Explaining Indonesian Nationalism Without Islam?

From Robert W. Hefner’s introduction to Islam in an Era of Nation-States: Politics and Religious Renewal in Muslim Southeast Asia, ed. by Robert W. Hefner and Patricia Horvatich (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. 16-17 (references omitted):

During the 1960s and 1970s some of the most influential essays on politics, personhood, and culture in Muslim Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia, were written without serious exploration of Islamic influences. For example, Benedict Anderson‘s widely cited and otherwise remarkable essay, “The Idea of Power in Javanese Culture,” drew extensively on Javanese literary and ritual traditions to develop a model of indigenous ideas of power in Java. In “A Note on Islam,” which appears toward the end of the essay, Anderson cites Clifford Geertz to back up his claim that “the penetration of Islam scarcely changed the composition and recruitment of the Javanese political elite or affected the basic intellectual framework of traditional political thought.” This observation raises complex and important issues. Its full assessment, however, would require at least some reference to Sufi notions of kingship, popular Islamic concepts of sainthood, and folk Islamic views of sacrifice and spiritual power, all of which exercise palpable influences on Javanese traditions.

In a later and equally influential book on the origin and spread of nationalism, Anderson displays a similar blind spot. His comments on early Indonesian nationalism abound with insightful references to the “creole functionaries” who were recruited by the colonial state into institutions of modern learning and resocialized in the ways of European administration. These “functionary journeys,” Anderson argues, nurtured a sense of solidarity across linguistic and ethnic barriers that had previously segmented indigenous society, and thus created the links required for this group’s leadership of the Indonesian nationalist movement. In this otherwise subtle account, however, we once again hear nothing about Muslim pilgrimages across ethnic and linguistic boundaries. In places like North Sumatra, Java, and South Sulawesi, these movements also shaped an anticolonial imagination. Though, like their non-Islamic counterparts, many of these Muslim pilgrims at first enunciated political visions premised on only pre- or protonationalist ideals, their religious pilgrimage and political struggles still worked to create a commitment to transethnic solidarities. Eventually, like their counterparts in most of the Muslim world, Muslim leaders elaborated their own versions of the nationalist ideal. These were not secondhand derivatives of secular nationalism, but full- blown alternatives to the version created by Anderson’s European-schooled, “creole nationalists.” In religious centers in Aceh and eastern Java, among others, Muslim thinkers elaborated a vision of the nation premised on shared religion, not merely common ethnic culture. They linked its meanings to Islam’s ancient glories and the distant rumblings of Turkish, Persian, and Arab nationalism.

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Filed under Indonesia, Islam, nationalism, scholarship

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