The Declining Role of Religion as A Social Critique

Religion has two diferrent functions, i.e. social critique and instrument of legitimacy. Unfortunately at present, especially in the Indonesian context, religion often demonstrates more role in the second function, instrument of legitimacy, than the idealized function of social critique. This view was proposed by Achmad Munjid in his WedForum presentation (26/10/11) entitled ‘The Role of Religion as Social Critique’.


Munjid, a Ph. D. candidate of religious studies at the Temple University, USA, used the concept of capital and power proposed by post-modernist scholars such as Peirre Bourdieu and Louis Althusser. Religion has power and ability to maintain the capitals for the social interest. Religion also plays a role as the reservoir of memory of society by which the memory of social struggle can be reproduced.


But as society is less religious, religion cannot maintain the communal memory for the sake of social interest,. This is especially the case when religion is busy with the issue of legitimacy. Religion, according to Munjid, has departed from its ultimate goal, criticizing the inequality and oppression among society. History of the religions shows that prophets like Jesus and Muhammad experienced the difficulties in the forms of expulsion, alienation or persecution.


Asked about holy text’s position in the idea of religion as social critique, Munjid stated that all of the holy books are not understood in monolithic way. He understands religion as a kind of secret package that can produce different interpretations; even the first person in the history of a religion cannot bring a form of religion through a single lens. For example, the sharia or Islamic law produces different schools of Islamic jurisprudence even though they use the same source of reference.


There were questions about the significance government regulations of religious affairs in the context of a society that has diverse religious groups and the role and about Indonesian religious movements in implementing religion’s function as social critique. Munjid argued that the government regulation of religious affairs is still necessary to the extent of creating a fair ‘rule of game’ but the government must not interven in the theological issues of the religions. Munjid also suggested that the role of religious movements as social critique is declining.


There was also a question about the relevance Hans Kung’s statement that there will be no peace among nations without peace among religions. For Munjid, the statement should not be seen as an informative statement but a performative statement. In this case, interfaith dialogue need to be promoted as as a sociological imagination of religions.


Munjid argued that religious institutions and leaders should be responsible in upholding religious function of a social critique. In closing remarks, Munjid made a reminder that one of the fundamental massages of religions is equality and freedom. Religions therefore have responsibility to strive for this noble agenda. [MoU]

This post is also available in: Indonesian


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