Defining faith: Beyond the Contentious “Religion Column”

The Jakarta Post (Friday, November 14 2014)

xxHome Minister Tjahjo Kumolo has stated that followers of minority faiths can leave the religion column on their KTP (identity cards) blank. Yet the real problem beyond the debate of leaving the column blank or removing it altogether not only regards equality and civil rights for followers of aliran kepercayaan (indigenous religions or local faiths) — but the definition of agama (religion) itself.

Leaving the religion column blank for followers of faiths “which are not yet recognized as religions based on laws and regulations or adherents of kepercayaan [faiths]”, according to the 2013 Population Administration Law, was already legal in the 2006 law that it replaced.

Now stated as an option, the right of leaving the religion column blank has been obtained after quite a long struggle. For decades under the New Order, followers of indigenous beliefs were forced to state that they were followers of one of the “official religions” — Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and later also Confucianism.

Some scholars argue that this policy was to oppose communism, which is sometimes associated with atheism. The Constitution itself does not address the “recognized religions” or “official religions”, but it allows all adherents of any religion to embrace and practice their faith, whatever it is, which should be understood to include atheists.

Read the whole article at

Aziz Anwar Fachruddin
A graduate student at the Center for Religious and Crosscultural Studies (CRCS) UGM, Batch 2014

This post is also available in: Indonesian


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