Civil Islam Revisited: Indonesia and Beyond
Date : 23 Oct 2017
Venue : Asia Research Institute, Seminar Room
AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC
Download Program and Abstract

Robert Hefner’s landmark work, Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia (2000), argued that democratization in Indonesia hinged upon the emergence of a civil pluralist discourse among Muslim elites and activists. Indonesia’s successes in democratic consolidation within the context of a religiously pluralist state uphold that proposition in significant ways.  Yet, as the twentieth anniversary of transition approaches, it is unclear whether civil pluralist voices retain their pre-eminence within discourses on Islam’s relationship to state and society. Nor is it clear how Indonesia will reconcile the growing influence of Muslim conservative politics to the pluralist framework of the Pancasila state. These questions are not unique to Indonesia; rather, they animate intersections of Islam and democracy more broadly, and are evident in a diverse set of cases: from Tunisia to Turkey, and from Bosnia to Bangladesh. 

This workshop re-examines Hefner’s concept of civil Islam, and its relationship to democratization and pluralism, from the vantage point of 2017 —nearly two decades on from transition. It examines the diverse and evolving role of Muslim activists, elites and organizations in democratization processes, both in Indonesia and comparatively. Conference panels will make reference to the work of Robert Hefner and the broader public religion literature, of which Civil Islam is a prominent example. Presentations in the workshop will explore various forms and manifestations of civil Islam (in politics, among social organizations, and in everyday life), as well as countercurrents among Indonesian Muslims. It will also consider the relevance of civil Islam to discourses on democracy and pluralism in other Muslim-majority states, such as Turkey, Tunisia, and Malaysia.

The workshop focuses on the following questions:

  • How prominent or influential is civil Islam today, some two decades after Indonesia’s transition to democracy? What are the implications of an apparent conservative turn among Indonesian Muslims, as theorized by scholars and seemingly demonstrated in the recent Jakarta gubernatorial election, for the concept of civil Islam?
  • How do Indonesian political institutions and social organizations generate, sustain, or potentially undermine civil Islam as an approach or perspective on democracy and pluralism?
  • How relevant is the concept of civil Islam to discourses on democracy and pluralism in other Muslim-majority countries?

Given democratic setbacks in Turkey and Egypt, as well as ongoing debates over the limits to religious pluralism in Indonesia (most notably in the recent Jakarta gubernatorial election), this workshop is also extremely timely.  This workshop is an opportunity for scholars to share their research, debate key concepts in the study of Islam and politics, and draw out implications of this research for Indonesia and other Muslim democracies. This workshop will contribute to a novel understanding of how civil Islam has transformed, been challenged, and contributed to democratization and the maintenance of religious pluralism in Indonesia and elsewhere.

This workshop will serve as a novel and timely contribution to comparative scholarship on Islam, democracy, and pluralism. It will deepens understandings of Islam’s relationship to democracy and pluralism, as well as civil Islam’s place within a democratic society that is paradoxically more stable and more prone to destabilizing identity politics.



Admission is free, and seats are available on a first come, first served basis. We would greatly appreciate if you click on the "Register" button above to RSVP.


Dr Gustav Brown
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
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Dr Amelia Fauzia
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
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Contact Person(s)
Valerie YEO