“Religious Practice and Political Participation in Indonesia: Is there a Link?”
Assistant Professor of Political Science
Department Chair of Russian, Central,
and East European Studies
Religion has a longstanding role in Indonesian public life, with religious organizations serving as important actors in the political realm, including the country’s democratization efforts. Yet, since the end of authoritarian rule in 1998, increased freedom of speech and a strengthening of political rights have contribute to an increased politicization of religion and rising tensions between the limits of religious tolerance. What is the connection between religious practice and political participation? This project examines the role of houses of worship in facilitating political participation among Indonesian Christians and Muslims. Drawing on participant observation of over 350 worship and non-worship gatherings in eight Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic religious communities in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, as well as interviews with members of these communities and an original survey, this project investigates several key questions: 1) what opportunities exist for members of Indonesian worship communities to develop and practice the civic skills that are believed to facilitate political participation? 2) are individuals exposed to political messages in their houses of worship? and 3) is there observable variation across religious denominations regarding the intersection of religious practice and political opportunity? Research findings show that mosques are less likely to develop civic skills among their worshippers than are churches, but are also more likely to use religious spaces for political communication. These findings have important implications for the interaction between democracy and religion in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.