WED FORUM: How Much Separation of Religion and State Does Democracy Require?

A comparative Perspective on Democratic Consolidation in Indonesia.

The presentation examines questions and problems that are now central to modern political debates about the role of religion in politics, especially about questions of democratic transformation and consolidation in new democracies. Unfortunately, though the role of religion in world affairs is one of the most important and difficult issues of our era, it has also been one of the least studied themes in political science.

In the first generation of democratization theory the two most neglected areas were nationalism and religion. From the mid-1990s, this space has been occupied largely by the discourse generated by Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations with its assumptions about the incompatibility of many of the world’s religious traditions with democracy. Whatever the normative theories of secularism and democracy may be, empirically democracy seems to co-exist with a great variety of patterns of separation of religion and the state.

The analysis of the space Islam occupies in a modern democratic state like Indonesia provides significant insights into questions of what democracy actually requires vis-à-vis secularism and challenges democratic theorists, comparativists and policy activists to re-examine the terms of the debate and to provide new conceptual and policy alternatives where appropriate.

Florian Pohl is Associate Professor in Religion at Emory University’s Oxford College. A native of Hamburg, Germany, Pohl earned his Ph.D. in Religion from Temple University, Philadelphia in 2007, after completing an M.A. in Religion at Temple in 1998 and a Diplom Theologe at Universität Hamburg in 2001. His research examines publicly and politically influential expressions of Islam in contemporary Indonesia. A focus of his work has been the role of Islamic educational institutions in Indonesia’s process of democratic transition and accommodation.
He is the author of Islamic Education and the Public Sphere: Today’s Pesantren in Indonesia (Muenster/New York: Waxmann, 2009). Among his recent publications is “Islamic Education and the Limitations of Fundamentalism as an Analytical Category,” in Fundamentalism Reconsidered: Perspectives on Religion, Secularism, and Modernity, ed. David H. Watt and Simon Wood (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2014), 217-234. He currently serves as a Fulbright US Senior Scholar in the Department of Religious Studies at the Walisongo State Islamic University (Universitas Islam Negeri Walisongo) in Semarang, Indonesia.


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