CRCS UGM Contributes to the Southeast Asian Studies Center, Thammasat University

Farihatul Qamariyah | CRCS | News

Representatives of the Center for Religious and Cross – cultural Studies (CRCS) Gadjah Mada University took part in the international conference on the topic of Making Southeast Asia and beyond sponsored by the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University, and held at Tha Phrachan Center, Bangkok, Thailand on 15- 16 January 2016. The event which was held by Southeast Asian Studies Program and International Studies (ASEAN – China) International Program at Thammasat University brought various issues dealing with the fields of history, politics, culture, business, and religion into academic discussion.

Making-Southeast-Asia-and-Beyond-03“New players in Southeast Asia” was the first topic of the seminar in this international conference. Suhadi, the lecturer of CRCS program who was invited to be the speaker in the seminar, delivered a presentation entitled “Religious Studies and the Emergence of Academic New Players in Southeast Asia”. His main concern was the participation of religion in scholarly discourse in relation to its strategic position in the political, economic, and social life of Southeast Asian countries. Expressing the paradoxical assumption in the modern era that religion was predicted to disappear from the public arena but has in  fact has experienced a resurgence leads to a significant standing point for considering the role of religion as identity in the awareness of society in the broader context.

In Suhadi’s presentation, Southeast Asia is the potential space to engage with the discourse of religions and traditions. This is a timely issue because of  the launching of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) including the ASEAN Economic Community in January 2016 and also the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration which concerns with the civil, political, cultural, and people rights of peace, but Suhadi argued that this kind of declaration has paid little attention to religious rights. By starting this point of view, Suhadi raised a number of questions about inter- and intra- religious issues, including: Who are the initiator to open this discussion? Importantly, what is the role of the public (non – theological, non – religious vocational) university in dealing with the issue of religion? Especially in the context of Asian countries?

Making-Southeast-Asia-and-Beyond-08Answering these questions, Suhadi took a look at the conditions in Southeast Asian countries in recent years. There have been emerged some public universities that open a department or center of academic study of religion or religious studies.  He gives some examples of the establishment of religious studies centers in various Asian locations, such as the College of Religious Studies in Mahidol University Thailand that was established in 1999, Center of Religious and Cross- cultural Studies Gadjah Mada University that was established in 2000, and Studies in Inter- Religious Relations in Plural Societies in Nanyang Technological University Singapore which was established in 2014.

In line with the religion in the academic side, Suhadi suggested a context of differentiation on the position of religious study and the study of theology which are different in the actualization. In line with these concerns, these institutions are set up in order to strengthen inter-religious perspectives and to understand religious diversity as social context rather than to preach one religion. Hence, Suhadi emphasized the notion of taking religious studies as an alternative approach in dealing with social significance in Southeast Asia political, economic, and social life. Bringing up the absence of religious discourse in ASEAN, he argued briefly that the existence and establishment of centers or departments of religious studies in Southeast Asian Universities would be the new players in relation to the religious diversity management in the public life of Southeast Asia society and beyond.

Two current CRCS students—Farihatul Qamariyah and Abdul Mujib from the batch 2014—joined the delegation and were presenters in the Religion and Identity panel session of this international conference.  Qamariyah presented her paper entitled “Eco–Pesantren: An Ecological Religious Movement Facing the Environmental Crisis”, while Mujib’s presentation title was “The Relevance of Inter – Religious Relation in Shaping of Experience in Diversity and Pluralistic Attitude”.
Qamariyah made the context of her presentation the issue of environmental degradation in the circle of ecological crisis. The meeting point of religion and ecology served as the general framework for her paper. She addressed the questions by  profiling the a new Islamic movement for environmental change, the eco – pesantren, and by showing how this kind of movement is implemented in the real actualization by the study case, and how it could contribute to the problem of environment including the impacts and its challenge. She argued that Pesantren as the Islamic traditional institution with the classical type of education, offers an alternative design to face the environmental problem called as Eco – pesantren which has a substantial religious mission within practice to the environmental conservation.

Making-Southeast-Asia-and-Beyond-09Abdul Mujib took up an issue of inter – religious or interfaith relations through the social life interaction. His content of presentation is on preliminary research taking a setting in Banguntapan, Yogyakarta. He argued that this region is an area which has a good inter- religious relations due to the diversity of society’s background of religions such as Hindu, Islam, Catholic, and Kejawen. By this kind of situation, the sense of tolerance and awareness of diversity should be seized up by the society. Therefore, to examine the experience of living together with the different kind of religious identity, he proposed a framework of pluralist attitude covering the inclusive and exclusive factor in observing this case. There are some important key questions that will be addressed that are the function of religion in the society’s daily activity, how the society enable to correlate their experiences of diversity to the pluralist attitude, and the position interreligious relation in the experience of diversity and pluralism. In relation to the research focus, Mujib will examine the level and conditions of contact and tolerance within the social space of  Banguntapan.

Participating in such International Conference which lifts up the diverse issues in the Southeast Asian context clearly contributes to the development of academic communication and enrichment at the international level, in Southeast Asia and beyond. (Editor: Greg Vanderbilt)

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