Christianity and Islam : civilizations or religions? Contemporary Indonesian discussions

TitleChristianity and Islam : civilizations or religions? Contemporary Indonesian discussions
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsSteenbrink KA
JournalExchange : bulletin de littérature des églises du Tiers Monde, ISSN 0166-2740
Date Published21-04-06
Call NumberTA 3588
KeywordsAceh, Ambon, Bali, Christianity, civilization, cultural identity, debates, ethnic groups, Excerpta Indonesica, INDONESIA, Islam, KALIMANTAN, Maluku, orba, public opinion, religion, religious conflicts, religious history, Sulawesi Tengah, voc

This article examines on the relationship between Islam and Christianity in Indonesia, focusing particularly on the views of Indonesian Christians and Muslims of the role of religion in society. Are Islam and Christianity 'mere' religions or are they complete communities or civilizations in their own right? The author traces the history of the two faiths in the Indonesian archipelago, showing that for most of the time, religion has been closely associated with ethnic and cultural identity. For a considerable period, Muslims and Christians acknowledged the status quo, often agreeing by treaty between the VOC and indigenous rulers, to refrain from attempting to convert the other. This period came to an end around 1900 when the colonial government began to promote missionary activities in an attempt to counter the expansion of Islam. After independence, the role of religion became more important, especially under the New Order when Indonesians were forced to formally accept one of the five recognized world religions. For a few decades, Pancasila seemed to provide a model for inter-religious harmony in which the identification of Islam and Christianity with particular sections of Indonesian society became less pronounced and more purely religious. However, the recent cases of communal violence in Ambon, Sulawesi and Kalimantan all tended to conflate religious differences and ethnic rivalries. Moreover, recent legislation has tended to promote segregation of religious groups, for example by discouraging inter-religious marriages, Muslim children enrolling in Christian (often Catholic) schools, Muslim women seeking medical treatment from non-Muslim doctors, or adherents of one faith attending the ceremonies of the other. However, the author still discerns a tendency towards distinguishing between religion and specific groups.