Islam in Indonesia

The Contest for Society, Ideas and Values

November 2015 9781849044370 376pp


Indonesia’s Muslims are still pondering the role of religion in public life. Although the religious violence marring the transition towards democratic reform has ebbed, the Muslim community has polarised into reactionary and progressive camps with increasingly antagonistic views on the place of Islam in society. Debates over the underlying principles of democratisation have further heated up after a fatwa issued by conservative religious scholars condemned secularism, pluralism and liberalism as un-Islamic.

With a hesitant government dominated by Indonesia’s eternal political elites failing to take a clear stance, supporters of the decision are pursuing their Islamisation agendas with renewed vigour, displaying growing intolerance towards other religions and what they consider deviant Muslim minorities. Extremist and radical exponents of this Islamist bloc receive more international media coverage and scholarly attention than their progressive opponents who are defiantly challenging this reactionary trend. Calling for a true transformation of Indonesian society based on democratic principles and respect for human rights, they insist that this depends on secularisation, religious toleration, and freethinking.

Conceived as a contemporary history of ideas, this book aims to tell the story of these open-minded intellectuals and activists in the world’s largest Muslim country.


‘Ideas matter deeply in contemporary Muslim politics. Their urgency and richness are particularly compelling in Indonesia, which is in the throes of one of the most hopeful if contested political transitions in the contemporary Muslim world. In this timely and well-written book, Carool Kersten provides an intellectual history of the ideas and debates among rival Muslim thinkers vying for influence in Indonesia’s unfinished democratic transition. His account of debates over secularism, pluralism, liberalism, and Islamic law is without peer, and shows a keen understanding of the relevance of these ideas for political and ethical reform elsewhere in the Muslim world. This superb book should be read by anyone interested in the ideas at stake in Indonesia and the varied contests animating modern Muslim politics everywhere.’ — Robert W. Hefner, Director, Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs, and author, Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia

‘With his characteristic mix of theoretical sophistication, textual sensitivity, and analytical subtlety, Carool Kersten has navigated the complex and contested terrain of contemporary Islamic intellectual production and debate in Indonesia. This landmark study provides a much needed re-reading and re-mapping of what interested but uninformed observers have understood only dimly and often through false dichotomies and stereotypes. Through this exemplary piece of sympathetic but critical scholarship, Kersten has provided an immeasurable service to Indonesian Islamic intellectuals and outside observers alike.’ — John T. Sidel, London School of Economics and Political Science


Carool Kersten is Senior Lecturer in the Study of Islam and the Muslim World at King's College London. He is the author of Cosmopolitans and Heretics: New Muslim Intellectuals and the Study of Islam and co-editor of Demystifying the Caliphate, both published by Hurst.

Request an academic inspection copy Request a press review copy
Inspection Copy Request
Review Copy Request
Join our mailing list

Subscribers receive exclusive discounts and early access to new books from Hurst.