Friday, February 10, 2012

Muhammadiyah and the Origins of Intolerance in Indonesian Islam

Missionaries, Modernists and the Origins of Intolerance in Islamic Institutions

Jeremy M. Menchik

Stanford University; University of Wisconsin-Madison


APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper

Why are some Islamic institutions more tolerant than others? This basic question has far-reaching implications. Islamic movements have considerable sway in the policies of newly democratic Egypt, Tunisia and most other Muslim-majority states. Islamic movements are likewise important for the formation of social trust; recent scholarship suggests that democratization in Muslim counties is more likely to occur when Islamic institutions are able to build networks of cooperation across religious differences, while scapegoating and sectarian polemics between religious groups increases the likelihood of violence. I answer this basic question by focusing on Islamic institutions in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and one of the most diverse. Using archival material and newly collected survey data, I argue against the notion that theology or ideology shape interethnic relations and show that local politics during the late colonial period explains the policies of contemporary Islamic institutions.

Before the national awakening period (pergerakan, 1880-1930), Javanese society was religiously homogenous with overlapping social identities and indistinct boundaries between them. Yet by 1930, there were deep social cleavages between groups. Archival material suggests that locally specific conditions in West, Central and East Java polarized society differently in each region: in West Java the primary divisions were between Christian/Muslim and Modernist/Traditionalist, in Central Java the divisions were similar but shallow and emerged late in the period, and in East Java only the Modernist/Traditionalist divide was salient. These different modes of polarization were then reflected in the policies of the emergent Islamic institutions Muhammadiyah, Nahdlatul Ulama and Persatuan Islam. Contemporary survey data demonstrates that regional differences endure in the attitudes of elites. These findings suggests that rather than using ideological or theological explanations for patterns of tolerance and intolerance, scholars examine the lived experiences of Islamic leaders within their local and historically rooted contexts. 

Menchik, Jeremy M. 2011. "Missionaries, Modernists and the Origins of Intolerance in Islamic Institutions." APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

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