A Broader Understanding of the Meaning of Pluralism

auHkiPluralism is often explained as a concept that approves of all religions, leading to the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) to issue a fatwa that identified pluralism as haram or forbidden. Yet for the members of the CRCS program that participate in collaborative effort with four countries called the “Pluralism Knowledge Program” (PKP), the definition of pluralism is much broader. In their view, pluralism is defined as the acceptance and valuation of diversity, and for people or groups from different backgrounds to endeavor to work together to accomplish something positive.

This was the definition of pluralism that was presented at the launching and book discussion of “New Directions in the Politics of Diversity in Indonesia” that was held by CRCS on the 25th of March 2011 in the Graduate School Building at UGM. Both a book entitled “Civic Pluralism” and a monograph regarding “The Politics of the Public Space in Schools” were introduced at the launching. Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir, acting director at the Center For Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS) explained that pluralism should be understand as not just pertaining to tolerance, but as active efforts to understand difference. Central to the discussion was the explanation that pluralism is not the same as relativism, and that it does not call for groups to leave or lose their individual identities. While some definitions of pluralism focus on the idea of discovering similarities, here there is a stress on difference – or more specifically, on valuing difference.

Samsurizal Panggabean from the Peace and Conflict Resolution Master’s program (MPRK) at Universitas Gadjah Mada said that identity can become an issue through the rubric of diversity when it is conspicuous, exclusivist or forced. Mustagfirah Rahayu, a member of the book’s research team, explained the link between diversity and women, because the management of diversity offers an opportunity for transformative accommodation, as it is an area where the state and minority groups share jurisdiction over contested arenas, such as family law, criminal law, and education. Another member of the research team, Trisno Sutanto, elaborated the wide-scale politics of harmony that were undertaken by the New Order government. He demonstrated how the state was involved in creating problems between religious traditions in Indonesia. In the second session, speakers Alyssa Wahid, a consultant on youth issues, and Mr. Arifin, a teacher at SMAN Wonosari discussed their concerns about the growing religious conservatism among high-school students. According to Mr. Arifin, teachers who play a role in forming students’ religious behavior should initiate training on the subject of pluralism.

The discussion and book launching activities were part of a number events scheduled as part of this year’s Pluralism Knowledge Program (PKP). Indonesia cooperates with centers in India, Uganda and the Netherlands through this program. The program seeks to build and disseminate information that will improve understandings about the concept of pluralism in these four nations.


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