Universitas Indonesia Conferences, The 8th International Symposium of Journal Antropologi Indonesia

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Religious modelling of a natural disaster: a cultural semiotic analysis of the post-disaster emergency and recovery processes of the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia
Muzayin Nazaruddin

Last modified: 2022-05-27


This study investigates the interrelations between natural disasters and religion through three major questions: how religion shapes disaster interpretations and the post-disaster emergency and recovery processes, how a disaster transforms religious practices, understandings, and institutions, and how religious interpretations may be contingent with scientific explanations of the same disaster event. Taking the case of the Aceh society after the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami, this study applies the Lotmanian cultural semiotic approach, especially his ideas on the semiosphere and explosive changes. This paper argues that, on the one hand, Islam is the central modelling system of the Aceh culture that provides two interrelated post-tsunami functions: explaining the inexplicable disaster and guiding the subsequent actions. On the other hand, the tsunami has changed the form and structure of the religious Aceh society, indicating an explosive change within Aceh culture. The post-tsunami explosive moments in Aceh were characterized by the cultural self-reflection concerning three fundamental questions: what is the meaning of the tsunami, why did it happen, and how to continue living after such a catastrophe. Several alternative trajectories of development were available in post-tsunami Aceh, but only some of them were selected for the sake of the integrity and stability of the society. Such cultural decisions were grounded on two major choices: selecting the dominant interpretation of the tsunami as a trial from Allah and choosing the Sharia system to attain a better Islamic Aceh society in the future. This paper also finds the contingency of religious and scientific interpretations of the tsunami among the Acehnese, showing that those two interpretations have different social functions. Moreover, preserving this contingency in tsunami memorials indicates that Aceh culture has highly valued such compound understanding.


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