In This Review

Religious Pluralism in Indonesia: Threats and Opportunities for Democracy
Religious Pluralism in Indonesia: Threats and Opportunities for Democracy
By Chiara Formichi
Cornell University Press, 2021, 276 pp

Close to 90 percent of Indonesians are Muslim, but there are five other officially recognized religions in the country, plus hundreds of folk and new religions. To knit the country together, Sukarno, one of Indonesia’s founders, articulated the principle of the political equality of all religions. But in deference to Muslim sensibilities, he added that all should recognize one God—placing religions such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and folk traditions in an ambiguous position of being tolerated but not fully approved of. As this lively, informative multi-author volume shows, Islamists from the beginning argued that Indonesia should be an Islamic state, and they pressed this demand with renewed force after the country’s transition to democracy in 1998. Indonesia has witnessed an increase in observant behavior among Muslims, the widening of a policy role for a semiofficial Islamic council, the incorporation of principles of sharia into regional law codes, more prosecutions of non-Muslims for blasphemy, and rising support for Islamist movements and parties. Christian and Hindu populations have reacted by imposing their own values on minorities in regions where they dominate. Sukarno’s optimistic template for tolerant pluralism has given way to hardening boundaries along religious lines.