On May 15, 2006, Centers for Southeast Asian Studies at UCLA and UC Berkeley hold a conference on “Islam in Southeast Asia.” I had an honor to be invited to present a paper. As Geoff Robinson (UCLA) and Jeff Hadler (UC Berkeley), the organizers, stated the conference was aimed to talk about Islam in a non-traditional way. Islam has received public and scholarly recognitions either as a religion closely related to “terrorism,” or as a religion that is not incompatible with democracy, as Robert Hefner once argues. Although the conference has yet to reached the objective, its invitation to open a non-traditional, critical discussion of Islam should be welcome.
I would like to propose three broad domains that we could explore to embark on a critical study of Islam in Indonesia: Islamic arts, Islamic laws, and Islamic psychology. These themes do not suggest that we need to “Islamicize” arts, laws, and psychology. These are simply heuristic tools to look at critically how Islam enters the domain of artistic representation, codification and enaction of laws, and social counseling. These domain illustrate that Islam is always caught up in politics, although not in a traditional sense of running against or supporting democracy. In other words, one critical step to offer a more informed study of Islam, in Indonesia or elsewhere, is to move beyond the morally implicated category of ideology.