Universitas Indonesia Conferences, 7th International Symposium of Journal Antropologi Indonesia

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Islamic difference and public recognition in the bureaucratic era
Julian Patrick Millie

Building: Soegondo Building
Room: 523
Date: 2019-07-26 08:00 AM – 09:30 AM
Last modified: 2019-06-21


In the 1970s, Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs announced that more post-graduate students of Islam were to be sent for post-graduate study to western universities, as opposed to the centre of Islamic learning such as Egypt’s Al-Azhar. The motivation behind this was to create Muslim graduates with ‘modern and critical attitudes’. The paper reflects on this decision, drawing on discussions with graduates about their study trajectories, and also on our reading of the (currently flourishing) genre of ‘Islamic study-travel literature’. This decision was a salient moment in the process whereby Indonesia’s Muslim sphere acquired the categories of public and counter-public. Graduates of western universities return, we find, prepared with ‘modern, critical attitudes’ shaped in high quality research centres dedicated to enhancing the individual’s potential as researcher. The paradigmatic career path for such graduates is that of researcher (university, survey company). Al-Azhar graduates return with the goal of giving service in the routines of everyday Islamic practice. The paradigmatic career path is preacher (Middle-East graduates far exceed western graduates in the ranks of successful preachers).  The minister’s decision is useful, we argue, for understanding how the former religious subjectivity (‘modern and critical’) came to acquire such public approval, while the latter is frequently represented as retrograde and even subversive. The paper includes reflection on the labels public and ‘counter-public’, and discusses why there were no serious objections to the minister’s decision, which created a new class of scholar-exemplars, but also placed a new aura of difference around concepts of Islamic expertise that are ordinary and mundane for many Indonesians.



Islam; Religious practice; Public spheres; Islamic Education; Governance of Religion