Making Sense of Shifts in Perspectives: Perceiving and Framing Examples of Interreligious Learning in Indonesia

Making Sense of Shifts in Perspectives: Perceiving and Framing Examples of Interreligious Learning in Indonesia

Eckhard Zemmrich
Faculty of Theology, Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany

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ABSTRACT This article focuses on aspects of epistemological questions in religious and intercultural studies. It draws on results from research into two interreligious education formats for young adults in Java, Indonesia: ‘Sobat Muda’ in Salatiga, and ‘Sekolah Lintas Iman’ in Yogyakarta. After a reflection on issues of intercultural research design, the article identifies formative influences regarding formation, and changes in perspectives on interreligious relations and perceptions, on the basis of information from respondents participating in those programmes. Observations of a strong connection between the use of the term ‘truth’, with its derivations, and the societal value of harmony in the description of such change processes in Indonesian contexts, lead to an attempt at intercultural translation, carried out as an inquiry into classical truth concepts within the European thought tradition. Inspired by the findings of the study, in conclusion, the term verifiation is introduced, which may prove useful in intercultural epistemological efforts.

An intercultural research design for an interreligious issue

In theological reflection, perspectives on and attitudes towards faith traditions other than one’s own are often described in terms of fixed relations and concepts of so-called ‘theologies of religions’, and labelled accordingly as ‘exclusivism’, ‘inclusivism’, and ‘pluralism’ (Hick 1983). Mainly developed in Western Christian contexts, but extensively referred to worldwide, such terms aim to describe theoretically how different faith formations, groups, or individuals position themselves in the face of the religious other. Not only does such ‘positioning’ take place in theological, more abstract terms of ‘space’ (in the sense of closer proximity to or greater distance from another faith tradition), but it is sometimes also conceived of in geographical, spatial terms (Huntington 2002). Yet, in a globalized world, such spatial positioning appears inappropriate: not only have those paradigms been criticized and further developed (Knitter 1985; Schmidt-Leukel 2005), but they also cannot just be ascribed ‘as such’ to one or the other faith tradition. There is clearly a polyphony of opinions about other religions within faith traditions themselves. 1 This results in overlaps and tensions in theological attitudes, such as those in truth discourses, i.e. in exchanges of arguments on differing truth-claims, both between and within faith formations, and the theological reasoning on interreligious relations that they entail (i.e. same God in different traditions?). The concepts of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism are also strongly challenged by the very existence of religiously plural societies, where all space is shared space. Processes of ‘othering’ in such circumstances are costly for communal and economic life. 2

If looked at closely in terms of space and time, the picture gets more complex since such positioning is not just passed on from generation to generation. Rather, differing contexts and life experiences specifically shape and alter such attitudes over time, as the debate on ‘Orientalism’ has shown (Said 1994). Yet, so far, comparatively little attention has been paid to such changes, except with regard to questions of conversion, as in Christian theology, within the context of perceptions of mission, evangelism, and proselytism, where formidable results have been achieved. 3

However, it is arguable that changes of attitudes towards other religious formations than one’s own within faith traditions take place far more often than confessional changes between religious faith traditions. Here, the keywords catching public and academic attention seem to be ‘radicalization’, ‘counter-radicalization’, and ‘deradicalization’. 4 Yet radicalization, including that which leads to terrorist acts, is not what most people of religious faith would undergo. Investigating extreme radicalization is, in a way, like researching how storms at sea come about, rather than how and why water in its ceaseless movement shapes and changes the sea and its surrounding landscapes. As those ‘normal’ movements are ultimately of longer lasting and deeper shaping influence than hefty storms, ‘normal’ shifts and movements within religious biographies may have wider and more far-reaching effects in shaping religious identities than more obvious breaks and ruptures.

Even the dynamics of radicalization may be described as some kind of excessive escalation of ordinary fluctuations in personal faith convictions. However, to use the metaphor again, winds and storms are both air movements, and forces bringing about shifts of religious identities, in the case of both moderate and radical changes, may be similar too, only of a different intensity. So, insights from research into moderate shifts may illuminate radical ones as well. Perhaps even the many factors relevant in both cases would be better identified and traced in their moderate instances; when extreme movements occupy the researcher’s mind, less dramatic factors may be neglected. Such considerations led to a joint international research project that focused on investigating changes and formative influences of views towards other religious convictions than one’s own in a study among young people in Java, Indonesia.

Investigating changes and motivations: empirical and theoretical issues

For field research, Indonesia was selected because it provides particularly rich resources for investigations into religious topics. Unlike in Central European countries, religion has been a pervasive issue in Indonesian society and politics, right from the founding days of the Pancasila state in 1945. Also, while Indonesia is the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, it is also regarded as one of the most plural societies in the world in terms of ethnicity and religious affiliation. Within Indonesia, the island of Java was selected because it particularly represents these proportions. Java shows the highest percentage of Islamic religious affiliation in Indonesia (96.1%, except for Aceh: 98.2%), 5 yet it also attracts people from all Indonesian ethnicities and religions because of its political, academic, and economic importance. It also is the most densely populated island of Indonesia (1,115 inhabitants/km2). As a result, interreligious encounters can be expected to occur more on an everyday basis in Java than in, perhaps, more religiously homogenous and less densely populated regions of the country.

In light of the above-named considerations on change processes, what became the main areas of interest in this intercultural and interreligious study were not the views and communication practices employed towards people of other faiths (Suhadi 2014), but the question: How do people express and conceptualize their encounters and experiences with the religious other, and what do they regard as influential factors in such conceptualizing processes? And how could knowledge about all this contribute to better understanding religious identities? So it was a search to describe not which stances, but which changes in attitudes are experienced by those youth involved; what, according to them, actually induced such changes in their attitudes towards other faith traditions; and in what ways could such insights be comprehended and translated for a different cultural tradition. In other words, what, in those Indonesian young adults’ own opinion, brought about shifts in their positioning towards religious others; what changes in opinion, judgment, and behaviour did this amount to; and how may all this be processed in terms of interpretation as well as conceptualization from European perspectives of religious studies, theology, or philosophy? To vary the image already used: pictures of the ‘landscapes’ before and after a storm were not of primary interest, but rather the change dynamics, what caused them, and the intercultural self-reflection on those stories. Of course, those three research interests could not be pursued in a chronological order, but only together, in awareness of hermeneutical circularity – the awareness that, in all listening, tacit knowledge is inevitably employed. Consequently, in terms of methodology, this became an epistemological, constructivist study with a focus on emic and ‘“dispositional”, […] “intentional” or “purposive” explanations of motives and reasons’ (Jensen 2014, 45). Qualitative data were collected but, given the different human sciences involved, it became a mixed-method research study (Bergman 2008; Creswell 2014), with intercultural, discursive entanglements (Chow 2012). 6

‘Research justice’ and hermeneutical issues

The field research in Indonesia was designed and carried out by two researchers from the University of Birmingham, UK, and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, in collaboration with researchers from Institut DIAN/Interfidei (Yogyakarta, RI) and Lembaga Percik/Percik Institute (Salatiga, RI). Given the intercultural composition of the team, special attention was dedicated to questions of distributive ‘research justice’ between its Indonesian and European members for the benefit of the research and in order to deal with questions of internal understanding. In terms of religion, one of the Indonesian researchers was a Sunni Muslim, one a Roman Catholic, and the others were Protestants of various denominations. As an intercultural and interreligious research team, we followed recommendations for research designs that were mindful of postcolonial relationships and that aimed at diminishing Eurocentrism when dealing with intercultural research questions (Seipel and Rippl 2013). Each of the institutions and researchers involved had his or her own specific interests, so our research design included a Memorandum of Understanding that assessed necessary steps and conditions to ensure there was appropriate mutual communication during the research process and open access for all researchers to the data to be used for analysis afterwards, according to everyone’s respective research interests. 7 Two interreligious youth programmes were selected for investigation, ‘Sobat Muda’ and ‘Sekolah Lintas Iman’, which will be introduced shortly.

By selecting two interreligious youth programmes, the aim, as mentioned, was not to investigate them as such, but rather to learn about the judgments and assessments of those participating in them, that is: their interpretations of how and why they experienced changes in their opinions and behaviour. The undergirding assumption for this ‘subjective’ or emic approach was that each researcher, like anybody else, has a necessarily limited field of vision, and particularly, in this case, towards different cultural and religious contexts. It will, therefore, always remain a view ‘from outside’ in large part, mainly allowing for an etic perspective only. It thus provides no reliable basis for developing hypotheses, employing categories, and drawing conclusions about the insights and motivations of people from other faith traditions and in different contexts. 8 What can be done, however, is to raise questions and try to listen to the answers, stories, and explanations given by participants as carefully and reflectively as possible.

Still, one hermeneutical challenge in particular, which, at least in literary studies, gets special attention, demanded careful consideration within the research design (Zipfel 2017). On the one hand, encounters between members of different cultural contexts may open up opportunities for discursive alienation in which the different perspectives trigger unexpected questions and demands for explanations of issues seemingly familiar to the participants. This may bring to light hidden or even new perspectives and insights – very desirable for an investigative research project. On the other hand, intercultural encounters and interviews between ‘Westerners’ and Indonesians – especially older Westerners and younger Indonesians – clearly run the risk of acquiring information based on participants’ guesses at what is socially desirable or acceptable. In order to prevent or, at least, greatly diminish this risk, the interviews were carried out by Indonesian research colleagues. These colleagues ran the two chosen programmes and therefore knew the participants well; some of them were also similar in age to the participants and therefore better able to mitigate the pressure to answer in a certain way. As to the foreseeable accompanying disadvantage of this design – namely, not being able to benefit from alienation as a means to trigger stimulating new and deepening insights in such ‘native–native’ interview constellations – the research team tried to compensate for this by discussing all of the interview field notes and transcripts within the research group after each phase in the interview process.

‘Interfaith school’ and ‘young friend’: the programmes and the research resources

Two interreligious curricula for young people were chosen as case studies, one formal and one informal: ‘Sekolah Lintas Iman’ (Interfaith School: SLI) in Yogyakarta, and ‘Sobat Muda’ (Young friend/Friend of Youth; SM) in Salatiga. SLI, the formal education format, is run by three academic institutions: the Ushulludin and Islamic Thought Faculties of the State Islamic University Sunan Kalijaga (Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga [UIN Sunan Kalijaga]), the Theological Faculty of the Christian Protestant University (Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana [UKDW]), and the Theological Faculty of the Roman Catholic University (Universitas Sanata Dharma [USD]). The SLI course is coordinated and managed by ‘Institut DIAN/Interfidei’, an NGO founded by pioneers of democracy in 1991, which is dedicated to advocating for human rights and fostering religious pluralism. Since the two biggest conflicts in the wake of the fall of Suharto in Poso and Ambon, this NGO has been involved in and educating for conflict resolution, conflict transformation, and peace building.

SM, the second curriculum, is one of several grassroots programmes of the Institute for Social Research, Democracy, and Social Justice (Lembaga Percik/Percik Institute) in Salatiga. The establishment of the Percik Institute dates back to 1996, when it was founded in the midst of democratic movements and rising tensions in Salatiga during the final stage of Suharto’s presidency. Percik has been mediating conflicts and building bridges on the ground ever since (Dirdjosanjoto et al. 2009). It has become known throughout the country for its courageous and successful conflict management and advocacy in societal matters with strong religious overtones, including the sensitive issue of interreligious marriage. SM was established in 2002 by Percik, the Islamic boarding-school (Pesantren) Edi Mancoro, and the Protestant Church of Java (Gereja Protestan Java).

SLI in Yogyakarta has been run as a course in the aforementioned academic institutions for several years now. It is designed particularly for students of religious subjects who may eventually become teachers and leaders of religious communities, such as Islamic ustadhs (teachers), Hindu, Buddhist, or Roman Catholic priests, or Protestant pastors. Between 20 and 30 students participate, usually in every summer semester, each course comprising around 14 units. The course is taught a semester at a time, with different main topics, weekly on Saturday mornings for three hours. The course always starts with a studium generale of interreligious relations, then moves on to reflections about prejudices, stereotypes, truth claims, and methods to critically engage them. Starting from the third week on, individual religious traditions are tackled.

There are three kinds of venue. The students may assemble on one of the campuses of the participating universities or at the office of Interfidei; they may become guests in a government, police, or NGO office related to the subject of the course; or they may visit places of worship of each of the selected faith communities, where a representative welcomes the group and introduces the visitors to that community’s faith tradition before answering questions. Afterwards, the students are taken on a tour and are allowed to observe or participate in a ritual of that community. Or the students may, as mentioned above, assemble in one of the participating universities, where they reflect on and share their experiences. Ice-breakers, spontaneous performances, or works of art are part of those meetings. Homework is given and its results are presented to the group at the next session. At the midterm, students stay at a religious site in a so-called ‘live-in’, often in a Buddhist monastery, in order to learn about Buddhist spirituality.

At Percik’s SM, events and sessions, rather than courses, are spread out over intervals, not fixed over the whole year. One very intense format for gathering is the so-called ‘live-in’ at village communities around Salatiga for a week or so. The villages selected have a record of good management of interreligious relations and their crises. Participants are hosted by the local community and they perform tasks together with the inhabitants, such as cleaning a mosque. There is time to share meals and experiences and to raise issues of importance in interreligious affairs on the local level. Another SM format is outdoor activities such as camping, combined with indoor sessions for creative cooperation and discussion. For example, in 2018, there was a weekend camping trip called the ‘Poetic camping and workshop for writing poetry in favour of tolerance and peace’ at the site of an Adventist church near Salatiga. Until late in the evening, people would share poems, thoughts, and reflections, guided and inspired by a nationally recognized poet and radio moderator.

As explained by the organizers of SLI and SM at Interfidei and Percik, these two programmes have different focuses: SM is focused on students learning how to encounter trustfully and cooperate with people of other faith traditions, whereas SLI, a university course, provides space for members of different faith traditions not only to meet, interact, and practice dialogue, but also to grow in knowledge of other religions and the role that religion plays in politics and society. However, aspects of both are present in each of the curricula, and also in the interviews, which were mainly carried out in 2017 and 2018, when two major cases caused a considerable disturbance in the waters of religious policy in Indonesia: the so-called ‘Ahok-case’, the accusation and conviction of Jakarta’s governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama for alleged blasphemy, and the concomitant government ban on Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, the Indonesian branch of the pan-Islamist organization Hizbut Tahrir, which aims for a revival of the caliphate. Those cases deepened political and religious polarization as well as fostering expressions of mutual distrust. Such attitudes were put forward in public claims, protests, and actions, such as demonstrations, civil and other forms of protest, and public debates.

The different statuses of the two programmes – SLI in Yogyakarta as a regular, joint course of three high-ranking universities, SM as a programme in Salatiga, run by an NGO with a reputation for advocating for the rights of minorities – seem to bring out distinct self-images in their participants. Whereas SLI participants express their satisfaction about attending an officially recognized, fascinating course as students, SM participants seem to understand themselves more as part of a long-term insider community, experiencing not only encouragement from the outside, but also warnings or even blatant requests to stop their commitment there. So Aji (aged 19, SM participant, originating from Central Java, Muslim, student at IAIN Salatiga) reported the reply of one of his influential teachers to his statement that he was involved: ‘It would be better you would not join in there, for I fear your faith will alter.’ 9 Also, early in 2018, a video recording of the contribution of an interreligious choir of the IAIN Salatiga – whose leader was an SM activist – to a church service caused a heated on- and off-line debate over the propriety of such involvement. Nothing like this has been reported about SLI. So, the context in which the two programmes are embedded seems to be shaped by different discursive contexts and power relations. Although relevant to personal attitudes, the focus of the interviews was not to compare the two programmes, their settings, or their ability to cope with different measures of reputation, but rather to explore issues of biographical importance, as named by the participants, for shifts in their own conceptualizations of religious identity, both of themselves and of their perceptions of others. Accordingly, no direct impact of the different programmes’ settings could be detected within the interviews, although, in actual fact, such an impact may have been implicitly present.

The choice of SLI and SM as pools out of which to select a group of participants for this study shows clearly its non-representative and highly selective character. Only students who were, in one way or another, interested in learning about other religions and investing time for that purpose became resources in this qualitative study. However, within the pools, attention was given to include fairly equal proportions of men and women as well as representatives of all state-approved religions, and in two cases (Ahmadiyya, Adventist church) even beyond, in order to cover as many different perspectives as possible.

In addition to a pilot study with a similar programme, called ‘Peace Camp’, 64 interviews of an average length of 1.5 hours were carried out, as well as two focus group discussions, one of 6 and the other of 9 willing participants from the respective programmes (2.5 and 3 hours, respectively). There were three phases: a pilot study, two main phases of interviews, and then the focus group discussions. The pilot study included 4 men and 4 women, among them 4 Muslims, 3 Protestants, and 1 Roman Catholic. The interviews for SM and SLI took place with 28 men and 25 women, with a religious distribution of 25 Muslims, 13 Protestants, 6 Roman Catholics, 6 Buddhists, and 3 Hindus. Three participants were interviewed twice; they had moved on in their academic career during the project and therefore could share reflections in retrospect on their time at SLI and SM. All interviews were conducted and recorded in Indonesian.

The conversations were carried out as guided, biographical, in-depth interviews. The analysis showed evidence that a good way of describing the various phases of the change processes would be to cluster them on the basis of educational stages. In the following main section, selected findings of the empirical part of the study are introduced and summarized: participants’ information on what shaped and changed their religious identities and attitudes towards people of other faiths, from early on to the present.

Family, school, and youth programmes: Impulses for changing views

How did the participants initially reach that point of interest, curiosity, or longing to gain a better understanding of religious others? That is to say: What led to the development of their belief that it would actually be a good idea to move on, dig deeper, or widen their horizon in terms of religious plurality? Here, personal experiences play a crucial role; life contexts as well as acknowledged or rejected authorities are influential. In the following accounts, results of the interview analysis are mainly summarized, and some direct quotations are provided.

Family: roots and irritations

Indonesians tend to situate their lives within extended families. The ethnic and religious plurality in Indonesia, and the (largely internalized) expectation on the part of the state that everyone should adhere to a religion (agama) or belief system (kepercayaan) – now also termed agama leluhur, ‘ancestral religion’ (cf. Maarif 2018) – mean that there scarcely seems to be a single family with a completely homogenous ethnicity and the same religious affiliation throughout.

Children sense mutual respect and harmony within such mixed families, as well as tensions, conflicts, and defamation. On the one had, parents and families who set an example of tolerance towards differing religious attitudes and decisions – be it of people beyond or within the family margins or, indeed, their own children – were of long-lasting importance to the children’s handling of members of other faith traditions. On the other hand, impressions from tensions were also of formative influence. Syarif (SM participant, 26, environmental scientist, Ahmadi, from Central Java), for example, recalled experiences of tension when he was around 15 or 16 years old, such as when, on the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, all the members of his extended family assembled at his oldest uncle’s place. That uncle was a kyai, the headmaster of a Pesantren, and was described by Syarif as ‘Puritan’. The Christians in his extended family also joined in the Eid festivities, but they were treated disparagingly by that uncle, the host: ‘Each Eid we assembled at the oldest uncle’s place, and I pitied them [the Christian family members] for the treatment [they received by him].’ This, then, made Syarif feel upset, and it distanced him from the ‘Puritan teaching’ of his uncle and parents. He interpreted it as a discrepancy between what the uncle, as a kyai, taught his pupils and how he behaved towards his Christian relatives: ‘Although he was a kyai who had many pupils … his treatment [of the Christian family members] was different from there [from his teaching in his Pesantren]. [Here] notions like values of discrimination were taught [by him].’

Also, internal family conflicts related to religious affiliation and their impact on children tended to become more manifest if siblings were involved directly. This was the case for Ruwaidah (SL participant, 22, student of Qur’an science and exegesis, Muslim, from Nusa Tenggara). She had been raised in a mainly Muslim village with values that supported segregation:

We were indeed raised with views that Christians are not good. We were not allowed to eat together with them, they were not allowed to enter our place of worship, we were not allowed to enter their place of worship, and we were not allowed to shake hands with them. We were raised with dogmas like that.Against this backdrop, it caused considerable irritation when an older brother of Ruwaidah went out with a Christian girl. Whenever that girl paid a visit, the family was upset, particularly one of Ruwaidah’s uncles. Her father had died, and this uncle had then become the head of the household. He seemed to fear the Christianization of his nephew as well as damage to the family’s reputation within the village. Ruwaidah’s impression was that this uncle was particularly upset ‘perhaps, because religious tradition has it also that Christians are prohibited to enter a mosque, or we are not allowed to get in touch with them because there are hadiths saying that they are impure and the like’. The persuasiveness of such conjectures seemed to gradually fade, however, when Ruwaidah got to know her brother’s girlfriend personally.

Ruwaidah was the one who served food and drink to the unwelcome guest, which was the first time in her life that she had met a Christian. Much to her surprise, she discovered that she could not recognize in this woman the image her uncle had portrayed; her future sister-in-law was a lovely person. ‘When we first met, we talked a lot. I was surprised (rasa kaget) and so on.’ So, Ruwaidah grew better acquainted with her brother’s Christian girlfriend, to the point where she defended her against ill-will within the family. In time, her conviction grew that her otherwise highly respected family were prejudiced. She felt internally urged to search for a reconciliation of the inner tension caused by those two incompatible judgments regarding a person from another faith tradition. ‘I sat quiet only, thinking, “Why should we not be allowed to eat with those who are of different religion?”’ This experience fixed itself in her mind ‘and this, too, exerted a great influence on me, and later it also became the reason for me to attend activities like SLI at University’.

In both cases, a comparatively homogenous living environment was disturbed by a religious outsider. The discrimination and exclusion that ensued caused uneasiness and irritation within the children, weakened their regard for family authority figures, raised long-lasting questions for them, and set them on a search for a different interreligious experience. These two examples also illustrate a general impression gained from all the interviews: personal encounters are and remain formative experiences for digital natives, whereas media, particularly digital media, though used intensely by these young adults, perform mainly a resource- and back-up function in the search for information, apart from their role in networking, of course. This result holds true in other countries too, as the latest Shell Youth Study (2019), for example, suggests for Germany. This general impression also applies to change-inducing experiences of the participants during school time.

School: encounters and unanswered questions

With respect to school attendance, similar experiences to those already mentioned were shared by participants. In many cases, several changes of residence and school were noted in students’ curricula vitae. The Indonesian school system includes a variety of school types, with graduations from primary school (Sekolah Dasar; SD), secondary school (Sekolah Menengah Pertama; SMP), and college (Sekolah Menengah Atas; SMA) as prerequisites for university studies. Within that pattern, schools are run by different boards, either state sponsored or religiously affiliated.

In addition, there are the still highly regarded Islamic boarding-schools, called Pesantren. These schools are run by a charismatic and highly esteemed headmaster, the kyai, and are typically located in a rural environment. Children, usually around the age of 12 and after graduation from SD, enter to receive a thorough Islamic education while boarding at low cost and in fairly modest housing conditions. There are Muhammadiyah- and Nahdlatul Ulama-affiliated, more conservative and more liberal Pesantren, respectively, with stricter or not-so-strict rules of behaviour and punishments for infringements. Pupils often board in a Pesantren and have their lessons there in the afternoon, while attending a regular state school in the morning. So, by attending both types of school, they can easily compare teaching experiences here and there as well as between different Pesantren; Aji, for instance, boarded throughout his school career and was a student in no fewer than four Pesantren. 10 ‘Santri’, as the Pesantren pupils are called, are expected to become observant Muslims.

This specific type of schooling context does not necessarily rule out interreligious encounters. Several participants reported that their kyai explicitly permitted attendance at interreligious gatherings outside the Pesantren. In regular schools, differences in religious affiliation are common anyway, and they can encourage socializing, especially when there has already been a plurality of religions in primary school. As Ahmad (SL participant, 25, student of Qur’an exegesis, Muslim, from South Sulawesi) pointed out:

When I was in primary school, I had a friend of Hindu religion, and he was my neighbour […] We interacted naturally as is appropriate for children who do not look at “identity”. Afterwards, in secondary school, I had Christian friends.For participants raised in a religiously homogenous environment, first contact with adherents of different faith traditions was sometimes made later in school. Often, time at SMP was named by participants as their first contact with a religious ‘other’.

But, even if first contact was made comparatively late, it had a similar effect. Megawati (SLI participant, 23, student of Qur’an exegesis, Muslim, from West Nusa-Tenggara) grew up in a village solely inhabited by Muslims and did not have her first interreligious experience till she attended SMA:

My first acquaintance with a person of a different religion was at my SMA time. Because its [i.e. the school’s] dryland farming field was neighbouring with that of a Hindu, that was where it started to be introduced … and it was there where I started to think.Although here, too, a personal encounter stimulated interreligious communication, such ‘thinking’ did not entail immediate discourse about religious matters or changes in attitude. Even later, when Megawati made Christian friends who asked her, ‘How come there is an Islamic attitude like this or that?’, she saw it as ‘just chatting’. Megawati only encountered a deeper involvement in interreligious issues as a student, to which we shall refer in due course.

Not surprisingly, kyais’ and teachers’ attitudes towards other religions have an enormous impact on the early formation of pupils’ judgments about other faith traditions. Participants, here, reported many examples of teachers’ behaviour and instruction encouraging tolerance, though, in one case, coercion and public exposure led to a shift away from the pupil’s own religious affiliation. But this seems an exception. Participants who had spent their childhoods in a thoroughly Muslim context, and who maintained set or indifferent judgments about other religious traditions, sometimes recalled reserve and fear as their immediate reactions to their first encounters with believers of different faith traditions, often after changing to SMP. However, continued contact accompanied by a lack of confirmation of the expected negative stereotypes, as well as surprise at how nice people of other faiths could be, eased those inner tensions and unmasked formerly held opinions as prejudices. This, in turn, aroused curiosity about those other faith formations, which in many cases led to a readiness to engage in some interfaith activity. Here again, personal encounters played a decisive role in overturning prejudices and increasing interest in gaining more knowledge about other faith traditions than one’s own.

One unexpected result of our study was therefore that – notwithstanding the very pluralistic society (when compared with Germany, for instance) – direct encounters (outside the family) with and thorough knowledge of other faith traditions seem not to be a matter of course in Indonesia. Not only are there several regions and provinces where the inhabitants are overwhelmingly of one religion, some of the most significant examples being, according to the 2010 census, Sumatra, Java, South- and East-Kalimantan (mostly Muslim); Bali (mostly Hindu); North-Sulawesi, West-Papua and Papua (mostly Protestant) – but also villages in rural areas as well as residential districts in urban surroundings more often than not tend to have inhabitants of a fairly homogenous religious affiliation. Friendly encounters and exchanges of signs of goodwill within extended families and between residents of different faith traditions do not necessarily imply mutual, more detailed information about the faith traditions of others. Differences are not named; instead, commonalities are articulated with the aim of fostering and maintaining harmony, one of the central socio-ethical values throughout the various ethnic and geographical contexts in Indonesia (Magnis-Suseno 1981).

Nationwide regulations for religious education at private schools add to this evidence. For a long time, these schools did not include teaching about religious faith systems other than that of the majority of the pupils (or of the school, if it was religiously affiliated). This meant, at least in the latter case, that pupils of faith traditions other than that which formed the school’s background would attend classes on the school’s own religious tradition. That quite often amounted to pupils of other faith traditions attending Christian religion classes, as Christian schools enjoy a good reputation in Indonesia. This practice was altered by the introduction of legislation on the national level in 2003, which stated that, henceforth, private schools were also obligated to offer separate religion classes for pupils of all religious affiliations (UU20 2003). Although there are exceptions, this legislation amounted to the restriction of the acquisition of interreligious knowledge to schools that educated members of future elites since teaching about other faith traditions is not an integral part of Indonesian religious education classes (Yonesta 2016). This may explain why many participants attributed their acquisition of even basic knowledge regarding other religious traditions to SLI or SM.

Youth programmes: interreligious learning and changed behaviour

Motivation for attending SM or SLI turned out to be strikingly similar across the two programmes. Participants stated that it had been their desire to know more about other religious traditions; to overcome negative attitudes towards them; to be able to foster societal peace; to make new, interesting acquaintances; or to take on challenges, as Wella (SLI-participant, 24, student of theology at UKDW, Protestant, from North Sumatra) put it: ‘To come out of my comfort zone’. Yet some students also stated that they had no real motivation to attend; rather, they were just invited by a friend to participate in that kind of leisure activity or university course. It was only by experiencing a live-in, or a visit to an unfamiliar place of worship, or some other event that a deeper interest or even an immediate fascination was triggered.

Megawati’s experience was an example of this process. When invited to SLI, her motivation was not an overtly theological one. She wanted to join the programme for just two reasons: ‘I really only wanted to study politics from religious perspectives, and I wanted to get to know other people better.’ But her experience turned out differently:

As to subject matter, in terms of politics perhaps it took no effect. But every week, we divide in groups and discuss with others, we merge, and that is its positive side. This became the major bonus when I attended.When asked further what such interaction might entail for her, she stated, ‘The benefits are: I can be more open and tolerant towards others. I can express myself because every week there is reflection. So, maybe we can reveal ourselves and express ourselves regarding our concerns.’ So what had changed for her through SLI? As far as her general behaviour towards other people was concerned, she said, not much. But she added, ‘Maybe we are more gentle (santun) towards the other. As to the way of thinking, it provides broad insight and knowledge. We learn not from Islam itself, but how to open ourselves to learn from others.’

As complex as the motivations of attendance may have been among participants, what was noticed as a change in one’s own religious self-perception, besides confidence gained from growing interreligious literacy, was also a change in one’s approach toward adherents of other faiths. This was very welcome because it supported one of the highest regarded societal values in Indonesia: harmony. And, according to those who run these programmes, one of their implicit or even explicit intentions is to pave the way for matching religious truth claims with this value of harmony. This, then, marks the entry point for intercultural reflection in this study.

Truth and harmony: definitions and re-definitions in different contexts

The category of ‘truth’

Once the various encounters with other faith traditions – both personal and in terms of doctrine – were taking place, participants underwent substantial change. They described themselves as being challenged or, for that matter, freed to define their own religious identity in the face of the other. And such liberation was implemented not only in social-ethical terms of how to send good will signals; it also meant locating oneself within a field of plural religious identities and their obviously non-identical truth claims. For example, when asked by the interviewer: ‘As to the perception towards other religions, which attitudes do you embrace?’, Ruth (SLI participant, 21, student of theology at UKDW, Protestant, from Papua) explained:

I choose an attitude saying that all religions are true (benar) according to their respective doctrines. We are all on solid ground (kita semua benar) according to our respective doctrine and our (distinct) ways. We are all right (kita semua benar) – how can we walk together (in order to) reach well-being? Truly (benar), all are in the right (benar). Therefore, let us build up together.Just as various aspects are named in this statement, a range of attitudes and ensuing manoeuvres in search of a new, reliable base for one’s perspectives and convictions can be detected in what participants shared in their interviews. From their deliberations on that topic, it can be inferred that what seemed not worth discussing was the basic character of the relationship between adherents of different faiths. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement about the atmosphere that should prevail in such encounters: mutual appreciation and respect for the convictions of the other. Perhaps one could even say that, before attending SM and SLI, these seemed to be the implicit characteristics of peaceful co-existence in everyday relations with neighbours and family members. Attendance, then, at SLI and SM established intentional, interreligious encounters and relationships, and therefore mutual appreciation and respect became the explicit criteria for interreligious encounters and relationships that were deemed to be successful and appropriate. So, it was not statements about God, salvation, heaven, hell, etc. that functioned here as means, as criteria, for determining ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ convictions of religious belief, but rather an ethical objective.

This ethical basis for what is perceived as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in terms of doctrine was frequently undergirded by the principles of the state philosophy Pancasila, especially the first principle of one supreme lordship (Ketuhanan yang Maha Esa). The term most often used by the participants to qualify their convictions with respect to another faith tradition was benar (‘right’ or ‘true’) and paling benar (‘most true’). But notably, participant considerations revolving around benar and paling benar showed the tendency to describe one’s own deeply rooted religious convictions while simultaneously denoting respect for the convictions of religious others and their own truth claims. Elim (SM participant, 25, student of English language and information technology, Adventist, from Central Java) stated:

I am aware that one cannot force people, however right we may be (meskipun kita sebenar apapun), because there is free will, and just this when there is a (religious) eagerness must be greeted big-hearted: that every single person has freedom of conscience.The matter of how to think and consistently incorporate relationships with the other that were to follow from such convictions was framed and answered differently. From time to time, this was perceived as a major challenge, especially when discrimination was experienced because of one’s own religious convictions. However, the vision of harmonious relationships as an ultimate goal remained undisputed. Wella went as far as to say that she wanted to get to know other religions at SLI ‘in order that I would not be fanatic. If I were to learn about my own religion only, then I would hold (merasa) that my religion is the most true one (yang paling benar).’ A longing to reach a specific attitude towards religious others may be detected in this statement – an attitude in accordance with new insights gained from personal encounters. Those encounters seemed able to encourage a limitation on one’s own truth claims and so supported the ‘right’ attitude of fostering harmonious relationships for the common good as internalized long before such encounters.

The longing to avoid conflict related to religious convictions and the desire to form harmonious relationships now no longer out of convention, but out of conviction, led the participants to search for relevant re-conceptualizations of their own religious identities. In order to find out more about the options preferred in such circumstances, SLI students were presented by the interviewer with four models for determining interreligious relations (Knitter 2013): first, an exclusive stance; second, an inclusive one; third, ‘each religion is held true according to their respective followers, but they are able to understand each other by way of dialogue and the like’; 11 and fourth, all religions are alike and are simply different ways to the same ultimate goal. Almost everyone agreed with the third option. Apart from Elim, only Ridho (SLI participant, 20, student of Dakwah Management, Muslim, from North Sumatra) declared himself convinced of the exclusivist stance: ‘I still hold that Islam is most true (Islam yang paling benar) and religion outside Islam is wrong.’ But he immediately added, addressing his Catholic interviewer directly, ‘I shall not say this to (a person of) different religion. I have no right to judge that the religion of (you), Sir, is just wrong.’ Ridho, with his exclusivist stance, seemed just as concerned with maintaining harmony as those who refrained from universal truth claims, even of some pluralistic kind, in order to be content with a clear limitation of their own justified truth claims. In those participants’ eyes, this seemed the best way to guarantee an attitude of deepened knowledge of and growing respect for different religious affiliations. This attitude, then, received the status of a higher, or deeper, truth, so to speak, and it shaped and altered their religious identities in the face of the other. From there, the question arose for the researcher with a European cultural background of whether this conceptualization would be interculturally translatable.

The category of ‘truth’ and its problems in ‘Western’ traditions

At this point, for a ‘Westerner’ it seems worth pausing to reflect on intercultural translatability, to understand better the specific consistency of such re-negotiated religious identities, altered to a certain extent by the undergirding truth claims as put forward in the participants’ use of the etymologically linked words ‘benar’ (right, true) and ‘kebenaran’ (truth). In the Western philosophical tradition, in order to be acknowledged as valid, truth claims need verification. The discourse on what criteria may count for such verification spans centuries and has yielded diverse proposals (Szaif 2005).

A classic in the Christian scholastic tradition, and far beyond it, is the so-called ‘correspondence theory of truth’, originally developed by Aristotle and later famously coined by Thomas Aquinas. According to Aristotle (1989, 1011b25), ‘To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true.’ A match between object and naming provides a justified truth claim. Aquinas himself (1933, I, Q.16) referred explicitly to Aristotle and summed the argument up in the formula: ‘Truth is the adequation of things and intellect’. Aquinas would restate this formula in the explanation: ‘A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality.’ 12 Later, the assumption that words themselves, being part of a linguistic cosmos and forming a symbolic reality, should be able to represent, to stand for, or to equate things, in the non-cognitive, so-called ‘real world’, became massively criticized. For we have no direct access to an outside world of any kind, but merely to symbolic systems, that are only adequate concerning relations to other symbolic conceptualizations. The outside world ‘as such’ (the ‘thing in itself’) is hidden from our knowledge, as Immanuel Kant argued. In short: nothing can be named as it is.

There are different, incommensurable levels at play here. In the course of the philosophical discussion, there ensued a strong focus on perceptions and intentions, and on how they shape our lives and worlds, presented most prominently and sophisticatedly, perhaps, in the philosophical concepts of phenomenology, as in Fichte and Hegel and further developed by Husserl, Heidegger, and those who referred to or criticized them in an effort to establish new ontological and epistemic approaches to our lifeworld. Yet all these hermeneutic endeavours could not conceal the fact that truth claims, in their attempt to describe a reliable reality, had become precarious. Were truth claims to become, in the end, merely a matter of taste and idiosyncratic self-understanding?

In attempts to overcome this unsatisfactory situation, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, philosophical truth theories were developed that tried to come to terms with this fundamental criticism. One of those was the so-called coherence theory of truth, proposed by Otto Neurath (1931). It tried to bypass the fallacy of the classical correspondence theory of truth by suggesting that every truth claim may be regarded as verified if it could be proven to be in coherence with other, already verified truth statements. This theory was easily applicable to scientific knowledge production, which was considered to be reliably evolving. It seemed inadequate, however, for types of knowledge in which various consistent and coherent chains of argument existed or seemed possible. To take one example from a Christian context: the ordination of women is being advocated by most Protestant churches with reference to coherence with the Holy Scriptures. Yet the complete opposite – the rejection of women’s ordination – is thought to be in line, that is coherent, with Roman Catholic or Orthodox traditions, likewise based on allusions to the Holy Scriptures: coherent truth claim against coherent truth claim. It turns out that which coherence should contain more dignity and therefore be ‘truer’ has to be decided in a different way.

Another truth theory, the consensus theory of truth, was developed as a new and justifiable version of the correspondence theory, famously proposed by Charles Sanders Peirce (19581985), at least for scientific truth claims. The discourse pertaining to such claims was thought of as an open process in which every possible argument should be put forward and examined, in asymptotic approximation at a consensus, so to speak. Finally, the confidently expected outcome was that a universal ‘community in science’ would reach a ‘fixation of belief’, an imperturbable truth when every possible argument would have been examined and therefore, ultimately and inevitably, have led to a true statement in total consensus. Yet weaknesses in this highly hypothetical thought experiment also seem obvious. Amongst others, it leaves aside power relations within the ‘scientific community’, which can no longer be overlooked after Michel Foucault’s ground-breaking analyses of power.

That criticism was also brought against Jürgen Habermas when he presented his ‘theory of communicative action’. Imagining an ‘ideal speech situation’, he stated that ‘the idea of truth can be developed only with reference to the discursive redemption of validity claims’ (Habermas 1973, 218). Habermas’s theory shared what all those modern truth theories have in common, and what links them to the classical Western philosophical tradition: they build completely on the self-assertion of rational arguments that form the adequate expression of ‘rational thinkers’ upon which classical logic is based (Guttenplan 1991, 23). It seems to have almost gone unnoticed, however, that the late Habermas, when wrestling with Richard Rorty’s neo-pragmatic philosophy, finally turned away from a pure consensus theory. In writings published in the 1990s on the difference between (epistemological) truth and (moral) justification, Habermas advocated for an inclusion of pragmatic arguments into his discourse-theory for a distinction ‘between the “prevalence” (Geltung) of a judgment that is in fact acknowledged and the “validity” (Gültigkeit) of a judgment that deserves intersubjective recognition because it is true’ (Habermas 1999a, 284). The former denotes the justification of moral judgments for which it only needs ‘acceptance within the discourse community’, whereas, for the validation of truth claims, a reference to ‘facts within the lifeworld’ is always needed. (284). Access to such facts is granted not by rational operations, but only through pragmatic ‘truth intuitions’ (Habermas 1999b, 245), such as those we develop in our daily interactions with our lifeworld, as we either fail or succeed. This, then, could be of help for attempts of intercultural ‘translation’ regarding truth-perceptions as voiced by participants of SM and SLI.

Rasa’, ‘truth-making’, and ‘truth-becoming’: a contribution to intercultural epistemology

It seems to me as if this last train of thought bears great family resemblance to what our Indonesian participants described as their preferred model of truth: that, in a dialectical move, conscious abandonment of universal truth claims for their own faith tradition actually itself contained a universal truth claim on a meta-level, where the ‘intuitive’ evidence of the growth of peaceful and harmonious relationships in a joint quest for the common good is the criterion for its truthfulness. Such growth is not something one can produce deliberately or by an act of will; rather, its emergence and development is a matter of ‘becoming’, which may be sensed only in an experience of inner resonance.

Support for this transcultural hypothesis may be granted by one further observation about the interviews and discussions. Often, when it came to judgments of participants about something regarded as truthful or wrong, the terms ‘rasa’, ‘merasa’, and ‘perasaan’ were used, denoting something within the semantic field of ‘feeling’, ‘judging’, and ‘inner knowledge’. For example, students would say, ‘I felt (merasa) confused as to what I really wanted’ (Muna, SM participant, 22, student, Muslim, from Central Java), ‘What I felt (merasakan), what I was certain of’ (Elim), or ‘This is not a matter of words, but of inner attitude (perasaan)’ (Ruth). This sense of the meaning of rasa seems to be confined to colloquial usage, but it is connected to far deeper connotations: The original Sanskrit term ‘rasa’ denotes an aesthetic concept that stands for the match between artistic expressions and their reception. Stemming from Sanskrit, where it connoted ‘juice’, ‘taste’, ‘mood’, or ‘essence’, the Javanese and Indonesian loan word rasa is probably best derived from its specific use in classical Indian aesthetics. There, it was the central term for a specialized discourse on the truth and impact of theatre and poetry that spanned over 1,300 years (Pollock 2016).

The constituent parts of a drama were analysed in the oldest versions still available, within a text called ‘Treatise on Drama’ (Natyasastra). There are eight basic emotions that become communicable in the play by being translated into physical expression (for example, seductive looks). With the same purpose in mind, accompanying and supporting scenic contexts (moonlit night or pleasure garden, for instance) are analysed and categorized, as is the representation of reactions to the emotions in the play. In the performance itself, these elements are then performatively

combined into a whole, where each component is at once preserved and subsumed, that constitutes the unified emotional core of a given scene and of the play as a whole. This core is its rasa, or ‘taste,’ which may be likened to the flavor of a drink of multiple ingredients, complex but unified. (Pollock 2016, 8)An aphorism in Natyasastra reads: ‘Rasa arises from the combination of factors, reactions and fleeting feelings.’ The focus of the aesthetic cognitive interest shifted during the centuries-long discourse: from identification and analysis of rasa in the piece performed towards poetic texts and then also to the emergence of rasa in the recipient. Indian aesthetics thus became a hermeneutic discipline in today’s sense. From then on, it was concerned with ‘redirect[ing] attention … away … from the response to form and towards the form of response’ (16f.). Within the complex history of classical Indian aesthetics, textual and other analyses were supplemented by aesthetics of reception. In retrospect, one can sum up:

Considered as an internal process, the ‘expression of rasa’ may be seen as a formal capacity of the artwork for manifesting the emotional state of the character who is experiencing it; considered as an external process, it may be seen as a hermeneutical capacity of the artwork enabling viewers and readers to ‘actualize’ such an emotional state. Theoretically, therefore, rasa can be regarded as a property of a text-object, a capacity of a reader-subject, and also a transaction between the two … . In this, rasa precisely resembles the ‘taste’ it metaphorically references, which may be regarded as existing at once in the food, the taster, and the act of tasting. (26)Rasa, therefore, is more than feeling or mood (Sanskr: bhava); feeling is only one of its constituents.

As it is used in Java, the concept of rasa retains its basic aesthetic meaning with strong overtones of religious significance in Wayang (traditional shadow puppetry), dance, and theatre performances (Benamou 2010). Although the author is not aware of any study specifically devoted to the movement of the term rasa from India to Java or its enculturation beyond linguistic aspects (for which, see Gonda 1973), it seems obvious that the specific combination of aesthetic, epistemological, and moral elements characterizing the Javanese notion of rasa derived its foundation from those developments in Indian discourse on aesthetics. In terms of language history, it should be noted, too, that rasa is also used in Javanese and Indonesian literature in the sense of ‘riddle’ or ‘secret’. For this meaning, a derivation from the Sanskrit word rahasya can be assumed, which is also a loanword in Indonesian (rahasia), and has the same sense there. Both meanings merge in Javanese mystical writings as rasa.

What makes for its religious relevance is the inner alignment to cosmic forces as they reenact and secure true order and a balance of powers (Geertz 1960; Mulder 1978; Beatty 1999). In this sense, rasa is far more than just a ‘feeling’ or an ‘intuition’. It is a full-bodied, integral kind of knowledge of which rationality is only one part. As Paul Stange (1984, 27) writes,

Because rasa links the physical sense of taste and touch to emotions, the refined feeling of the heart, and the deepest mystical apprehension of the ultimate, it provides a continuum which links surface meanings to which anyone can relate to inner levels of experience which normally … appear discontinuous.These inner layers of experience and their meanings are not one and the same, but they are connected. 13 Stange, for his part, investigated the decision-making processes of Javanese mystic groups. However, what he discovered may hold true for other contexts as well: ‘the process of decision making is meant to follow a logic which is only perceptible through rasa: the focus of attention is not exclusively intellectual’ (123). But it is not irrational, either: ‘statements which offend reason are seen as automatically leading to division in “feeling” as well’ (124). Such rasa cannot be ‘made’ or ‘produced’, but is experienced as a divine gift, with which people are endowed and which grows within them.

Although what has been said pertains to specific discourses in India and to research into Javanese mystical groups, both fields of research concern deeply formative philosophical and theological convictions. So, traces of the encompassing concept of rasa still seem to be at work in everyday usage, and most certainly in a usage of the term with religious connotations as when trying to express what is right or wrong, true or false, certain or erroneous in religious truth claims as part of an endeavour to establish new attitudes towards adherents of other faiths. If that dimension of what is expressed by rasa is taken seriously as a criterion for justifiable attitudes towards adherents of different faiths, then the limits of one’s own range of justified truth claims, away from universal claims, do not seem arbitrary. Rather, they contribute to an attitude that conforms to a deepened knowledge of and a growing respect for different religious affiliations. Such an attitude, then, corresponds to the rasa of what is suitable for a harmonious and fruitful relationship. What is more, such rasa seems conversely, as it were, to set the limits for an acceptance of other than one’s own truth claims when it comes to the question of limits of tolerance: what is ‘covered’ by rasa may be tolerated.

In the interviews, tolerance was almost always described not as a passive tolerance, an anything-goes attitude, or a pragmatic tolerance that accepts differences so long as there is not sufficient power to eliminate them. Instead, what was brought forward almost univocally was a notion of an active tolerance that honours and appreciates diverse attitudes and truth claims. For Muslims, Q 109. 6 was often the basis for this attitude: ‘You have your religion, I have mine.’ Other participants frequently referred to the Pancasila notion of ‘one lordship’ in varying interpretations. According to most participants, the limits of tolerance were reached when other people’s lives and welfare were threatened by certain truth claims, such as the view that people of other faiths are condemned and should be killed. However convincing within internal logic, such radical claims were not in accordance with the basic assertions and assumptions concerning a world governed by divine will – a will assumed to be interested in the flourishing and co-existence of all of its living creatures, a will sensed (dirasakan) in a well-balanced togetherness with as little conflict between followers of different faiths as possible: ‘We must open up to each other, so as to bring about balance (keseimbangan) in life’, said Erfan (SLI participant, 24, Catholic, from Central Java).

As this example of assessing religious tolerance and its limitations may show, arguments put forward for seeking rational assent seem to go hand in hand with, or are even embedded in, convictions that make themselves known through and approved by rasa. When comparing this conclusion with what has been said about truth intuition as necessarily accompanying a process of verification, a suggestion may be made in relation to efforts to describe shifts of religious paradigms and re-constructions of religious identity: however distinct from each other the discourse contexts of young Indonesians and persons of ‘Western’ origins regarding truth questions may be, in order to verify truth claims, rational verification seems to be necessary in both contexts.

But, as interview statements show, there is more to a verified truth claim than that. The notions of rasa and truth intuition must not be neglected as dimensions of processes for establishing truth in its function of supporting and grounding religious identity. Other than in the Indonesian contexts under investigation, this seems not yet to be an integral part of truth theories in Western contexts, apart from the very tentative, pragmatically inspired approach of Habermas. I would like to propose, therefore, that, at least for describing religious truth-finding processes, the notion of truth-making, or verification, should be supplemented by the notion of truth-becoming, or ‘verifiation’. This would help the understanding of truth-finding processes not only as an active enterprise in which some new perspective is taken and tested, but also as an experience in which something happens to a person and in which that person also experiences himself or herself as passive. That is to say, something experienced in the encounters, as described by the participants, plays a major role. Such verifiation, once acknowledged as an integral part of religious truth-finding and along with identity-shift processes, may provide a fuller understanding of these kinds of change processes, especially when the interaction between verification and verifiation is taken seriously and investigated. This may, in fact, hold true for other change processes as well, like the social-psychological notion of ‘cognitive dissonance’ and its implications (Festinger 2019). But however this may turn out, what young Indonesian adults shared in this present study about the shaping of their perspectives regarding other religions, and the changes they had undergone, may be enough to test the suggested epistemological term of verifiation in intercultural, interreligious theorizing.


This article is based on my research as part of the Contending Modernities Working Group on Indonesia supported by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA. I wish to extend my gratitude to all my fellow researchers: Dr Pradjarta Dirdjosanjoto, Ambar Istiyani, and Agung Waskitoadi from the Percik Institute, Pdt. Augustina Elga Joan Sarapung, Otto Adi Yulianto, and Meike Karolus from Interfidei, and Prof. Nicholas Adams, from the University of Birmingham, UK.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).

Additional information


This work was supported by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame.


1 For most recent, online accesible studies, see. Pew Research Center (2019; for USA); Liedhegener et al. (2019; for Germany and Switzerland); Curtice et al. (2019; for the UK).

2 For Germany, see Orth (2017).

3 See, for example, Schröder (2013), and a joint declaration on ‘Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct’ (World Council of Churches [20112012]; Lienemann-Perrin and Lienemann [2012]).

4 For an up-to-date overview and analysis regarding Germany, see Daase, Deitelhoff, and Junk (2019); a sample of systematizing European ethno-religious conflict analysis is provided in Emerson (2009). Counter- and de-radicalization are high ranking issues in research on national and international defense and security policy (Lombardi et al. 2015). For a detailed, exemplary post-structural criticism of the British ‘prevent’ strategy, see Martin (2019).

5 All numbers and estimates according to Badan (2010).

6 For this term, see Chow (2012). In this impressive book, Chow analyzes theatre plays, films, and art works of Eastern and Western origin and correlates them directly in a creative way.

7 The background for this consideration, agreeing on the benefits for all intercultural research partners and participants other than a financial one, still seems not to be the standard. The dominant paradigm, Indonesian collaborators complain, still seems to be one that strongly leans towards a colonial approach: Westerners briefly visiting their research field, digging up the desired information, and writing up their research, which is published in the West. More often than not, the articles or books produced are not even sent back to the participants and research partners overseas.

8 A graphic illustration, also for discursive entanglement, is the use and conceptualization of the term ‘religion’ in religious studies. No consensus has been reached so far on the extent to which it may count as a translation of dīndharmaagama, and so forth, or how it should be defined. For an overview and new approaches, see Hock (2002) and Bergunder (2011).

9 All translations from the Indonesian interviews are my own.

10 Aji boarded in the following Pondok Pesantren: Minjahut Thullab in Banyuwangi (NU), Miftahus Sa’adah in Jombang (NU), Ittihadul Asna near Klumpit (‘Salaf’), and Al-Islah near Cengek (NU).

11 Interviewer Otto, in interview Ervan.

12 ‘ … quando adaequatur ei quod est extra in re, dicitur iudicium verum’ (Aquinas 1986, I, 3).

13 In this, I follow Benamou’s criticism of Geertz (1960), for whom in rasa ‘feeling and meaning are one’ (Geertz 1960, 239; cf. Benamou 2010, 54).Previous articleView issue table of contentsNext article

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