Book Summary

Wardah Alkatiri (2018), Religious Extremism di Era Post-Everything. Perspektif Teori Kritis. Indonesia, Jakarta-Surabaya: Akademika-UNUSA Press

The book offers a new perspective against the reportedly rising Islam’s religious extremism in Indonesia. The author begins with an argument about the need to unmask the politics of naming. Hence, phrases like ‘religious extremism’ need to be defined clearly and purged from colonial-imperial hegemonic and ideological overtone. Her argument implies to distinguish between an (1) extreme individual piety, (2) violent extremism, and (3) political populist exploitation of religion. She argues that defining the level of one’s individual piety is hardly possible due to the value-laden nature. Measuring how high one’s piety is moderate or extreme is subject to the observer’s as well as the actor’s own religiosity, and hence, cannot possibly come to an agreeable standard for everyone. Thus, the author asserts the need to recognize the terminological pitfalls in this kind of study. Her work refuses to pathologize individual piety of all kinds and advocates respect to diversity in Indonesian society whereby different levels of piety is to be considered as the variations alongside race, gender, ethnicity, religion, political leanings and so forth.

Eventually, the Muslim’s religious extremism phenomenon in Indonesia is viewed against the background of larger anti-religious forces within the modernization and secularization project in post-colonial world context. The evident correlation between economic growth (and hence capitalist forces), and the secularization in the Third World, is alluded.

With an expert interviews qualitative research method, the research focuses on sixteen postgraduate works that have been undertaken by Indonesian scholars on religious extremism. It explores psychological and sociological theories to explain what motivates extreme behavior and cognition on individual and collective levels. Thereby, in the same manner that human sciences have been used in the past and present to demystify the experiences of religious faith, the psychological and sociological theories in this work are employed to ‘demystify’ religious extremism.

A critical theory perspective was adopted to do away with the Third World passivity and fatalism vis-à-vis capitalist domination, and to allow an anti-positivist paradigm that makes room for interpretive social sciences in which the non-Western people’s ‘world of meaning’ is acknowledged.

Ultimately, this work shifted the discussion of Islam’s religious extremism from a subject matter of Theology to a subject matter of Human Sciences, and from its permanent seat in Islamic Studies to the one in Development Studies.

A recommendation can be made for future research. Further research of Sunni Islam’s religious extremism in Indonesia needs to take into account the nascent Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict and its concomitant Shia-Sunni competitions, as well as the rising activities of Christian missionaries to convert Indonesian Muslims precisely on the basis of what has been perceived as Islamic violence that the Muslims should change their belief.

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