Accepted paper:

Staging difference: dynamics of religious othering among Catholics and Muslims in West Flores, Eastern Indonesia


Sabine Zurschmitten (Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Berne)

Paper short abstract:

The research focuses on the reconfiguration of the religious field in post-Soeharto Indonesia, where religious antagonisms have become more pronounced, more political, and more important as primary loci of social identification. I concentrate on the various strategies with which local people in Western Flores follow these trends and how they stage religious difference.

Paper long abstract:

The common characterization of the island of Flores as the Catholic enclave of Indonesia, ignores the minority of local Muslims and Muslim migrants who have been living peacefully with their Christian neighbours for a long time. Flores stands "on the margins of conflicts" and has not been affected by the vast eruption of so-called "religious" and "ethnic" violence, the country suffered after the fall of the President Soeharto in 1998. Presently, political discourse in the Indonesian public sphere is conducted on moral-religious terms, and the politics of decentralization causes the re-negotiation of political and religious authority on a local scale. Religious motivated violence is mediated through images, narratives and conspiracy theories, which are circulating through various, formal and informal, channels such as different media, religious movements, and networks of religious activists. The question I'm primarily concerned with is, how rural mixed Christian-Muslim societies in Western Flores are maintaining cohesive forces that are challenged by influences from outside. The situation is ambivalent: On the one hand, local Catholics and Muslims are bonded together closely through a system of kinship and marriage alliances as well as the shared adat, a complex system of cultural traditions. These bonds have averted and overcome religious differences. On the other hand, local people have started to stress their religious identification and thereby have given rise to a shift of hierarchy amongst collective identity references. These new dynamics of religious othering create a distance between the religious groups, and frequently result in mutual distrust, uncertainty, and fear.

panel W053
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