After a careful process of selecting the core research team, the Contending Modernities Authority, Community, and Identity (ACI) working group on Indonesia formally launched last year to begin a three-year research project to better understand the complex issues facing plural societies and to foster possible collaborations among various actors, religious and secular, at different levels: local and global, individuals and communities. The working group first convened in April, 2015 to think boldly and imaginatively together about conceptualizing an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural collaboration by scholars, religious leaders, educators, and activists at the highest level of achievement.
While the working group addresses broad issues of the changing dynamics of authority, community, and identity, at this early stage we focus on the largest Muslim majority country in the world: Indonesia. Given that Indonesia is the third largest democratic country (after India and the United States), it has much to teach about managing religious diversity. Indonesia is a laboratory for research on the changing dynamics of authority, community, and identity with diverse religions and more than three hundred different ethnicities and languages spread across over six thousand islands. Now home to more than 200 million Muslims–and with a significant number of Christians, including Catholics–Indonesia is a newly consolidated democracy in which new models of pluralist coexistence are today reformulated, promoted, and contested.
There are at least three issues that inform the shared vision of the Indonesian working group. The first is how to generate and energize a broad conversation about the changing patterns of authority, community, and identity in the modern context. Second, how to situate this working group within a broader framework of research and, third, how to translate our research into a broader public discourse.
The first shared vision is informed by the very idea of “contending modernities” to understand the ways in which Christian, Muslim, and secular forces interact, collaborate, negotiate, and contend with one another in the modern world. While each member of the working group engages different issues, their overarching concern revolves around problems of coexistence, which involves at least some degree of interaction, cooperation, and collaboration across the lines of religious and ethnic divisions. However, in the process we can expect some tensions, contention, and contestation.
The topic of coexistence is itself of obvious importance in the context of our working group. Coexistence can be seen as a lens through which we seek to understand themes of contending authorities, communities, and identities in plural and dynamic interaction. We take seriously the rich and contending varieties of religious as well as secular actors and the ways in which they work together or contend with one another in addressing the most pressing problems at various levels.
We envision this working group to be a catalyst for conversations among various research institutes and think-tanks that will open new paths forward for constructive collaboration across religious communities and between religious and secular actors. In order to energize and shape a serious conversation–not only among a small group of scholarly academics and researchers, but with broader and diverse participation from opinion leaders–it is important for the Indonesian working group to bring other local research think-tanks and representative thinkers from the three discursive communities (Christian, Muslim, and secular) into direct conversation and collaboration.
This leads us to the last vision, namely, how to translate our research into a broader public discourse. While this working group is first and foremost a scholarly enterprise, it is also designed to impact public discourse, influence educational content and practice, and place scholarship in the service of informed policymaking. With external actors and opinion-leaders as our interlocutors, the Indonesian working group will be in position to promote deeper intercultural and interreligious conversations on issues of peaceful coexistence so as to improve the quality of public discourse and policy making.
Given the complexity of “contending modernities” in general, and the shifting nature of the authority, community, and identity in particular, the working group seeks to foster public deliberation through dialogue between Muslim and Catholic scholars, along with representatives of other religious traditions and secular perspectives. The goal is to stimulate learned public discourse, improve education, and enhance the project of peaceful coexistence through shared perspectives within pluralized societies–both locally and globally–by providing accessible information, analysis, evaluation, and policy-relevant studies.
Therefore, we anticipate that the outcomes and products of our working group will represent an unusual effort to marry theory and practice in fostering multiple forms of coexistence.