Reading List and Discussion Questions on Religion and Tolerance in Indonesia

As the largest Muslim nation, Indonesia has the potential to shape the way the world's fastest growing and most contentious religion is perceived worldwide.

While Indonesia has decided not to join the Saudi-led military alliance against terrorism, Indonesian Muslims are adding their own voice to the global, multifaceted narrative by promoting peace and tolerance via the activities of Nahdatul Ulama, the country's largest Muslim organization that was founded as a counterforce to Wahhabism, which has been promoted in Java by Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Islam has been called a possible "counter-narrative" to radical Islam, and President Joko Widodo has spoken of the aspiration that Indonesia serve as a "leading light" in the Islamic world. Amid growing Islamophobia and populism in Europe and the United States, a more complete picture of Islam is crucial, and Indonesia can serve as an ideal case study to provide such a broader view.

Carnegie Council would like to thank Mary Vo for her contribution to this project.

Week 1: At a Glance

Kersten, C. (2014). "Religious Pluralism versus Intolerance: Sectarian Violence in Indonesia." Middle East Institute. Available at:

Talbot, S., Brad S., and Joko W. (2015). "A conversation with President Joko Widodo of Indonesia." Brookings Institute. Available at:

The Economist. (2016). "Tiger, tiger, almost bright." The Economist. Available at:

Other Sources:
The Economist. (2016) "The country of the future." The Economist. Available at:

Foreign Policy Association. (2012) "PBS Great Decisions Excerpts: Indonesia's Transition to Prosperity." Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • What are some defining characteristics of Indonesian society? What obstacles has Indonesia overcome in its development as a country?
  • What current issues does Indonesia face today? What are Jokowi's hopes for Indonesia's future?

Week 2: Pluralism

Scott, M. and Devin S. (2016). "Islam and Pluralism in Indonesia." Carnegie Council. Available at:

Hamid, S. (2016). "What's different about Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia?" The Aspen Institute. Available at:

The Economist. (2016). "With God on whose side?" The Economist. Available at:

Other Sources:
Asia Foundation (2016). "Asia Foundation's Program Peduli Releases Short Film on Inter-Faith Inclusion in Indonesia." Asia Foundation. Available at:

Cochrane, J. (2014). "An Ethnic Chinese Christian, Breaking Barriers in Indonesia." The New York Times. Available at:

Crouch, M. (2014). "Proselytization, Religious Diversity, and the State in Indonesia: The Offense of Deceiving a Child to Change Religion." in Proselytizing and the Limits of Religious Pluralism in Contemporary Asia, edited by J. Finucane and R.M. Feener, 17-40. Singapore: Springer Science+Business Media.

Questions to Consider:

  • Is Islam in Asia different than in other parts of the world? What characterizes pluralism in Indonesia? Are the differences between groups stark enough to be divisive?
  • Indonesia recognizes six religions in its society but punishes atheism. Does this run counter to the ideas of pluralism and democracy?

Week 3: Democracy and Islam

Buehler, M. (2009). "Islam and Democracy in Indonesia." Insight Turkey. Available at:

Pisani, E. (2014). "Indonesia in Pieces." Foreign Affairs. Available at:

Schonhardt, S. (2014). "Q&A: Who Benefits Most From New Elections Law?" Wall Street Journal. Available at:

Wahid, D. (2014). "The Challenge of Democracy in Indonesia: The Case of the Salafi Movement." Islamika Indonesiana. Available at:

Anwar, M. (2016). "The Paradox of Indonesia's Democracy and Religious Freedom." Freedom House. Available at:

Other Sources:
Harsono, A. (2012). "No Model for Muslim Democracy." The New York Times. Available at:

Owen, J.M. (2015). "What history says about the prospects for Islamic democracy." The Washington Post. Available at:

Pisani, E. (2015). "What's Wrong with Dynastic Politics?" The New Yorker. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • Are democracy and Islam compatible? Some scholars argue that the theocratic principles of Islam (authority from God) are fundamentally incompatible with democracy (power from the people). But others argue that Indonesia has been an exemplar of Muslim democracy. Is Indonesia a successful Muslim democracy?

Week 4: Law Enforcement

"Annual Report 2015/2016." Amnesty International. Available at:

Pisani, E. (2016). "Widodo's Desperate Executions." The New Yorker. Available at:

Coca, N. (2016). "Indonesia Prepares for Another Round of Executions." The Diplomat. Available at:

Other Sources:
The Economist. (2016). "Time for Tito." The Economist. Available at:

Cochrane, J. (2016). "Raid on Indonesian Food Stall Prompts Fears of Fundamentalism." The New York Times. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • Is law enforcement influenced by interests other than abidance to written law? Is there a risk of law enforcement becoming a tool of majority interests?

Week 5: Military

Kapoor, K. and Fabi, R. (2015). "Indonesia's military creeps back into civilian affairs." Reuters. Available at:

Laksmana, E. A. (2015). "Indonesia's Modernizing Military." Foreign Affairs. Available at: (Paywall).

Fabi, R. (2016). "Indonesia's 'red scare' stokes unease over military's growing influence." Reuters. Available at:

Other Sources:

Nehru, V. (2016). "Indonesia: The Reluctant Giant." The National Interest. Available at:

Parameswaran, P. (2015). "What Does Indonesia's New Military Chief Pick Mean?" The Diplomat. Available at:

The Economist. (2013). "A special force." The Economist. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • Some critics worry about nationalist sentiment emerging in Indonesia. Yet nationalism comes from a feeling of superiority of identity over other countries. In a multicultural, pluralist country, what type of nationalism could emerge in Indonesia and how would it manifest if it hasn't already?

Week 6: Women

Rinaldo, R. (2014). "Pious and Critical: Muslim Women Activists and the Question of Agency." Gender & Society, Vol. 28 No. 6. Available at:

The Economist. (2016). "Taking the cop out of copulation." The Economist. Available at:

Robinson, K. (2016). "Religion, gender and the state in Indonesia." East Asia Forum. Available at:

Topsfield, J. (2016). "Feminism in the spotlight as Indonesia celebrates Kartini Day." The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at:

Other Sources:
Kwok, Y. (2014). "Gang Rape Then Caning: Welcome to Aceh's Bizarre Moral Crusade." TIME. Available at:

Pisani, E. (2015). "In Indonesia, women (not) behaving badly." Nikkei Asian Review. Available at:

Crane, Brent. (2015). "Indonesia's War on Women." VICE. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • How do women's issues overlap with religion in Indonesia? Do they come at a crossroads in society and politics?

Week 7: Tolerance, Intolerance, and Civil Rights

Emont, J. (2015). "Transgender Muslims Find a Home for Prayer in Indonesia." The New York Times. Available at:

Davies, S. (2016). "Indonesia's anti-LGBT panic." East Asia Forum. Available at:

Kotarumalos, A. (2016). "Indonesia's top court hears case on criminalizing gay sex." Associated Press. Available at:

Emont, J. (2016). "Islamist Intolerance Poses a Growing Threat to Indonesia's Minorities." TIME. Available at:

Other Sources:
Parameswaran, P. (2014). "Is Indonesia Really The World's Most Tolerant Muslim Country?" The Diplomat. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • How do civil rights play a part in Indonesian society and government? What parts of society have been most responsive to demands from marginalized groups? Does Indonesia exhibit tolerance for these groups? If so, in what capacity to what extent?

Week 8: Political Islam

Coca, N. (2014). "Is political Islam rising in Indonesia?" Al Jazeera. Available at:

Kuo, M.A. and Tang, A.O. "Political Islam in Asia: Rhetoric, Reality, and the US Presidential Race." The Diplomat. Available at:

Hamid, S. (2015). "Column: What most people get wrong about political Islam." PBS NewsHour. Available at:

Sumakyoto, N.G., Ottati, V., and Untoro, V. (2015). "The Paradoxical Religiosity Effect: Religion and Politics in Indonesia and the United States." American Political Science Association. Available at:

Other Sources:
Cochrane, J. (2014). "In a Nation of Muslims, Political Islam is Struggling to Win Votes." The New York Times. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • Is Islam a unifying or dividing factor in Indonesian politics? Are Indonesian citizens very religious, and if so, how large a role does religion play in politics?
  • Critics have different takes on the likelihood of political Islam rising in Indonesia, but is it, in fact, rising?

Week 9: Fight against Extremism

Mackey, W. (2016). "Indonesia: Staying Calm and Carrying On." The Diplomat. Available at:

Cochrane, J. (2015). "From Indonesia, a Muslim Challenge to the Ideology of the Islamic State." The New York Times. Available at:

Liow, J.C. (2016). "ISIS Reaches Indonesia." Foreign Affairs. Available at:

Macdonald, G. (2016). "How to ISIS-Proof a Muslim-Majority State." The National Interest. Available at:

Other Sources:
Aiyar, P. (2015). "In Indonesia, Madrassas of Moderation." The New York Times. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • As a democracy with a Muslim majority, can Indonesia offer a model of resistance to counter extremism and terrorism? Can it offer lessons to other democracies in general?

Week 10: Culture, Media, and Morality

Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in London. "The Philosophical Basis of Human Rights in Indonesia." Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in London. Available at:

Werntz, K. (2014). "Indonesia's fatwa shows religious duty can be a route to sustainable behaviour." The Guardian. Available at:

Irvine, D. (2013). "Shedding light on Indonesia's shadow puppet tradition." CNN. Available at:

Barkin, G. (2014). "Commercial Islam in Indonesia: How Television Producers Mediate Religiosity Among National Audiences." International Journal of Asian Studies, 11, 1. Available at:

Other Sources:
Strangio, S. (2014). "The heavy hand of religious police in Aceh." Al Jazeera. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • From where does Indonesia draw its moral and ethical values? Do they come from religion, cultural traditions, media, secularism, or elsewhere? Are current measures to enforce morals in and of themselves moral?

Week 10.5: Indonesia's Global Role

Parameswaran, P. (2015). "The Trouble with Indonesia's Foreign Policy Priorities Under Jokowi." The Diplomat. Available at:

Coca, N. (2016). "Indonesia's Hesitancy on the Global Stage." The Diplomat. Available at:

Anwar, D. F. (2014). "Indonesia's foreign relations: policy shaped by the ideal of 'dynamic equilibrium.'" East Asia Forum. Available at:

Questions to Consider:

  • Moving forward, Indonesia has a large role to fill in the Asia-Pacific as a regional power, but can it live up the global expectations of being an economic giant and Muslim-majority democracy? Is there anything keeping Indonesia from achieving its full potential?