Religiosity in Diversity

The “Religiosity in Diversity” trilogy represents firm evidence to development of human rights, democracy, civic society, and academia along inclusivist lines in Indonesia, and records attempts at institutionalizing pluralism in practice that remains accessible to various audiences (institutional, academic, activist) both in Indonesia and worldwide.

This is an interesting article, because giving good portrait about how religious diversity, multicultural, multiethnic colouring in Javanese contemporaries live and the frictions that caused by the diversities. Through in this article, Ivana made an interesting reading to the trilogy of films in relations of the varieties backgrounds in Javanese with using anthropological perspective at both epistemological and methodological levels.

Religiosity in Diversity

In 2007 Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS) of the Gadjah Mada University released three short documentaries. The trilogy respectively entitled “Uniting the Divided”? (Menyatukan yang Terbelah), “Interreligious Marriage”? (Menikahi Agama), and “I am a pious kid”? (Aku Anak Sholeh!) comprise a part of the wider project called “Religiosity in Diversity.” All three movies frame citizens’ lives within multicultural, multiethnic, and multireligious Indonesian society as it emerges in various parts of contemporary Java, such as Kedunglengkong, Yogyakarta, and Solo. The making of these movies could be seen as an attempt to render and display to wider audiences the ways in which interpersonal and social interactions of the story-tellers are both delineated and transgressed along the lines of religious differences.

Arguably, ethnic, cultural, and social differences underlying the stories that document lives of the chosen groups and/or individuals intentionally take a back seat in weaving the movies’ narratives. Namely, religion seems to be that key “marker”? in which the protagonists ground their identity both at personal and collectivity levels. Such claims appear self-evident, rather than far-fetched, and are suggested by the very title of the Project. Moreover, the title undoubtedly proposes “diversity”? to be a given in contemporary Javanese (and wider Indonesian) societies, introducing “religion” as that constituent of identity along, across, or against which both social polarizations and allegiances are being made.

“Religiosity in Diversity” foregrounds quotidian realities; it gives a collage of tales revolving around citizens’ identities shaped within the context of a religiously diverse society. The three documentaries give different angles of and insights into the complexity, creativity, and challenges that living in a religiously diverse society imposes on this country’s citizens. In certain sense, all three of them depict those situations where religion might appear instrumental in drawing divisional, non-transgressive lines between groups and individuals on the one hand, and the state and society on the other.

Thus, in the opening scenes of the “Uniting the Divided”? (“Menyatukan yang Terbelah”?), the protagonists narrate how religious differences, constructed by and against traumatic historical events of 1965/1966, have been keeping the Kedunglengkong’s community divided and somewhat socially dysfunctional. “I am a pious kid”? introduces a group of kindergarten children amidst performing a nursery rhyme that ends in rather exclusivist calls. Both movies offer a rather gloomy prospective at the outset, at least from within the perspective of an inclusivist, pluralist society, where diversity would be replaced with learning and knowledge about difference, while civic pluralism would supersede mere practice of tolerance.

To the contrary, the “Interreligious Marriage”? brings forth a tender marriage ceremony followed with another couple’s story that might be undestood as a paradigmatic case of difficulties involved in those marriages where the spouses are of different religions. A man and a woman describe their attempts to fulfill their seemingly impossible wish to have a Muslim-Christian marriage, where both parts would keep their respective religious affiliations. In a conversation with an Imam, they are being given consent as well as procedural and theological explanations and practical guidance for undertaking the procedure that would turn their dreams into reality. Practice of interreligious marriage is currently forbidden by the Law of 1974; however, according to the Imam, there are legal ways for a couple to join in interreligious marriage that remain in compliance with current marital and doctrinal regulations.

Along the same lines, it is through bottom-up efforts and inclusivist theologies of both institutionalized and non-institutionalized individuals/groups that the previous two movies’ narratives would eventually bring about alternative practices of and empirical evidence to an interreligious existence grounded in a quality synergy and/or learning about the “other,”? rather than being burdened by a qualifying differentiation.

“Religiosity in Diversity”? in academia and beyond

Might it seem surprising that a studying center of higher education, such as CRCS, should engage in making documentaries? It did to me, at the time when I first watched one of the movies from the trilogy approximately a couple of years ago. However, in the course of my studies that have kept me in close contact with CRCS I have learned about the Center’s long-term effort to develop into not only a first-class institution of postgraduate education, but also a multi- and inter-disciplinary center for promoting human rights, pluralism, inter- and intra-religious dialogue. The Center’s strivings are structured and aimed at both individuals (students and staff) and communities (Civil Society Organizations in particular, and wider society in general) coming from various age-groups, ethnicities, religious affiliations, countries, and economic backgrounds. The fact that the Center’s educational and learning activities are conducted not only among the academic community but are also aimed at generating impact in wider society is pertinent to the idea that academia and civil society could and ought to join hands in the ongoing democratizing processes in the post-New Order Indonesia.

The filmed materials can be perceived as anthropological responses to the ways in which all that goes under the concept and practice of “religion”? moves citizens both across and within religious and socio-cultural differences. The movies’ narratives provide for a range of manners in which a narrowing understanding of religion, the one that remains strictly within the realm of law, mainstream theologies, current public discourses, governmental policies and stipulations, is both practically and conceptually broadened and made more inclusive. The Project investigates how religious differences motivate people to (re)frame their personal theologies on the one hand, and (re)structure societal ties on the other, as their very personal ontologies remain intertwined with laws, regulations, and policies that regulate the practice of Indonesian citizenship.

All narratives have been chosen carefully, in order to provide for inspiring, grassroot examples of cases where religious difference is not reduced to an impediment, or a distortion, of one’s beliefs and practices. Here, difference is understood and appreciated as a challenge, an incentive to seeking alternative ways that lead to a creative and mutually fulfilling socio-political coexistence with(in and without) each other’s differences, and despite all the obstacles encountered on that way. Thus, in terms of phenomenology of religious diversity in present-day Indonesia, my overall impression gained by joining the mindset offered by the movies is that of thick yet subtle, although not at all uncontestable or secured, hope. In other words, the movies leave enough room for reflecting on the socio-political spaces within which religious diversity could provide for a pluralist society both currently and in the future, just as they point to the dangers and ambiguities conductive to a more exclusivist society.

“Religiosity in Diversity”? outside Indonesia

The one-year leave from my studies has thus far taken me to places where Indonesia is perceived as a distant, not well-known and/or understood country. In May this year, I have taken part in the Summer Peacebuilding Institute of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia, USA, Throughout the duration of the course I attended (Introduction to Conflict Transformation) we were shown documentaries on violent conflicts, or post-conflict contexts, from different parts of the world. Since I had brought the trilogy with me, decisive to somehow organize its public screening, I proposed the idea to the organizers. Provided that training program at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute offers various extra-curricular activities, the organizers welcomed my idea and screened the “Religiosity and Diversity� on the evening of Sunday, May 17.

In June this year I found myself in Serbia, setting up a project in the NGO I had been working with prior to coming to Indonesia as part of the fellowship program that I was awarded by the Summer Peacebuilding Institute. And again, I thought that the stories told in the movies might be important to show in a context where multireligious/multiethnic violence marked the country’s recent history. I wished to organize public screening-cum-discussion as an encouragement to searching for/reframing current societal models in an attempt to build a peaceful multicultural society in Serbia.

Not surprisingly, screening of the “Religiosity and Diversity� films was welcomed in those institutions and/or organizations that were already involved in tackling issues contextualizing differences, and turning living against into living with, or even thanks to diversity. Among them were REX B92 Cultural Center (Belgrade, Serbia; June 10. and, and Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade (June 25. Albeit in various manners, all three mentioned institutions promote and work on constructing/sustaining pluralism within culturally, religiously, economically, ethnically/racially, and otherwise politically diverse societies in their respective environments, and/or worldwide.

The CRCS movies were welcomed by the audiences interested in learning more about CRCS in particular and higher education in Indonesia in general, Indonesian society, religions, cultures, and politics. For some, the screening was an unexpected encounter with the “unknown”? home (the screening in the Ethnographic Museum in Belgrade was visited by a few officials from Indonesian Embassy in Belgrade); for most, it was an exciting and instructive learning about both exclusivist and inclusivist practices, laws, regulations, and policies in contemporary Indonesia. All screenings were envisaged as interactive events, with brief introductory lectures historically, politically, and ideologically outlining the modern state of Indonesia in general, and CRCS in particular.

The stories told by the movies are those that are perceived as highly controversial, marginalized, and/or otherwise problematized in contemporary Indonesian society. Thus, “self”?-“other” relationships created within and by the movies are complex, and demand knowledge and understanding of historical and political circumstances contextualizing the narratives both within and without Indonesian social history. Since the interpretation of the narratives is dependent on perspectives and socio-political position(s) of the audience, the movies can be “as they were”“ variously experienced. Despite the experiential variety in various settings, however, what was striking about each public screening where I was present was that the audience developed strong empathy with the narratives, and/or the stories’ protagonists. In Serbia in particular, ensuing discussions revealed the introspective effect that the movies had on the audience, provided that there were numerous comments urging similar projects that would document controversial and violent events from the country’s recent and more remote past on the one hand, and those that would delineate history of peaceful coexistence in diversity on the other.

Not surprisingly, eventually I started thinking of the “Religiosity in Diversity”? trilogy as an (inter)active research tool. What can be investigated at each screening is a wide diversity of human responses to diversity: ontological, political, psychological, cultural in general, and religious in particular. In my opinion, the movies use anthropology at both epistemological and methodological levels. A number of times in which I followed the movies during the public screenings, I felt they were instrumental in opening spaces where interpersonal exchange, empathy, and solidarity on the one hand, and misunderstanding, rejection and even condemnation on the other were structured. Instead of passive watching, the “Religiosity in Diversity”? offers a channel through which not only the ethnographic narratives of the documented stories are created, but where ethnographic experience and internalized connectedness between the narratives and the audience also takes place.

Most importantly, perhaps, the “Religiosity in Diversityâ€? represents a visually documented record of an attempt to provide “Indonesian style” examples of grassroot pluralism at work. The fact that it was brought about in form of the movies is invaluable, since its outreach both includes and surpasses academic community and extends to wider layers of society across the globe. Last, but not least, the “Religiosity in Diversity” trilogy represents firm evidence to development of human rights, democracy, civic society, and academia along inclusivist lines in Indonesia, and records attempts at institutionalizing pluralism in practice that remains accessible to various audiences (institutional, academic, activist) both in Indonesia and worldwide.

The writer, Ivana Prazic, is Ph.D student at Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), Graduate School Gadjah Mada University.

This post is also available in: Indonesian


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