Translating Islamic values into civil society practice: Indonesian experiments in the creation of a cosmopolitan and cultural Islam

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Theology and Religious Studies


The purpose of this fellowship application is to obtain dedicated research time to produce a monograph for which I have received a contract from an academic publisher. Selected data will also be made accessible through an open source online platform for teaching and learning materials in contemporary Islamic thinking currently developed by the applicant with a grant from the Higher Education Academy in the UK.

Within the framework of the 'Translating Cultures' highlight notice, this project will focus on two aspects of contemporary Islamic intellectual history. (1) Map new strands of Islamic thinking interrogating traditional Islamic religious doctrine and authority and criticizing conventional Islamic modernism and reformism developed in Indonesia by 2nd and 3rd-generation post-independence intellectuals using ideas from Western post-modernist and postcolonial theory, contemporary Islamic philosophers and other intellectuals from across the Muslim world to. (2) Examine the translation of these alternative Islamic discourses into Muslim civic activism affirming religious pluralism, advocating secular democratization processes, and upholding universal standards of human rights through reforming Islamic higher education and the transmutation of procedural legalistic thinking about Islamic law into a hermeneutics of normativity.

The project will examine contemporary Indonesian Muslim intellectuals in their role of 'specialists in the translation between cultures'. It will explain and interpret the global, trans-regional, and cross-cultural dimensions of alternative Islamic discourses which challenge Islamic traditionalism, conventional reformist and modernist interpretations of Islam, political Islamism and 'hard secularism'. This phenomenon will be interrogated through concepts such as 'travelling theory' and the 'circulation of ideas', which have been successfully employed in other scholarly fields like literary criticism, historical Indian Ocean studies, and international relations.

The project identifies Indonesia as one of the cardinal points -- alongside Turkey, Iran and Northwest Africa -- in an envisaged new cartography of a new global Islamic intellectualism. This trans-regional perspective latches the study of Islam to the conceptualization of the Indian Ocean as a contact zone, explored in Indian Ocean studies, while transposing the map of the circulation of innovative and progressive Islamic ideas onto the strategic concerns explored in international relations.

Indonesia and Turkey offer the most successful experiments in translating the ideas into initiatives that redefine the role of religion in the public sphere of the Muslim world. A better understanding of these experiences can help recalibrate long-term policies towards the Muslim world beyond the immediate security concerns governing present involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. The data are also useful for managing relations with Muslim minorities and developing community cohesion on the domestic level.

Following the seismic shifts during the 'Arab Spring' of 2011, Indonesia and Turkey's so-called Post-traditionalist and Post-Islamist discourses have gained wide recognition as models for future democratization and the development of a civil society in the Arab world. However, Indonesia has received far less scholarly attention in comparison to the Turkish case. As an understudied subject, the intellectual underpinnings of Indonesian experiences with advocating freedom of expression, religious pluralism and tolerance, democratization, and economic development in Islamic contexts is best explained from the suggested trans-regional perspective.

By helping to close this gap in our knowledge of present-day Islamic thinking, the project will make a significant contribution to our understanding of intellectual developments in the contemporary Muslim world complementing the currently prevailing 'securitization of religion'.

Planned Impact

The research will offset the currently prevailing dynamic of the 'securitization of religion', and Islam in particular, which has been the predominant factor defining the relations between religious groups and political entities on global, international, and domestic levels in the last decade. Using Indonesia as a case study, the exploration of alternative Islamic discourses accommodative of secularity, religious pluralism and liberalism and their translation into concrete and practical initiatives of democratic participation and civic activism will provide valuable data for foreign and domestic policy makers to redefine long-term relations with the Muslim world and Muslim communities beyond the security-driven concerns of current policy documents such as Preventing Violent Extremism - Winning Hearts and Minds (London: Department of Communities and Local Government, 2007) and Pursue Prevent Protect Prepare - The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering International Terrorism (London: Home Office, 2009).
Relevant project findings of the project will be disseminated through the resources centre on contemporary Islamic thinking developed by the PI with funding from the Islamic Studies Network (ISN) of the Higher Education Academy in the UK (HEA). This material will be accessible through an open source platform (Humbox) hosted on the ISN-HEA website. The applicant is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and project manager of the ISN-HEA resources development project.
This output will be directed towards the following groups:
Foreign policy makers and diplomats at FCO engaged in cultural diplomacy towards the Muslim world. The data generated by the detailed analysis of intellectual trends in Indonesia and their translation into civic activism will be of crucial importance for recalibrating the policy-making agenda towards the Muslim world and help design new sustainable relations attuned to the seismic shifts presently affecting North Africa and the Middle East. Foreign policy makers and diplomats are displaying a growing awareness and recognition of the value of the Indonesian experience alongside the Turkish model for long-term political change, but lack sufficiently detailed information for an appropriate assessment of the policy implications

Domestic policy makers at the Home Office, Department of Communities and Local Government can benefit from Indonesian experiences with civic activism towards maintaining religious pluralism and tolerance, and the implications for the integration of Muslim communities and development of community cohesion and citizenship.

Public administration and business consultants working in the fields of intercultural management and the translation of religious and ethical values into practices of good governance.

NGO's, interfaith dialogue platforms, and organizations representing Muslim communities, involved in community integration and cohesion, advocacy of democratization, the promotion of religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue, and the safeguarding of universal human rights standards in the Muslim world and other developing societies.
Description I have produced a monograph, and a number of articles and research reports.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services