Volume 3, Issue 2, Autumn 2017
Approaches to Religion
Joel S. Kahn
The Inner Lives of Javanese Muslims
Modern Sufi Visions in Indonesian Islam
This paper draws on fieldwork in Indonesia and uses its findings to clarify questions about the differentiation of trends in contemporary Islam. Modernist and reformist currents are commonly distinguished from the Islamist revival that finds expression in political and sometimes violent activism; but a closer look at the field suggests a more diversified picture. A current of inner-oriented piety, akin to the Sufi tradition but also responsive to modern conditions and challenges, is documented through interviews with Javanese spiritual leaders. The methodological issues raised by this approach are not unrelated to those accompanying the ‘ontological turn’ in anthropology; in this case, they have to do with an esoteric Islam oriented towards the sacred and the secular worlds at the same time, critical of the legalism too often identified with Islam, and open to dialogue with other religions. On the historical level, the roots of this religious orientation should be sought in the mystical traditions that grew out of Islam’s encounter with Hinduism and Buddhism in the Indonesian archipelago.