Hayden 2002: 206),21 openness characterized by indifference and ignorance or mutual understanding. Only civility based on mutual understanding is probably strong enough to counter future conflict and bring about fundamental changes in Moluccan society in the direction of sustainable peace. Attitudes do have to change with regard to both religion and adat. As Kaartinen shows (2007: 46-47), only reflecting on the custom20 In that spirit, Gottowik (2008a: 36) describes multi-religious rituals where all the participants conduct the same ritual actions but address them towards different gods or figures. 21 Hayden (2002: 206) thus opposes ‘simplistic assumptions that coexistence is evidence of a positive valorization of pluralism. Instead, coexistence may be a matter of competition between members of different groups manifesting the negative definition of tolerance as passive noninterference and premised on a lack of ability of either group to overcome the other.’ There is plenty of proof of that in my Moluccan cases.


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ary system – that is, the lifting of unawareness, or, I would like to add, indifference, but also the interpretation of violence ‘through its internal, moral tensions’ (44) – enabled people in the Kei Islands to end quickly the mass violence that had spread from Ambon to the Southeastern Moluccas. If taken seriously, interreligious dialogue in Maluku and reflections on the expansion of adat will be difficult and painful, since this will also imply some memory work to deal with both the more distant and the more recent past and a critical grappling with the complex interrelationship of modernization, democratization, religion and ‘tradition’. This is a good opportunity to close the circle and return to some central themes of this volume that is the intermingling of religion and modernity, the reconciliation of tradition with modernity and the emergence of modern traditions.

Modern traditions Modernity was long praised as a means to rationalize away religion and overcome the dogmas of tradition (see e.g. Giddens 1991: 20-21; Weber 1947). At the same time, however, modernization also provoked processes of estrangement and loss of meaning, which, in turn, led to the rise of religion (or religious fundamentalisms) and the return of tradition as attempts to cope with the various ambivalences of modernity (see e.g. Bielefeldt & Heitmeyer 1998: 17). As the current indigenous rights debate and current processes of retraditionalization worldwide illustrate, modernity actually provided the means to reflect on and revive traditions. The popularity of tradition, as Otto and Pedersen (2000: 4) have argued, is a product and the longed-for antipode of modernity. As the contributions to a special journal issue on The revitalisation of tradition (Bräuchler & Widlok 2007) show, such a a revival never implies a return to the past but involves explicitly future-oriented strategies, often concerned with (the restoration of) political power and access to (natural) resources (see also Schlehe & Rehbein 2008a: 9). Moreover, being recognized as indigenous or as traditional often requires the confrontation and conformance with international and national regulations and laws and administrative procedures that Hirtz called ‘a form of “Bureaucratic Orientalism” [that is] … constructing and reaffirming “the Other”‘ (Hirtz 2003: 887). In Indonesia, the long-lasting Suharto regime was a persistent promoter of the modernity project by pushing economic development and the unification of Indonesia’s people.22 Religion was obligatory but depoliticized, 22 For a more general brief sketch of the modernity project, see Heelas (2005: 260-261).

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ethnicity tabooed and traditional structures and institutions were marginalized and often disfigured to the point of being unrecognizable. These were important factors why religion could become the mobilizing force in the Moluccan conflict. The current decentralization process in Indonesia (among others triggered by international pressure and a global indigenous rights movement) seems to have brought postmodernism with its emphasis on difference, fragmentation and particularity down to earth. It triggered and allowed for the emergence of sub-national identities, among others based on religion or ethnicity. The revival of tradition in Maluku is both part of this larger trend and a local attempt to cope with the aftermath of a religious war (that itself is partly a product of modernity) to be overcome by common adat. As outlined above, however, selected traditions not only needed to be revived and mobilized but also adapted to current situations and the requirements of a post-conflict society. Due to Moluccan history, the construction of such ‘modern traditions’, I would argue, needs to be based on a discursive engagement with the intermingling of religion, tradition and modernity, which, in turn, provides a strong case for the acknowledgement of multiple modernities in a globalized world more generally and in Southeast Asia in particular (see also Schlehe & Rehbein 2008b). Such an engagement could turn quotidian civility into what I would like to call informed civility, that is, civility that is not only based on tolerance, daily interaction or common ancestry, but, in addition, on an informed understanding of ‘the others’ religion and of the interrelationship between religion and tradition. It will be important to open up spaces for activities such as the Interfaith Council and reflections on the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of adat. In the face of the increasing radicalization of religion and the power-political instrumentalization of adat, creating spaces for informed civility will be important throughout Indonesia.

Acknowledgements Research for this project was supported by the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, and the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung (Germany).

Ethnicity and Violence in Bali And What Barong Landung Says about It Volker Gottowik

Introduction The perception of Bali is influenced by numerous ethnographic accounts that provide descriptions of this island and its population as peaceful, harmonious and apolitical. Among the most prominent of these accounts are Gregor Krause’s 1920 narrative of the local farmer who continued to plough his fields while Balinese royalty were being eradicated by colonial troops and ritual suicide (puputan), and – even more influential – Gregory Bateson’s equilibrium theory (1949) according to which transformations in Bali were accepted only when they allow the local population to maintain their traditional way of life. The perception of Bali as a culture where every kind of social and political change is dismissed or balanced before it is able to endanger ‘the last paradise’ retains its vitality up to the present day. This one-dimensional perception of the Balinese culture was challenged in particular by two scholars and their respective publications: Australian anthropologist Adrian Vickers’ Bali: A Paradise Created (1989) and Cornellbased historian Geoffrey Robinson’s The Dark Side of Paradise (1995). They made it clear that the image of Bali as a harmonious and peaceful culture is due to the suppression of particular historical events. In this context, both scholars refer explicitly to the massacres that followed the military coup on 30 September 1965. According to historical investigations, these massacres started in West Java and spread all over the Indonesian Republic, with the toll being among the highest in Bali. It is estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 people – roughly five per cent of the island’s population – were killed (Vickers 1989: 285 and Robinson 1995: 1). Nonetheless, these massacres did not prevent a growing number of tourists from flocking to the island. Against this background, Vickers concludes that these events were not able to threaten the social perception of Bali as ‘Island Eden’ (Vickers 1989: 3), while Robinson goes even further by adding that ‘the massacres of 1965-66 produced no appreciable impact on academic discourse about Bali’ (1995: 8). Given this measure of agreement between Vickers and Robinson, it comes as a surprise to find Vickers being quite critical and even hostile


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in his review of Robinson’s The Dark Side of Paradise, as in disparaging passages like the following: ‘Yet much of what Robinson writes about is also common knowledge, the gossip of who did what and to whom, presented in a theoretical framework’ (Vickers 1998: 777). What Vickers labels as ‘gossip’ is Robinson’s remarkable attack against ‘cultural studies’ and the anthropologists who were responsible for such studies and their dissemination. Directed against Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Jane Belo, Miguel Covarrubias and others, the US historian writes: ‘They appear not to have reflected seriously on the political and historical conditions within which they were making their observations (…)’ (Robinson 1995: 6f.). The ‘ahistorical and apolitical quality’ of their writings outreached the prewar discourse and, according to Robinson, also characterized the publications of Hildred and Clifford Geertz: ‘Important as they were as anthropological studies, to a political historian these early postwar works are remarkable for their lack of attention to time, place or historical and political context beyond the village level’ (Robinson 1995: 8). All the anthropologists just mentioned followed what Robinson calls ‘the ideology of tradition’ (ibid: 129). Mass violence, for example, is not interpreted in the wider context of colonial rule, land reform and heavy taxation, but appears in their publications as the result of ‘the religious and cultural passion of Balinese’ (ibid: 278). According to Robinson, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson in particular followed a common framework that classified violent outbursts as the necessary counterpart of an otherwise peaceful culture: ‘Signs of tension and disharmony – the “frenzy” of trance dancers or the phenomenon of “running amok” – were understood essentially as the functionally integrative mechanisms of a “well-ordered” “traditional” society’ (ibid: 6). The most important point of reference for frenzy, amok and trance became rituals in which Rangda and Barong made their appearance – two sacred figures on which these anthropologists wrote extensively (cf. Gottowik 2005). In publications such as Balinese Character (Bateson/Mead 1942), Bali: Rangda and Barong (Belo 1949) and Trance in Bali (Belo 1960), the violent encounter of the witch and the beast are interpreted in the light of a psychoanalytically informed ‘culture and personality approach’. According to this approach, the ritual battle between Rangda and Barong served the Balinese in working out childhood frustrations and trauma in order to maintain their emotional balance. Against this background, amok and trance seem to be necessary to counterbalance the otherwise even-tempered and well-adjusted Balinese personality. And, following this line of argument, pogroms and mass violence ultimately become the functional equivalent of peace and harmony.

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It is this anthropological approach, advocated most prominently by Bateson, Mead and Belo, that Robinson rejected in his book because ‘efforts to understand Balinese politics by reference to culture and personality alone seem likely to miss the mark’ (Robinson 1995: 10). However, according to Vickers, Robinson does no justice to these anthropologists since he imputes a contradiction between political economy and cultural studies instead of seeing them as complementary (Vickers 1998: 776). Despite this controversy, Robinson and Vickers highlight a particular point which is crucial for the argument of this paper: both emphasize that neither in the massacres of 1965-66 nor in later social conflicts was mass violence in Bali organized along ethnic lines. Vickers refers to the role of the military with regard to these massacres and stresses: ‘Ethnic consciousness has not been a prime feature of Balinese politics; instead, troops and commanders have reinforced local conflicts’ (Vickers 1998: 780). And Robinson stresses that Balinese politics ‘differed from politics in other parts of Indonesia’ (Robinson 1995: 9). In order to clarify this difference, he raises the following question: ‘Why, for example, has Balinese politics in this century principally come to express conflicts among Balinese – based on caste, class, familial ties, and the like – and not between Balinese and some other ethnic group (…)? In other words, we must account for the historical absence of strong ethnically based or regionalist political movements in Bali, and simultaneously for the strength of intra-Balinese political conflict’ (Robinson 1995: 9, italics added).1 In order to account for the absence of ethnicity as a major source of conflict in Bali, politically sensitive cultural approaches may refer to the Barong figures just mentioned as an established tradition and symbolic expression of popular religious beliefs on this island. For these figures not only draw attention to the relationship between Balinese and other ethnic groups in Bali, they are at the same time flexible enough to respond to political events and economic transformations. The aim of this chapter is to demonstrate that particular Barong figures reacted to the economic and monetary crisis (krisis moneter) at the end of the last century by not only going through a period of resurgence and revitalization, but also by giving advice to the local population on how to handle this crisis and other challenges of modernity (cf. Gottowik 2008b). However, the internal link between the revitalization of Barong figures and the downplaying of ethnicity in Bali can only be worked out using an 1 Pitana (2001) gives a telling example of ‘local conflicts’ or ‘conflicts among Balinese’ as mentioned by Vickers (1998) and Robinson (1995).


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approach which: (1) refers to the history of investigation of Barong figures, (2) takes the whole genre of these sacred f igures into account, and (3) overcomes the constricted theoretical framework of previous historical and cultural studies which assume an irreconcilable contradiction between religion and modernity. Following this three-fold programme, the aim of this paper is to determine why ethnically based sentiments have not been a driving force in Bali’s recent history.

Zoomorphic Barong figures and the history of ethnographic reports on Bali A brief look at the history of ethnography in Bali shows that Barong figures attracted systematic ethnographic attention only at the beginning of the early 20th century. Since then, however, they have become one of the central features of reporting on Bali. Today, thanks to the publications of Bateson, Mead and Belo, they are a sign and symbol of Balinese culture and probably more effective than ever before. The first descriptions of Barong figures date from the middle of the 19th century. Travellers like the Swiss biologist Heinrich Zollinger (1845), the German linguist Rudolf Friederich (1849) and the Dutch doctor Julius Jacobs (1883) encountered these sacred figures when the Dutch colonial system advanced to the south of Bali and extended its control over kingdoms like Gianyar and Badung, where Barong figures are common. However, when they finally ran across these figures, they were not very impressed by them but rather amused by what they saw, namely adult Balinese men disguised as lions, tigers or boars performing ecstatic dances in public. The animal-like or zoomorphic Barong figures became the focus of ethnographic interest only with the rise of evolutionist ideas and related theories of totemism at the start of the 20th century. Ethnographers like Hans Neuhaus (1937), Beryl de Zoete and Walter Spies (1938) were convinced that, in zoomorphic Barong figures, they were seeing the first and original form of a religious idea in Bali. From this perspective, special ethnographic attention had to be given to these figures, since according to evolutionist premises, all later belief systems could be deduced from them. Therefore in the 1930s a great number of ethnographic publications appeared on Barong figures, which elevated them to the status of a sign or emblem of Balinese culture. Finally, Barong figures became so popular that not even the decline of totemism, which Lévi-Strauss called an illusion (Lévi-Strauss 1962), had any effect on their emblematic character for the whole of Balinese culture.

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Immediately before the Second World War, however, the focus of ethnographic interest shifted and included the widow-witch Rangda, who, in a symbolic battle, provokes and fights the Barong but is unable to defeat him. Western ethnographers such as Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead (1942) and Jane Belo (1949) did extensive research on the Barong-Rangda complex and the ritual battle between these magically powerful figures (Gottowik 2010a). Bateson and Mead in particular were convinced that this battle gave ethnographers access to the dark side of the Balinese character. According to them, this dark side was expressed in trance, amok and frenzy. And these phenomena had to be carefully investigated in order to acquire a complete and valid picture of the Balinese personality. This stance probably received its most vivid expression by the novelist Vicki Baum, who visited Bali in 1935. In A Tale from Bali (1937), she let one of her protagonists explain: ‘We are always in danger of being in error about the Balinese. They are so polite, so gentle, so submissive, with all the reckless gaiety of children. The barong shows one that all this can turn in a trice to cruelty, to frenzy – and it is important to remember that when dealing with the Balinese. Otherwise you may find all at once that you are out in your reckoning’ (Baum 1992 [1937]: 274). Bateson and Mead tried to explain the two contrasting sides of the Balinese character (gaiety vs. cruelty and frenzy, in Baum’s terms) by deducing it from a culturally specific interaction between mother and child. The underlying structure of this interaction they described as follows: the mother stimulates the child to show emotions (anger, enjoyment, tenderness etc.), but before this interaction reaches its maximum of intensity (‘climax’), she turns away and thus frustrates the child systematically. This interaction, called an ‘undercut before the climax’, leads first to tantrum on the part of the child but eventually to a kind of autism. Due to these early childhood experiences, the Balinese personality is characterized by a specific absentmindedness (‘awayness’), cut off form interpersonal relationships, but creative in the arts, dancing and gambling (Bateson & Mead 1942: 47). Bateson and Mead’s analysis finally concluded with the statement that, in a Western context, the Balinese character had to be called ‘schizoid’ (ibid: xvi) – a pathologization of an entire culture which provoked the protest of many anthropological colleagues (Jensen & Suryani 1992). All classic works on the Barong-Rangda complex date back to ethnographic research in the 1930s and early 1940s and were published between 1937 and 1949. As Barong figures were thought to have been sufficiently investigated during that period, hardly any research was carried out subsequently on this topic. Ethnographic interest in the Barong-Rangda complex


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rapidly decreased further with its commercialization as a consequence of the mass tourism that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Instead of ethnographic monographs, it is now high-volume travel guides that popularize Barong figures. There is not a single travel guide about Bali that does not mention Barong figures, and most of them display impressive photos of special stage shows that are performed for tourists only. By the end of the 20th century, Barong figures had become directly associated in the Western imagination with Bali and vice versa, even though many Balinese, particularly in the north of the island, are unfamiliar with this aspect of their traditional culture. Barong figures are thus a telling example illustrating the impact of ethnographic publications on the social perception of an entire culture. These publications shaped the image of Bali as a harmonious culture whose internal balance was stabilized by recurrent periods of frenzy. And finally they provided a model to explain mass violence not as a reaction to social contradictions but as an intrinsic part of the Hindu-Balinese religion, which occurs repeatedly in order to maintain its internal equilibrium. However, Western research on Barong was entirely focused on zoomorphic Barong figures, especially Barong Ket, which is characterized by a head mask of a lion and the tail of a dragon. Anthropomorphic Barong figures (for example, Barong Landung) have largely been ignored, since they had no academic appeal when the ethnography of Bali was going through its formative period. As an expression of ancestor worship, these human-like figures were not compatible with the premises of totemism. Barong Landung figures became ethnographically relevant only recently, as they symbolically grasp and ritually treat a topic that almost all societies are actually confronted with, namely interethnic or – to use the more fashionable term – transcultural relations in a more or less globalized world (see also Gottowik 2010b). It is the aim of this paper to demonstrate that as part of a flexible or modern tradition, they provide the key to understanding why ethnicity with regard to mass violence actually is quite negligible in Bali.

Barong Landung, or when the Other is Chinese Every year, on the full moon closest to the spring equinox, i.e. in March or at the beginning of April, Barong figures perform a purification ritual (melasti) in the coastal areas to the south and southeast of Bali. On this particular occasion, not only Barong figures in the shape of a lion, tiger or boar but also Barong figures in the shape of human beings are to be observed in full swing. These anthropomorphic Barong figures are called Barong Landung.

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Barong Landung figures consist of a black man and a white woman, and they always make their appearance as a couple. Some of these couples are escorted by other human-like figures, which in this case are called their children. These small groups of ‘giant puppets’, with up to five different characters, are by far the most important anthropomorphic figures within the category of Barong. Whom they represent is not easy to find out, since contradictory information about their origins and backgrounds are given by the ritual actors. In contrast to the zoomorphic Barong Ket, ethnographic information about Barong Landung figures is sparse, since they have been widely ignored by the academic community. Figure 1 The female character of Barong Landung

Photo: Volker Gottowik

Travel reports from the mid-19th century are the first sources which refer to ‘giant puppets’ in the south of Bali, but only at the beginning of the 20th century were Barong Landung figures mentioned for the first time in the ethnographic literature (Helms 1882; see also Jasper 1913; Kreutzberg 1929). However, the only text to focus on anthropomorphic Barong figures is an article by the German painter, musician and ethnographer Walter Spies (1933), which is concerned with Barong Berutuk – also anthropomorphic figures, but quite distinct from Barong Landung and maintained exclusively in the village of Trunjan. Barong Landung figures should be distinguished clearly from all other Barong figures in appearance, not least since they are the only figures in this category that are able to speak. Jero Gedé (the man) and Jero Luh (the


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woman), as these two Barong Landung figures are called, hold intelligible dialogues and perform songs with a complicated metre. Since the repertoire of what the white lady and the black man sing and speak is flexible, references to political turmoil, economic transformations and other challenges of modernity are possible at any time. Apart from their songs and dialogues, Barong Landung figures make symbolic statements at three different levels: the masks (1), the rituals (2) and the myths (3). The interplay of these levels with songs and dialogues (4) provides these sacred figures with a unique and unmistakable profile. (1) The masks show a wild black man and a beautiful white woman, and in this way they clearly represent a couple that is both heterosexual and multiethnic. Difference and alterity are marked by opposites like man vs. woman, black vs. white, ugly vs. beautiful, dagger vs. cloth, receding vs. protruding forehead and chin, open mouth with dominant teeth vs. closed mouth with enigmatic smile, and many other iconographic details. Using the Indonesian terms, one may say that difference and alterity are marked by kasar and halus, by a rough and a noble character respectively. (2) The rituals are prescribed in accordance with the calendar in the sense that they follow cosmic events (new moon, full moon, spring and fall equinox, etc.); additionally they are carried out in crisis situations (like epidemics or poor harvests), in which they reveal their protective (apothropaeic) power. Among these rituals of intervention in crises is a ritual drama called Mesolah Ratu Gedé, in the course of which a legendary story is turned into a theatre play providing a foundation for the generation and maintenance of Barong Landung figures in Bali. (3) The myths and legends belong exclusively to oral tradition, and at least three different strands can be distinguished in these stories. These strands provide contradictory foundations for the same ritual actions and have also been taken up by other social and ethnic groups in Bali, who have modified them in accordance with their own interests. In other words, the ethnic Chinese, the Balinese in the south and other social and ethnic groups in Bali prefer different stories with different plots and morals. This has also been the case during several events: in 1990 STSI, a Balinese high school in Denpasar, and in 1998 PSMTI, an association of ethnic Chinese in Bali, took up different strands to produce on-stage dramas, which gave contradictory interpretations of the same subject. These dramas were shown at the Balinese Arts Festival in Denpasar, broadcasted on television (RTI) and reviewed in national newspapers (Bali Post). (4) The songs and dialogues form a repertoire that embraces both entertaining and instructional aspects, showing the male figure in such different

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roles as Jero Ayan (an ordinary villager), Sampik (an unfortunate Chinese schoolboy), I Babah (an elder Chinese man) and Tuanku Raja (a Balinese King). The ability to play completely different roles with the same character or mask also characterizes the female figure. This permeability of roles underlines the highly complex and inconsistent appearance of this pair of sacred figures. Barong Landung figures make symbolic statements on these four different levels, which can be called iconic, ritual, mythical and performative respectively. Some of these levels are constantly changing and, in different contexts, are placed in different ways in relation to one another. Because of these constant moves and permanent shifts, other significance-generating references are continually being formed, establishing the poly-semantic and multi-vocal character of Barong Landung figures. Since every performance is a little different, it is evident that the significance of this traditional medium cannot be defined in general, but is embedded in the single ritual event. Figure 2 Barong Landung form part of a temple ceremony

Photo: Volker Gottowik

On the level of the stories and dialogues, encompassing semantic commonalities only emerge when one reduces the complexity of the field of narratives to the two most important strands. According to these strands, the black man represents a Hindu from India or Bali and the white woman a Buddhist from China. As a married couple, these two together point out the cultural and religious roots from which the Hindu Balinese culture once emerged. Barong Landung figures not only express on a symbolic level but


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at the same time also shape what many Balinese believe about the origins of their culture, i.e. that Hinduism, holy texts (Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc.) and the script are derived from India, while Buddhism, coins (Kepeng, Pis Polong), various plants and dishes once came from China. According to the ritual actors, the unique Hindu-Balinese culture was established when these influences from two different sources came together and blended into something new. In this sense, many Hindu-Balinese hold a hybrid concept of their culture and a partly global understanding of their local traditions. Following this concept, the alien (India, China, etc.) is incorporated into the cultural past of the Balinese and shown as being related to the latter, thus giving rise to a certain ambivalence: since the ethnic Chinese are regarded as elder siblings (saudara tua) by many Hindu-Balinese, not only is their esteem required, but their avoidance in marriage is also justified with reference to this assumed kinship. Against the background of this ambivalence, it becomes obvious that the Hindu-Balinese are acting out their social relationship with the Chinese minority through the medium of Barong Landung. The message that is given on the different symbolic levels is contradictory and oscillates between social acceptance and martial avoidance. Actually, however, the message of these effigies implies that Buddhist China and Hindu Bali belong together, without being allowed to lose their distinctiveness. This message is symbolically expressed, ritually worked out and normatively anchored by means of Barong Landung. With the white lady (Putri Cina) in particular, the ritual actors recall on a visual level that the Chinese have been at home in Bali for many generations, that they have contributed to the fusion of Hinduism and Buddhism, i.e. the establishment of the Hindu-Balinese religion, and that their presence on the island is therefore to the advantage of all. As part of ancestor worship in Bali, the Putri Cina is venerated as one of the first ancestors of the Balinese. She downplays the significance of ethnicity and visualises on a symbolic level the notion that social and cultural differences had to be suspended in order to establish culture and religion in Bali as they are known today. By referring to a mythical-legendary relationship between a Balinese or Indian king and a Chinese lady, Barong Landung figures are not only a model of such multi-ethnic and multi-religious relationships, but at the same time a model for such relationships (Geertz 1973a: 93). However, since it remains an open question whether this multi-cultural couple was able to produce descendants, the white lady and her black consort are surrounded by a particular ambivalence. Due to this ambivalence, other symbolic statements are generated by small transformations with regard to the interplay of the four meaningful

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levels mentioned above. On the level of myths and legends, it is crucial what the respective stories and narratives emphasize. They may emphasize the economic advantages brought by the Chinese lady as representative of a so-called high culture2; or they may emphasize social barrenness, since succession could not be confirmed. Against this background, the message of Barong Landung oscillates between social integration and ethnic segregation. Whatever statement is made, however, Barong Landung figures function as a traditional media to negotiate transcultural relations: they are a flexible means to communicate internally about the Chinese minority in Bali and to find collectively a consensus on how to interact with them.3 Figure 3 Barong Landung as part of a cleansing ceremony (melasti) at the seaside

Photo: Volker Gottowik

2 Many Hindu-Balinese are convinced that Chinese culture is not only much older than their own but also superior. To clarify this idea, they will refer to the Balinese caste system: just as it is not allowed for a man to marry a woman from a higher caste, it is not allowed for a Balinese man to court a Chinese woman. 3 Even though interpretations do vary, performances never fall short of a particular position according to which the Chinese have been at home on Bali for many generations and their influence on the history, culture and religion of this island has been beneficial for everybody. However, the rather peaceful coexistence with the ethnic Chinese is neither inscribed into Balinese hearts and minds nor an expression of ‘Balinese Character’, but something that has to be established and re-established anew by every generation. This is done not least by means of Barong Landung figures and the religious principles conveyed, revitalized and disseminated by them.


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A careful analysis of present-day performances at the village level may demonstrate that Barong Landung figures actually speak out in favour of peaceful cohabitation of the Chinese and the Balinese in Bali (Gottowik 2005). However, the plain fact that social relations with the ethnic Chinese on Bali are expressed and shaped by Barong Landung is interesting against the historical background of these relations, which have been fraught with conflict and violence over many generations. If ethnicity is actually not a source of conflict in Bali, since religion and culture are conceptualized as hybrid or syncretic, a crucial question remains: where were Barong Landung figures and what did they say when the 1965-66 massacres occurred?

The massacres of 1965-66 in Indonesia The Chinese in Indonesia are known as the ‘Jews of the East’. This equation can be traced back in literary documents to the middle of the 19th century, was repeated throughout the early twentieth century and is still used today (Krause 1922 [1920]: 39). It refers to the particular situation of this ethnic minority in Indonesia, which had to deal with a variety of prohibitions: Chinese names, ideographs, newspapers and schools were forbidden, cultural activities suppressed, the purchase of land banned, settlements restricted to urban centres, etc. (Heryanto 1998: 99). 4 This discrimination forced many Chinese into business and commerce, including money trading, and as an unintended consequence of this discrimination some of them became economically successful and extremely influential in terms of politics. As a result of their exposed position in society, they were blamed for anything that went wrong in Indonesia, and as scapegoats they repeatedly became the victims of pogroms and mass violence – locally called ‘anti-Chinese disturbances’ (Kerusuhan Anti-Cina; Sidel 2006: 1).5 4 The suppression of Confucianism as a so-called ‘Chinese religion’ has a history of its own which began in 1961 when the Ministry of Religion promulgated a definition of religion (agama). The criteria included ‘a holy scripture, a prophet, the absolute overlordship of Tuhan Yang Maha Esa, and a system of law for its followers’ (Abalahin 2005: 127). While President Sukarno recognized Confucianism as one of the six official religions, the ‘New Order’ regime immediately began to exert pressure on it. In 1967, Suharto issued a Presidential Instruction that imposed formal restrictions on the practice of ‘Chinese religion’, and in 1979 Confucianism eventually lost its status as agama. Until the end of the ‘New Order’ regime, ethnic Chinese in Indonesia found themselves under constant pressure to convert to Christianity or Buddhism (see Abalahin 2005: 128ff.). 5 Clifford Geertz, who did research on Java in the 1950s, tries to explain mass violence against the Chinese minority in Indonesia as follows: ‘One of the most important reasons for the extreme

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Against this background, the massacres of 1965-66 were often identified as just another case of mass violence against the Chinese minority in Indonesia. These massacres were perpetrated in reaction to a failed or faked coup against President Sukarno (the historical facts of Gestapu6 have never been clarified) and had as their first and most prominent target the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI), which was blamed for the death of six high-ranking generals of the Indonesian army. The dynamic of events as described by the Christian Science Monitor’s Far Eastern correspondent, John Hughes, was as follows: ‘When the army gave the green light for the crackdown on the communists, it also touched off a witch-hunt against the Chinese. (…) Chinese shops were closed, their owners forced to flee. Some towns in which the Chinese were predominant became deserted overnight, like Nevada ghost towns’ (Hughes 1967: 200).7 More recent investigations, however, came to the conclusion that, despite the fact that Chinese shops were looted and their owners expelled, these violent acts were not directed against the Chinese as an ethnic group. Contrary to prevailing assumptions, the historian Robert Cripp and the political scientist Charles Coppel, for example, refer to ‘the myth of a genocide of Chinese Indonesians’ (Cribb & Coppel 2009: 455) and emphasize the following: ‘(…) the overwhelming majority of victims in the 1965-66 massacres were indigenous Indonesians who were identified for slaughter by their association with the PKI’ (ibid: 448). And finally they conclude: ‘(…) there is simply no evidence for a special targeting of Chinese for murder during this period’ (ibid: 448). It was ‘a political massacre, not an ethnic pogrom’ (ibid: 448). This is also confirmed by Clifford Geertz, who cites an eyewitness in his autobiography making the following statement: ‘Women were killed as instability in the relations between Javanese and Chinese, for example, is just such an ominous coalescence of racial, economic, and religious factors all going in the same direction. The chances for open violence in such a situation are greater than in a case where the divisive aspects of racial and religious difference and inequality of wealth do not support but check one another’ (Geertz 1960: 371). The formal restrictions imposed on everything Chinese gave rise to an emphasis on religious and cultural differences and in this sense contributed, at least indirectly, to mass violence against the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. 6 Gestapu is the abbreviation of ‘Gerakan September Tigapuluh’ (‘Thirtieth of September Movement’), which was held responsible for the abortive coup in Jakarta. 7 Barong figures repeatedly appear in reports about the massacres of 1965-66 (see, for example, Robinson 1995: 301). A telling story is the following: ‘With the situation running out of control, the opportunity was taken to settle old scores within and between village communities with the keris or lance. According to Balinese informants, armed groups – the leader carrying a barong-mask recharged with magic power – invaded “hostile” banjar at night, massacring their inhabitants: women, children, the young and old’ (Hobart et al. 1996: 214).


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well as men, but, though a few stores were looted, no Chinese were harmed. They were not involved: it was a matter between Javanese’ (Geertz 1995: 9). 8 However, since the Chinese in Indonesia in general and in Bali in particular were identified with the People’s Republic of China and the PKI, anti-communist and anti-Chinese riots were closely connected with one another (Chua-Franz 2002: 123). Similar positions were expressed by a variety of scholars. According to Robinson, the ethnic Chinese were targeted, ‘particularly if they had been associated with the pro-PKI, ethnically Chinese political party Baperki’ (Robinson 1995: 291). And according to Vickers, ‘Chinese in Bali and Java were executed both because China was associated with the PKI, and because Balinese were jealous of Chinese business successes’ (Vickers 1989: 172). These statements make it clear that violence against the Chinese minority should not be downplayed: ‘Arguing that there was no genocide of Chinese in Indonesia in 1965-66 is not to suggest that there was little or no violence against them’ (Cribb & Coppel, 2009: 451). Cripp and Coppel have dozens of examples of violent attacks against the Chinese minority, but they emphasize that ‘the vast majority of the victims were selected for their involvement with the PKI regardless of ethnicity’ (Cribb 2002: 557, italics added). Therefore one may conclude that the victims were not perceived as Chinese, but as communists, which in the perception of many perpetrators was almost the same thing.9 In order to have additional indicators that ethnicity was not a driving force for mass violence in 1965-66, it would be interesting to know how Barong Landung figures in general and the female Chinese character in particular reacted and how they performed. Due to the trauma caused by the massacres (Santikarma 2005 and Dwyer & Santikarma 2007), research on this topic and its impact on traditional Balinese culture, its dances, dramas and songs, has been difficult to conduct. The few cultural studies that were carried out directly before or after the massacre did not refer 8 According to Woodward, the ‘killings were politicide, an extreme form of state violence in which political groups are targeted for extermination’ (2011b: 38). In this, Woodward is following B. Harf who ‘prefers the term politicide because it retains the analytic distinction between etho-religious [!] and political motivations’ (ibid: 53). 9 This paper does not intend to ignore the recurrent violence against ethnic Chinese on Bali. It merely refers to statements of leading historians and anthropologists who emphasize that ethnically based violence was not a driving force in the recent history of Bali (see Robinson 1995 and Vickers 1998), not even during the riots that shook Indonesia in 1965-66 and 1998 (see Cribb/ Coppel 2009). In order to understand these particularities, this contribution focuses on Barong Landung figures and on the moral principles conveyed by them as part of a highly flexible or modern tradition.

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to Barong Landung figures, their songs and dialogues. Research on these figures did not take place, and even those who conducted ethnographic research on the Barong continued to work exclusively on the fabulous Barong Ket in the tradition of Bateson, Mead and Belo. It is remarkable that Clifford Geertz, who did fieldwork in Bali in 1957-58, puts himself explicitly in this tradition: he refers to Bateson, Mead and Belo as ‘a series of unusually gifted ethnographers’ (Geertz 1973a: 114), characterizes their description of the Rangda-Barong combat as ‘brilliant’ (Geertz 1973c: 403) and denotes this combat as ‘the “dark” side of the Balinese religion’ (Geertz 1973b: 180). Even though Geertz did not follow a psychoanalytic framework or ‘culture and personality approach’ but used instead the Rangda and Barong complex to exemplify his symbolic or interpretive anthropology, the influence of Mead and company was strong enough that not only in his work but also in almost all publications on Bali the generic name ‘Barong’ became highly identified with a single species, i.e. the fabulous Barong Ket (for a popular report from this period, see Dölcher 1959). The classics of Mead and her associates on the Barong Rangda complex, published in the 1930s and 1940s, are rated as so complete and exhaustive that almost no other studies on this complex have been conducted up to the present day. As far as Rangda is concerned, Belo’s work is still ‘the only monograph to be dedicated to the subject’ (Fossey 2008: 74). And in the same sense, the Barong is chronically underresearched.10 In fact, there is not a single ethnographic report that could be consulted about Barong Landung figures, what they did and what they said, when mass violence occurred in Bali. How they reacted in their songs and dialogues can only be deduced from later violent events such as May 1998.

Mass violence in May 1998 in Indonesia The last pogrom against the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia took place during the riots of May 1998, when Suharto was forced to step down as president. In the course of these events, an estimated 1,200 people died in the streets of Jakarta and other Indonesian cities. Most of the victims were ethnic Chinese. 10 Among the few exceptions are publications by Andrew Beatty, who in his ‘Varieties of Javanese Religion’ elaborates on Barong figures in Java, and by Angela Hobart, who highlights the protective and curative attributes of ‘Banaspati Raja’, i.e. Barong Ket (Hobart 1995 and Beatty 1999: 59-84).


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The events are well documented. The Canadian political scientist Jacques Bertrand writes, for example: ‘When riots broke out in Jakarta and across several cities in mid-May 1998, Chinese Indonesians were again targeted. Hundreds were killed. Dozens of Chinese women were raped’ (Bertrand 2004: 67; see also Purday 2006: 121ff.). The renowned German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung confirmed violence against female members of the Chinese minority and published an article under the headline ‘Because you are a Chinawoman, you must be raped’ (FAZ, 21 July 1998).11 Against the background of this gendered violence, the white mask of the Barong Landung couple deserves special attention, since this mask represents just such a ‘Chinawoman’. Around the festive period of Galungan and Kuningan, Barong Landung figures descend from temple shines and leave temple yards in order to perform publicly in the streets of big towns and small villages all over the south and southeast of Bali.12 As a couple, they trek from gate to gate (ngelawang), and after they have received some sacrifices and prayers, they dance and sing and sometimes even engage in sexual relations, i.e. she becomes the target of the sexual desires of her black consort. Against the background of the sexual violence against ‘Chinawomen’ in the streets of Jakarta, the behaviour of Barong Landung figures is unsettling. However, careful analysis can demonstrate that the insinuated sexual act of these figures, which the Hindu-Balinese call porno sekali, is not directed towards the dignity of the white lady. According to the ritual actors, this behaviour is first of all an expression of the well-known fact that the white lady and her black companion were married to one another. Even though this is only the exegesis made by the ritual performers, it is supported by some anthropologists of religion. According to the French scholar Arnold van Gennep, in many traditional societies the public performance of ritual intercourse represents the social affiliation and symbolic incorporation of the person involved into society (Gennep [1909] 1986: 42). It is a symbolic act of social integration. And according to the Australian scholar Raechelle Rubinstein, who explicitly refers to the Balinese context, ‘the sexual act 11 The article by Erhard Haubold was published in the German original under the heading ‘Weil du eine Chinesin bist, mußt du vergewaltigt werden’, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 27 July 1998. 12 Hari Raya Galungan and Hari Raya Kuningan, as these holidays are officially called, were characterized as ‘an All Souls’ Day on which one also celebrates All Saints’ (Swellengrebel 1960: 41). This characterization of the high season of Barong activities is in line with the interpretation of the Barong Landung figures as first ancestors (kawitan) and the associated rituals as ancestor worship.

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performed as ritual symbolizes the union of opposites’ (Rubinstein 2000: 108f.). Against this background, it becomes obvious that the sexual behaviour of the Barong Landung figures reminds the ritual actors – i.e. the Hindu-Balinese – that the Chinese have been accepted as marriage partners for many generations and are now an integrated part of Balinese society. That the white lady is neither disgraced nor violated but rather socially integrated is also underlined by the songs performed by this Barong Landung couple. During the spring of 1998, only a few weeks before the mass violence and mass rapes occurred in a number of Indonesian cities, Barong Landung figures, for example in the village of Pejeng, District of Gianyar, performed songs and dialogues that addressed the economic and monetary crisis in Indonesia (krisis moneter). They made food shortages a topic, but instead of pointing to a scapegoat, they emphasized that this crisis could only be managed with patience and joint efforts. They asked the people not to despair, but to stick together and to solve the problem in solidarity with one another (for more details, see Gottowik 2005: 356ff.). In fact, in May 1998, no violent acts occurred against the Chinese minority in Bali.13 Instead many Chinese, who were affluent enough to escape from the violence in Jakarta, fled to either Singapore or Bali. It is obvious that the Chinese felt more secure and tolerated in Bali than in other parts of Indonesia. This tolerance derived not least from popular religious principles, which were symbolically expressed and shaped through the medium of Barong Landung.14 Among these principles is the conviction that Hinduism and Buddhism, India and China belong together, and that the differences that once divided religion and culture were suspended in the Hindu-Balinese faith. This conviction of belonging is expressed by the local population as the ‘Spirit of Balingkang’, Balingkang being the place in the central mountains of Bali (and today a temple complex), where the legendary marriage between the Balinese king and his Chinese maiden took place and the kinship between the Chinese and the Balinese was established. With regard to May 1998 and previous violent assaults, Jacques Bertrand emphasized: ‘Violence against the Chinese Indonesians has its roots in 13 ‘We also need to study cases where violence does not happen’ (Purday 2004: 215). Following this statement, this paper attempts to give some reasons why there was no violence against the Chinese minority on Bali in May 1998. 14 Despite the vitality of these principles, which are reaffirmed by every Barong Landung performance, Howe is absolutely right when he emphasizes that ‘cultural values do not translate simply into social practice’ (Howe 1989: 109). However, since these principles are based on religion, they are quite effective.


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the recurring institutionalization of exclusion. (…) They were singled out as outsiders, non-Indonesians, non-asli, non-pribumi’ (Bertrand 2004: 59). Barong Landung figures, in contrast, remind the ritual actors that the Chinese are part and parcel of their history and culture; Jero Luh (the Chinese lady) and Jero Gede (her black companion) were perceived and venerated by the Hindu-Balinese as relatives, sometimes even as their first ancestors (kawitan). They are, as this paper has tried to demonstrate, a traditional medium that serves the ritual actors to define their social relations with the ethnic Chinese in Bali. If anthropologists like Bateson, Mead and Belo had focussed on Barong Landung instead of the fabulous Barong Ket, a different picture of the Hindu-Balinese culture might have emerged. They would probably have discovered that social equilibrium is not secured by amok and trance but through the conceptualization of culture and religion on Bali as being fundamentally hybrid or syncretic.15

The Chinese in Indonesia in the era of reformasi The economic crisis at the end of the last century ultimately led to a revitalization of ritual traditions and masked performances in order to face the challenges connected with it. This is clearly expressed by Cokorda Raka Tisnu, one of the most renowned mask carvers on Bali (Gottowik 2008b). After years of a steady fall in demand, he was asked again by the local population to carve new masks or restore old ones. Almost forgotten Barong Ket figures were reactivated to protect the villages against all kinds of external threats, and newly consecrated Barong Landung figures paraded through the streets, reminding the bystanders of Hindu-Balinese principles such as Tri Hita Karana, Tri Kaya Parisuda or Tat Twam Asi as well as of the plain fact that differences among people are meaningless in the face of the differences between man and god.16 Finally, the Chinese minority also contributed to the revival of the Barong cult in Indonesia, which they used as a cultural feature to express their new political freedom in the Republic of Indonesia (see Juniarta 2001 and Lio 2001). These transformations have to be seen against the background that under all three presidents after the

15 For a critique of ‘the essentialist assumption of a per-se peaceful and timeless “Balinese Character”’, see also Hornbacher (2011). 16 For a popular commentary on these principles, see Agung (2009); for a more critical discussion, particularly of the concept of Tat Twam Asi, see Fox (2011: 21ff.).

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fall of Suharto, measures were taken to eliminate discrimination against the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia (Bertrand 2004: 70). While president Habibie paved the way for political liberalization, it was Abdurrahman ‘Gus Dur’ Wahid who in 2000 issued a Presidential Instruction that reinstated Confucianism (Agama Khonghucu) as a legitimate religion, thus reinvigorating the cultural and religious rights of the Chinese in Indonesia. Megawati completed this process of rehabilitation in 2002 by declaring Chinese New Year (Imlek) a national holiday. However, it is particularly the already mentioned fourth president of the Republic of Indonesia who is identified with this process, and thus ‘Gus Dur is like a father figure, “Bapak Tionghoa”’ to many ethnic Chinese in Indonesia (Soebagjo 2008: 144). The suspension of various discriminatory regulations made Chinese culture and religion an integral part of the evolving cultural landscape of Indonesia. Political parties and non-government organizations have since been formed by ethnic Chinese, and the Chinese language and press have undergone a revival in the past decade. The resurgence of Chinese culture found symbolic expression in the barongsai dragon dance, which was performed again in the streets of Jakarta, Medan, and other Indonesian cities for the first time after more than 30 years of suppression (Abalahin 2005: 138). To the surprise of many observers, the period of reform and democratization after Suharto’s downfall was marked by a significant decline in violence against the ethnic Chinese in Indonesia: ‘This decline can be explained partly by a sudden normative change regarding Chinese Indonesians. The killings of May 1998, and especially the brutality of the rapes, horrified the Indonesian political elite (…). After May 1998, the tone suddenly changed to one of sympathy. Public statements from politicians of all streams reaffirmed the inclusive values of the Indonesian nation and the place of the Chinese Indonesians as citizens and equal members’ (Bertrand 2004: 68).17 Against the background of these recent historical changes, Barong Landung figures acquired new significance generating references. These sacred figures and in particular the white mask of the Putri Cina remind us inevitably of the killings of May 1998, but also of the existence of inclusive 17 Against this background, it is interesting to note what David Harnish has to say about the relationship between the Balinese and the Chinese on the Muslim-dominated island of Lombok: ‘In January 2000 violence erupted in Lombok against Christian churches and businesses (mostly owned by Chinese-Indonesians, a frequent target of violence in Indonesia) (…). Nearly every church and targeted business was destroyed; interestingly, the only churches saved were those located in Balinese communities that local Hindu Balinese decided to defend’ (Harnish 2006: 14).


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values which had not been entirely forgotten, at least not on Bali. In this regard, they produce historical consciousness and contribute to social coherence – unless the ambivalence in which they are suspended is used to draw different conclusions. However, being part of a modern tradition, Barong Landung figures contribute to giving meaning to the past and to shaping the future of Bali as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. The terrorist attacks on Bali in 2002 and 2005 were certainly a test case for the Hindu-Balinese and another challenge for their attitude towards ethnicity and violence. As a matter of fact, a counterattack which many expected in the aftermath of the bombing never materialized (see Pedersen 2009 and MacRae 2010). However, the Bali bombs conveyed a feeling of vulnerability to which many Balinese reacted by reasserting their religious, ethnic and cultural identity as exemplified in the motto Ajeg Bali (‘Bali Stand up’) (Picard 2011: 18). Supported by local media such as Bali TV, Bali Post and not least PHDI (Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia or the Indonesian Hindu Council), Ajeg Bali became part of a larger movement that many observers equate with ‘the rise of Balinese nationalist or Hindu fundamentalist sentiment in Bali’ (Rhoads 2007; see also Pedersen 2009). The assumed link between the Bali bombings and Javanese migrants finally led to increased anti-Muslim sentiment on the part of the Hindu-Balinese. ‘Yet in fact there have been very few instances of communal violence targeting Muslims on Bali’ (Pedersen 2009: 3).18 It is due to the combination of the above-mentioned aspects that HinduBalinese did not resort to a violent solution to present-day problems and challenges of modernity. Beyond the religious principles, which this paper attempted to highlight as far as they are associated with Barong Landung, there is a vital interest in keeping Bali safe and peaceful for tourists and other visitors, because the image of being ‘aman’ is probably Bali’s most rewarding cultural capital (see Howe 1989; Vickers 2003 and Pedersen 2009). Most Balinese are aware that it is prudent to get along not only with the Chinese minority but also with migrants from Java and other parts of Indonesia, since they are only a small minority in a Muslim-majority nation. 18 The Muslim-Hindu relations on Bali are not discussed in this paper for the simple reason that Barong Landung has nothing to say about them. However, Pedersen’s statement concerning these relations and the extent of violence on Bali is worth citing at length: ‘(…) the absence of serious violence does not show that the erstwhile stereotype of Bali as a peaceful paradise has been proven right after all. It’s not that there is never communal or mob violence here, for there is – against suspected thieves, witches, or opponents in adat (customary law) grievances. Many people also talk quite casually of the violence they participated in or observed during the anti-communist pogroms of 1965 (which, we might note, didn’t express itself in Hindu-Muslim violence either)’ (Pedersen 2009).

Contested Moksa in Balinese Agama Hindu Balinese Death Rituals between Ancestor Worship and Modern Hinduism Annette Hornbacher Modernity and religion The philosopher Immanuel Kant claimed that in the age of Enlightenment, religion as well as political power have to defend their truth claims in the face of a universal reason. Consequently, religion was not abandoned altogether, but rather became internally rationalized by the attempt to replace this-worldly forms of spiritual experience and charismatic power with a logically coherent religious doctrine. From a sociological point of view, Max Weber thus describes modernization as a process of increasing and comprehensive rationalization that results in a secular world view or in a pervasive ‘disenchantment’ of the world that corresponds to the Calvinist and capitalist ‘habitus’ of this-worldly asceticism (1988 [1920]). This description of a ‘disenchanted’ world applies even though during the last decade the ‘grand recit’ of secularization has been shattered by the unforeseen fact that religion became a powerful aspect of world politics – a process that has been identified by some scholars as a ‘return of religion’ in modern society (Berger 1999; Riesebrodt 2001; Habermas 2005). In what follows, I will investigate if and in which respects the model of modernization as rationalization can be applied to the religious field of Bali, giving special regard to a politics of religion in Indonesia that seeks to reinterpret the various ritual and cosmological traditions of the archipelago in line with the principles of a modern religion (agama). The Indonesian republic officially guarantees religious freedom and pluralism, albeit only with a strict definition of religion informed by the paradigm of a monotheist and scriptural world religion that implies a prophet and a holy book preserving a universal and coherent doctrine. Paradigmatic of this agama is the national majority religion Islam, but it would be misleading to assume that this politics serves a tacit Islamization; rather, it imposes the Enlightenment idea of religion as a universal and logically coherent doctrine encompassing ritual practices, cosmological traditions and animist beliefs


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including indigenous forms of a distinctively Indonesian Islam. Ultimately, Indonesian politics aims at the consequent reinterpretation of presumably backward forms of immanent ancestor and nature worship in terms of a rationally coherent and thus potentially universal belief system or doctrine. I will consider this politically imposed programme of religious modernization with respect to Balinese death rituals inasmuch as they represent intersections between local forms of animism and ancestor veneration on the one hand and the teachings of a modernist Reform Hinduism on the other hand. This applies particularly to the colourful Balinese cremation (ngaben) that is considered to be emblematic both of Balinese culture and of Hinduism in general and thus has become the target of systematic reinterpretation in terms of an allegedly universalistic Hindu religion (agama Hindu). This creates puzzling effects because, as I will show, the cremation ritual underwent radical reinterpretations according to shifting political frames, and I argue that especially the Reform Hinduism of modern agama politics introduces an idea of moksa as final liberation that is inconsistent with the aesthetics and dramaturgy of a ritual practice that in fact relates to the worship of ancestors within the world, and not to individual liberation from it. This reinterpretation of a local ritual tradition (adat) in terms of an allegedly universal Hinduism has been described as a shift from Bali’s traditional ‘orthopraxy’ to a universal Hindu ‘orthodoxy’1 that was launched when the Indonesian ministry of religion suspected the Balinese of having no proper religion but only a wide range of local rituals for the veneration of ancestors and deities of their natural environment. And even worse: the Balinese were considered backward animists who did ‘not yet’ fulfil the political conditions of a modern religion and thus were potential targets of Islamic conversion. To avert this fate, religious authorities in Bali constituted an official council of Balinese and later of Indonesian Hindus (PHDI) that mediated between this religious politics and the various local traditions. After years of controversial discussion, they agreed that the heterogeneous ritual practices and cosmological ideas of the island could be described as local manifestations of ‘Hinduism’ that was, after all, a world religion. Since then, the PHDI imposed the paradigm of a modern and originally Indian Hinduism that was, of course, far removed from local traditions in India but in line with the Indonesian paradigm of a modern religion as well as with reformist Hindu movements in India such as the Arya Samaji and 1 This distinction was originally introduced by Clifford Geertz but it is currently used as a model that explains the historical development from traditional ritual to modern Hinduism or from adat to agama by Leo Howe and others.

Contested Mok sa in Balinese Agama Hindu


Brahmo Samaji that emerged under the influence of a colonialist modernity in 19th-century India (Bakker 1993; Picard 1999; Ramstedt 2004).2 The basic principles of Indonesian Hinduism are namely the belief in a transcendent god and in holy scriptures which are, in this case, the Vedas and the Bhagavadgita – paradigmatic texts of Indian Reform Hinduism that were almost unknown in Bali until very recently. In addition to this, the PHDI defines agama Hindu as a world religion based upon five articles of belief, namely the panca sradha that constitute the principles of an allegedly universal Hinduism.3 Following the PHDI, the basic principles of all Hindus include the belief in Brahma as the creator god, atman as the eternal soul that returns to Brahma, karma as the law of actions, samsara as reincarnation and moksa as final liberation from rebirth. This shift towards a coherent Hindu doctrine has led scholars to assume that Bali’s traditional ritual practices have been increasingly influenced and replaced by a coherent and universal Hindu doctrine, or in other words, that a local orthopraxy with contradictory ideas is being transformed into a formally coherent Hindu orthodoxy (Bakker 1993; Picard 1999; Yamashita 2003: 63; Howe 2005). However, on the basis of my fieldwork in South Balinese villages, I found this description unsatisfying, because the obvious influence of Reform Hinduism has not replaced the traditional Balinese rituals but rather has been added to a lavish ritualism. In order to analyze the interplay between modern Hinduism and local Balinese ritual, it is not sufficient to describe the political agenda of agama Hindu. Rather, it is necessary to investigate how, and to what degree, the top-down programme of agama politics is being adopted or refused, reinterpreted or subversively circumvented by those who perform the rituals.

Balinese cremation rituals: Cultural and historical aspects Paradigmatic in this regard are Balinese cremation rituals (ngaben) that represent a unique intersection of different and even mutually opposing 2 Martin Ramstedt and others have shown that agama Hindu in Indonesia basically corresponds to a reform Hinduism that had emerged in India by the end of the 19th century under the influence of modernization. 3 Interestingly, claims to theoretical coherence do not exist in Indian Hinduism and are the result of the Indonesian concept of religion as a systematic written doctrine. This interrelationship of Indonesian politics, modernist Hinduism and cremation is very explicit in Wikarman’s recent book on the cremation ritual (Wikarman 2010: 133-135).


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ideas concerning the relation between the living and the dead, as well as between local ancestor worship and the teachings of modern Hinduism. Notwithstanding this semantic ambiguity, cremation has become the most important life-cycle ritual of Balinese Hindus because of its enormous cost, its social prestige and its religious significance. However, this was not always the case. Half a century ago, cremation was relatively rare, and Wirz (1928) and other ethnographers report what old Balinese confirmed when I discussed the matter: in earlier times, even members of the Balinese nobility were only cremated many years after burial, and many Balinese were never cremated at all, if ever. But this situation changed remarkably under the influence of a flourishing tourism industry and the PHDI that recommends cremation as an obligatory Hindu death ritual. In consequence of greater wealth and agama politics, virtually every Balinese is cremated within two or three years after death. Simultaneously, extravagant Balinese cremations have become global icons of Balinese culture, and the Balinese themselves commodify them as tourist attractions. Local tourism agencies advertise ‘cremation tours’, if possible with the extra thrill of ‘fresh corpses’. But this does not mean that their ritual significance has vanished, rather it seems that Balinese cremations combine different and in some respects mutually opposing ideas and functions that are open to constant reinterpretation. This corresponds to the complex structure of Balinese cremation that is not just the ritual burning of the deceased as in India, but rather a cycle that encompasses days and even weeks of sub-rituals that are never commodified, even though – or rather because – the Balinese practitioners consider them essential for the ritual’s success. 4 In the course of this ritual process, the Balinese clearly distinguish between hilarious and popular episodes with a bustling atmosphere and many onlookers – for example the ritual burning of bones and corpses – and the more extensive quiet and intimate parts, which display the relationship of the living and their ancestors and are never commodified as tourist attractions.5 This difference between the complex Balinese ngaben and the relatively modest Indian cremation is especially important because according to 4 The economic aspects of Balinese cremations deserve a separate investigation that would have to start with a distinction between the predominantly private aspects of the ritual cycle and its public, bustling or ramé aspect: the actual cremation, which is the focus of a tourism industry, but does not play a central role in my discussion here. 5 This corresponds with the Balinese opposition between the demonstrative parts of rituals that require a bustling atmosphere and that are described as ramé, and quiet or sepi parts that are associated with loneliness and meditation.

Contested Mok sa in Balinese Agama Hindu


modern interpretations of agama Hindu, Balinese cremations are only local variants of an Indian paradigm that aims at the purification of the soul from the material remains of the body, and ideally at the final liberation from rebirth, namely moksa (Wikarman 2010). Local sources indicate that the idea of rebirth as an obstacle that can be overcome in moksa is quite recent in Bali,6 but in the framework of Reform Hinduism, moksa is not only one belief among others but also the logical consequence and ultimate goal of all panca sradha, that is, of modern agama Hindu as a religion based on ethical prescriptions for individual conduct rather than on the veneration of ancestors within the world as was formerly the case. This accentuation of moksa as the ultimate goal of Hinduism in general thus implies the shift from a cosmocentric and worldly religious practice towards an ethical doctrine with a transcendent religious truth that has been described as a general feature of religious modernization (Assmann 2000; Bergunder 2006). However, I argue that this does not involve a shift from orthopraxy to orthodoxy, but rather adds a new interpretation to the cremation ritual. This definition of a presumably universal Hindu belief system is, of course, an anachronistic construct that ignores the great variety of local differences in India (von Stietencron 1991) as well as ritual practices and local ideas in Bali. Instead, it represents the political and modernist claim for Hinduism as a consistent doctrine within which the return of the soul (atman) to an ultimately transcendent unity with god represents the ultimate goal that can be achieved by means of ethically correct behaviour and the purifying cremation ritual after death (Wikarman 2010). It is worthwhile at this point to consider Balinese cremation from a historical perspective. Even though many Indonesian societies display elaborate mortuary rituals including secondary burials, only the Balinese cremate the deceased or their unearthed bones. Presumably, cremation is the result of Indian influence, since the Indianized Javanese kings who resumed power during the 14th century in Bali introduced it. At the same time, however, there is archaeological evidence that the Balinese did not cremate their dead until recently, but instead buried them. This is not only proved by the megalithic stone coffins that are found in many places on Bali but also by the fact that until today, self-declared ‘old Balinese’ (Bali aga) or ‘original Balinese’ (Bali mula) villages in remote 6 In the mid-19th century, Friederich noted that the Balinese had no idea of samsara, and Wirz (1928) confirmed that they only focussed on the reincarnation within the ancestral line, which is still the case today.


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mountain areas resist the cremation ritual and bury their dead or expose them to the air before retaining the skulls as a form of ancestor worship. Ethnographers in the 19th and early 20th centuries therefore concluded that the custom of burial belongs to a pre-Hindu culture of Balinese ancestor veneration and animism and can be opposed to the cremation ritual, which they declare to be the result of a later conversion to Hinduism that reached the island under the influence of the Hindu-Javanese kingdom of Majapahit (Wirz 1928). Accordingly, during his fieldwork in the early 1920s, Wirz found that the term ‘Hinduism’ was hardly known among the Balinese, who instead described themselves either as Bali aga or mula – ‘original Balinese’ – or, in contrast to this, as wong Majapahit or ‘people of Majapahit’ if they had submitted to the Hindu-Javanese kings who had shifted the centre of their power to Bali in 1343 under the influence of Islam in Java. Following Wirz, the religion of these wong Majapahit was called agama tirtha, the ‘religion of the holy water’, which refers to the essential ritual prerequisite and prerogative of the Brahman priests (pedanda), namely the preparation of ritually powerful holy water. This opposition between local ancestor worship and Indian Hinduism seems to confirm what Hindu modernists claim: that the Balinese cremation ritual can only be adequately understood in terms of Hindu teachings, because the original Balinese did not cremate their dead. In line with this assumption, Michele Stephen has interpreted Balinese ngaben in the framework of Indian tantric texts, according to which the individual’s soul (atman) tries to reunite after death with the transcendent or absolute form of Siva in order to gain moksa. Following her interpretation, the Balinese cremation ritual cannot be understood in terms of local ancestor worship but only in terms of Indian teachings as a symbolic form of yoga performed with an effigy of the deceased’s body in order to teach the eternal atman – after death – how to gain moksa. This interpretation in terms of an allegedly Indian tantric tradition is not as new as Stephen suggests, rather it picks up an old line of Western orientalist explanations according to which the Balinese ritual culture displays a form of blurred Hinduism of which most Balinese, except for the few Brahmans, are unaware. In this case, Stephen obviously adopts the elitist conviction of her key Brahman informant according to whom two groups of Balinese must be distinguished: the overwhelming majority of ritual practitioners, who do not know what they are doing, and the very few Brahman high priests (pedanda), who have access to esoteric scriptures and are therefore able to explain the underlying meaning of and reasons for ritual actions and effigies (Stephen 2010: 432).

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Even though Stephen’s elitist approach conveys interesting details of Indian tantrism, it is questionable whether the esoteric explanations of Indian texts and Balinese religious authorities provide a satisfying explanation for the ritual practice that after all depends on the motivations and aesthetic arrangement of ritual practitioners who are mostly commoners and share – as we will see – very different ideas about the meaning and function both of the cremation and of moksa. Moreover, the case is even more complex because the assumption that cremation represents the paradigmatic ritual of Hindu influence in Bali and thus should be understood in terms of the Indian paradigm ignores the fact that the Bali aga of the remote old-Balinese village Tenganan perceive themselves as Hindus, too, and trace their ancestry back to India, even though they strongly oppose the cremation ritual to this very day. In view of this, I argue that the cremation ritual in Bali was historically not a matter of religious belief or Hindu conversion at all but rather an expression of political submission and loyalty, having been introduced in the 14th century by the Hindu-Javanese rulers of Majapahit. After the latter conquered the old Balinese dynasty of Bedahulu, cremation became a prerogative of the political elite from Java. This corresponds to the fact that Brahmans interpreted the cremation with regard to esoteric lontar scriptures that were part of the court culture and were systematically kept secret from commoners, because of their transformative and magical power. The cremation ritual was pivotal for the Majapahit kings, because it transformed them after death into Siva and Buddha as they were ultimately supposed to be. Thus, cremation served in the first place the legitimization of divine kingship under Majapahit rule, as Geertz has argued, and this is also historically evident from literary sources like the Nagarakertagama that describe a royal cremation and its effigies (Geertz 1980). Thus, the refusal of ‘original Balinese’ groups to adopt cremation as the standard mortuary ritual does not necessarily express a religious stance but is rather a form of political resistance against the dominance of the Javanese Majapahit rulers, their courtly Barhmans and their ritual legitimation of charismatic power.7 This corresponds to the fact that the people of Tenganan consider themselves as Hindu – even with Indian ancestry – but have their own ‘holy water’, refuse to cremate their dead and are still ritually allied

7 The influence of the legendary Majapahit dynasty, of course, went far beyond direct political power: it embraced the introduction of old Javanese literature and philosophy as well as new performative traditions and social structures such as the caste system.


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today to the pre-Majapahit Balinese kingdom of Bedahulu, even though the people of Bedahulu adopted cremation long ago.8 Nevertheless, it would be misleading to interpret cremation as simply an instrument of political power. I argue that royal cremation rituals were able to legitimize the divinity of kings only insofar as they integrated local groups and their traditions of worship: they mediated the charismatic authority of the ruling Javanese high-caste elite or triwangsa with a casteless Balinese society whose members used to bury their dead and venerated them as divine ancestors. As followers of the Majapahit kings, commoners too were allowed to cremate the bones of their ancestors at the opportunity provided by royal cremations, if they contributed to the ritual preparations with their voluntary ritual services (ngayah).9 However, the interpretation and function of cremation has changed dramatically under the influence of the PHDI idea of a modern and global Hinduism: cremations are no longer a royal prerogative but are promoted as the democratic claim of all Indonesian Hindus in their yearning for individual liberation and are thus independent of royal patronage and the veneration of divine kings. According to this reinterpretation, the PHDI recommends regular biennial mass cremations (ngaben massa) for entire hamlets (banjar), thus establishing cremation as the obligatory Hindu mortuary ritual. In any case, from a historical perspective it is difficult if not impossible to define any essential meaning of Balinese cremations not merely because the Balinese ritual and its functions differ significantly from the Indian paradigm but also because the ritual has integrated different – and even mutually opposed – groups and conceptual frameworks within Balinese society. This has led to a highly complex ritual dramaturgy that combines different ascriptions and partially opposing interpretations and functions, which are constantly negotiated within changing political frameworks. In other words, the meaning and function of Balinese cremation has changed radically over time. It was introduced as a royal privilege by the rulers of 8 This ancient political alliance has been ritually kept alive up to today: annual pujas at the village temple (pura desa) of Bedahulu are visited by delegations from Tenganan, and vice versa. 9 Simultaneously, forms of ritual patronage still exist, as I was able to observe on the occasion of another extended death ritual for a family from the lower nobility. For this maligia on behalf of an aristocratic family, all villagers were invited to join in the extravagant ritual for a relatively low fee and in exchange for their voluntary service (ngayah) during the weeks of preparation. In interviews, I found that all ritual participants were convinced that it was ‘their’ maligia, which was actually correct because they did most of the preparations and were able to transform their deceased, too, into an ancestral deity, a dewa hyang.

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Majapahit but is currently being reinterpreted in the context of Indonesian agama politics as the ritual liberation of every Hindu in the world, which is to say: as an individual prerogative.

Balinese cremation between contesting ascriptions In light of its complex history, any essentialist (let alone ‘Indianized’) interpretation of the Balinese cremation ritual is anachronistic and ignores not merely the political circumstances of its introduction but also the complex performance and aesthetics of the specifically Balinese upacara ngaben. It is important to realize that Balinese cremation is not the timeless feature of Balinese culture and religion that is advertised, re-defined and reified today, both by a global tourism industry and by modern agama Hindu representatives. Only then does it become clear that the gap between a universal Hindu doctrine and the aesthetic complexities of Balinese death rituals does not indicate an incomplete adoption of a universal Hinduism but rather a Balinese counter-narrative of moksa. This is even more evident in light of the fact that Balinese cremations are not self-contained death rituals like their Indian paradigm but only one stage in a long transformative cycle of death rituals that aim at the deification of an ancestor. The ritual stages vary according to caste and wealth, but the cycle starts for most Balinese with the burial, has its popular apex in the cremation (ngaben), but comes to an end only decades or even a century later with the final purifying ritual (maligia, nyekah) that serves as the ultimate deification of an ancestor who is, after the cremation, still an individualized member of the family and has its proper place in the family temple. Similarly, the Balinese cremation ritual as such consists of many subrituals, offerings and effigies by means of which it transforms and rearranges the relationship of a human being to the five cosmic elements, to gods, to ancestors and most of all to living family members. To explain these complex rituals only in terms of Hindu philosophy and as a means of the ultimate return of the soul (atman) to a transcendent unity with Brahman or, in other words, as liberation from its material manifestation and further reincarnations ignores the complex message of the ritual aesthetics and dramaturgy in favour of a reductionist ideological essence (Pendit 1995).


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In defense of Balinese cremation: Village perspectives between ideological normalization and practical conflict Given the pervasive indoctrination into modern forms of Hinduism – via formal education and mass media – we may assume that the ideology of the panca sradha, and especially the idea of a transcendent or immaterial atman that yearns for moksa, has been adopted by the Balinese in general. We can expect this all the more because the extremely expensive cremation rituals drive less wealthy families into unresolvable conflicts of interest by forcing them to spend all their money on an ancestral ritual instead of on the schooling of their children, medical treatment or some other more pragmatic good. The necessity of managing these difficult decisions creates very stressful situations for many families and triggers conflicts among family members, thus revealing the conflicting ideological frameworks of agama Hindu and local cosmology in the ritual practice. Balinese who join one of the devotional Indian Hindu sects such as ISKON or subscribe to a strictly Indian interpretation of Hinduism tend to abandon the lavish ritual practice in favour of very simple cremations or even of the public crematorium in the capital, yet in the villages where I did most of my fieldwork nobody had adopted this solution, which was considered to be the last resort for those who could not settle conflicts within their families. Modernists who tried to perform the ngaben as a simple cremation and with a minimum of sub-rituals and effigies were deemed to be lazy, selfish and avaricious with respect both to their ancestors and to their neighbours because all of these ritual services are accomplished in mutual cooperation and thus connect the living with each other by their ritual connection with the dead. This is not, of course, the explanation of Hindu modernists, who employ very different conceptual frameworks. They perceive themselves as modern individuals following the principles of a global Hinduism, for whom the idea of personal purification and release prevails over traditional Balinese rituals that to them represent only a local tradition without religious significance. Some modernist Balinese even feel alienated from their ritual traditions (adat), like a Balinese businesswoman who had lived in Australia for years and explained to me how painful and even embarrassing it was for her to see her mother being ritually washed and decorated with offerings after her death. For her, the Balinese ritual practice was just an odd and superstitious custom that blurred the spiritual essence of the Hindu cremation ritual, which was clearly based on the purification of the immaterial atman and its release from its entanglement with matter. However, she was not able to convince her family members and felt obliged to follow the local adat.

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On the other hand, when I investigated death rituals among south Balinese villagers, a completely different discourse and practice prevailed. The ritual practitioners only rarely used the notion of moksa, and even when it was used, their understanding of moksa differed significantly from both the Indian paradigm and the official doctrine – as we will see. My Balinese interlocutors were not only aware of the fact that their death rituals differed significantly from the Indian paradigm, they also regarded this difference as important and to a certain degree opposed the official recommendation to perform regular but simpler and cheaper cremations for the sake of moksa. By contrast, from a modernist Hindu perspective, the extravagant offerings, effigies, paraphernalia and sub-rituals of Balinese cremation are seen as expressions of local culture, or even worse, of social competition. Following this idea of Hinduism, the extravagance of Balinese ritual can be reduced without any consequences for its religious efficacy. This bottom-up perspective reveals another value system and interpretation of the condition of the deceased and its implications for the living. At several cremations I attended, both for individuals and for the entire village hamlet (banjar), purist Hindu interpretations along with the very notion of moksa were virtually absent. My interlocutors explained instead that a fully fledged and thus expensive Balinese cremation ritual was desirable and even necessary because only then would the deceased’s spirit (pirata) be able to overcome his or her ambiguous condition as an impure ghostly being that suffers because it is unwillingly attached to the remains of its decaying body and to its former existence in the cemetery. As a pirata, the deceased is not able to enter pure places, and especially temples other than the cemetery temple. He eventually afflicts his descendants since he does not fully understand his new condition as a dead person and yearns for his relatives, who have to help him – not to be finally separated or liberated from the living, as Stephen supposes (2010: 457) but rather to return to the family compound and to other temples as a purified but still individual ancestor (sang pitra). Following the descriptions of my villager informants, the cremation transforms an ambiguous and potentially harmful ghost into a benevolent ancestor because it allows him to join the living again, both in the family compound and during temple rituals, where the ancestors are supposed to perform the ritual together with the living, albeit in intangible (niskala) form.10 Thus, from the villager’s point of view, the cremation helps to re10 Following Balinese explanations, the entire reality consists of manifest (sekala) and intangible (niskala) aspects. This idea can be traced back again to Indian philosophy, but whereas


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establish the relationship between the dead and their descendants rather than liberating the former from the latter. The transformation of a potentially harmful pirata into a benevolent holy ancestor (pitra) involves also a spatial turn that is described as the liberation of the ancestor from the cemetery. According to my Balinese informants, this liberation is only possible if all steps in the ritual process have been performed. In theory, everybody of course knows that Balinese rituals can be performed on three different levels (nista – madia – utama) according to circumstances and the financial situation, but my interlocutors were convinced that it was their personal duty to perform the cremations for their close relatives on the highest possible level because they argued that only then would the ritual be complete (lengkap) in terms of all the required offerings, paraphernalia and sub-rituals; also, only a complete ritual guarantees the effective transformation of a dead spirit into an ancestor and thus his return to the family.11 Their willingness to perform the cremation as lavishly as possible was not only motivated by the idea of purification but even more so by the necessity of constant ritual exchange between children providing the cremations for their parents and parents performing the rituals for the good of their children, who in fact are supposed to be the returning souls of their holy ancestors. This constant ritual exchange between humans and ancestors is not only at odds with the doctrine of ultimate liberation but also with the requirements of the modern, Western economy which would require the accumulation of capital for reinvestment. When I joined the ritual preparations for a banjar cremation over several weeks, one of the ladies who spent most of her time preparing offerings confronted me jokingly on their relationship is described in esoteric manuscripts like the Jinanasiddhanta as a hierarchy or ascent from matter (sekala) to spiritual reality (niskala), oral communication among villagers describes the relationship much more in terms of constant interrelation and thus according to the Balinese concept of rwa bhineda or the unity of dual principles (see also Weck 1937; Hornbacher 2005: 355). 11 This argumentation is, of course, not shared by modernist or urban Balinese who are critical of Balinese cremations. When I discussed the matter with wealthy urban Balinese, some of them complained that the traditional cremations were just a local custom, and that their relatives had forced them to show off as much as possible at their parent’s cremation. One rich woman, the owner of a factory, complained that she felt exploited by the specialists for offerings (tukang banten), which were extraordinarily expensive in her case because they knew that she as a businesswoman without a husband had no time to make the offerings herself. According to her, the money for the ritual should be given to one’s parents while they were still alive, and a modest cremation would suffice. For her, to spend more for the ritual meant just wasting money without acquiring any religious benefit.

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this issue by quoting Franklin’s capitalist mantra, ‘Time is money’. With this saying, she explained to me what it meant to spend so much time and money to prepare offerings for common rituals all day long. She was perfectly aware of the fact that this was the difference between the two of us: I was free to travel between different worlds and to observe Balinese women spending most of their lives preparing rituals for ancestors, gods and humans, instead of privately accumulating the fruits of their labour in order to be able to travel themselves. Given the increasing pressure of a global economy, cremation rituals have become touchstones for opposing interpretations of Hinduism within Balinese society, and their negotiation raises not merely theoretical issues. As the most expensive rituals in Balinese life, questions concerning their adequate performance trigger serious conflicts among family members, because what is at stake here are tradeoffs between cosmocentric Balinese ancestor veneration and a transcendent modernist Hinduism in relation to the global capitalist economy. Today, Balinese cremations can be interpreted and practiced according to both conceptual frameworks: either as a modest Hindu purification ritual performed for the benefit of a transcendent and immaterial soul, or as a complex and expensive ritual cycle that gradually transforms the ancestor in order to return him as a divine ancestor to his descendants. However, if different members of the same family refer to opposing frameworks, serious conflicts arise, as the following examples illustrate. In one case, a schoolteacher, who had a formal education according to the principles of agama Hindu and was a respected authority in the performance of temple rituals because of his knowledge of Hindu scriptures, decided after his wife’s death that she should be cremated very simply and almost without any rituals but immediately after her death and thus according to the Indian paradigm of purification. This decision prompted a serious conflict with his younger brother, who was then the headman of the village quarter (kelian banjar) and as a devout traditionalist responsible for the public rituals. He opposed this decision strongly and forced his brother to submit to the village custom (adat), which included the Balinese cremation ritual with all necessary offerings and effigies and thus very expensive. Otherwise he would not be allowed to cremate the brother’s wife in the cemetery, which belongs to the village. The alternative that the widower was confronted with was to bring his wife’s body to the public crematorium in the capital, where cremations can be performed as a merely technical act of burning with a minimum of ritual. He finally gave in and explained to me that the villagers simply did not yet understand the true essence of Hinduism, but


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he found that it was pointless to argue with them as long as he wished to live in the village. He decided to resolve the conflict in the proper Balinese way: by being quiet, assisting the public rituals and privately following his conviction with a group of like-minded intellectuals from different places. Another type of conflict may arise when family members try to integrate their different value systems into the ritual performance. In another case, two sons and two sisters had to cremate their father. Some of them lived in the Balinese capital or in the Hindu diaspora on Lombok, and some of them had made several pilgrimages (tirtha yatra) to India, where they found an Indian guru. They were convinced that Hinduism was a universal religion based on Vedic scriptures. In their opinion, the father’s atman should be liberated as soon as possible after death. The youngest son inherited his parent’s house according to Balinese custom and thus the family’s ancestor temple. He did not adopt the Indian paradigm of liberation but rather advocated a Balinese cremation ritual that would transform his father into an ancestor who would live as a benevolent deity in his house again. Therefore, he supported a fully fledged Balinese cremation for the preparation of which he would have had to collect money for a couple of years. Since his elder siblings were in the majority, they voted against him, and since he did not want to give up his duty to do a complete cremation, he was overburdened with debt, which triggered serious and constant discord among the siblings. In all of these cases, the active preservation of local ritual traditions that are at odds with the logic of both a modern market economy and a modern version of Hinduism indicate a form of reflexive resistance to both the rational choice ideology of a capitalist world system and a modern Hinduism that aims at the ultimate liberation of a transcendent soul and thus at the separation of the living from their ancestors.

Ritual dramaturgy and the subversive adoption of agama Hindu This critical negotiation of agama Hindu teachings is based on the deliberate defence of Bali’s ritual aesthetics and dramaturgy that imply a local ancestor cult. As we have seen, Balinese cremation rituals (ngaben or palebon12) are not restricted to the act of cremation but rather consist of a series of rituals, and in addition to this they can be combined with coming-of-age rituals for adolescent family members like the tooth filing ritual (metatah). The tooth 12 The name differs depending on the caste. For commoners, the cremation is called ngaben; for royal families it is a palebon.

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filing ritually purifies an individual from the sad ripu or six enemies, which are uncontrolled – and thus socially destructive – desires and emotions, and it changes the status of a person from a child to a self-controlled and responsible person who is able to marry and to raise children. Beyond this, the tooth filing has a very explicit aesthetic or beautifying function for young people that is connected with courting, marriage and ultimately with fertility and the reincarnation of ancestors who are always reborn in their own family, according to Balinese belief. Therefore the combination of cremation and tooth filing, death ritual and preparation for marriage, makes perfect sense from the perspective of Balinese ancestor worship. The same combination of rituals is a feature not only of the cremation but also of the final stages of Balinese ancestral rituals – the nyekah or maligia that follow decades after the cremation. Whereas the explicit function of a cremation is the purification or liberation of a deceased from his specific material manifestation, the maligia transforms the already purified pitra into an even purer ancestor deity (bhatara hyang) who is supposed to reach moksa. Nevertheless, the maligia is still combined with tooth filing rituals that unite ancestors and their offspring in terms of fertility and reincarnation. The association of purification with fertility or rebirth is evident within the entire ritual process of a cremation. Since most Balinese cremations start with the exhumation of the bones, the soul has to be ritually transferred into an effigy for the body (adegan), because the bones are supposed to be impure and thus are not allowed to leave the burial ground where they are washed and stored for the cremation. The purifying rituals for the ancestor are thus performed with different effigies that represent the transformation of the deceased’s body from gross to ever subtler forms. The first act of the ritual dramaturgy reveals and rearranges the relationship between the dead, the living and the basic element of the body: the divine earth. The ritual starts days before the cremation with the awakening of a deceased pirata in the cemetery, which involves ‘dressing’ the grave in the ritual dress of the deceased. This opening ritual is very intimate: when the grave is dressed, close relatives kneel down on the ground and communicate with their deceased relative, thus ‘waking him up’ and preparing him for the next steps to come. Since the grave itself is ‘dressed’, it is actually the earth that resembles the deceased and is treated accordingly: close relatives touch or caress the cloth on the ground or speak in soft whispers with their ancestor in the earth. After this ritual awakening follows the excavation of the bones, which is done by family members and culminates in outbursts of excitement – and


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sometimes also of grief – when the skull appears.13 At this moment, the first and most important ritual effigy of the body becomes pivotal: the adegan, a flat piece of sandalwood that is painted in human shape that represents quite literally the body of the deceased and receives ritual purifications and offerings over the following days. The transfer of the ancestor is done by the family: one member carries the adegan in a ritual sling around the waist to the grave, and another person takes a long bundle of white yarn that is tied on one side with the adegan and on the other side with a piece of dapdap wood, which indicates immortality in the sense of endless fertility because it sprouts wherever it is put into the earth. As soon as the skull appears in the earth, the bundle of yarn is quickly made to touch the skull for a moment, thus creating a material connection between the adegan, the skull and the earth via the yarn and the dadap wood. After this, the adegan is ritually washed and thereby it is quite literally identified with its sex characteristics: family members eagerly put a tiny piece of cloth on the painted genitals and breasts of their ancestor’s adegan during the ritual washing in order to protect his or her private parts. This highlights again that Balinese ritual combines purification with sex and fertility, which corresponds to the ritual connection between the fertile dapdap wood, the skull and the treatment of the adegan. Very obvious is this association in one of the most popular effigies of the Balinese ritual: the animal-shaped cremation coffin. These huge patulangan are supposed to be spirited beings that carry the deceased to the hereafter, to its origin or source, as many Balinese say, and thus ideally to its final reunion with brahman, as the modern doctrine would put it. Yet again, the arrangement of this effigy speaks its own language: the transport animal is very explicitly associated with sex and fertility because its testicles and penis are extraordinarily large, and in order to highlight this feature they are often equipped with a mechanism to raise the penis during the cremation. The ritual paraphernalia and actions thus interpret the return to the origin as the transfer of a dead and infertile body to a condition that is considered to be ‘pure’ but is symbolically associated with fertility and sexuality. And this applies not merely to the cremation ritual and its preoccupation with the corpse but also to the ultimate purification ritual for

13 Emotional outbursts of grief are culturally not accepted in the cremation ritual, but since cremations are today performed shortly after death, there are many people desperately sobbing or even collapsing when they are confronted with the bones of their children or wife only one year after the burial.

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the already purified body.14 In this last stage of ritual purification (nyekah or maligia), an ancestor whose body has been cremated many years ago is represented in an abstract effigy: puspa linga, or literally the ‘flower linga’. Most of the ritual process consists of the preparation and arrangement of this effigy, which is basically a cone-shaped structure of wooden sticks that represents the body and contains a small basket or ‘belly’ filled with spices or tastes (rasa) and tiny pieces of metal around which a garland of sacred banyan leaves is wrapped. The leaves are ritually collected from a holy banyan tree in a pura dalem (netherworld temple), and then three leaves at a time are folded, strung up and wrapped around the puspa’s body in a ritual (ngangget bingin). Subtle but significant differences are important here: for women, the upper side of the leaves are visible, while for men, the bottom side of the leaves are visible. When I asked a priest the significance of this difference, he answered evasively that ‘there were differences’ and went away. A group of older ladies who were folding the garlands for their ancestors were much more talkative and explicit: they giggled as they told me that the ‘female’ garlands represented the women during sexual intercourse, lying on the back, which is the bottom side of the leaf, and showing their belly, while the male garlands showed the back, which, they were convinced, was the proper position during sexual intercourse ‘all over the world’. This means that even the ritual effigy or subtle body of an ancestor who has been purified from all material remains long ago is not merely equipped with symbols of gender but is also associated with sexual intercourse and thus again related to fertility and procreation. This matches the explicit conviction of the ritual participants, who assumed that after the maligia their still individual ancestor (sang pitra) would become a divine ancestor (bhatara hyang) who guides and protects his family from the invisible dimension of the world, but would still be able to return to the family as a newborn child. These aesthetic details of the ritual process indicate that all stages of Balinese ancestor rituals deal with the combination of purification and fertility. This corresponds to the entire ritual cycle as well as to the dramaturgy of cremations and maligia, which aims to relocate the ancestor within the world rather than beyond it. The casting away of the ashes after the cremation does not at all imply a final separation of the living and the deceased but rather the opposite. Several days after the cremation, the family returns to the beach for a small ceremony (ngedetin pitra) in which they ritually pull the ancestor out of the sea with a yarn bundle that is put 14 For the three increasingly more subtle bodies of a human being, see Stephen (2000).


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into the sea and held by close family members as if it had a heavy weight. After this, relatives bring the sang pitra out of the sea as they had done with the transfer of the pirata into the adegan, and as they do again after the cremation of the puspa linga in the maligia a decade later. In each case, the ashes of the gross or subtle body of the ancestor are cast into the sea, and several days later the ancestor is not merely called back but literally ‘torn out’ of the water and brought to the family’s ancestor sanctuary, where it receives a different ‘seat’ (pelinggih) according to its new status. The pirata ancestor before cremation receives offerings at the cemetery at specific opportunities because he is still attached to the decaying body and thus too impure (sebel) to enter the house. After the cremation, the sang pitra is still not enshrined in the family temple but receives his offerings in a small wooden shrine under the roof of the bale dangin, the eastern pavilion of each Balinese yard where the family members – the living as well as the cremated – gather for rituals and ritual preparations, as well as informal everyday meetings. Here the ancestral soul receives regular offerings of everything he or she would have used during the lifetime: comb, soap, mirror, a bra for women, a school uniform for children. The ancestor becomes a deity (bhatara hyang) who guides and protects his family only after the maligia, and after his pulling out of the sea is he brought to the family’s ‘origin’ temple sanggah kamulan, or to the seat of the mother, pelinggih ibu, where he receives regular offerings like other deities.

Panca mahabhuta: Between Hindu philosophy and Balinese cosmology So far, I have described some aesthetic and dramaturgic features of Balinese cremations and death rituals that display the connection of purification, fertility and individual ancestor veneration. In addition to these features that inform the motivation of most ritual practitioners, there are other conceptual frames concerning the cosmological or philosophical aspects of cremation. Local intellectuals and priests refer to the Indian concept of the panca mahabhuta or the five elements from which the entire material world or nature (bwhana agung) as well as the human body as a microcosmic manifestation (bwhana alit) consist. These elements are namely: wind (bayu), earth (pertiwi), fire (teja), water (apah), and space or ether (akasa). In India, the panca mahabhuta are known from the dualistic samkhya philosophy that is considered to be one of the oldest philosophical doctrines in India, and represents a strictly dualistic and originally non-theistic system

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that has been attributed to the sage Kapila of the fourth century B.C. (von Glasenapp 1958: 207f.). According to this doctrine, the world consists of two completely distinct principles: purusha, the transcendent and unchangeable consciousness or soul; and prakrti or matter, including the senses and the limited intellect of human beings (Zimmer 1973: 255f.). The concept of panca mahabuta is also known in Balinese teachings, albeit in a monistic version that assumes the ultimate unity of purusha and prakrti. According to the Shaiva monism of Bali, matter is not categorically different from spirit but rather represents a lower level of consciousness and thus a decline from – but also an emanation of – a completely conscious origin, which is described as a highly abstract god in Balinese philosophical scriptures (tutur) under different names that refer either to the Indian and Shaiva origin, for instance Paramasiva, or to an old Javanese and Buddhist influence, for instance the Kawi name, Sanghyang Nora, the holy Nothingness.15 From this primordial god residing in ultimate emptiness, everything – the panca mahabhuta as well as the magical characters (aksara) of the Balinese scripture – emerge in a series of procreative acts that are sometimes identified as the union of divine father and mother (sanghyang bapak, sanghyang ibu) from which everything in the manifest world emerges. This union has been identified as the tantric tradition of Javano-Balinese poetry with the sexual union of Kama and Ratih, the divine love and beauty from which the world and life enfolds. This idea of an ultimately cosmological eroticism and creativity matches the ritual combination of liberation and procreation that can be understood in light of this esoteric tradition as a cosmological process of re-creation in which the manifest elements of the world are not opposed to its spiritual quality but are rather equipped with a spiritual essence.16 This idea of spirited elements that differ only gradually from the human atman matches historical sources like Wolfgang Weck’s excellent description of Balinese healing practices. Weck shows that during the 1920s, the panca mahabhuta were interpreted as personal deities or as one god with five heads, who was addressed with the local honorific title for gods as ‘sanghyang’ (Weck 1986 [1937]). Today, modern interpretations identify the panca mahabhuta simply with the eternal material elements of the manifest world – as in samkhya 15 Tutur Bhuvana Mareka. 16 A philosophical doctrine that offers an explanation that combines tantric traditions of unity and local ideas of sexual union as natural beauty and fertility has been described in Rubinstein’s analysis of Danghyang Nirartha’s nature eroticism (Rubinstein 2000: 107).


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philosophy. However, most Balinese nevertheless strongly associate or identify at least some of the panca mahabhuta with divinities. This applies to bayu as an animating life energy that can be weakened, dissolved and brought back by means of rituals. Above all it applies to the earth, which is one of the panca mahabuta but is simultaneously personified and ritually addressed as a mother deity (ibu pertiwi) with demonic and benevolent features, both as the fertile and supportive ground that delivers energy and as ‘the great devourer’ who receives the flesh and blood of the deceased.17 The conviction that even material reality is inherently spiritual is also a recurrent theme in healing rituals (A. Hobart 2003: 207ff.). In view of this spiritual interpretation of the f ive cosmic elements, we may say that if the Balinese cremation ritual purifies the corpse of an ancestor, it does not liberate an ultimately transcendent atman from its purely material remains but rather performs a ritual re-composition and re-location of different spirits that compose the living person. In this process, the individual ancestor (pirata) is liberated only inasmuch as the panca mahabhuta – giving him or her a temporary existence in the manifest world – are returned to their respective macrocosmic origins as well. The reformist idea that the cremation ritual purifies an eternal atman from the impurities of matter turns the complex ideas of the Balinese ritual upside down, because it ignores its cosmological framework.

Subverting moksa: The negotiation of agama Hindu in Balinese cremation ritual Notwithstanding this semantic complexity of Balinese death rituals, most Balinese have today adopted key terms of the modern Hindu doctrine. However, this does not necessarily imply that they have embraced the underlying ideology of agama Hindu. Even though many villagers assured me that they agree, as Hindus, with the panca sradha, and certainly with the belief in moksa as the ultimate goal of human life, a closer examination revealed that their ideas of moksa differed considerably from the reformist doctrine. When I discussed the concept with the ritual practitioners, I learned to my surprise that they did not associate moksa with final libera17 The father of my host informed me that the constant contact with Ibu Pertiwi was necessary. Decades ago, during epidemics people used to sleep on the earth in order to be protected by her life force, and they recommended me to walk barefoot, at least within the family compound, in order to be in contact with Mother Earth.

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tion of the eternal atman from the manifest world but rather with the hope of a smooth reincarnation. Their personal motivation in paying enormous expenses for elaborate death rituals for their parents was the liberation of the spirit not from but to rebirth, which only makes sense in the framework of a cosmology that does not principally distinguish between the material and spiritual aspects of the world, and for which immortality is proved by fertility and sexual union. When I asked the villagers for their views concerning ultimate liberation and reincarnation, I was puzzled by the fact that most of them declared that they did not even want to be liberated from reincarnation but rather preferred to be reborn as soon as possible within their families. Thus, evidently the villagers confirmed the principles of agama Hindu inasmuch as they could integrate them in the framework of their own ideas of ancestor worship that are communicated and preserved as habitualized ritual knowledge rather than as a modern orthodoxy. The result of this performative adaptation is rather subversive ideas of moksa. Some of my interlocutors identified moksa with a heavenly state between two incarnations, others identified moksa with their ancestors’ freedom to visit all of the holy places in Bali, one Brahman assured me that moksa was the precondition for reincarnation, and some of my casteless interlocutors went even further and uttered the bold conviction that the true meaning and ultimate goal of moksa was nothing but reincarnation or at least returning to the family temple as an ancestor deity. When, confused about the obvious contradiction between the panca sradha and these answers, I consulted a temple priest (pemangku) who was in charge of the cremation ritual, he confirmed my observations and added diplomatically that final liberation or moksa was only reserved to a very few religious specialists who were willing to gain ultimate liberation during their lifetimes by means of ascetic practices. In this case, moksa means ideally the complete disappearance of the entire person because the panca mahabhuta of his body are transformed into their cosmic origin and thus become invisible during the lifetime of an ascetic. To elucidate his statement, the priest mentioned esoteric Balinese palm leaf manuscripts (tutur) dealing with the proper way of dying, which was after all the self-transformation of the manifest elements in their non-manifest form of Paramasiva, i.e. god Siva in his absolute unity.18 He 18 One of these Balinese manuscripts is the Lontar Kamoksan Kajian that describes the ultimate origin of the world and the human soul as sunya, the ultimate void. I would like to thank Richard Fox for sharing this reference and a copy of the text with me.


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confirmed that most Balinese were not even interested in moksa but rather in returning to their families, and after all both ideas did not exclude each other because – as he told me – his grandfather had died in a state of moksa before he returned as a newborn child. This specific tradition of moksa in Bali informs the Balinese attitude not merely towards death and the afterlife but also towards suffering and grief. It is common among family members to alleviate grief for a deceased person by providing ritual support for a quick rebirth in the family. This culturally specific form of dealing with grief and death is quite explicitly connected with the Balinese cremation ritual. My Balinese host’s mother had suffered from a terribly painful cancer. Nevertheless, neither she in her last days nor her family dealt with this traumatizing illness in terms of ‘redemption’ or final ‘release’, even though the mother was an unusually devout person who was thought to have become close to spiritual purity or moksa already during her lifetime. Precisely because of this, the mother promised shortly before she died that she would ‘come home’ (pulang) as soon as possible, which meant as soon as her children had performed her cremation. In order to guarantee her smooth rebirth, she had also ordered a tooth-filing ritual for her grandchildren on the occasion of her cremation. Even though this involved great expense, the sons were happy at the prospect of their mother’s return and made every effort to fulfil her wish. The success of this ritual was aff irmed by a trance medium (balian ketakson) who was consulted after the cremation and who revealed the ‘true’ identity of a baby with which her daughter-in-law was pregnant. The baby was declared to be the reincarnation of the grandmother, even though it was conceived before her cremation, which was possible because she had already almost reached the state of complete purity during her lifetime.

Concluding remarks on Balinese death rituals vis-à-vis modern agama Hindu I would like to return at this point to my initial question concerning the relationship between modernity and religion with regard to Balinese death ceremonies. As I have argued, modernization in Bali does not imply the abandonment of religion altogether but rather the implementation of a coherent and thus inherently rational Hinduism that is based upon a series of belief articles culminating in an ultimately transcendent goal: moksa as final liberation of the individual soul from the cycle of rebirth and thus from the world. This reminds us of Max Weber’s idea of rationalization in

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terms of religion as well as Jan Assmann’s theses that scriptural religion and culture involve a shift from immanent forms of ritual and worship towards transcendent religious goals. However, in Bali, the case seems to be more complex: the introduction of a modernized and moralized agama Hindu has not led to a shift from ritual orthopraxy to doctrinal orthodoxy, as some scholars have assumed, but rather has triggered an unprecedentedly flourishing practice especially of cremation rituals. This could be understood as the result of a paradigm of transcendent Hinduism that aims at final release from this world and corresponds to the idea of a transcendent agama Hindu. However, I suggest that it indicates the defence of the immanent tradition of Balinese ancestor worship, given the fact that most local practitioners insist on a ritual ‘completeness’ that is at odds both with the idea of moksa and with the logic of the global market economy. Regarding the extravagance of these rituals, ultimate release does not seem to be the utmost goal; instead, they re-establish a constant interrelation between the dead and the living in terms of offerings, rituals and re-locations of an ancestor within a shared world where the living and the dead, humans and gods, constantly interact, albeit in changing relationship and different places. The bottom-up view of religious modernization – from the perspective of the cremation ritual – thus indicates the persistence not merely of Balinese rituals under economically, socially and ideologically modernized conditions but also of the conceptual frameworks of immanent religion and worship that have become habitualized in this ritual practice. We may thus conclude that the explicit resistance to abandoning a ritual practice that is at odds with the rationality of both the modern economy and modern Hinduism indicates that the Balinese are defending their local conceptual framework because it allows a critical assessment of modernist Hinduism without openly opposing agama Hindu. This framework is tacitly preserved in the aesthetics and dramaturgy of Balinese death rituals that convey the idea of ancestor worship along with the defence of an ultimate unity of matter and spirit. Whereas the doctrine of modern agama Hindu attributes an ultimately transcendent meaning to religion, Balinese death rituals can be understood as a reflexive – and thus modern – form to preserve an enchanted world.

Good Girls Christianity, Modernity and Gendered Morality in Tanah Karo, North Sumatra Karin Klenke

Twenty-six young women and one anthropologist listen attentively to Mrs. Ginting, who is teaching ‘Good Behaviour’ (etika1) in the Christian Women’s School (Kursus Wanita Kristen, KWK) in Berastagi in the regency of Tanah Karo, North Sumatra. Mrs. Ginting is a lively and rhetorically gifted lady of about 50 years and – as the wife of the owner of the biggest private hospital in the regency – a member of the local elite. Today she explains the moral intricacies of sex. The prospect of an open discussion about sex is the cause for the audience’s breathless attention, as in local discourse, sex is mostly framed in terms of control, avoidance and prohibition. ‘Is it already immoral to talk about sex?’ Mrs. Ginting thus asks. She answers her own question: ‘Definitely not! Morally good behaviour is the result of our Christian faith and firm knowledge on the subject’ She also explains the need to know: ‘Men always and everywhere lust after women, so we have to know about sex in order to resist them’. ‘What was morality like in earlier times, when Christianity had not reached our highlands yet? People did not know how to lead an orderly life. There was no entertainment in the evenings. People came home from their fields, took a shower, had a meal, blew out the candle and – started to shag. Today, we have other things to do. We now have electricity and can watch TV for example’ (field notes, 30 August 2001). This discursive link between Christianity, modernity and gendered morality was a recurrent theme during my fieldwork in Berastagi in 2001/2002. Development, progress and Christianity, people told me, had enabled them to leave behind an uncivilized life that had been characterized by a general disorder in social, political and moral matters. Christianity and modernity had brought highly valued knowledge about how to lead an orderly life. They could be traced back to the times of colonial rule in the Karo region: Colonialism had not only brought Christianity to the highlands at the beginning of the 20th century but also a firm integration into the wider administrative 1 All words in italics are Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia), except where followed by a (K), which indicates Karo language.


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and political structures and the idea of modernity as a goal to be reached by progress. The spread of Christianity had accelerated after independence and the postcolonial nation, of which the Karo were proud citizens, had directed its main efforts at rapid modernization (modernisasi) and development (pembangunan). Religion was thus seen as a prerequisite and constitutive factor of local modernity. Morally acceptable sex and electricity had, in other words, a closer connection than one might have guessed. Modernity, however, had its ambivalences, as people were acutely aware. A careless appropriation posed a threat to Christian morality, as modern life also had its darker sides which were full of seductions: The modern ‘will to know’, for example, did not always serve the purpose of the Lord. ‘Many teenagers’, Mrs. Ginting warned us, ‘tell their friends: “I already did it. Sex is fun! Why don’t you try it out as well?” Finally they do it and they are ruined’ (field notes, 12 September 2001). Religion provided the frame in which to negotiate acceptable articulations of Karo modernity. Gender relations as a space intensely contested by modernization took central stage in these discussions. On the following pages, I will discuss the discursive nexus between Christianity and a modernity perceived as morally ambivalent by focussing on the hotly debated transformation of gender roles in Karo society. The numerous and extremely popular beauty parlours lining the streets of the two highland towns Berastagi and Kabanjahe as well as the aerobic studios and aerobic festivals held in posh highland hotels testify to the importance the (female) body had assumed in Karo understandings of gendered modernity, which was increasingly articulated as embodied femininity. Modernity, I will argue, offers women in patrilinear Karo society new forms of agency and a range of argumentative resources for a more advantageous status vis-à-vis Karo men. At the same time, it proves difficult to navigate, as its inherent ambivalences cast a constant doubt on a modern woman’s morality and thus threaten her social status. The discussions about how to dress as a modern Christian woman aptly illustrate this everyday tension between the promises and the fallacies of gendered local modernity within the broader context of an Indonesian modernity. I will focus discussions about how to dress within the above-mentioned Kursus Wanita Kristen, a school run by the Protestant Church of the Karo Batak (Gereja Batak Karo Protestan, GBKP).2 As the name says, the GBKP is a church based on the ethnic identification as Karo and by far the biggest 2 As most Karo I met preferred to be called just Karo, not Karo Batak, I will follow their preferences.

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church in the regency. The number of its members, its history, its close association with Karo ethnicity and its institutional integration into everyday highland life make it an excellent starting point for exploring negotiations of modernity within Christianity.3

Modernity – modernities By talking about modernity, I do not refer to the set of defined transformations and structures seen as constitutive for European modernity in a historical perspective as described by Giddens (1990). Instead, I engage the anthropological concept of pluralized ‘regional’, ‘parallel’ or ‘other’ modernities (Appadurai 1996; Comaroff & Comaroff 1993; Knauft 2002). While modernity serves as a powerful global imagination, it thus unfolds as localized modernities. These are not to be understood as mere variations of a European master modernity. Instead, this perspective makes us understand the historical period of European modernity as a process that is as locally specific as modernization processes in, for example, Papua New Guinea or South Africa. Local modernities thus do not have to be analytically measured against a European model modernity. While sharing some structural similarities, all modernities also have their own logics and workings. 4 Secularization, as it has turned out, is not a defining feature of modernity in many regions of the world. Quite to the contrary, religion can be a defining and constitutive factor of modernity. Scholarly attention to local projects of modernity can make us understand the ways in which modernity as a global imagination becomes relevant in a very specific articulation in local people’s lives. In this chapter, I analyze the gendered process of localizing modernity in Tanah Karo with a focus on women. What is locally understood by modernity and how are these understandings shaped by national projects like development, by government programmes or by media? Furthermore, scrutinizing the attraction that modernity has for local actors reveals those 3 It has to be kept in mind, though, that my discussions might not fully apply to Karo women of other denominations or to Muslim Karo women. Although women of all religious identifications and denominations were regular customers of beauty parlours and aerobic studios, the KWK drew a distinctly GBKP studentship. 4 For a discussion of the importance of ‘hard facts’ like economic and administrative structures and processes versus ‘soft facts’ like imaginations and everyday practices as constitutive of local modernities, see for example Appadurai (1996), Comaroff & Comaroff (1993), Englund & Leach (2000), Foster (2002), Gaonkar (2001), Knauft (2002), Lash and Friedman (1992).


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aspirations, conflicts and contestations in their lives for which modernity is hoped to offer solutions. What exactly is the promise of modernity for Karo women that makes them wish to connect with it and anchor it in their lives? What lures them into places like beauty parlours or aerobic studios, which are seen as the epitomization of gendered modernity? A focus on the gendered localization of modernity offers the possibility to understand how modernity is globalized by a myriad of very local projects. Furthermore, the gendered wish to become modern can be used as a lens to focus very local conflicts and aspirations. The nexus between gender and modernity in Indonesia has received constant scholarly attention over the last couple of years. ‘Gender’ in these works has mostly meant ‘women’.5 The majority of the authors focus articulations of a gendered Muslim modernity, the gender ideology of the authoritarian New Order regime or media representations of Indonesian women.6 There are considerably fewer anthropological studies on gendered local modernities. Even fewer focus on the body as a contested site of transformation to modernity, although a central feature of the project of a gendered modernity is ‘the management of one’s body through dress, grooming, speech, body language and mobility’ (Bennett 2005: 49). Studies on clothing as a space in which to negotiate gendered aspirations to – or rejections of – modernity have mostly discussed the veil as a polyvalent and changing symbol of women’s self-positioning in relation to Indonesian modernity, capitalist consumption, traditions and interpretations of Islam (Brenner 1996; Smith-Hefner 2007) or Muslim clothing in general (Jones 2007). Jones (2003, 2010a) has discussed in depth the so-called ‘personality development courses’ for women in Yogyakarta in which women train feminine comportment in terms of their personality, their behaviour and their physical appearance. She notes that these courses which engage local – in this case, Javanese – values of comportment and manners ‘have been harnessed to two historical, national projects in Indonesia, previously 5 See as an exception Clark (2004a, b, 2010) and Nilan (2009). 6 Brenner (1996), Smith-Hefner (2007) and Wichelen (2009) discuss gender and Islam. For studies on gender and modernity, see for example Bellows (2003), Brenner (1998) and Jennaway (2002a, b). Katjasungkana (n.d.), Niehof (1998), Niehof & Lubis (2003), Oey-Gardiner & Bianpoen (2000), Robinson (1997, 2000), Sen (2002), Smyth (1993), Sullivan (1991) and Suryakusuma (1996) who focus on the gender ideology of the New Order state, while Brenner (2005), Holike (2008), Nurmila (2009), O’Shaughnessy (2009), Robinson (2004), Robinson & Bessell (2002) and Surykusuma (2004) address the transformations of the gender ideology in post-Suharto Indonesia. Studies on the local articulations of gender and modernity are provided by Bellows (2003) for Bali and Bennet (2002; 2005) for Lombok.

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ubiquitous state-sponsored programs of gendered development and more recent market-based celebrations of consumption and self-discipline’ (Jones 2010a: 270). While the studies mentioned differ in their scope as well as in their religious and regional focus, they all conclude that the tensions evoked by the transformations to modernity are closely connected to the discourse of national development and state-sponsored gender ideals and are played out on the contested site of the female body as ‘a site of social control and an emblem of national identity’ (Hatley 2008: 251).7

Contemporary life in Tanah Karo The regency (kabupaten) of Tanah Karo is part of the highland of North Sumatra and home to the Karo Batak, whose territory stretches far into the lowlands of the east coast of Sumatra. The population of the regency numbered almost 290,000 in 2000; most but not all of them were Karo (BPSKK 2000: 35). Kabanjahe, the regency’s capital, and Berastagi are the two highland towns and home to about a quarter of the population. The inhabitants of the Karo highland are predominantly Christian (70 per cent). 83 per cent of the highland’s households work in agriculture, which contributes 62 per cent to the gross regional product of the regency (BPSKK 2000: 108). The excellent climatic conditions at about 1,300 metres above sea level and the fertile volcanic soil contribute to a high agricultural productivity, as do the Karos’ industriousness and economic spirit (Penny & Singarimbun 1967). By Indonesian standards, Tanah Karo is wealthy. The regency, which is located only 80 kilometres from Medan – at more than two million inhabitants Indonesia’s fourth largest city – is well integrated into the national infrastructure. The Indonesian state is deeply ingrained in everyday life with more than 4,000 civil servants and over 40 administrative institutions, which range from the Family Planning Clinics to the Department of Statistics. Due to problems with the technical infrastructure, the state television programme TVRI (Televisi Republik Indonesia) was the only programme broadcast during the time of my fieldwork. Private TV programmes could only be watched by those lucky 7 The nationwide discussions about the controversial so-called pornography law, which was finally passed in 2008, point to the prominence of the female body and female sexuality in the angst evoked by transformation processes. See also the discussion of the peratauran daerah (regional orders) by which women are controlled in terms of mobility, clothing and compartment in the public sphere (Holike 2008).


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(and wealthy) few who were able to afford an expensive digital receiver. The ever-present VCD rental stores made up for this lack of entertainment with Indonesian comedies, Hollywood blockbusters, Hong Kong martial arts flicks and epic Bollywood dramas. Print media were consumed along gender lines. While men read daily political newspapers and followed the minutiae of the European soccer leagues in Bola!, women usually read weekly tabloids or the more upmarket women’s magazines like ‘Kartini’ or ‘Femina’. Sometimes a used copy of the Asian edition of glossy ‘Vogue’ or ‘Cosmopolitan’ magazine found its way into the highlands. There were not yet any internet cafés, and mobile phones were still so costly that only very few people could afford them.

Gender in Karo society Karo society is socially constituted by the structure of the ‘five clans’ or merga si lima (K). Exogamous marriage endows a hierarchical relationship between the bride givers, the kalimbubu (K) and the bride receivers, the anakberu (K), who pay a bride price and are positioned in a ritually subordinated position. This hierarchy defines behaviour in everyday encounters, forms of address and obligations in rituals.8 Due to the patrilinearity of Karo society, descent is traced through the male line, and rights to inheritance are the privilege of sons.9 Steedly notes that women are understood as relations, not subjects, as they form the links between patrilinear descent groups: ‘This positional indeterminacy has immediate and practical consequences for female autonomy both within and outside the household. Women have no independent access to either productive or reproductive resources – rights to land and rights to children being identified with the patronymic group’ (Steedly 1993: 184). Upon divorce, women are sent back to their parents or brothers and lose not only custody of their children but also – in an agricultural setting – their source of income, as they normally work on their husbands’ fields. Agency within marriage is thus highly gendered.10 Men are culturally not expected to contribute to the family’s income, so wives, daughters and other female relatives bear the responsibility for the agricultural and domestic work. While some Karo men do work as civil 8 See Kipp (1996) for a discussion of the implications that modernity and integration into the nation-state have for these ritual obligations. 9 Singarimbun (1975) offers an excellent overview of Karo kinship ideals and practices. 10 For a more detailed picture of gender relations in Karo society, see Klenke (2011).

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servants, traders or farmers, it is perfectly legitimate for a man not to work at all. Women constantly complain that their husbands, brothers and fathers spend the whole day in teahouses, only returning home if they are hungry or tired. The complaints are not an indication of a general wish among Karo women to become housewives. Being able to work hard is the source of great pride and a defining feature vis-à-vis women of other ethnic groups ‘who just sit at home and do nothing all day long – like the Javanese’, a friend of mine told me.11 The expectation to follow moral norms varies according to gender, as Mrs. Ginting already explained: Men are not seen as being capable of controlling their kebutuhan biologis, their ‘biological needs’. It is therefore the responsibility of women to refrain from anything in terms of dress, demeanour, gestures, etc. that may arouse the ever-latent male desire – except within marriage which was the only morally acceptable social space for sex. While women’s violations of moral norms are socially severely sanctioned, men’s are seen as inevitable, normal and excusable. It should be kept in mind that the above description of gender relations depicts the cultural ideal. In everyday life, gender relations are constantly negotiated and gender-specific norms are mediated by class, education, age and the specific personalities of the actors involved. Individual Karo women can indeed command considerable social, political and economic power. They are, however, fundamentally dependent on their male relatives as the guarantees of their status in the patrilinear social order. The structural hierarchy between genders is thus constitutive of Karo society as a whole or, as a female student in the KWK said with a sigh: ‘The adat is difficult for women, but not for men’.

Highland Christianity Like elsewhere in Indonesia, Christianity and colonialism are historically closely connected in Karoland. In 1863, the Dutch became a permanent presence in the coastal region with the first tobacco plantation. Dutch economic activities soon accelerated. The Aceh War (1873-1913) gave rise to worries among the plantation owners that the ‘heathen’ Karo might convert to Islam and ally with the Acehnese. They asked the Dutch government to 11 This image of Javanese women is mostly based on selective local experience with the wives of high-ranking government employees working in the highlands. They are expected to conform to the ideal of the modern Indonesian woman who has no aspirations but to support the career of her husband and educate her children.


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occupy the Karo territory and to start a mission, the expenses of which they would be happy to pay. While the government was not inclined to subjugate the highlands until 1907, in 1889 they granted the Nederlandsch Zendelinggenootschap of the Dutch Reformed Church the right to establish a mission post in the lowlands, which was opened in 1890. In 1902, a post in the highlands followed. Mission progress was extremely slow. Within the first 15 years of the mission, a meagre 130 Karo had been converted to Christianity (Kipp 1990: 226; see also Kipp 1996, 1998). Under Japanese occupation in 1943, the Christian congregations of then 5,000 people – still less than three per cent of the Karo – cut all ties to the Dutch and set up the independent Gereja Batak Karo Protestan (Protestant Church of the Karo Batak, GBKP). When independence was finally gained, church membership grew exponentially. Steedly (1993: 68) reports that in 1984, already 47 per cent Karo were Christians. As mentioned before, today more than 70 per cent of the population of the regency of Tanah Karo are members of Christian churches. Being overwhelmingly Christian in an otherwise predominantly Muslim Indonesia has become a defining feature of Karo identity. Gender had already been a topic for the first missionaries. The Dutch were appalled by what they saw as the oppression of Karo women. The interpretation of local gender relations as the exploitation of pitiable local women by oppressive local men was a stereotypical legitimizing argument in many mission contexts and applied to the Karo field as well. Missionary van den Berg wrote in 1906: ‘I leave the women without comment, because they form an element that counts for nothing in Batak society and thus her joining [the Church] has only relative worth’ (cit. in Steedly 1993: 182). To the great dismay and despair of the missionaries, however, Karo women were not interested at all in becoming housewives and in busying themselves with embroidery and sewing at home. The missionary households did not succeed in recruiting one single Karo woman as a housemaid (Kipp 1990: 107-108). Karo women were instead eager to use the sewing or nursing skills which they acquired in the mission schools for earning money – a fact that underlined the much lamented crude materialistic outlook on life which the missionaries were sure to have detected in Karo men. Missionary Wijngaarden once sighed in written form: ‘To be rich! Oh how desirable in the eyes of every Batak!’ (cit. in Steedly 1993: 77). The patrilinear structure of Karo society and the hierarchical relationship between men and women is mirrored by the official stance of the GBKP towards gender relations. Although the ordination of women has been possible since 1953, the first female minister was ordained only in

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1987 and considerably fewer women than men hold high positions either in the clergy or the lay institutions of the Karo church. While the global ecumenical decade ‘Churches in Solidarity with Women’ (1988-1998) had a profound influence on some female ministers, the general theological stance towards gender is staunchly conservative.

Karo (gendered) modernity In Karoland, modernization is not seen as a phenomenon threatening ‘culture’ or ‘traditions’ but as an intrinsically positive process bringing about development, order, rationality, efficiency and economic prosperity. Modernity is thus desired and in any case inevitable, as it is understood to be an almost natural process unfolding over time and space. It is imagined as spreading slowly from the big cities to the small towns and finally to the villages. In this imaginary landscape, the rural hinterland is less modern than the highland towns, which are in turn less modern than Medan, which cannot compete with Jakarta in terms of modernity. Jakarta lags behind the more fuzzy original centres of modernity like ‘America’. Peoples, practices, politics and other phenomena are thus classified as being ‘not yet’ or ‘already’ modern. In the wake of this process valued as positive, some transformations of Karo social organization were seen as simply inevitable: Some people were very opinionated that in the light of scientific medical knowledge, the Karo ideal of the cross-cousin-marriage should be critically reconsidered. Rebu (K), the avoidance of relationships between certain relatives, should be done away with, as it had become impractical and its cultural logic had been lost. ‘Our adat’, the father of a friend told me in a radical vein, ‘has to be filtered: what is compatible with development can stay, the rest we can just throw away’. Some aspects of Karo life, however, were thought better left untouched by modernization. For example, the system of the hierarchical organization between wife-giving and wifereceiving clans is so central to Karo society that a change is unfathomable, as it would leave no intelligible basis for being a person. Unsurprisingly, the transformation of gender roles stirred heated discussions as well. The local articulations of modernity are deeply shaped by the New Order state’s relentless efforts to develop the nation and its citizens through numerous programmes and institutions. ‘Human beings’, as Philpott remarked, ‘must be made fit for society by turning them into citizens’ (2000: 147), and the New Order state was certainly eager to transform the human beings living on its territory into citizens who were gendered agents of


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development. Women were expected to act based on their kodrat wanita, their ‘natural destiny as women’ and expected to fulfil the Panca Dharma Wanita, the ‘Five Duties of a Woman’, which were namely (a) to be a good and supportive wife, (b) to guarantee the reproduction of the nation, (c) to be a good mother, (d) to be a good housewife, and finally (e) to be a good citizen – in exactly this order.12 While women were expected to take over the role of domestic agents of national development, men were not offered a similar definition of their role in society except that they were defined as the economic provider and head of the family (kepala keluarga). The statepropagated role of women as housewives was closely connected to an urban middle-class lifestyle. It had no equivalent in the so-called ‘tradition’ of any ethnic group in Indonesia but was a truly modern idea.13 In advertisements, the ideal woman is correspondingly portrayed as a beautiful modern urban housewife who dedicates herself to her nuclear family and her stylish home. She is always feminine, well-dressed, slim and attractive without being too sexy, and finds her fulfilment in satisfying the needs of her husband and her kids.14 Media images and government programmes alone say of course nothing about their effectiveness in transforming peoples’ everyday lives. As O’Shaugnessy notes, state ideologies ‘are both contested and ignored by social actors’ (2009: 39). The charming nonchalance and strategic selectiveness with which Karo women and men encountered these different normative frames proves that O’Shaugnessy’s remark holds true for Tanah Karo, too. Karo women relate in different articulations to the normative frames of gendered modernity offered them. I will concentrate on the urban middle class women’s modernity as the hegemonic articulation of gendered Karo modernity, which was also taught in the KWK. According to the temporal and spatial dimensions of modernity, the differentiation between a ‘woman from the village’ (perempuan kampung) and a ‘woman from the city’ (perempuan kota) is essential, and urban Karo women went to great lengths to explain to me the fundamental difference 12 It is important to remember, though, that the femininity and domesticity of the model Indonesian woman did not worry the state when it came to female workers. In order to lure international money to the Indonesia, workers’ rights were severely violated, unions forbidden and strikes violently crashed. For a discussion of this aspect of the state’s gender politics, see Wolf (1992, 1993) for New Order Indonesia and Ford (2003) for post-Suharto Indonesia. 13 I understand ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ as mutually constitutive spheres. 14 For an analysis of gender relations in Indonesian TV sequels, advertising and f ilm, see Aripurnami (2000) Handajani (2005, 2008), Kasiyan (2008), Nilan (2003a, b), Noviani (2009a, b), Sen & Hill (2000).

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between them. But why is state-sponsored modernity attractive to urban women? The New Order ideal of the husband as the kepala keluarga, the head of the family, legitimizes Karo women’s quest for a more equal distribution of work between husband and wife. By transforming themselves into modern women via the appropriation of femininity and beauty, Karo women appeal to their husbands to take over the state-sponsored male role of the provider (or at least co-provider) of the family. In a modern marriage, Karo women explained to me, both partners should work – men as well! Ros Malem, who was not yet married, explained to me: If we later submit to the wishes of our husband, he will only ever wake up, spend the day in the teahouse, eat and sleep. Sometimes women do not dare to forbid this kind of behaviour and then men do as they like. We have to say: ‘Don’t behave like that! Help me with the work, we have to work together in order for our family to prosper!’ (interview, 5 December 2001).

By linking the local appreciation of wealth with the national ideology of development and progress, Karo women challenged their husbands to take over responsibility for the family’s economic progress. Both partners working on the fields or participating in paid labour and sharing the housework formed the satisfying compromise between the local Karo ideal of working women and the state ideal of working men. Meritocratic ideas of men having to literally earn respect instead of commanding it by their gender alone had emerged.15 Christianity offered Karo women another argumentative resource: the equality of all human beings before the Lord and the importance of obeying the Ten Commandments were powerful arguments against the superior position of men based on their gender alone. A discussion of the appropriate clothing for a modern Christian woman as it was taught in the KWK will illustrate the chances and pitfalls of femininity as a (strategic) embodiment of modernity.

15 This new division of labour and the appropriation of femininity also bring about a transformation of women from producers to consumers, as the feminine body is in constant need of products like shampoo, lipstick, body lotions and personal services like haircuts, facials and aerobic lessons. Due to limitations of space, this important aspect of Karo gendered modernity cannot be discussed here. See Klenke (2011: 228ff) for an analysis of the tensions this process provokes.


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The Christian Women’s School KWK The Kursus Wanita Kristen was founded by the GBKP in 1971 by the initiative of German church people who had been sent to work with the GBKP by the United Evangelical Mission. The biblical motto istri yang cakap (‘a capable wife’, The Book of Proverbs 31, 10) points to the school’s aim to train young women in theology and applied subjects like hygiene, basic medical knowledge and nutrition in order to make them suitable potential (house) wives for GBKP pastors. The programme did not draw enough students, so at the beginning of the 1990s, the GBKP changed the school’s curriculum towards goals more compatible with Karo women’s aspirations. The KWK now teaches professional skills such as tailoring and beautician skills in order to enable its students to earn money. The motto has been changed accordingly into wanita yang cakap (a capable woman). Beyond lessons in the respective professional skills, the girls are taught bible studies, theology, good behaviour and medicine in the five-month courses. The school explicitly tries to draw disadvantaged girls from rural highland areas and offers them the opportunity to stay in the attached dormitory. While a tailor and a beautician teach the professional skills, the other subjects are taught by Pastor Rosmalia and Pastor Jenni, two female pastors, and by two of the highest-ranking female lay persons in the GBKP: the already mentioned Mrs. Ginting and Dr. Seri, who is a doctor and the head of the local Puskesmas (State Health Centre). Both are members of the central women’s committee of the GBKP. The school’s curriculum is based on the premise that the students are true perempuan kampung (village girls) who are still kasar (rough, uneducated) and lack the fundamental knowledge and social skills required to successfully participate in modern urban life. They do not know how to properly talk, dress, behave, eat, work or socialize with others.16 Thus, great pedagogical efforts go into transmitting the knowledge of how to become refined (halus) and modest (sederhana) Christian women. The success of this endeavour depends on the knowledge of how to control, manage and present one’s body in a modern context in a morally acceptable way. While the modern corporeal habitus which the students are expected to acquire must stretch the limits of the culturally and morally acceptable, it may never trespass them. The new habitus, it is assumed, will lead to more percaya diri (self-esteem), which traditional Karo society with its patrilinear organization does not provide for women. 16 During breaks, the girls loved to sit in front of the KWK and tease the passing male streetsellers: ‘Hey, I like you! What’s your clan? I’m a Sembiring – can we get something going on?’

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The teachers therefore constantly stress the worth and importance of women in the bible. Mrs. Ginting asked the students who was the first one to see the empty grave of Jesus: ‘Exactly, Maria Magdalena, a woman! So we are important as well!’ (field notes, 18 August 2001). The aim to boost the students’ self-esteem is based on the assumption that more percaya diri will enable them to fully participate in modern life, become equals to their husbands and not take second place anymore. The Christian faith alone, however, does not suffice as the only source of self-esteem. It has to be accompanied by an embodiment of modernity in the form of femininity. The female body thus takes central stage in most of the teachings in the KWK. It is analyzed and re-constituted by medical, aesthetic, religious and cultural norms and securely posited within Christian discourse.

Clothing the modern female body The question as to what to wear as a modern Christian woman is more than a mere problem of fashion, as the elaborate and often contradictory instructions on clothing in the KWK reveal. Today, Mrs. Ginting explained the importance of proper clothing: ‘Why are clothes important? Just imagine you walk around naked in the streets. What would you do? You would cover your breasts and your private parts. This is why clothes are important! Wherever we go, we have to carefully consider how to dress. We can read a lot from a person’s face, but even more from a person’s clothes. Our dress doesn’t have to be expensive, but must always be clean and tidy. Always remember: Clothes have to suit the event and your body and have to conform to the norms of our adat and our religion!’ (field notes, 22 August 2001).

There are some basic factors, however, that Mrs. Ginting mentions in the quote above and which are repeated countless times: even if we are poor and cannot buy fancy clothes, they have to be clean (bersih) and tidy (rapi).17 Moreover, shoulders and knees always have to be covered.

17 The importance of cleanliness and the myriad times it was stressed – be it dishes, clothes or personal hygiene – point to the close association of rural life with dirtiness. Wanita kampung, women from the village, are seen as dirtier than their urban counterparts. This was only partly


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Beyond these premises, the rules become more complicated. The right clothes are to be selected on the basis of complex aesthetic, social and moral considerations. Aesthetic norms may contradict moral considerations, while social expectations might not be compatible with aesthetic standards.

Aesthetic norms Fashion trends are of no real interest in the KWK – neither to the teachers nor to the students. What matters in the teachings, though, are tips on to how to use colours, patterns and cuts in order to conceal your body’s shortcomings or to underline its strong points. ‘Fat women shouldn’t wear ruffles or shoulder pads or turtleneck sweaters. Look at Corah today, the sweater doesn’t suit her. If you are thin, you may wear tight clothes, but then again, it doesn’t look good if you have small breasts. And be careful that your nipples are not visible through the fabric of your blouse or t-shirt!’ (Ibu Ginting, field notes, 19 August 2001). In order to follow the complicated rules as to when to wear bright colours above and dark colours below or vice versa, when to wear a round neck or a v-neck, when to wear big patterns or small patterns, you have to be able to judge your own body in relation to a normative frame. Are you fat, small, big-breasted, short-necked, narrowhipped or long-legged? Is your face round, oval or square? In the beautician class, the students have to determine if they have dry, normal or oily skin. What kind of haircut matches what kind of face shape? What is an average size, what is a normal weight? The underlying assumption in these teachings is that being attractive – or trying to achieve a modern attractiveness – is thoroughly compatible with Christianity, morality and Karo adat. In fact, the wish to be attractive is seen as the beginning of a modernization process in which rural women finally discover their true feminine self.18 In her speech to the newly enrolled students, Pastor Jenni explains:

attributed to the heavy work that women performed in agriculture, it was also seen as a lack of understanding for personal hygiene and thus for a backward, not-yet-modern character. 18 In the countryside, aesthetic norms were not that important. Arni told me: ‘If you are already married, it’s better to be a bit chubby and not too thin. If you’re too thin, people will think that your marriage is not harmonious. Because if we are happy, we gain weight. But if you are not married yet, it’s better to be thin. For a woman, it’s not good to be fat if she is not married yet. Men will say: “Oh, I cannot afford this girl, she eats more than she works!”’(field notes, 3 December 2001). Instead of normative aesthetic considerations, the size of the body is discussed in relation to social and economic criteria.

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During the first couple of weeks it is very difficult for the new students from the villages, but after a while we can see the difference: suddenly they all look more beautiful and change to the positive. Their clothes are more carefully chosen, they do not wear green above and red below or flowery shirts with striped pants (field notes, 6 February 2002).

Beauty, knowledge, femininity, modernity and order are closely associated, as Pastor Jenni’s remark on the civilizing effects of just a few weeks in the KWK illustrates. This civilization, it is assumed, would make the students more self-assured. The students, however, put the relationship between beauty and selfesteem on its head. In their logic, self-esteem is not a consequence but a prerequisite for becoming visible as a modern woman. To bear the gaze of others, to be recognized as a modern women requires strength: ‘One needs self-esteem in order to wear something that accentuates your body. If we wear just practical clothing, nobody will look at us, but if we wear something nice, we feel the curious gaze of others and we notice how they talk about it. That is not easy’ (interview Ros Dewi, 10 December 2001). Beauty is obviously not easy to bear.

Social norms Aesthetic norms are further mediated by social norms. What to wear to which occasion is a central concern of Mrs. Ginting’s explanations. There are numerous rules on to how to dress at official occasions, where the national dress kebaya and sarong are required: Never with closed shoes, never with a handbag with long shoulder straps! Skirts, however, always have to be combined with closed shoes and a handbag with long shoulder straps. Colours, patterns and cuts are not only to be selected according to skin type and body contours but have to be adapted to the character of the planned activity. Many different things can be worn, but, as a standard expression went, pada tempat – at the right place! Dr. Seri, for example, even considers bikinis to be a suitable piece of clothing – but pada tempat! ‘At the pool and not in the courtyard of the KWK!’ A defining distinction in reference to place is made between the private and the public sphere. The students are warned that if they need to buy shampoo in the morning, they should not go to the kiosk in their pyjamas. Before they open the door to a visitor, they should always check if they are wearing proper clothes. Routines of personal hygiene have to be exercised in the privacy of the house or the bedroom only.


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The broadening of the girls’ horizon in the modern urban context implies a variation in social events that is associated with a multiplication of dress rules to obey, which underline the complexity of urban life. Implicitly it is conveyed that participation in urban life is a process of upward mobility and means a life of visibility in public. Mrs. Ginting remarks: ‘At a dinner: always be polite! It might be the wife of the regent who sits next to you!’ (field notes, 2 August 2001). She is probably very well aware that none of the girls would possibly ever sit next to the regent’s wife. Her remark, however, opens up an imaginary horizon where yet unknown experiences and challenges of modern urban life await the girls. In other lessons, she explained the rules of eating properly – how to sit, to chew, how to handle the cutlery, how to ask people to pass food, whom to serve first and not to burp or fart. Gendered modernity has to be constantly performed in front of a – sometimes imagined – socially heterogeneous audience of others, whose gaze has to be internalized. Proper management of the body is a prerequisite for meeting these challenges of urban modernity.

Moral norms Moral norms relating to clothing override aesthetic or social norms and are always explicitly articulated as Christian norms. ‘We as women who still have a religion’ is a recurrent introduction to all kinds of explanations given by Mrs. Ginting. Fashion trends can thus only be followed if they conform to Christian morality. A skirt that is long in the front but has a long slit in the back up to the bottom is impossible. No bare shoulders! The seam of skirts and shorts always has to cover the knees!19 The existential importance of proper dressing is based on Karo women’s responsibility for morality. Karo men cannot be expected to control their sexual desire. Because of the male nature, knowledge on how to dress is essential for women in order to protect themselves and to fulfil their social role as guardians of morality. But since women are unfortunately weak and love to get compliments, Mrs. Ginting explains, they are always in danger of wearing inappropriate clothes:

19 After Mrs. Ginting’s urgent warnings concerning the morality of dress, I was surprised to detect her on a group photo taken at the opening ceremony of the KWK in the 1970s. There she was, extremely beautiful and already radiating with charisma, her hair in a beehive and the seam of her skirt clearly at least a hand above her knees. Obviously, young Christian women had not always been oblivious to fashion trends.

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A while ago she was on the market and saw a woman with tight clothes and long flowing hair. A man approached the woman and – Mrs. Ginting mimics him as not being in control of his senses – just had to touch her. When the woman complained, Mrs. Ginting had said: ‘Don’t complain! It serves you right! It’s your own fault!’ and the bystanders all laughed and agreed with her (field notes, 12 September 2001).

Although Mrs. Ginting doesn’t conceal her contempt for the presumed incapability of (rural) men to conform to any rules – be they hygienic, aesthetic, religious or moral in nature – she relentlessly assigns moral responsibility to the girls: ‘As daughters we maybe sometimes forget that we are already grown up and think: Oh my dear daddy! – but our daddy for sure notes our body’. She lets her eyes wander across an imaginary body. ‘Then it’s getting difficult. Never wear shorts in the presence of your father! Don’t we always read in the newspaper about fathers raping their daughters? There you go. We may never ever offer men an opportunity for something to happen and this includes our male relatives’ (field notes, 12 September 2001).

On the other hand, a woman is also responsible for the success of her marriage by sustaining her husband’s sexual desire via stimulating clothing and the like. Men have affairs, the students are told, because their wives start to become sloppy: After marriage, some Karo women don’t go to the hairdresser anymore, do not take showers regularly and always wear old clothes. Sometimes a woman does not wear a bra although her breasts have become so saggy that she could easily use them to flap a fly on the table. No wonder their husbands start lusting after other women!20 (field notes, 19 September 2001).

A man’s sexual attraction to his wife is obviously based on her femininity. However, if she puts too much effort into stimulating her husband’s desire, 20 Many married women explicitly practiced aerobics in order to train their pelvic muscles so they could better melayani (serve) their husbands. As an aerobic trainer told me, men are often initially reluctant to allow their wives to practice aerobics, but after several weeks, they tell their wives to attend classes regularly because they like the effects.


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she might fail as well: ‘A doctor in my husband’s hospital’, Mrs. Ginting tells us, ‘has just started an affair because his wife always wears miniskirts. So he started to look for a woman with better morals. No wonder!’ (field notes, 22 August 2001). The line between legitimate conjugal attractiveness on the one hand, which is required to keep a husband from philandering, and immoral sexiness on the other hand, which will drive him away, is so fine as to be almost invisible. Male sexuality is thus a constant threat to the moral, emotional and physical integrity of women and to the social and moral integrity of Karo society as a whole.

Revolting against gendered morality The contradiction between the opportunities and the perils of modernity in relation to dress and gendered agency is never commented on by the students, until one day Yulin openly contests the uneven distribution of moral responsibility and agency between men and women as presented in the KWK. In Bible Studies with Pastor Jenni, we read Ecclesiastes 11:9-10: ‘Rejoice, O young man, in your youth; and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes: but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity’. Pastor Jenni remarks that this is certainly something to make us happy because we are granted the freedom to do what we want: If others have beautiful clothes and we can not offord them – do not worry, just go to the secondhand market! If others have a car and we just a bicycle, let’s remember that it is better if you do not have to buy gasoline. If others have a boyfriend and we don’t, let’s not cry but wait until we get one, too. And if others are beautiful and we are ugly, then we accept this as a gift of God as well. God allows us to do what we want to, but let’s look deep into our hearts in order to find out what we really want. What’s the key sentence in the bible? God will judge us! How do we feel reading this about young age? (field notes, 22 August 2001).

After the first student answers that she feels content because God gives her freedom, Yulin lifts her finger. She talks very fast and nervous as if she has pondered this thought for quite some time: ‘I am very sad, Pastor Jenni, if I

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read that because as a girl, I cannot do what I want. If I walk down the street in a miniskirt, men will whistle and maybe even grab me. I’m not happy to be a young girl, Pastor, because we experience a lot of violence’. Her remark is followed by absolute silence. Pastor Jenni is obviously taken aback and continues with the teaching. A while later, she gets back to Yulin’s commentary: ‘We should always stay close to God. If the boys in Yulin’s example would stay close to God, they would not have dirty thoughts but just enjoy the sight of a beautiful girl’ (all quotations from field notes, 22 August 2001). The passage above aptly illustrates the contradictions of the agency conceptualized for women in Karo modernity. While the bible talks about freedom and vanity (and God’s judgement), Pastor Jenni gives examples of how to quietly and happily accept the (unpleasant) fate that God has provided for us. Are we poor, lonely and ugly? Let’s not worry but look on the bright side of life. Yulin, however, points to the obvious contradictions between the bible quote, Pastor Jenni’s interpretation and her own experiences in Karo society – or maybe to the obvious parallels between Pastor Jenni’s appeal to arrange oneself with life’s adverse circumstances and the expectation towards women to put up with male superiority. How does this go together with the desired empowerment of women in the Christian context? The solution Pastor Jenni presents is located at the individual and not the societal level: if the boys were more pious, if they would stay closer to God, they would not harass Yulin.

Conclusion In Tanah Karo, the combined discourses of Christianity and the statesponsored ideal of development and progress feed into the articulation of a local modernity that promises to open up new realms of agency and recognition for Karo women. The question of how to dress as a modern Christian woman has allowed a glimpse into the ambivalences of Karo articulations of gendered modernity. Middle-class women implicitly argue for a modern meritocratic system of social recognition instead of hereditary privileges based on gender alone. The selective appropriation of the state-sponsored ideal of the modern feminine woman gives them a legitimate discursive ground to rhetorically invite their husbands to participate in modernity by working alongside their wives towards greater prosperity of the family. The bible also supports this cause, as men and women are equal before the Lord and a gender-specific division of labour in which women do all and men none of the work may be Karo tradition but is certainly not God’s will.


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In the KWK, the transmission of knowledge about aesthetic, social and moral norms regulating the clothing practices is aimed at empowering rural Karo women through knowledge in order to enable them to fully participate in urban life as the space of modernity. The transformation into a modern woman will, it is assumed, lead to greater self-esteem – a quality understood as being badly needed in patrilinear Karo society which offers women little possibilities to gain social recognition that is equal to that of men. However, the empowerment the KWK seeks to realize is not without some strings attached. In KWK Christian discourse, the prospect for men to become equal partners in modernity is dim. Throughout the teachings in the KWK, Karo men are depicted as utterly incapable of any positive contribution to society and as not being able to be turned into proper citizens, let alone agents of development or exemplary Christians. After all, men drink heavily, waste the family money, gamble and have extramarital affairs. There is nothing one can do about it – only hope that they will decide to stay closer to God. The irresponsibility of men in respecting any moral, social and/or Christian norms makes them a difficult if not outright impossible partner in the project of Christian modernity. Christian modernity turns out to be a heavy burden, as women have to bear the sole responsibility for Karo morality and modernization. As empowering as this may be, the implications of patrilinearity are not easily done away with. Men still guarantee the social status of women, and a woman whose moral standing is seen as questionable finds herself in an existentially difficult situation. The gendered localization of modernity can be understood as an appropriation of Indonesian modernity which works both ways. While local practices and discourses are harnessed to the project of national development, the national discourse at the same time helps to further gendered local agendas. Christianity as a constitutive factor for modernity offers a space in which to formulate these agendas and practices in a locally appropriate way. Modernity does not radiate the same bright promise for everyone. Its attractiveness is constituted by very specific local conflicts which people wish to reformulate or resolve by appropriating modernity into their everyday lives.

Bukit Kasih, the Hill of Love Multireligiosity for Pleasure Judith Schlehe

Introduction Recent scholarly literature is largely in agreement that, in light of the diverse and widespread significance of religions today, classic secularization theories have become obsolete (see Schlehe & Rehbein 2008a; Cannell 2010). As a driving force behind cultural identity that is embedded and continuously negotiated in the social processes of everyday life, institutions and communicative systems, religion is taken substantially more seriously when its re-politicization is taken into consideration. In view of the potential for conflict in emotionally loaded religious differences that are instrumentalized by the various parties, a variety of initiatives have been launched promoting interreligious dialogue. In this chapter, I will examine a lesser-known place in the north of eastern Indonesia and investigate the relationships between politics and religion, history and the present, popularization and the power of representation, as well as between the intentions of the different actors found there. In the years around the turn of the millennium, a number of violent religious conflicts erupted in various regions of Indonesia. Among other things, this can be traced back to the fact that, after the end of the authoritarian regime of President Suharto’s ‘New Order’, a number of radical forces (including hard-line Islamic and other extremist groups) were able to develop where they had hitherto been suppressed. On the other hand, it is argued that radical Islam, for example, is actually a product of this very New Order (Hadiz 2011). In any case, there was a sudden and surprisingly fierce outbreak of latently smouldering animosities (Bräuchler 2005; Schröter 2010) that were frequently linked to conflicts over resources, imbalances of power and problems stemming from resettlement and migration. Furthermore, a factor that should not be underestimated is the increasingly bipolar worldview that situates ‘the West’, associated with Christianity, in striking opposition to ‘the Muslim world’ (Adeney-


Judith Schlehe

Risakotta 2009). 1 Eastern Indonesia, in particular the Maluku Islands and the region of Poso in Central Sulawesi, has witnessed violent clashes between Muslims and Christians, which have flared up repeatedly over a longer period.2 But such hostilities did not take place everywhere in Indonesia. For example, the Minahasa, a region in North Sulawesi dominated by Christians,3 was to a large extent spared of religious unrest. As is continually stressed, this was the reason for the creation of a place in 2002 in which freedom from conflict was to be celebrated and commemorated, a place that manifested the coexistence and equality of the then five officially recognized religions in Indonesia. This place was the Bukit Kasih or Hill of Love, in actual fact a five-hectare section of a mountain. In the highlands of the Minahasa, at a remarkably beautiful spot in the landscape shaped by hot, bubbling springs continuously vaporizing sulphur and with an extensive view of the countryside, a Catholic church, a Buddhist and a Hindu temple, a mosque and a Protestant church have been built next to each other. In what follows, this exceptional location will be described in greater detail in order to show how it is used and ask what can be concluded about religious pluralism in contemporary Indonesia. This in turn will both be embedded in and enlarge the theoretical context of the anthropology of tourism, or, more precisely, recent approaches to religious tourism and the popularization of religion and culture.4 1 This is still the case even though, in an interdisciplinary research project on the images of the ‘West’ in Indonesia at the University of Freiburg, we discovered that at present there are new and shifting orientations towards other imagined centres and that the polarity of Orient and Occident is losing its significance. 2 About 10 per cent of Indonesia’s population of roughly 240 million are Christians. 3 In North Sulawesi, Christians are the majority (80 per cent) in the Kabupaten Minahasa and Sangihe and Talaud, while in Gorontalo and Bolaang Mongondouw, Muslims make up the majority. The number of Hindus in North Sulawesi is 1.3 per cent; Buddhists make up 0.5 per cent of the population there (Badan Pusat Statistics Sulawesi Utara, 2006, cited in Kosel, 2008: 95). The current cultural self-understanding of the Minahasa is strongly Christian, in particular Protestant, as is apparent in the construction of massive churches, and is thus clearly distinguished from the dominant Javanese on a national level. ‘Western’, in the sense of ‘Europeanness’, is part of the local self-determination of identity (Jacobsen 2002: 41, 44). Unlike in other parts of Indonesia, ‘America’ is held in high esteem, though efforts are also being made to revive pre-colonial culture (Jacobsen 2002; Swazey 2009). 4 The empirical data were collected during a short visit in 2006 and a ten-day period of field research in 2010. The second visit was part of a DFG Research Group (‘History in Popular Cultures of Knowledge’) project on ‘The staging of historical environments in theme and culture parks: Reflections of “Self” and “Other” in Asia and Europe’. Here, I was assisted by Vissia Ita Yulianto, whom I thank for her help. Valuable ideas also developed within the Freiburg Southeast Asia Study Group funded by the BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) and in a discussion of this paper at the ICRS (Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies) in March 2011.

Bukit K asih, the Hill of Love


The hill and its background Although many tour buses, private cars and, above all, motorcycles make their way there at weekends and on holidays, no public transport serves the Bukit Kasih, which is close to the village of Kanonang5 and about 55 kilometres south of the provincial capital at Manado. Even from a distance (Fig. 1), visitors can see a white Christian cross6 on a mountain slope and, as they approach, a monument a good twenty metres high comes into view, with a globe and a dove of peace on top of a column. Figure 1 Bukit Kasih seen from a distance, with the monument in front, the houses of worship in the background and the cross to the left

Photo: Judith Schlehe

Behind it is a steep, rocky incline with vaporous sulphur being blown in all directions by the wind. This rocky area is lined on both sides with steps that lead to the elevation where the religious sites are situated. Seen from a distance, they appear tiny. Huge faces are carved into the stone sides, in addition to which three figures can be seen on the left, to which a separate path leads. Below, a little off the path, is the resplendent sheen of a bright white temple-like tomb. The Bukit Kasih was built in 2002 and inaugurated in 2004 by the province of North Sulawesi as a cultural and religious tourist attraction 5 Kanonang belongs to the Kecamatan Kawangkoan, Kabupaten Minahasa province of North Sulawesi. 6 The cross has a height of 38 metres.


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(objek wisata kultural religius, as is written on a large sign).7 A Bukit Doa or hill of prayer of the local Protestant church had already existed on this location since 1999,8 before which the area had been a place of worship for the mythical ancestors of Minahasa. A coalition of religious representatives (Badan Kerjasama Antar Umat Beragama9), with the then governor of the province of North Sulawesi, Adolf Jouke Sondakh, at the helm, had conceived the aim of making this place representative of the fact that, in the Minahasa region – unlike in Poso (Central Sulawesi) or the Moluccas, and unlike in 1970 (the year of the riots against the Chinese in Manado, which was followed by hostilities between Muslims and Christians) – there had been no violent feuds between religions but instead cooperation and collaboration.10 Kasih dan persaudaraan – the love of one another and a feeling of relatedness rather than conflict – is what should be taught and a lambang kerukunan (a symbol of harmony 11) established. With regard to the term kasih (‘love’), its meaning is rooted in the basic philosophical concept of Minahasa, tomou tou, an attitude of mindfulness of oneself and a love of humanity and the surrounding environment (Tinggogoy 2008: 26, 47). However, in our interviews it was also the Muslim secretary of the state-initiated interreligious forum FKUB (Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama), which had been involved in the foundation of the Bukit Kasih,

7 Sacred mountains around the world are often popular locations for pilgrimages as they are frequently seen as sites of revelation and inspiration. They attract religious pilgrims as much as tourists. In Asia, cosmic mountains play a central role in mythology, often referring to Mount Meru, the ‘heavenly’ mountain. 8 GMIM (Gereja Masehi Injili Minahasa, the Christian Evangelical Church of Minahasa) Bukit Sion Kanonang. 9 This organization (shortened to BKSAUA), dedicated to interreligious cooperation between provinces, has existed since 1967, though it only acquired importance after the fall of Suharto in 1998. 10 This required a variety of efforts. In particular, countless refugees fled from areas of unrest to Manado. First of all, every year was given a new motto: 2002 tahun kasih (the year of love), 2003 tahun kasih tanpa kekerasaan (the year of peaceful love), 2004 tahun kasih dan harapan (the year of love and hope), 2005 tahun kasih dan rahmat (the year of love and mercy). And last but not least, a group of youths from all religions (Jaringan Kerja Kasih, or JAJAK) watched over religious celebrations like Christmas and Idul Fitri (the end of the month of fasting) in order to prevent riots. Henley et al. (2007) have attributed the prevention of violent conflict in the Minahasa to successful collaboration between civil society, the state and religious organizations, which was also accompanied by favourable economic conditions. 11 The frequently used concept of rukun refers to the desire for harmony, conflict prevention and peaceful coexistence.

Bukit K asih, the Hill of Love


who referred back to the same concept by citing the principle of ‘Whatever happens, love thy neighbour as thyself.’12 The full new name given to the hill was Bukit Kasih Toar Lumimuut Kanonang, a reference to the mythical ancestors of Minahasa – Toar and Lumimuut – and to the nearest village, Kanonang. However, in everyday speech, as well as on signs and on T-shirts for sale, the shorter term Bukit Kasih is used, in some cases with the addition of Kanonang. This village is not only nearby, it is also the place of origin of the founder of the Bukit Kasih mentioned above, A. J. Sondakh, a governor who provided for his village. It is not only the local Protestant church that benefits greatly from the donations that visitors are compelled to make when signing their names in the guestbook at the foot of the steps.13 Besides the people who work at this post,14 almost all motorcycle taxis that carry passengers to Bukit Kasih, as well as the hat-, T-shirt and corn sellers, food-stall owners, toilet cleaners, etc., come from Kanonang. The village prospers extraordinarily 15 as a result of the Bukit Kasih, which, according to the tourism authority in Manado, attracts an average of 400 to 500 visitors every day.16 This explains the elaborate tomb that can be found on a prominent site on Bukit Kasih which is the grave of the late A.J. Sondakh, a highly controversial figure, voted out of office in 2005 and deceased in 2007. On a relief at the tomb he is celebrated as a politician, a long-time member of parliament and a religious and secular teacher and scholar. His name, on the Bukit Kasih, is still on everyone’s lips, as he arranged his own remembrance.17 When visitors make their way to the Bukit Kasih, they can first study the monument (which was constructed in the manner of the famous national monuments)18 and its inscriptions of the central moral values of all five 12 ‘Apa pun yang terjadi, tapi kasihilah dirimu sendiri, mengasihi orang lain seperti mengasihi diri sendiri.’ 13 All collections from the lower post go to the Gereja Masehi Injili Minahasa (GMIM), the largest Minahasa church, and at its department, Cabang Gereja Bukit Sion. 14 The seven people who work here do so on a rotational basis, each working one week every three or four months. 15 Most residents of the village of Kanonang Dua are farmers, and particularly those who grow corn make significant profits, as one of the attractions of the Bukit Kasih is the fresh corn that is cooked in the hot springs (Rawis 2008). 16 The monthly takings from the entry fees, which add up to about 50 million rupiah, go to the provincial government (http://www.tribunmanado.co.id/read/artikel/7345), although Kanonang I and II and the neighbouring village of Pinabetengan receive some of this (http:// www.tribunmanado.co.id/read/artikel/9100). 17 For more on the questionable role of governor Sondakh, see Kosel (2009: 102). 18 In particular, the pillar of the central national monument (Monas) should be mentioned here, at the foot of which Indonesian national history is presented.


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religions (i.e. excerpts from their writings). Then they can take the 2,400 steps up a steep hill before they have to decide whether to take the path to the left, to the three figures (statues of the ancestors Toar and Lumimuut with another female figure, Karema), or continue straight uphill to the religious buildings. The majority choose the latter. Having finally reached the top, they find the five religious sites in a not particularly good external condition and with almost no interiors. What is much more attractive than these bleak buildings, however, is the wide view over the countryside, the volcanoes, all the way to the coast. The way down is then designed to represent the Christian stations of the cross, at the bottom of which food stalls and hot springs used to cook corn await the visitors.

Actors and activities Who are the visitors of the Bukit Kasih, and what are they doing there? Mostly they are day-trippers, some of whom have driven there for about one and a half hours from the city of Manado and from other parts of North Sulawesi or Indonesia. It is not unusual for the people of Manado to bring their guests to the Bukit Kasih, and occasionally company outings and the like can also be found making their way there. These ‘people from Manado’ may, however, be migrants, people who live there for professional or other reasons. In short, the Bukit Kasih is a place shaped by translocality. The various religious sites do not play a particularly significant role for the visitors. For them, it is more a matter of going on a pleasant excursion to an impressive volcanic landscape with cool mountain air, souvenirs and food stands. Rekreasi or recreation is the major focus of the visit, or at least the main reason that brings visitors here. They belong to various religions, although there are more than twice as many Christians as Muslims and only few Buddhists and Hindus among them. Many of them take just a quick glance at the religious sites, turning their attention instead to the panoramic landscape in order to take photos.19 Those who do venture into one of the buildings select almost exclusively one that belongs to their own religion and stay there only briefly. Complaints about the bleak barrenness of the buildings were not heard once in the conversations and interviews during our visits. When prayer time comes, some Muslims enter the mosque, and under a statue of Mary beside the Catholic Church several nuns could be 19 This can be seen as an example of the ‘active recipients’ who have been foregrounded in Cultural Studies in opposition to the idea of a passive mass culture.

Bukit K asih, the Hill of Love


seen praying, but even they said that they had only come here for pleasure. A religious appreciation of these sites does not, therefore, run particularly deep for the visitors. This might have something to do with the fact that no services, religious ceremonies or rituals are carried out on the Bukit Kasih unless a group of visitors organizes one themselves. Given the interreligious claims of the Bukit Kasih, it is remarkable that no signs or information exist that could help the visitors inform themselves about the customs or meanings of the other religions. The staff who look after these places of worship are focused exclusively on getting the visitors to make yet another donation: having made one donation at the entrance at the bottom of Bukit Kasih, you are asked to make another at the top, as the staff will explain that the first one goes to the church, whereas the second goes to the provincial government, which is responsible for the overall maintenance of Bukit Kasih. One problem arose here since, as a result of the policy of decentralization in Indonesia,20 the shared jurisdiction between the province of North Sulawesi and the Kabupaten (regency) of Minahasa is not clearly stated and quite subject to conflict.21 This is directly connected to the special relationship that existed between the Bukit Kasih and the office of Governor Sondakh, in which his successor has no political interest. Consequently, little investment is being made in the maintenance or development of the Bukit Kasih, and negotiations are currently going on for the site to be removed administratively from the provincial level and placed in the hands of the Kabupaten (Sandala 2010). Then again, the provincial tourist board has asserted that Jakarta, given its central role, should make a renewed financial commitment. These plans are aimed at securing the future and maintenance of the Bukit Kasih by renovating and developing the paths and constructing a large gateway, but without any work or improvements to or in the religious buildings themselves. The emphasis is being placed on recreation (rekreasi), not on religion, meaning that the multireligiosity functions merely as a decorative scenery for the leisure activities. The strong 20 After the end of the authoritarian regime of President Suharto (1998), a radical political decentralization of Indonesia followed between 1999 and 2001. This was seen as a means of achieving democracy (see Schulte Nordholt & van Klinken 2007). Nevertheless, it had many unexpected and adverse effects, only a few of which were the uncertainties over jurisdiction and the collapse of projects and cultural institutions mentioned here in the context of the Bukit Kasih. 21 Laws on local government and the distribution of functions and sharing of responsibilities between provincial governments and district governments are often revised (http://www. thejakartapost.com/news/2011/02/14/reshaping-regional-autonomy.html).


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connection with governmental matters (‘sangat berkaitan dengan urusan pemerintah’) led one religious leader to claim in conversation that the Bukit Kasih has fallen victim to the political scuffles connected with regional autonomy (Otonomi Daerah). There are, however, different perspectives on the matter. To a question about the future of the Bukit, one of the employees answered that it is being planned to make it more appealing by adding performances of traditional dances.22 But the same person also emphasized that the Bukit Kasih is a place of special, supernatural (supranatural as he put it) powers.23 Accordingly, he explained, a clear distinction has been made between the religious sites (tempat ibadah) and the supranatural locations.

Religions on the Bukit Kasih In Indonesia, a place where faith in one single God is declared mandatory by the state, the only recognized religions at the time that the Bukit Kasih was being planned and constructed were Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Consequently, only these five religions were allowed to construct houses of worship. In 2002, Confucianism was added as a sixth recognized religion, although this has not yet made an appearance on the Bukit Kasih. It is interesting that no one is bothered by this fact; indeed, it seems that no one has even noticed. As to my specific question of why there was no Kelenteng (Confucian temple) here, several visitors, some of whom were ethnic Chinese, explained that this wasn’t necessary since Confucianism was, after all, included in the Buddhist temple (Vihara).24 This is revealing of the fact that, as a recognized religion, Confucianism has not made its way into the consciousness of the wider population at all.

22 Here the religious emphasis is reduced, and the Bukit Kasih would appear to be following the constructional and representational approaches of other Indonesian cultural theme parks in which culture is turned into folklore (see Schlehe & Uike-Bormann 2010). 23 Only one visitor, a police officer who had travelled with his family and several young police officers from a nearby village, told of a miracle which he claims to have witnessed himself on Bukit Kasih. A woman with a severe condition in the foot, who managed to walk all the way to the top, had reportedly been healed when she came back down again. 24 One of the Chinese people to whom we spoke made the significant claim that it would not be worth asking the government for financial support for the construction of a Kelenteng on the Bukit Kasih, since even if the application were accepted, the construction would never take place and the money would ‘disappear’.

Bukit K asih, the Hill of Love


The situation is different in the context of local religions. All visitors to whom we spoke knew that the two faces carved into the cliffs half way up the hill portray Toar and Lumimuut, the mythical forefathers of the Minahasa. Figure 2 The three ancestral figures of the Minahasa

Photo: Judith Schlehe

Not everyone was sure of the identity of the third figure, also a woman, identified as Karema. Some said it was Lumimuut’s mother, others said it was an entity who came from heaven to educate Toar and Lumimuut as their heavenly teacher. But the versions also varied with regard to who the two ancestors were. Everyone agreed that Lumimuut is supposed to have been a very beautiful woman, but where she came from was not so clear. Was she a direct descendant of the gods, as was claimed by countless people we spoke to? Others maintained she came from far away, from China, Mongolia or Japan.25 Yet others asserted she was the mother of Toar, whom she later married.26 Finally, another group of people said that they were simply there, and that it was important – here, no one objected – that she 25 The version that appears in literature is that her father was Japanese and her mother Chinese. Because she was badly treated and harassed by her siblings, her parents gave her a magical heirloom (pusaka) and put her on a raft out to sea. She was beached on the north coast of Sulawesi, which was uninhabited at that time. 26 This version is also reported by Nas (1995: 58) and can be found in countless internet sources.


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had nine children who represented the origins of the nine Minahasa ‘tribes’ or sub-ethnicities. A large rock marks the spot, called Watu Pinawetengan (‘stone of division’), at which the children (or descendants) of these tribes later separated. The visitors can reach it along a path of about six hundred metres from the figures of Toar and Lumimuut on the Bukit Kasih or on an asphalt road coming from the next village, Pinabetengan. The distinction between religious sites and the local faith – which the man quoted above referred to as the distinction between places of religious worship (tempat ibadah) and supranatural places – becomes obvious here. It is notable that, on several occasions during our visits to the Watu Pinawetengan, we saw people performing rituals there. As was explained to us, one is more likely to get the correct number for the lottery or correctly predict the future in a place like this than, for example, in a church. On the other hand, on the Bukit Kasih we were told that Watu Pinawetengan is a place of magic, especially of black magic, and should therefore be avoided. This view was held with great vehemence by none other than a Christian pastor from Kanonang. There, for example, it is apparently reported as fact that people of ill will can acquire the ability to become invisible in order to steal things at Watu Pinawetengan.27 According to her, the Bukit Kasih, as a symbol of harmony, should therefore focus on the five accepted religions and not include the local ones. She sees a place like Watu Pinawetengan or the figures of Toar and Lumimuut on the Bukit Kasih as culturally but not religiously acceptable. In the same vein, the representative of the Muslim minority, who had been involved in the founding of the Bukit Kasih, explained that it is also forbidden for Muslims to take part in rituals28 on a site like this. A Catholic priest (also a founding member) was even more firm in claiming that this is an issue of plain and simple superstition (kekafiran)

27 She did not deny the existence of magical phenomena but warned against them. This attitude is very widespread in Indonesia. Also Islamic clerics would typically assert that magic and sorcery can be real. In this context, the issue of ‘black magic’ became a highly contested topic in 2013 by an attempt of Indonesia’s parliament to outlaw black magic. In a proposed revision of the criminal code, it would become illegal to ‘declare the possession of mysterious powers’ (Bland 2013). This caused concerns that black magic/sorcery/witchcraft (ilmu santet) would be difficult to prove before the law. Another argument is that black and white magic – the handling of supernatural energies – cannot be completely separated (Koko T. 2013). Others attribute the proposed law to a ‘pious turn’ in Indonesian Islam, which argues that any attention to ‘supernatural’ powers outside those of Allah is blasphemous, violating the belief that God is One and unique (Herriman 2013). 28 As an example, he cited the practice of reading the future from the intestines of animals.

Bukit K asih, the Hill of Love


together with fatalism, which is rejected by Catholicism.29 The task of the Catholic Church is to lead people who visit such places to Jesus and the Christian faith (kita mengantar mereka kepada Kristus), not in the previous manner of the missionaries but rather by providing a positive example. Interestingly, the use of the phrase ‘symbol’ is obviously taken quite literally, namely in the sense that the symbol can be appreciated without making any specific reference to everyday life because no one seems to be bothered by the fact that no Muslims are allowed to live in the village of Kanonang, to which the Bukit Kasih belongs. To the question of what would happen if Muslims were to settle there, we received elusive answers such as ‘That hasn’t happened’ or ‘That would never happen, because there’s no mosque’, that is, ‘There’s no mosque because no Muslims live there’. As an employee of the relevant provincial tourist authorities (Dinas Pariwisata) reports, even on the Bukit Kasih the residents of Kanonang roundly rejected the Muslim’s request for the construction of a Mushola (prayer house) at the foot of the mountain so that they would not have to take the cumbersome way up the hill to obtain water for their ritual ablutions.30 The circumstances are similar for the Catholic faith. In the small village of Kanonang, there are seven Protestant churches but no Catholic church. In this context, it is worth noting that at present the tensions between Catholics and Protestants seem to be greater than those between Christians and Muslims.31 All in all, the dominance of Christianity – or, more specifically, Protestantism – on the Bukit Kasih is obvious, not only because of the large crucifixes and the elaborate stations of the cross, along with the presence of the local church, but especially because of the exclusion of the other religions from the everyday life surrounding the mountain.

29 It is worth noting that, along with the defamation and exclusion of pre-Christian local religions, the noticeably strong position of women in these religions has also been suppressed. 30 One Indonesian law states that at least ninety people must sign a petition for the construction of a house of worship and at least sixty people who live in the surrounding area must also sign their approval before the authorities can grant their authorization. 31 The representative of Muslims quoted above added that they also see themselves as a minority and make no issue of this (merasa minoritas di sini, tidak mempersoalkan itu). He refers to Indonesian history: Islam did not come here through missionary activity but in connection with trade with North Sulawesi. The animosities between Catholics and Protestants also derive from history: Portuguese Catholics were the first to reach Sulawesi, but then the Dutch introduced a strong anti-Catholic policy (‘dulu orang Belanda sudah tanamkan anti Katolik’), as one Catholic informant explained it.


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Religious pluralism and the coexistence of religions in Indonesia Over the last fifteen years, approximately 10,000 people have died in connection with religious and ethnic conflicts in Indonesia (Magnis-Suseno 2010: 9), and recent surveys show that religious prejudices are becoming even more extreme (Haryanto 2010; Setara Institute 2010). In addition, conflicts within religious communities are dramatically on the rise.32 In this context, it is important to recognize that interreligious relationships are not a private matter but are located in public spaces where the state and the market play an influential role (Fleming Intan 2006). Foremost among the Pancasila, the five basic principles of the Republic of Indonesia, is the Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa, or belief in the one and only God.33 Since there is no state religion, and now six ‘universal’ religions are recognized, multireligiosity in Indonesia is virtually a given, and the acceptance of religious minorities is regulated by the state. Yet in reality the state – or more precisely, the local administration – generally takes few initiatives to reduce conflict and prevent violence.34 Nevertheless, there are many efforts being made by both NGOs and also by the majority of religious leaders from all faiths to promote interreligious dialogue.35 As Magnis-Suseno has noted (2006: 39), ‘it should be realized that acceptance of pluralism and the development of an attitude of positive tolerance towards other religions does not come by itself. People have to learn it’. Nonetheless, the promotion of interreligious awareness in state schools is rather poor (Parker 2010). In this context, one interviewee noted that national organizations such as the interreligious forum FKUB (Forum Kerukunan Umat Beragama) should take greater notice of local religions.36 In North Sulawesi, active counter32 In Islam, the central focus is on the exclusion of the Ahmadiyah, while the official Protestant Church is facing the significant and ever-increasing competition of the free Evangelical Churches that are supported by the USA. 33 The Pancasila provides both the judicial and ideological basis of the constitution of the Indonesian republic. 34 There is no shortage of pretty words: The minister of religion phrased it as such at a speech on the occasion of the inauguration of a meeting of the Confucian parish in Jakarta: ‘the harmony between the religious communities represents an important pillar of national harmony and the social capital of the development of the people’ (‘kerukunan umat beragama merupakan pilar penting bagi terwujudnya kerukunan nasional dan modal sosial bagi pembangunan bangsa’) (23.12.2010). 35 See e.g. http://www.interfidei.or.id/home_english_new.html. 36 This is an example of the competition between these organizations. Another source chose to be more specific: while the FKUB is controlled from above, by the government, the BKSAUA was controlled by the people, from below, and was thus the embodiment of local wisdom.

Bukit K asih, the Hill of Love


measures were taken against conflict (which, as he emphasized, is based on an old local tradition of cooperation, particularly in everyday and market situations), for example, by organizing dialogues between youths and by collectively keeping watch over religious celebrations (such as Idul Fitri or Christmas).37 Overall, however, very little effort is being made to stimulate exchange, interaction and collectivity between religious groups. Even in the best-case scenario, they simply exist side by side without connection. It is interesting that none of our interviewees mentioned the potential of popular interreligious contexts, such as multireligious tourist destinations. Furthermore, in many respects the Bukit Kasih is symptomatic of the religious problem in Indonesia, which it reveals through both what it includes and what it does not. On the one hand, Confucianism should be named here, a faith that is not represented on the Bukit Kasih. As explained above, this is not noticed by anyone, nor does anyone seem to care. This illustrates the point that the Chinese religions are still marginalized and far from being recognized by the population as an integral part of their culture.38 On the other hand, the concentration and reduction of the state-recognized ‘universal religions’ also becomes apparent here.39 Only a minority of Indonesians are of the opinion that the restriction to the six so-called ‘world religions’ should be negotiated (Adeney-Risakotta 2009: 22). 40 Local religious beliefs and magical-mystical practices are often defamed or, at best, relegated to the category of culture, custom and tradition (Picard 2011) and are often marketed as such. They are thus removed from the religious sphere and 37 Franke and Pye (2006) emphatically point out that religions have the potential to cause not only conflict but also integration. 38 It is all the more pleasing, therefore, that in December 2010 the president of the republic inaugurated a Confucian temple (Kelenteng Kong Miao) in the central theme park in Jakarta, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, where the national management and integration of ethnic and religious diversity is manifested. Until recently it only contained a mosque, a Protestant and a Catholic church, a Hindu and a Buddhist temple which are all – unlike at Bukit Kasih – in regular practical use for prayer, services, rituals or meditation. Hence, it is of significant symbolic meaning that, next to these other houses of worship in Taman Mini, a Confucian temple has now been built (see Schlehe 2010). 39 Scholarly literature (on the Minahasa, see e.g. Henley et al. 2007) is also concerned mostly with the connection between Christians and Muslims. 40 The world religions discourse (a list of ten to twelve ‘world religions’) as a new conceptual order was installed in Europe only in the early 20th century. It implied the idea of religious pluralism but nevertheless claimed a Christian supremacy (Masuzawa 2005). The spread of ‘world religions’ went hand in hand with a discrimination between ‘religion’ and ‘tradition’. Accordingly, in Indonesia a religion must have certain features: a prophet or founding teacher; a canonical scripture or holy books; standardized rituals and beliefs, knowledge of which is incumbent on all believers; and a clear differentiation from local custom (Hefner 2011: 73).


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can be ignored in the respective official discourse – although for many Indonesians they are relevant for dealing with everyday problems in the context of popular religiosity in Indonesia, not only in so-called traditional but also in modern spheres of life (Schlehe 2012). Only one person to whom we spoke proved to be an exception in this respect, the Protestant chairman of the religious forum FKUB, mentioned above. He emphasized that the days of Protestantism being aggressive towards the ‘old faith’ (kepercayaan lama) are over. He personally had nothing against the classification of pre-Christian faiths as religions. This corresponds to the attitude of the Protestant Church in Indonesia, which has been tolerant of ‘ethnic religions’ (agama suku) since the 1990s. 41

Religious-touristic pilgrimage and popular representation The Bukit Kasih contains several of the features that Victor and Edith Turner (1978) outline as characteristic of many pilgrimage sites of the so-called ‘world religions’. Among these characteristics is the location of the religious site itself, which has often been established on the sites of pilgrimages belonging to earlier religions (Turner & Turner 1978: 17). Also worth noting is the reference to myths, legends and folklore (ibid: 23), as in the example of the pre-Christian, local cultural beliefs in the ancestral couple of Toar and Lumimuut connected to the ethnogenesis of the Minahasa. The belief in miracles, which is present in all pilgrimage sites (ibid: 6), can also be found here (see note 16 above). Finally, the Turners’ classification sheds light on the role of the founder, opening it up to new dimensions beyond the factors mentioned above (a governor providing economically for his home village and attaining political prestige by erecting a memorial to himself). The founders of pilgrimage sites are generally religious figures who are, in a sense, made immortal by the pilgrims who identify with them, or at least with the symbolic representation of their experiences (ibid: 11). In this light, A. J. Sondakh, a highly controversial politician, has in more than one way been super-elevated to the extent of possessing semi-holy qualities. The question thus arises whether it is at all justifiable to classify a tourist destination like the Bukit Kasih as a pilgrimage site, given that the visitors 41 In Toraja Land, the Protestant communities profit from the elaborate and costly death rituals of the pre-Christian religions, as they receive a portion of the slaughtered buffalos. However, more and more Toraja are turning to the Evangelical churches, which prohibit these rituals and thus also remove this financial burden.

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themselves do not speak of pilgrimage (ziarah) but rather of recreation and leisure. The Turners have also dealt with this issue, both in emphasizing the importance of the journey itself for the religious pilgrimage42 and in commenting that ‘a tourist is half a pilgrim, if a pilgrim is half a tourist’ (ibid: 20). Continuing this line of thought, they anticipated the debate on the relationship between religion and tourism (Strausberg 2010), that is, between pilgrimage and tourism (Badone & Roseman 2004). Secular tourism and religious pilgrimage are currently seen mostly as a conceptual continuum in the way that tourism and religion are generally not seen as opposites, since they provide each other with numerous resources. Like pilgrims who seek to establish a distance from the everyday structures of their lives, so do tourists and excursionists look for distance and renewal in recreation. According to the classic approach of Nelson Graburn, a journey juxtaposes the ordinary to the extraordinary: ‘As such, tourism is one of those necessary structured breaks from ordinary life which characterizes all human societies’ (Graburn 1983: 11). Related to this, there are various theories in the anthropology of tourism, which not only analyze the touristic components of the visit to the holy site (see Schlehe 1999) but also identify tourism itself as a ‘modern ritual’, in connection to the search for authenticity in different places and in foreign cultures. In contrast to this, it has recently been accepted that postmodern tourists care less about authenticity or origins than about the enjoyment that a leisure attraction has to offer. Experiential consumption is being foregrounded, and simulations often serve this purpose. The spiritual sphere plays an increasingly important role in this process. Popular religion, as can be seen in public spaces (Knoblauch 2009), is frequently present in theme and adventure parks (or ‘themed environments’, see Ron 2010) and can, as Lyon (2000) has revealed, include commodified, consumerist everyday mass culture. Jesus in Disneyland (the title of Lyon’s book) is not the only example in this context: Islamic forms of expression of a popular culture kind (such as Islamic tourism) are increasingly apparent, often in commodified form (see Kitiarsa 2008). Postmodern pilgrimage tourism and popular forms of religion can therefore be seen as going hand in hand, which helps us to understand 42 The Turners saw pilgrimage as a liminoid phenomenon, since, although it shares many attributes with the liminality of transition rituals (such as communitas, the reflection of basic values, a movement from a profane centre towards a sacred periphery, which then becomes central to the individual, etc.), it is, in contrast, voluntary and emphatically individual (Turner & Turner 1978: 34).


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better the various meanings of the Bukit Kasih. This is not a primarily religious or educational site but an extraordinary and particularly beautiful location in the landscape that appeals to all the visitor’s senses. 43 The extensive view, the volcanic hot springs and sulphur vapours, the mythical components of the ‘place of origin’, the religious structures, the nationalist appeal of the monument and the food stands and souvenirs together form a conglomerate which rests not on the depth of religious experience but on enjoyment and leisure. These hedonistic aspects of popular culture are often treated with suspicion, defamed as trivialization or frequently criticized as commodification. 44 Going beyond this, the present paper advocates the potential of popular representation in order to consider whether and how this potential can be further exploited.

Final remarks Once again, we can turn to the Turners for a useful quote: ‘With rare and interesting exceptions, the pilgrims of the different historical religions do not visit one another’s shrines, and certainly do not find salvation extra ecclesia’ (Turner & Turner 1978: 9). Have we found an interesting exception to this in the Bukit Kasih? Among the characteristic signs of postmodern, popular-religious pilgrimage already mentioned, this could perhaps be confirmed, since the place officially celebrates the equal coexistence of religions. Bukit Kasih does this in a manner that is both enjoyable and connected to the landscape and its sacral aura in the local-religious context, without demanding too much from or overwhelming the visitors. 45 As a 43 Amos Ron has indicated that the enthusiasm for landscapes and panoramas is typical of Protestant pilgrims. This relationship to ‘authentic unmediated nature can thus be seen as opposed to the Catholic emphasis on holy sites. ‘Protestant pilgrimage itineraries are replete with vistas, panoramic views and open spaces’ (Ron 2010: 115). 44 This criticism is by no means always unjustif ied, since the entertainment industry is playing an increasingly more influential role in Indonesia. Herianto (2010) comments that, in its domesticating effect, the entertainment industry functions as an apparatus of oppression that is more efficient than the New Order was. In the case of the Bukit Kasih, however, the entertainment industry has no influence and the commercialization is limited, since the visitors pay only parking, not entry fees, and merely give donations at their own discretion. Here it is more important to analyze the role of the authorities and of practitioners within fields of institutional power in order to pursue a ‘critique of popular culture’ (Chatterjee 2008). 45 This should also be seen in the context of the rejection of local beliefs and the fatwa enacted in 2005 by the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI, Council of Indonesian Ulama, religious leaders and scholars) that forbids Muslims from praying together with non-Muslims.

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result, the hill is likely to have an impact and to leave its mark. But in this respect, it is also important to pay attention to the limits and shortcomings in the conception and use of this site and to ask questions about authority, identity and religious practice. For one thing, the dominance of Christianity and the lack of Confucianism should be noted, but beyond that also the rigid specifications of state-sanctioned religious belief, which remains reduced to specific religions, while excluding local belief systems. Yet the concept of multireligiosity can also be critically viewed, since, rather like multiculturality, it refers to a separate and disconnected coexistence. And exactly this is what is expressed in the practice of the visitors described above: as reflected in the Turner quote, they visit sites of their ‘own’ religions (and therefore the Bukit Kasih is only an ‘exception’ in the narrowest sense). While they do see the surrounding sites of the ‘others’ as equal, they do not feel encouraged to enter them. But even if they did so, they would hardly experience or learn anything, since the buildings are mostly empty. An interreligious encounter or agreement is therefore not at issue here, but rather simply an excursion to a place connected with multireligiosity. 46 The symbolic value (lambang kerukunan) of the Bukit Kasih, which is often referred to by the founders, the employees and the visitors as a sign of religious pluralism in Indonesia, and in particular in the Minahasa, can also be viewed in a negative light, namely as a symbol of the fact that harmony is restricted to the exterior form (here, the buildings) and offers no substance, 47 no collective activities and no real interreligious exchange. At the same time, it is the very popular form of a multireligious tourist destination that could offer some as yet unrecognized or unrealized potential in addition. In a context like this, people are addressed who would otherwise hardly be reachable through official programmes of religious dialogue. Here one could easily visit the holy sites of other religions while learning something about them in a relaxed and self-determined way. Thinking of future possibilities, one could even consider creating a transreligious place for spirituality independent of any institutionalized religion or one for the expression of pantheism or even atheism. In a playful manner

46 Gottowik (2008a) sees a greater potential in multireligious rituals in Indonesia, but I fear that there is more parallel activity than real interaction. 47 One person to whom we spoke expressed this as follows: ‘The motivation was more in the physical buildings. The most important thing was that there was a symbol. At that stage we weren’t thinking about how we would fill that with content’ (Motivasinya lebih pada aspek pembangunan fisiknya dulu ya. Yang penting ada simbolnya dulu ya. Belum terpikirkan bagaimana mengisinya).


Judith Schlehe

that appeals to the senses, a liminal space could be the key to overcoming boundaries of thinking, categorizing and acting. Not only multireligiosity but also inter- and transreligiosity could, together with a reflective approach to religion, be a source of enjoyment and thus improve everyday coexistence, both in Indonesia and around the world.

Notes on Contributors

Bräuchler, Birgit, PhD, is Lecturer in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Frankfurt am Main. She has conducted extensive fieldwork in Indonesia, the Moluccas and the Philippines, has co-operated with universities in Jakarta and Ambon and has held a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Asia Research Institute in Singapore. Her main research interests are media and cyber-anthropology, conflict and peace studies, cultural rights and the revival of tradition. Recent publications: Cyberidentities at War: The Moluccan Conflict on the Internet (New York: Berghahn, 2013); ‘The Revival Dilemma: Reflections on Human Rights, Self-Determination and Legal Pluralism in Eastern Indonesia’, Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law 62 (2011): 1-42; ‘Kings on Stage: Local Leadership in the Post-Suharto Moluccas’, Asian Journal of Social Sciences 39 (2011) (2: Special issue on ‘Eastern Indonesia under Reform: The Global, the National and the Local’, edited by Birgit Bräuchler and Maribeth Erb): 196-218; Birgit Bräuchler and John Postill (eds.) Theorising Media and Practice (New York/Oxford: Berghahn, 2010). Bräunlein, Peter J., Professor, is an anthropologist and religionist and currently senior researcher at the University of Göttingen. Between 1986-1988 and 1996-1998, he conducted extensive fieldwork in the Philippines on cosmology and shamanism of the Alangan-Mangyan on Mindoro island, and on the cult of the saints and passion rituals in the Province of Bulacan. His current research project on ‘Spirits in and of Modernity’ forms part of the area studies network ‘Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia’ (DORISEA). His main research topics include the anthropology of Christianity, visible religion, museums, media, film and the dark side of modernity. Recent publications: ‘Who def ines the “the popular”? Post-colonial discourses on national identity and popular Christianity in the Philippines’, in Judith Schlehe and Evamaria Sandkühler (eds.), Religion, Tradition and the Popular. Transcultural Views from Asia and Europe (Bielefeld: transcript, 2014), 75-111; ‘The Frightening Borderlands of Enlightenment: The Vampire Problem’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 43 (2012), 710-719; Passion/Pasyon: Rituale des Schmerzes im europäischen und philippinischen Christentum (München: Wilhelm Fink, 2010). Christensen, Paul, M.A., has a PhD scholarship granted by the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes),


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and is associated with the area studies network ‘Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia’ (DORISEA) based at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Göttingen. During 2007-2008 he was a student at the ‘Centre for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies’ (CRCS) at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. In 2012-2013, he spent one year in Cambodia to do research for his PhD on spirits and their relationship to politics in Cambodia. Dickhardt, Michael, is Adjunct Professor and senior researcher in the area studies network ‘Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia’ (DORISEA) at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Göttingen. His current research is focused on the spatial articulation of religion and modernity in Vietnam. He has also conducted anthropological research involving extensive fieldwork on cultural spatiality, morality and religion in Fiji and Papua New Guinea and has been an assistant professor at the University of Göttingen and substitute professor at the Free University of Berlin. Recent publications: Michael Dickhardt, Karin Klenke and Elfriede Hermann, ‘Form, Macht und Differenz als Dimensionen kultureller Praxis’, in Elfriede Hermann, Karin Klenke and Michael Dickhardt (eds.), Form, Macht, Differenz. Motive und Felder ethnologischen Forschens (Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2009), 9-26; Michael Dickhardt and Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, ‘Eine Theorie kultureller Räumlichkeit als Deutungsrahmen’, in Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin and Michael Dickhardt (eds.), Kulturelle Räume – räumliche Kultur. Zur Neubestimmung des Verhältnisses zweier fundamentaler Kategorien menschlicher Praxis, Göttinger Studien zur Ethnologie, Bd. 10 (Münster: LIT, 2003), 13-42; ‘Creating and Representing Sacred Spaces as Processes of Symbolic Mediation: A Theoretical Introduction from a Cultural Anthropological Perspective’, in Michael Dickhardt and Vera Dorofeeva-Lichtmann (eds.), Creating and Representing Sacred Spaces, Göttinger Beiträge zur Asienforschung, Heft 2-3, Special Double Issue (Göttingen: Peust & Gutschmidt, 2003), 7-33. Gottowik, Volker, is Associate Professor at the University of Frankfurt am Main. Currently he is working as a senior researcher in the area studies network ‘Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia’ (DORISEA) at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Heidelberg. He has conducted extensive fieldwork on Bali and Lombok, and has taught as a guest lecturer at Universitas Udayana, Indonesia, and Chiang Mai

Notes on Contributors


University, Thailand. His current research interests are focused on the modernization of ritual practices in Central Indonesia and its social impacts. Recent publications: ‘James Clifford: Ethnographie als allegorische Beschreibung des Fremden’, in Stephan Moebius and Dirk Quadflieg (eds.), Kultur. Theorien der Gegenwart. Zweite, erweiterte und aktualisierte Auflage (Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2011), 178-186; ‘Transnational, translocal, transcultural: some remarks on the social relations between Balinese and ethnic Chinese on Bali’, Sojourn. Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 25:2 (2010): 178-212; ‘Ein Ritual ohne Höhepunkt? Der Kreis um Walter Spies und die Deutung des Calonarang’, in Volker Gottowik (ed.), Die Ethnographen des letzten Paradieses. Victor von Plessen und Walter Spies in Indonesien (Bielefeld: transcript, 2010). Hornbacher, Annette, is Professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität in Heidelberg and has conducted annual fieldwork in Bali since 1999. The main topics of her research are tacit knowledge, embodiment, ritual and performance studies, and more recently the impact of Sanskritized agama Hindu upon Balinese ritual practice and cosmological tradition. In addition, she has conducted comparative field trips to India, Sumatra, Java, Lombok and Thailand. Recent publications: ‘The withdrawal of the gods: remarks on ritual trance-possession and its decline in Bali’, in Michael Picard and Rémy Madinier (eds.), The Politics of Religion in Indonesia: Syncretism, Orthodoxy, and Religious Contention in Java and Bali. (New York: Routledge, 2011); ‘“Ein Zustand vor der Sprache”. Artauds experimentelles Theater als transkultureller Entwurf zwischen balinesischem Tanzdrama und japanischem Butoh’, in Volker Gottowik (ed.), Die Ethnographen des letzten Paradieses. Victor von Plessen und Walter Spies in Indonesien (Bielefeld: transcript, 2010); ‘Global conflict in cosmocentric perspective: A Balinese approach to reconciliation’, in Birgit Bräuchler (ed.), Reconciling Indonesia: Grassroots agency for peace (New York: Routledge, 2009). Klenke, Karin, PhD, is an anthropologist and the academic coordinator of the area studies network ‘Dynamics of Religion in Southeast Asia’ (DORISEA), which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. She has conducted fieldwork in Indonesia (Sumatra and Sulawesi). Her research interests include heritage, indigeneity, gender, modernity, body and religion. Recent publications: ‘Whose Adat is it? Adat, Indigeneity and Social Stratif ication in Toraja’, in Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin (ed.), Adat and


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Indigeneity in Indonesia. Culture and Entitlements between Heteronomy and Self-Ascription (Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen, 2013), 149-165; ‘Embodying Modernity: The Thrills and Ills of Being a Beautiful Woman in Tanah Karo, North Sumatra’, in Hartmut Berghoff and Thomas Kühne (eds), Globalising Beauty. Consumerism and Body Aesthetics in the Twentieth Century (Palgrave/Macmillan: New York et al., 2013), 249-267; ‘Politics with “Outstanding Universal Value”: Toraja heritage between local, national and global valorizations’, Indonesia (forthcoming). Nertz, Melanie V., holds a Masters in Social and Cultural Anthropology and Islamic Studies. Since 2009, she has belonged to the interdisciplinary research group ‘Beyond Occidentalism: Concepts of the “West” in Asia’ at the University of Freiburg and is doctoral candidate and principle researcher for the associated research project ‘The Knowledge of the “West” in Contemporary Indonesia: Anthropological Research in Rural and Urban Spaces on Java and Sulawesi’ (funded by the German Research Foundation, DFG) at the Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology, University of Freiburg. She has conducted prolonged fieldwork in Indonesia (Java, Sulawesi). Her topics of research are higher Islamic education and Indonesian Islam as well as Occidentalism in Indonesia. Recent publications: ‘On the Academic Culture of Islamic Universities in Yogyakarta as Exemplified at the Universitas Islam Indonesia and the Universitas Islam Negeri’, in Judith Schlehe and L.L. Simatupang (eds.), Towards Global Education? Indonesian and German Academic Cultures Compared/Menuju Pendidikan Global? Membandingkan Budaya Akademik Indonesia dan Jerman (Yogyakarta: Kanisius, 2008), 423-453; Judith Schlehe and Melanie V. Nertz and Vissia Ita Yulianto, ‘Re-Imagining “the West” and Performing “Indonesian Modernities”: Muslims, Christians and Paranormal Practitioners’, in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 138:1. Reuter, Thomas A., Professor, obtained his PhD from the Australian National University in 1997 for an ethnographic study of the people of highland Bali and continued his research in Indonesia with a post-doctoral and a QElI Fellowship at Melbourne (1998-2006), a Research Fellowship at Monash University (2006-2010) and a current Future Fellowship at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute (2010-2016). His research has focused on social movements, religion, political anthropology, social organization, status, globalization and general theory. He was chair of the World Council of Anthropological Associations and is a current executive member of the

Notes on Contributors


International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences and of the International Social Science Council. Recent publications: The Return to Constitutional Democracy in Indonesia (Caulfield: Monash University Press, 2010); Custodians of the Sacred Mountains: Culture and Society in the Highlands of Bali (Honolulu: Hawaii University Press, 2002); The House of Our Ancestors: Precedence and Dualism in Highland Balinese Society (Leiden: KITLV Press, 2002). Rodemeier, Susanne, PhD, is postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Heidelberg. She has conducted extensive fieldwork in Indonesia (Java, Alor, Pantar). So far, her interests have focused on Protestantism, Islam and the local traditions as well as their mutual relations in daily life. Currently she is a member of ‘LOTWOR, Local Traditions and World Religions: The Appropriation of “Religion” in Southeast Asia and Beyond’ (Franco-German Program, ANR-DFG) with a project on ‘Christians in a minority position in central Java’ (2011-2014). From 2009 to 2011, she worked as scientific assistant at the Institute of Anthropology/Cluster of Excellence ‘Formation of normative orders’ at the University of Frankfurt am Main on Javanese Muslim tradition. Recent publications: ‘Tradition and Monotheism in Eastern Indonesia’, in S. Schröter (ed.), Christianity in Indonesia: Perspectives of Power, Southeast Asian Modernities, vol. 12, (Berlin: Lit-Verlag, 2011); ‘Islam in the Protestant Environment of the Alor and Pantar Islands’, Indonesia and the Malay World 38:110 (2010): 27-42; ‘Bui Hangi, a deity’s human wife: analysis of a myth from Pura, eastern Indonesia’, Anthropos 104:2 (2009): 1-14. Schlehe, Judith, Professor, holds a chair in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Freiburg. Her regional specialization is in Southeast Asia. She has conducted prolonged fieldwork in Indonesia and Mongolia and published widely on the topics of cultural globalization, inter- and transcultural issues, gender, religious dynamics, the anthropology of disaster, popular forms of representing cultures, and new approaches to transnational collaboration against the background of diverse academic cultures. Recent publications: ‘Concepts of Asia, the West and the Self in Contemporary Indonesia: an Anthropological Account’, in South East Asia Research, 21: 3 (2013): 497-515; ‘Anthropology of Religion: Disasters and the Representations of Tradition and Modernity’, in Religion (Special issue on ‘Religions, Natural Hazards, and Disasters’) 40:2 (2010): 112-120; J. Schlehe and Michiko Uike-Bormann, ‘Staging the Past in Cultural Theme Parks:


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Representations of “Self” and “Other” in Asia and Europe’, in J. Schlehe et al. (eds.): Staging the Past: Themed Environments in Transcultural Perspectives (Bielefeld: transcript, 2010). Slama, Martin, PhD, is a researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences. He has conducted extensive fieldwork in Indonesia (Java, Bali, Sulawesi, the Moluccas, West Papua) and was guest researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, and State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah in Jakarta. His main research topics include the Hadhrami diaspora, Indonesian Islam, and the uses of social media and mobile communication technologies in Southeast Asian contexts. Recent publications: ‘“Coming Down to the Shop”: Trajectories of Hadhrami Women into Indonesian Public Realms’, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 13:4 (2012); ‘Translocal Networks and Globalisation within Indonesia: Exploring the Hadhdrami Diaspora from the Archipelago’s North-East’, Asian Journal of Social Science 39 (2011); ‘The Agency of the Heart: Internet Chatting as Youth Culture in Indonesia’, Social Anthropology/ Anthropologie Sociale 18:3 (2010). Sprenger, Guido, is Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Heidelberg. He has done extensive research in northern Laos, in particular among Rmeet (Lamet), and specializes in the Southeast Asian uplands. He is interested in the question of how ritual, exchange and kinship connect internal reproduction and external relations in a comparative and historical perspective. Recent publications: ‘Differentiated Origins: Trajectories of transcultural knowledge in Laos and beyond’, Sojourn. Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia 26:2 (2011); ‘From power to value: ranked titles in an egalitarian society, Laos’, Journal of Asian Studies 69:2 (2010); ‘Sharing dreams: involvement in the Other’s cosmology’, in Anne Sigfrid Grønseth and Dona Lee Davis (eds.), Mutuality and Empathy: Self and Other in the Ethnographic Encounter (Oxford: Sean Kingston, 2010).

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