CRCS&ICRS Wednesday Forum: “The Differences that Make Us the Same: Ethnicity as a Framework for a Multi-religious Minahasan Cultural Identity”

Dear CRCS & ICRS students, faculty and guests, We kindly invite you to participate in the CRCS & ICRS Wednesday Forum of this week. Wednesday forum will have KELLI A. SWAZEY as the speaker who will talk about “The Differences that Make Us the Same: Ethnicity as a Framework for a Multi-religious Minahasan Cultural Identity”. Some information about this forum can be read as follows.

Date: Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Time: 12.30 pm – 2.30 pm (free lunch)
Venue: Room 306, UGM Graduate School Teknika Utara, Pogung
Speaker: Kelli A. Swazey


Like other areas in Indonesia that were reached by Christian missionaries early in the colonial period, the region of North Sulawesi known as Minahasa is strongly associated with its Christian heritage. The perceived link between Minahasa and Christianity is not only defined by population but through a sense that Minahasan culture and Christianity are so intertwined that to be Minahasan, one must be a Christian by default. Non-Christian inhabitants of the region, therefore, have historically been marked as being ethnically different.

However, other interpretations of Minahasan identity exist, in which being Minahasan and Christian are not mutually exclusive. Demographic changes and the effects of decentralization policies have led local politicians to employ a conception of regional culture and ethnic identity that while inclusive of both Muslim and Christian inhabitants, also clearly maintains the distinctness of their religious identities. These local frames of representation are used to counteract the alignment of ethnicity with religious identity, and has allowed a space for the development of a Minahasan identity inclusive of non-Christian inhabitants. Instead of focusing on similarities, this new ethnic constellation focuses on the way that Christians and Muslims in North Sulawesi “differ intelligibly”? (Harrison 2006) or express their religious differences in locally specific ways, demarcating the boundaries between religious populations in North Sulawesi while simultaneously marking them as ethnically Minahasan. Muslims and Christians in North Sulawesi are then defined by their difference from other ethnic groups in Indonesia without effacing their religious identities and access to religiously affiliated political networks.

This paper will investigate how ethnicity as a contextual “category for action” (Barth 1969) acts as a framework which can challenge the alignment of cultural identity with religious affiliation, and help to maintain regional coherence in a post-decentralized Indonesia. In recognizing that ethnic identity can be constructed not only through cultural similarities but also through the categorization of differences, examples from North Sulawesi can help us to understand the potential, as well as the limits, of ethnicity as a form of regional identity that encompasses practitioners of different religions.

About the Speaker

KELLI A. SWAZEY is a Ph. D Candidate from Department of Anthropology University of Hawai’i Manoa. She is currently a Fulbright Hays DDRA recipient. In 2008 she earned her master’s degree from the University of Hawai at Manoa. She wrote a thesis entitled: Carrying God and (Re) creating Nation through Christianity: Minahasan culture and identity in transnational churches in New England. Her BA was from University of New Hampshire in the Antropology field with the focus on Asian Studies. Her research project for her B.A was on Sini Sana: The Nature of Transnational Connections in an Indonesian Christian Community in Southern New Hampshire.

Her area interest including: Indonesia, Cultural Anthropology, Anthropology of Christianity, Religious Relations, Discourse Analysis, Nationalism and ethnicity, Immigration and Transnational Studies, and Human Rights.


The forum is free of charge and on a first-come-first serve basis.

Contact Persons:

Elis Z. Anis (ICRS):,; Lina Pary (CRCS):; Maria Ingrid (CRCS/ICRS):


This post is also available in: Indonesian


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