Indonesia has the potential to become a leader in the global Islamic community, University professor of Indonesian society and culture Bernard Adeney-Risakotta said at an event Oct. 2 in the Intercultural Center.

The discussion, hosted by the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, centered on religion and democracy in Indonesia. Adeney-Risakotta spoke about his new book, “Living in a Sacred Cosmos: Indonesia and the Future of Islam,” which was published in August and addresses the future of Islam in Indonesia. John Esposito, School of Foreign Service professor and founding director of the center, moderated the event.

NATALIE ISÉ FOR THE HOYA Bernard Adeney-Risakotta urged both Western and Indonesian scholars to look beyond the rise radical Islam and into elements of Indonesia’s secular society at an event in the Intercultural Center Oct. 2.

Indonesia will likely influence Islamic discourse in the future because of the country’s emphasis on preserving Islamic tradition, Adeney-Risakotta said.

“As time goes by, Indonesia is going to have a greater and greater influence on Islam and on the rest of the world, because Indonesians — many Indonesians — are not ashamed of Indonesian Islam. If anything, they think it’s superior to Middle Eastern Islam,” Adeney-Risakotta said. “They do not think that Islam needs to be cleansed from all traditions and cultural expressions. They think that it needs to be preserved and strengthened.”

A rising tide of radicalism is reshaping Indonesian Islam, according to Adeney-Risakotta.

“There’s a lot of people who are very concerned about what is happening,” Adeney-Risakotta said. “There has been a rise, an increase in radicalism, increase in polarization, increase in certain kinds of oppression.”

Western intellectuals’ focus on the radical elements of Indonesian Islam obscure the more secular parts of Indonesian society, according to Adeney-Risakotta.

“I think most Western scholars and most Indonesianists, even Indonesian Indonesianists, very often focus on the rise of radicalism, the rise of intolerance, the rise of conservative Islam in Indonesia and the eclipse of what used to be called the Abangan, or the […] less observant Muslims in Indonesia,” Adeney-Risakotta said. “And I think the focus on that may be really hiding some things that are extremely important for us to pay attention to.”

Indonesia has historically welcomed and tolerated religious diversity because of its multireligious and multiethnic population, Adeney-Riskotta said.

“It was a crossroads for people from all over, and while Europeans powers fought with each other constantly, Indonesia depended on trade — being 17,000 islands, it depended on trade — and so it developed a long tradition of tolerance,” Adeney-Riskotta said.

Still, Indonesia remains culturally separate from what Adeney-Risakotta labels the world’s four “Axial civilizations” — China, India, the Middle East and the West — despite these civilizations’ influences on Indonesia’s history, according to Adeney-Risakotta.

“The four Axial civilizations that laid the foundation for the modern world are all deeply a part of Indonesia, but Indonesia has not become one with any of them,” Adeney-Risakotta said. “It’s not part of China, it’s not part of the Sinosphere, it’s not part of India, even though it was called the Dutch East Indies, it’s not part of Europe and it’s not part of the Middle East. It’s its own creation, which has, I think, something to offer to the rest of the world.”

Indonesians may struggle with their identity as the world and the country continue to develop, rapidly increasing average life expectancy and literacy rates, Adeney-Risakotta said, but he expressed optimism for the future of the country.

“I have a lot of hope for the future of Indonesia,” Adeney-Risakotta said. “There’s a lot of hope for the influence of Indonesia on the rest of the world.”

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