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Panel 8. Religious Revivals in Southeast Asia: Transnational and Comparative Perspectives

Chairs: Syed Muhamad Khairudin Aljunied (National University of Singapore); Ermin Sinanović (US Naval Academy)

This panel seeks to explore transnational and comparative dimensions of religious revivalisms across the Southeast Asian region. Together, papers for the panel hope to promote a shift from the inordinate attention given to the study of “Islamic revivalism” and “Islamic Reassertion” to look at parallel developments within other world religions. As such, the panel calls for papers that engage with Hindu, Buddhist, Judaic, Christian, Islamic, and other forms of religious revivalisms in order to establish connections between them and the elective affinities within these varied forms of revivalisms in an age of globalization. Among the themes the panel hopes to examine in transnational and comparative perspectives are the following: interactions between religious practices and market-based globalization, democratization and religion, relations between old/traditional and new forms of religiosity, challenges to traditional religions in the region, structure-agency-voluntarism interactions in religious revivals, dynamics across the orthodoxy-fundamentalism-revivalism axis, charismatic revivalism and new pieties, revivalist social movements, women and religious revivals, family and community. We hope to gather a variety of disciplinary and inter-disciplinary approaches, from the humanities to social sciences.

Session 1

Chair: Syed Muhamad Khairudin Aljunied (National University of Singapore)

Paper 1: Transnational Theo-Politics: The Development of neo-Salafism in Southeast Asia

Naveed S. Sheikh (Keele University)

The migration, internalization and consolidation of norms are facets of globalization, which are, as other facets, not unrelated to power politics. Predicated on such theoretical observations, the present paper seeks to interrogate the normative and praxiological effects of that transnational theo-political complex sometimes referred to as Salafism or neo-Salafism within the regional context of Southeast Asia. The paper first situates the neo-Salafi movement in its political and intellectual history within the regional context of an inter-Arab Cold as well as an international context of a global Cold War between rival material ideologies. From the outset, the theo-politics of neo-Salafism has remained simultaneously distinct from other streams of political Islam, insofar as local contexts (rather than imperial imperatives) have determined the contours of the movement as well as its social and political effects at a domestic level. The present paper examines the case of neo-Salafism in Southeast Asia, linking developments with both prior historical context and the particular stakes of the patron, actors, beneficiaries and constituencies in the ongoing struggle for ascendancy, both ideational and political. This leads to interesting conclusions about extraregional powers’ historical and contemporary involvement in the transnational neo-Salafist movement, the effects of the neo-Salafist movement in diverse locales, and the ongoing struggle to define what Islam means qua political form.

Paper 2: The Double-Edged Sword of Islamic Reform Movement: Muhammadiyah and the Dilemma of Tajdid within Indonesian Islam

Masdar Hilmy, (IAIN Sunan Ampel Surabaya)

Muhammadiyah is an organization that was, and still is, obsessed with how Muslims can achieve modern civilization through the adoption of modern science and technology. One of the motifs behind such an obsession is that Muslims should not left behind the West in advancing modern civilization. Muhammadiyah’s reform was translated at the praxis level by establishing “secular” schools which differ in nature from those of NU’s pesantren. It is thanks to tajdid, an instrumental reasoning, that Muhammadiyah can achieve such a remarkable achievement in Islamic reform. This reform movement, however, can be like a double-edged sword in that on one side Muhammadiyah can swing its reform pendulum into progressive interpretation of Islam. Its purificationist vision contained in the slogan “directly return to the Qur’an and Hadith” can nevertheless lead this organization to regressive interpretation of Islam. In case of the latter tendency, Muhammadiyah can risk its tajdid to be replaced by taklid, a version of religious interpretation dominated by uncritical imitation in understanding Islam. This paper seeks to analyze the extent to which the majority member of Muhammadiyah is struggling with the attempt to deal with the rise of conservative mode of interpretation within the body of this organization.

Paper 3: Contestation of Islamic Public Space and Harmonious Life of Jambi Malay Muslims: A fragile experience from Sumatra?

Suaidi Asyari (Australian National University)

It has long been argued by scholars from both Indonesians and foreigners that Indonesia is a model of religious tolerance to the Muslim world. However, a dramatic increase of intolerant acts against minorities between 2009 and 2012 across the country has challenged this argument. How did the majority respond to it has been completely ignored by all for a very long time. Cases in which Sumatran ‘traditionalist’ Malay Muslims should abandon their own mosques at the cost of being tolerant are very significant examples of how they manage disharmony potentials. In addition, how they balance between religion, family and social life in a contestation over ‘Islamic public space’ for the sake of a harmonious society is an example par excellence. In this paper I present a valuable harmonious life in Jambi Malay Muslim community despite so many actions that can lead to conflicts have similar actions occurred in other parts of the world. I also consider and contextualize the long term implications of these responses, particularly regarding the maintenance of a healthy democratic society.

Session 2

Chair: Ermin Sinanović (US Naval Academy)

Paper 1: Religious Revivalism in Malaysia and the Philippines

Timothy P. Daniels (Hofstra University)

This paper explores religious revivalism in the majority-Muslim society of Malaysia and majority-Catholic society of the Philippines.  It investigates the religious ideas, dynamic interface, and elective affinities of the Islamic revival in Malaysia and charismatic Catholic revival in the Philippines.  Both of these revivalisms, influenced by transnational religious movements, has spread widely and deeply influenced social and political structures in their respective societies.  Normative notions of “Islamic norms” and Pentecostal Christian notions of “prosperity gospel” were diffuse in these religious revivals and meaningful in social and cultural contexts extending far beyond that of religious rituals.  Whereas the Islamic revival stressed personal, social and structural transformations, the charismatic Catholic revival laid stressed personal transformation.  In view of the above, this paper seeks to highlight some key aspects of the dynamic interface of these revivals with other social forces in their broader national contexts, and the elective affinities between their religious orientations and political-economic systems.

Paper 2: Digital Revivalisms: Southeast Asian Islam in Comparative Perspective

Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir (Nanyang Technological University); Syed Muhamad Khairudin Aljunied (National University of Singapore)

This paper explores a social phenomenon that we term as digital revivalisms to make sense of the recent reassertion of religion in the public sphere. By using Southeast Asian Islam as a foil to understand the trajectories of various world religions, we argue that religious revivalisms in the region have entered into a new stage of effervescence, one that is more belligerent which find expression in the form of blogs, internet forums, social networking sites and online videos. The digital revivalisms of Islam in Southeast Asia could only be more fully comprehended by situating it within three overlapping spheres, foremost being the rise of the virtual ummah as observed by Gary Bunt (2009). The second contributive factor that will be examined is how the competition among religions particularly between Christianity and Islam has been a catalyst for increased proselytization among world religions. Last but not least, the paper demonstrates the ways in which digital revivalisms of Islam is a consequence of the youth bulge in Muslim communities across Southeast Asia and the ease of access to the new media. Far from seeing a crisis of religious authority, digital revivalism of Islam has re-established the roles and legitimacy of the laity just as it has brought back the centrality of charismatic authority into the public domain.

Paper 3: Comparative Religious Responses to Women who Like Women (WLW) in 21st-century Singapore

Jun Zubillaga-Pow (King’s College London)

Empirical research (Detenber 2007) has shown the common perceptions of ‘lesbianism’ in the general populace, but its social visibility continues to be on the rise due to her heteronormative configuration and the waves of activist demands. While support groups from both sides of the fence have been swaying the grassroots for almost two decades, there continue to be a lack of discursive writing on the precarious valence of ‘being’ a religious WLW, even before ‘doing’ something about it. Given that most recent scholarship on WLW has deliberated on the opinions of a group of ‘Christian fundamentalists’ (Chong 2012), this paper aims to include the Islamic and Chinese-spiritual responses and implications for the local WLW. While the ‘contingent lesbian’ (Ahmed 2010) and the ‘lazy native’ (Alatas 1977) are conflated in a single figure of the Malay-Muslim WLW, the Chinese-spiritual WLW reveals herself infrequently during an event which I will call the ‘red thread suicide’. In comparison, some of the Christian WLW have themselves segregated from the mainstream and formed their independent religious community. Their decade-long female presence is marked by the annual sermon read around International Women’s Day. Hereby, this paper proposes a necropolitical discourse of religious revival vis-à-vis female sexualities.

Paper 4: Charismatic Christianity and Identity Formation in Southeast Asia

Juliette Koning (Oxford Brookes University)

This paper explores the explosive growth of Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity in Southeast Asia and its ‘popularity’ among ethnic minorities in Indonesia and Malaysia in particular. The case as such invites to discuss broader theoretical (processes of religious identity formation), methodological (the study of religious beliefs), and regional issues (the revival of charismatic practices across religions in South East Asia).