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Can Those With Ambiguously Defined Religious Identities Engage in Interfaith Dialogue?

Can Those With Ambiguously Defined Religious Identities Engage in Interfaith Dialogue?

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Published by Sarah Muwahidah

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Published by: Sarah Muwahidah on May 06, 2012
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Organized by Asia Research Institute,National University of Singapore26 – 27 July 2007
Can Those With Ambiguously Defined ReligiousIdentities Engage in Interfaith Dialogue? ACase Study of a Grassroots InterfaithEmpowerment Program in East Java, Indonesia
Asia Research Institute ASEAN Graduate StudentGadjah Mada University, Indonesiasitisarahm@gmail.com
Draft Copy – Please do not quote without permission from the author 
Singapore Graduate Forum on Southeast Asia StudiesOrganized by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore(26 – 27 July 2007)
Can Those With Ambiguously Defined Religious Identities Engage in InterfaithDialogue? A Case Study of a Grassroots Interfaith Empowerment Program inEast Java, Indonesia
Interfaith dialogue is commonly used in building peace and understanding amongreligious groups. Swidler (2000) claims the interreligious project cannot be carried out only by scholars and leaders of the world religions; the ideas and concerns of thegrassroots communities must also be voiced and heard. Such a project must work on all three levels-scholars, leaders, and grassroots-or it will not work at all.I will present findings of my fieldwork in a small village in East Java, Indonesiawhere land authority problems became a common ground for conducting interfaithcooperation. I observed interfaith empowerment efforts led by a group of Catholic activists and students who arrived in 1997, which successfully supported the villagers inclaiming their land. According to Knitter (1995), the grassroots interfaith cooperation will necessarily be followed by interfaith dialogue. My general finding is that in communitiesthat have a lack of knowledge of their own particular religions, the subsequent dialoguemay take other forms, which are different from that of Knitter's description. This leads tothe question, Can such a dialogue be claimed as an interfaith dialogue? What constitutesan interfaith dialogue in such a community? Does this particular community need such aninterfaith dialogue? 
The term interreligious or interfaith dialogue is commonly understood as acooperative and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions (i.e., “faiths”), at both the individual and institutional level, mostly with the aim of deriving acommon ground in belief through a concentration on similarities between faiths. Severalscholars have stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue in building peace andunderstanding among religious groups. Hans Küng argues that interfaith dialogue has tobe fostered at the level of the community, and deal with concrete problems, not only withphilosophical, theological or theoretical textual exegesis.
Leonard Swidler claims theinterreligious project cannot be carried out only by scholars and leaders of the worldreligions; the ideas and concerns of the grassroots communities must also be voiced andheard.
Such a project must work on all three levels-scholars, leaders, and grassroots-orit will not work at all. Anton Kozlovic recommended further research into grassrootsdialogue praxis.
 In this paper, I present my observations and findings on an interfaith program atthe grassroots level. The data in this paper is based on my fieldwork in Banyu Urip, asmall village in East Java, Indonesia. The significance of my research is the observationof factors that contributed to an interfaith cooperation that was not followed by a
Part of this paper will be published in
Political Theology 
Journal , 2008.
Hans Küng,
Global Responsibility : In Search of a New World Ethic 
(New York: Crossroad Pub. Co.,1991), 158.
Leonard J. Swidler and Paul Mojzes,
The Study of Religion in an Age of Global Dialogue
 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000), 229.
Anton K. Kozlovic, "Three Tactics for Encouraging Newer Faiths to Participate in InterreligiousDialoguing," http://www.quodlibet.net/kozlovic-dialogue.shtml.
Singapore Graduate Forum on Southeast Asia StudiesOrganized by Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore(26 – 27 July 2007)
 “mainstream” interfaith dialogue, particularly as the people engaged in the program havea “limitation” in articulating their religious identity.A prominent scholar in interfaith dialogue, Paul Knitter, explained that grassrootsinterfaith dialogue starts with a discussion of common problems in a local community,which leads to interfaith cooperation among the different religious adherents of thecommunity, and is finally followed by dialogue about their own particular religions.
Theremaining question is, however, if part of a grassroots community itself only claims areligion on the nominal level, and consequently lacks in-depth knowledge about thisreligion, can interfaith cooperation between these two proximal faith communities bringthem to such a “deeper dialogue”? Can such an enterprise be claimed as an interfaithdialogue? What constitutes an interfaith dialogue in that kind of community? Does thisparticular community need such an interfaith dialogue?
Banyu Urip village is located in a remote area, quite far from any center of economic and political administration. Most villagers of Banyu Urip are poor farmers whoonly received their legal right to the land in 2001. The origin of this village can be tracedto 1922, when a Chinese merchant converted the forestland to agricultural land andstarted cultivating cassavas. People from surrounding villages then started coming andexpanding the land, for about ten years, until the Dutch occupied this area. At that time,land tenure became a major problem: the earlier farmers were subdued by a Dutchlandlord since the legal authority for using the land belonged to him.
This problem laterbecame the unifying ground for interfaith cooperation in this area.
In the Banyu Urip community, most of the members have weak religiousbackgrounds. Most of the villagers would acknowledge themselves as nominal religiousadherents. The main reason they claim any religion is to comply with Indonesian lawsthat mandated all citizens choose one of the five “formal” religions.
The first tenet of Indonesia’s national doctrine, Pancasila, is the belief in a supreme God, thus atheism isprohibited. Furthermore, the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Indonesia extended officialstatus to only five faiths: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.Religious organizations other than the five recognized faiths were able to register withthe Government, but only with the State Ministry for Culture and Tourism, and only associal organizations.
 Before 1965, the only formal religion that existed in Banyu Urip was Islam. Therewas no mosque at that time; the
prayer and other communal prayers wereconducted in the houses of the villagers. Some villagers, including the Muslim ones,preferred to do meditation (
) in order to be close to the Ultimate: thispractice of Javanese mysticism is recognized as an element of 
or “Javanism”.
Paul F. Knitter,
One Earth, Many Religions : Multifaith Dialogue and Global Responsibility 
 (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1995), 218.
Based on interviews and observations that were conducted and documented by the activists of theinterfaith program in 1999-2000.
The current Indonesian government has changed this law. In early 2006, Confucianism becamethe sixth religion to be officially acknowledged by the government.
However, not all religious organizations were approved to be registered by government("Indonesia Annual International Religious Freedom 2003," (the Bureau of Democracy HumanRights and Labor, 2003)).
According to Beatty the term “kejawen” -- if it includes Geertz’s culture of 
--implies an “emphasis on the pre-islamic inheritance, or at least what is taken to be such”. (AndrewBeatty,
Varieties of Javanese Religion
, vol. 111, Cambridge Studies in Social and CulturalAnthropology (1999), 29). For Woodward the popular and mystical form of Javanese Religion is anadaptation of Islamic Sufism (Mark R. Woodward and Studies Association for Asian,
Islam in Java :Normative Piety and Mysticism in the Sultanate of Yogyakarta
, vol. 45, The Association for Asian

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