IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No.17 | Institutes

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Negotiating Identities - 'Hinduism' in modern Indonesia

Modernity has by now reached all Indonesians in the guise of both rationalised world religion and Indonesianization. Thus, the old and rather self-evident reference points of in-dividual and ethnic identity as well as social solidarity have been challenged by new con-structs and lifestyles. Nowadays, we talk about globalisation resulting in an intensification of local identities as if it were an axiom. However, few authors have bothered to describe concrete social processes, which would examplify and thus help to understand this seem-ingly paradox axiom. Anthropologist Dr. Martin Ramstedt investigates the dicourse and discursive practice of 'Indonesian Hinduism' vis--vis individual, ethnic as well as national and thereby global interests in a three-year project which entails fieldwork in different parts of Indonesia and India as well as archive work in the Netherlands.

By Martin Ramstedt


'Hinduism' as it is understood in contemporary Indonesia has in fact evolved out of a religious reform movement which had started in Bali around 1917. At that time, Dutch co-lonial rule as well as Islamic propaganda and Christian missionary work had prompted Bali-nese intellectuals to redefine Balinese tradition in order to reassert the status of Balinese religious practices as 'religion' rather than as rites based on customary ethnic beliefs and to adapt Balinese customary rules of conduct (called 'adat' by the Dutch) to the demands of modernity. When Bali was integrated into the Republic of Indonesia in 1950, the Indonesian Ministry of Religion dominated by representatives of Islam and Christianity rejected 'Bali-nese religion' on the grounds of its definition of 'religion'.

According to the Indonesian Ministry of Religion, 'religion' implies a universal, monotheistic creed based on a holy book which was conceived by a holy prophet whereas Balinese rites and rituals appeared to be ethnic and polytheistic in character. Moreover, those practices were apparently connected to different genealogical traditions and thus to ancestor worship. In an enhanced process of religious reform, Balinese intellectuals refor-mulated the central doctrines of 'Bali Hinduism' by turning to neo-Hinduistic currents of modern India for inspiration. Complying with the requirements of the Ministry of Religion, they presented Sanghyang Widhi Wasa as the Balinese equivalent to the 'God' (Tuhan) of Indonesian Islam and Christianity with the lesser Balinese deities and deified ancestors cor-responding to the angels of Islam and Christianity. 'Sanghyang Widhi Wasa' can be trans-lated either as 'Almighty, Divine, and Supreme Ruler of the Universe' or as 'Divine, Pow-erful Cosmic Law'. Hence, the term in fact accommodates both the Muslim-Christian as well as the Indian Hindu (sananta dharma) notion of the Supreme Principle. Furthermore, it was claimed that certain Hindu texts like the Indian Bhagavad Gita or the Old Javanese Sarasamuccaya are divine revelations conceived by holy seers and are therefore equivalent to the Al Quran and the Bible. 'Hinduism' was finally recognised by the Ministry of Relig-ion in 1959. In 1960, a kind of religious council called Parisada Dharma Hindu Bali was established as the official representative of Bali Hinduism. This council discouraged the Balinese tinge in favour of a much more Indianised version of official Hinduism and conse-quently changed its name to Parisada Hindu Dharma in 1964.
The advent of Soeharto's 'new order' resulted in an increasing Indonesianisation of both Hindu Dharma and Parisada Hindu Dharma, partly due to the fact that every Indonesian citizen was now required to be a registered member of one of the five acknowledged relig-ious communities (Islam, Christianity [i.e. Protestantism], Catholicism, Hinduism and Bud-dhism). Inspired by the glorious Hindu Javanese past imagined by the Indonesian national-ists, a large number of Javanese converted to Hinduism in the 1960s and 1970s. When the adherents of the ethnic religions Aluk To Dolo (Sa'dan Toraja) and Kaharingan (Ngaju, Luangan) claimed official recognition of their traditions, the Ministry of Religion classified them as Hindu variants in 1968 and 1980. Due to Hindu missionary work by Balinese and Indians living in Medan, several members of the Karo in North Sumatra started to embrace Hinduism in 1977. Having become a truly national representative of Hinduism, the Parisada Hindu Dharma changed its name to Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia in 1984. The physi-cal Indonesianisation of Hinduism was paralleled by an ideological Indonesianisation when in 1978 the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture introduced the pancasila-indoctrination program P4. In 1983 the pancasila-philosophy became the sole philosophical base (asas tunggal) of all recognised social organisations including the officially acknowl-edged religious communities.
The research project addresses the topic by differentiating between three predominantly top-down levels of discourses: (1) the hegemonic discourse of the Indonesian government on religion and culture; (2) the discourse of the official representatives of Hindu Dharma Indo-nesia succumbing to the hegemonic governmental discourse by redefining the Hindu doc-trines in the light of the pancasila-philosophy; (3) the discourses of the local adherents of Hindu Dharma Indonesia which partly succumb to and partly try to influence the previous two levels of discourses in favour of local interests by redefining and reasserting local tra-dition. Each of the three levels of discourses as well as the accompanying discursive prac-tices are analysed in a historical as well as social psychological perspective. 'Discourse' is defined as 'an institutionalised way of speaking about certain things which represents certain interests and which structures the habitus and thus the perception, emotion, motivation and action of people'. 'Discursive practice' is understood as 'those institutionalised regulations which determine the effects of a certain discourse in favour of certain interests'.
The hegemonic governmental discourse has been strongly influenced by the Islamic as well as Christian notion of 'religion'. Moreover, the governmental priorities of Indonesianisation as well as economic globalisation intrinsic to the pancasila-philosophy of the 'new order' have been decisive factors for the cultural and religious policy of the Indonesian state, re-sulting in the implementation of certain values which reflect not only the values of the so-called Protestant work ethic and Japanese bushido, but also the values of the 'Asian Renais-sance'. Thus, 'Islamic and Christian notions of religion', 'Indonesianisation' and 'economic globalisation' have become parameters of the official Hindu discourse. The current political and economical crisis in Indonesia is not likely to change these parameters. It might even enhance their impact on the ongoing rationalisation of Hindu Dharma Indonesia. The local discourses of the Balinese, the modern Hindu-Javanese, the adherents of Hindu-Aluk To Dolo, the Hindu-Tengger, the adherents of Hindu-Kaharingan and the Hindu-Karo are not 'equal' in the sense that they are equally represented by the official representatives of 'Indo-nesian Hin-duism'. The Balinese discourse dominating the two decisive bodies within the Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia (the Paruman Sulinggih and the Paruman Welaka), the Direktorat Jenderal Agama Hindu-Buddha as well as the Universitas Hindu Dharma Indone-sia, has most successfully influenced 'Indonesian Hinduism' to the disadvantage of the vari-ous other local discourses. The Balinese discourse itself, however, is not so homogenous as it might appear, since it is the 'battle field' of various cultural-religious factions, e.g. the pasek-movement, the Satya Sai Baba movement, the Peradah, the Forum Cendekiawan Hindu Dharma Indonesia, the Forum Pemerhati Hindu Dharma Indonesia etc.
'Ethnic identity' has been a recurrent concern of the local discourses. Ethnic' or 'local identity' seems to crystallize in the local adat. However, the Hindu members of the Sa'dan Toraja, the Karo, the Tengger or the Ngaju etc. cannot easily claim to be 'guardians' of their specific ethnic traditions on the grounds that 'Hinduism' is 'more accommodating' than Islam or Christianity since adat is exposed to rationalisation by 'Indonesian Hinduism', too. Local adat is both rationalised and defended by adherents of all recognised creeds. Further-more, the term 'adat' itself is a highly ideologized product of the Dutch indological as well as the official Indonesian discourse, despite its primordial connotations.
One, therefore, has to ask why a certain individual - i.e. a Javanese, a certain member of the Karo, the Tengger, the Toraja, the Ngaju or the Luangan - embraces Hinduism rather than Islam or Christianity. How does he or she negotiate his or her various identities to which ends? Within the general Indonesian discourse 'Hinduism' seems to be associated with 'backwardness', 'ancestor worship', 'trance', and 'magic'. This has inspired me to formulate the following hypothesis: members of ethnic traditions on the fringe of the mod-ern Indonesian state favour either Islam or Christianity when they are socially and economi-cally ambitious whereas those who defend a 'traditional', 'anti-capitalist' lifestyle convert to Hinduism. Within 'Indonesian Hinduism' the popularity of the Satya Sai Baba movement or the various forms of Indian yoga practices seem to hint to a similar and growing rejection of a rationalised religion and a 'disenchanted world' ruled on the terms of modern econ-omy.
Dr Martin Ramstedt is a research fellow selected by the ESF Asia Committee and stationed at the IIAS. He is also affiliated with NIAS.

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No.17 | Institutes