Jeremy Menchik on Islam, Tolerance, Democracy, & Indonesia
Date: April 23rd, 2017

Indonesia currently represents the largest Muslim-majority democratic country in the world, successfully balancing a plethora of ethnic, religious, and geographic divisions.  Jeremy Menchik, an assistant professor in the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, explains how the Indonesian state is able to promote “Godly nationalism” while promoting tolerance towards religious minorities including Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and even various sects of Islam (e.g., the Ahmadiyah).  Prof. Menchik begins by discussing how he came to study Indonesia, tracing his interests back to his academic family as well as a novel method of choosing dissertation topics — the “PI index.”  We then review the basic geography, demographics, and history of Indonesia, a country comprised of more than 17,000 islands.  Jeremy defines what it means to be a “consolidated democracy” and how this multi-ethnic, geographically-dispersed country fits into that definitional category.  This conversation includes a comparison with European notions of democracy based upon Lockean concepts, and how Muslim versions of democracy differ.  One of the primary differences is that in Indonesia, the state is seen as a force for promoting spirituality as compared to a neutral secularism.  While favoring a religious worldview, though, the state is careful to show tolerance towards non-Muslim minorities.  Communists, we learn, have a bigger uphill battle to have their ideological disposition recognized.  Jeremy further details the three major groupings of Islam — Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Muhammadiyah, and Persatuan Islam (Persis) — and how these different organizations vary in terms of their tolerance to other religions and secular political groups.  One of the key factors explaining the variation is the exposure of different geographical groupings of Muslims to Christian missionaries in the past century.  The discussion includes how Hindus — known for polytheism — are blended into a regime of tolerance.  We finish the discussion with Jeremy’s thoughts on what the rest of the world can learn from Indonesia, along with his appreciation for the role of intellectual humility in the academic profession.  Recorded: April 21, 2017.

RELATED LINKS

Prof. Jeremy Menchik’s bio at the Pardee School of Global Studies (Boston University).

Prof. Jeremy Menchik’s personal website and Twitter feed.

Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance without Liberalism, by Jeremy Menchik.

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