Re: Call for Papers -- the Athropological Canon on Indonesia.

Gerold Firl (
7 Oct 1996 20:05:58 GMT

In article <>, Ronald and Katryne Lukens Bull <> writes:

|> Gerold Firl wrote:

|> > Interesting; I wonder if you could amplify on what you mean by
|> > "anti-islamic".

|> First, I mean a bias against Islam based on Europan folk-theories. Clifford Geertz's
|> seminal work _Religion in Java_ was heavily informed by missionaries. These kindly folk
|> defined Islam in a particlaur way s othat there work could continue. To admit that
|> Islam had entrenched itself in Java would mean that they would have failed.

How so? If islamic "missionaries" had "converted" java several centuries
ago, and yet islam remained a thin veneer above previous layers of hindu,
buddhist, and animist beliefs, then wouldn't that indicate that the
chances of imposing the One True Faith on the natives were pretty dicey?

|> John Bowen observes that, until recently, Indonesianists ignored the study of
|> Islam in their preparation for field work. This happened in spite of that fact that
|> those, €working in mainland Southeast Asia had immersed themselves in the study of
|> Theravada Buddism, and all South Asianists were conversant in matters of caste€
|> (1993b:3). Woodward argues €the systematic neglect of Islamic studies by
|> Indonesianists has deep roots in British and Dutch Orientalism" (1996:14). Therefore
|> it is useful to briefly explore the development of this tendency.

I think you are right that islam has been downplayed in indonesian studies,
but I'd like to suggest a different cause: while nominally moslem, indonesia
is the *least* islamic of all islamic cultures. Poking up under the veil are
the obvious bones of previous ideologies. It's more interesting to understand
the roots of indonesian syncretism than to dwell on the more superficial links
with islamic culture. It's not that anyone *denies* that javanese *call*
themselves moslems; it's just that they don't *act* like moslems. That
contradiction provides a convenient place from which to understand indonesian

|> Raffles asserts that Javanese Islam is not fully Islamic because the Javanese
|> "are still devotedly attached to their ancient customs and ceremonies (few of which they
|> have sacrificed to their new faith)" (1965 [1817] I:322). In Raffles' view, Islam has a
|> "very slight hold" on the Javanese (1965 [1817] II:5). He states,
|> .... although the Mahometan law be in some instances followed, and it can be considered a
|> point of honour to profess an adherence to it, it has not entirely superseded the
|> ancient superstitions and local customs of the country (1965 [1817] I: 277).

How was raffles mistaken? Can you describe how he was wrong? Lets take the
two quotes you excerpted above: in what way are they untrue?

|> Geertz suggests that, in Java, there are three main social-structural nuclei:
|> the village, the market, and the government bureaucracy. These nuclei connect Geertz's
|> five occupational types: "farmer, petty trader, independent artisan, manual laborer, and
|> white-collar clerk, teacher, or administrator" (C. Geertz 1960:4) to his three
|> cultural/religious types: abangan, santri, and priyayi. The nominally Muslim peasant
|> villagers adhere to the abangan tradition, which forms "a basic Javanese syncretism
|> which is the island's true folk tradition" (Geertz 1960:5). Santri are middle class
|> traders, village chiefs, and well-to-do peasants whose economic lives center on the
|> market. Santri are more conservative in their expression of the Islamic faith than
|> either the abangan, or the priyayi (1960:5-6, 40-41). The priyayi are white collar
|> government bureaucrats descended from the traditional aristocracy (1960:6). They
|> practice a form of religion derived from the court Hindu Buddhism of the pre-Islamic
|> era. Woodward argues that the Geertz€s view of Javanese religion became paradigmatic
|> and €is exemplified by otherwise credible scholars taking the marginality of Islam in
|> Indonesian culture as a given€ (1996:31).

Given the evidence, it does seem like a pretty reasonable assumption. In
what way do the tenets of islam guide indonesian life?

|> Another variation of the paradigm suggests that the conversion of Java was never
|> more than a surface change. Benda argues that Indonesian Islam began as a largely
|> urban phenomenon (1958:10). Furthermore, in those areas where Hindu civilization had
|> been strong (e.g., Central and East Java) Islam did not have a strong impact upon the
|> religious, social, and political spheres (Benda 1958:12). In these arenas, Islam
|> adapted itself to the part-Javanese, part-Hindu-Buddhist traditions which preceded it.

Yes - right - ok

|> According to Benda, the greater significance of Javanese Islam was in politics rather
|> than religious affairs. A change of faith (to Islam) "did not bring about radical
|> change in religious and social life on Java" (Benda 1958:12). Such a position is
|> echoed by M.C. Ricklefs, who denies that the conversion to Islam significantly alter the
|> fundamentally Hindu/Buddhist character of Javanese religious thought,
|> To be Javanese is, for the majority, to be abangan Javanese; the santri Javanese is
|> perceived by the bulk of Javanese society as person who has to some extent removed
|> himself from the social and cultural environment (1979:127 as cited in Woodward
|> 1996:32).

Could there be a reason why all these scholars have noted the
superficiality od javanese islam? Besides the missionaries, that is?

I guess a budding scholar needs some way to distinguish himself from the
crowd; when your lance gets imbedded in the windmill blade, hold on tight.

|> This variation of the paradigm assumes that to be a €real Muslim€ one cannot be a €real
|> Javanese€ (Woodward 1996:33).
|> The paradigm in Java studies which states that Islam is not important to the
|> Javanese is indicative of a general problem in the anthropological study of Islam.
|> Javanists took an essentialist view of Islam which defined it according to a
|> shar€ia-centric orientation. Local Islamic practices fell outside of this limited
|> definition of Islam and were declared non-Islamic.

what if those "local islamic practices" pre-date islam? Shall we call a
gamelan drama about prince krishna a "local islamic practice"?

|> > To the casual observer, the view of islam as a fairly
|> > casual veneer over a hindu/buddhist indic/animist indigenous culture
|> > looks pretty accurate.

|> That is why we need non-casual observers!!!!

Great; I'd love to learn more about javanese and indonesian culture.

Disclaimer claims dat de claims claimed in dis are de claims of meself,
me, and me alone, so sue us god. I won't tell Bill & Dave if you won't.
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=---- Gerold Firl @ ..hplabs!hp-sdd!geroldf