Interfaith Dialogue: Bridging Multiculturalism and Peace In Indonesia

Bridging Multiculturalism and Peace In Indonesia

Interfaith Dialogue: Bridging Multiculturalism and Peace In Indonesia


‘People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.’ 
– Andrew Smith 
Multiculturalism – peaceful coexistence with differences (Hoon, 2013) – is not exactly easily achieved and implemented. Perhaps, the biggest challenge to multiculturalism is Smith’s famous say abovementioned. Men have strong tendency to get uncomfortable facing social and cultural differences. Instead of living harmoniously men generally reject what they do not understand and even hate it at some point. Ethnic and religious conflicts in diverse countries act as evidence of this hypothesis. 

Indonesia might be suitable to support Smith’s quotation. Encompassed with more than 300 ethnic groups and 700 languages, Indonesia is inarguably one of the most diverse countries on the planet. This undoubtedly brings certain challenge in maintaining the existence of peace in the country. With ‘Unity in Diversity’ – or Bhinneka Tunggal Ika in Bahasa – as national motto, Indonesia has consciously put awareness of this particular situation. Accompanied with Unity in Diversity as its national motto and Pancasila as national ideology, Indonesia is supposedly ready to accommodate this diversity. 

Interfaith dialogue has been used around the world to assist multicultural countries bringing peace, including by Indonesia. Sadly, it is widely known that Indonesia has been dealing with conflicts related to religion (Poso, Lombok, Halmahera, Ambon, and elsewhere) and ethnicity (Central and West Kalimantan) for years (Sidel, 2007) that have put people of Indonesia to unfortunate social and economic position; not to mention series of threats to cultural state. This brings us to the following question: how to conduct effective interfaith dialogue to keep peace amongst Indonesian people? 

The answer to this question will be presented in this paper which is a product of a qualitative research, where the researcher studies causal relations between available variables. Instead of gathering information from primary resource, in this research, information will be gathered mostly by focusing on secondary data collection. Chosen information gathering method is a result of the fact that gathering information through primary resource (interview, focus group, or direct observation) seems academically unlikely. The secondary resource data collection involves intensive identifying, verifying, and analyzing information from relevant books, reflexive journals, various texts, and official documents. 

Conceptual Framework 

The concept of Cosmopolitanism is highly related to multiculturalism realm. The idea of kosmopolites, the citizen of the cosmos (Heater, 1999) has existed for more than two millennia, but it has never seemed so real and tangible to so many people as it does today (Skrbis, Kendall, & Woodward, 2004) There are three Cosmopolitanism’s assumptions. First, men as individual human being are the most important morale and political unit. Second, every man has equal morale status. And third, every man is to present equal consideration towards one another as member of global community. That is why to practice Cosmopolitanism is basically to apply three dimensions of understanding: expose, explore, and experience. 

To expose is to be open about the differences exist among us. This of course cause certain problems to many of us since the limit of being open or tolerant sometimes is exactly where the line of our traumatic life experience is located. Someone who had been robbed in their life might find a person walking on the street with a gun or a knife as criminal without even getting to know that person. Skrbis, Kendall, and Woodward suggested to be cosmopolite, this kind of fear or trauma must be eliminated and it requires openness to what Cosmopolitanism academics call as ‘the otherness’. The term the otherness in Cosmopolitanism refers to exactly every other person but you. In this particular study, the otherness in Indonesia would refer to other ethnicity and other religion; in other words, the otherness is every single other cultural background from someone’s cultural background. 

The second dimension of understanding is to explore. Exploring simply challenges us to go out of our comfort zone and interact with the others, no matter what is it and who we do it with. Take an example of a student from Papua studying in Jogjakarta where he or she will meet people with different social and cultural background, then invite them to small conversation. The last one is to experience otherness. According to Skrbis, Kendall, and Woodward, by definition, to experience asks us to commit something we find challenging, uncommon – to experience the otherness. An act of people from Sumatran trying Javanese food in this context will be a perfect example. Or a man experiencing how it feels to be a woman and vice versa. Once we’ve completed three dimensions of understanding, we are one step closer to become a cosmopolite. 

Implementing Cosmopolitanism in daily life will significantly improve or understanding about the otherness. By understanding other ethnicity and religion we are opening our mind to respecting cultural differences existing around us. This then leads us to accepting phase that instead of rejecting – denying the existence of multi cultures – we choose to peacefully coexist. This might seem to be ideal but there is no harm in trying to be so. The next part of this paper will discuss what measures – instruments or efforts – needed to be taken to at least achieve what Cosmopolitanism suggest: to live together as member of global community. 

How to Conduct Effective Interfaith Dialogue? 

It is completely unfair to claim that the government of Indonesia has done nothing regarding coexistence amongst cultures in Indonesia. The most prominent one is probably interfaith dialogue. It is believed that interfaith dialogue pays great contribution in creating peace in countries with vast plurality. 

Internationally, Indonesia has been actively promoting and enhancing interfaith dialogue at even three levels. At bilateral level, Indonesia has been conducting interfaith dialogue with peer multicultural countries such as Argentina (2012), Austria (2009 and 2010), Bulgaria (2010), Canada (2008), Chile (2012), Czech Republic (2010), Ethiopia (2011), Germany (2010, 2011, and 2013), Greece (2011), Hungary (2010), Italy (2009 and 2012), Lebanon (2008 and 2011), Netherlands (2009), Pakistan (2012), Poland (2011), Russia (2009), Serbia (2011), Spain (2010), The European Union (2010), The United Kingdom (2008), The United State of America (2010 and 2012), and Vatican City (2008). At regional, Indonesia has also been contributing in the following several forum – and playing host as well: Asia Pacific Interfaith Dialogue in Yogyakarta, Cebu, Phnom Penh, Perth, and the latest in Semarang (2012) which initiated Semarang Plan of Action; The ASEAN-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Interfaith Dialogue; The Asia Pacific Inter Faith Youth Camp (APIFYC) which was held in Surabaya in 2004; APEC Intercultural and Faith Symposium in Yogyakarta (2006); and Asia-Europe Youth Interfaith Dialogue in Bandung (2008). And at multilateral level, Indonesia was involved in Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation and in United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UN AOC). Moreover in 2014 Indonesia acted as host for The 6th UN AOC Global Forum (“Indonesia Prakarsai Interfaith Dialogue”, 2013). 

Obviously Indonesia is quite successful in the eye of international community. And how about Indonesia’s success story at domestic level? Before we jump on that, we need to establish main different between interfaith dialogue at international level and at domestic level. One thing to be kept in mind is that Indonesia is distinctive, compare to other plural countries. Almost the rest of those countries that have been in interfaith dialogue with Indonesia are dealing with immigrant issue. Being multicultural by accommodating immigrants is way different with being naturally multiculturalism. Indonesia does not need additional element to be called plural. On the other hand, countries like Canada, Germany, Italy, The United State of America, The United Kingdom, etc are countries whose citizen are encompassed with several ethnicity and religions coming from outside its land. 

Dealing with multiculturalism that brought by immigrants does not acquire the essence of Cosmopolitanism as much as Indonesia needs. All people from refuge countries and the immigrants have to do is to work together. They need to work on adaptation. Why? Because one simply can’t – and should not – deny the existence of other’s cultural background. The host and the guess are both coming from different sovereign countries whose cultures are legitimate and not to be ignored or denied. The worst outcome from this scenario is economic conflict where perhaps immigrants are better at making income. 

Indonesia on the other hand is – once again – multiculturalism by nature. It has national language, six officially recognized religions (Islam, Christianity or Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism), and yet we hear the word Christianization and radical Muslim. Even more Indonesia has the Joint Decree No. 1/1969, issued by the Minister of Religion and Minister of Home Affairs to control religious activities and the building of places of worship (later replaced by the Joint Ministerial Regulation on Places of Worship, 2006) and The Joint Decree of 1979 prohibited religious propagation, and restricted the reception of foreign aid by religious institutions.[1] On top of that we found intra-religion conflicts, like the in 2005, the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) prohibited Muslims from praying with non-Muslims and unending debate within three main Christian movements in Indonesia regarding how to fulfill the Great Commission (Hoon, 2013). 

As it was already stated, the government of Indonesia has been working pretty hard to convince its people that Unity in Diversity is indeed the national motto and Pancasila is Indonesia’s national ideology; meaning that government has also been paying attention at domestic level – not focusing only at international level which most of times is concerned closely related to political agenda. Antara News recorded “Within the national level, the establishment of provincial districts and sub-district inter-religious consultative forums are some results of the empowerment policy. Until now, the Indonesian administration, under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, has conducted such forums in all 33 provinces throughout the country, which have been carried out in about 420 regencies, out of the total 490 within those provinces.” (“Indonesia Promotes and Enhances Interfaith Dialogues”, 2013). 

Seeing that Indonesia has effectively participating and hosting several interfaith dialogues, why then these series of religious conflicts still exist? What could possibly have not been done to make it effective? First from personal level, Indonesian people have been taught to be religious instead of spiritual. In family, school, even at work, religious dogma has been socially constructed into our minds. This has delivered us to a point that we accept religion as powerful entity that we behave accordingly, obey its rules, and avoid making sins. Furthermore in country like Indonesia, religion has been proven to be the most effective political instrument (after money of course). Once religion has been politicized, it is unlikely for people to analyze and find the truth. 

Second, Indonesia’s constitution grants every person a right to worship according to their religion or belief. This means that the government has authority upon religious matter whereas in almost all of other plural-multicultural countries, the states and religions are completely unrelated – separated – and religion is considered as personal matter which has nothing to do with states’ matters (read: mostly politics). 

Third, only few of Indonesian people are aware of the concept of Cosmopolitanism; let alone who actually implement it in their lives. The terms Christianization and radical Muslim bluntly proves that deniability and rejection (followed with disgust and hatred) are the main actors when it comes to plurality. It’s highly understandable though. Given that since we were born we have been raised with religion hugging us tightly, we have become fundamental of our religion and believe that ours is the only one that is right. And since others’ are wrong, we are obliged to eradicate it and encouraged to perform religious propagation. 

Ramírez in his writing ‘Peace through Dialogue’ offers us few things to apply into effective interfaith dialogue. He suggests “For a positive dialogue with people of other cultures and civilizations, we have to start listening to each other, never speak about past misdeeds, respect others' opinions, and tolerate differences without contrasting values unnecessarily. This leads to a better understanding of others, for it is very important to understand cultures without stereotypical misuses of history, and we need attitudes toward real reconciliation through a forgiveness not disconnected from truth and justice.” (Ramírez, 2007). 

To be Cosmopolite is no easy task, especially with those who have traumatic life experience. But there is nothing wrong in trying. People need to learn to try to break their limit and it can be done – in this context of work – by simply listen to others. Ramírez also offers steps-prescription to accomplish this. The first step should be trying to prevent future revenges, forgetting past quarrels and mutual bad memories about misdeeds and misunderstandings. Second step is to respect others’ opinions or agree to disagree. Respectful disagreement – not harmony, not close friendships – is the key to business success; it encourages a more constructive debate which results in more profitable decisions. Third step is to have tolerance and understanding. This includes elimination of differences between ‘us and them’. Next, step four is to learn more to better knowledge of other cultures. One thing to emphasize is that Cultures are not singular things; they are bundles of characteristics highly ambiguous in their definitions: language, religion, history, customs, and institutions. The last step is to reconcile with the past. Ramírez put massive pressure on forcing us to forgive. One thing to underline, Thoresen stated “Mounting evidence shows there are emotional and physical health payoffs from the act of forgiveness. But forgiving doesn't mean condoning or deciding to forget offenses, or even necessarily reconciling with offenders.” (as cited in Ramírez, 2007, p. 78). 

The prescription written by Ramírez and Thoresen is indeed will effectively work once peace education has been taught. A holistic understanding of religion accompanied with peace-making knowledge will make a terrific team in peace-building. Each one of these will complete another in creating peaceful coexistence amongst multicultural people. Just like in Physics realm, religion is a Theoretical Physicist, peace education is the Experimental Physicist. Combination of these two assists us to understand the universe well. 


Multiculturalism might be perceived as challenge to creating peace; Indonesia has provided solid evidence to this hypothesis. To face this, interfaith dialogue has been chosen to assist multicultural countries but only when it is done correctly. To fulfill the ‘quality over quantity’ policy; Indonesian people need to be prepared before jump into domestic interfaith dialogue since success stories in contributing and hosting international level interfaith dialogue does not necessarily mean that Indonesia has similar experience at domestic level. Several step-by-step strategies including being tolerant, patient, open to other religion knowledge are offered to prepare Indonesian people. Simultaneously to achieve peace, the concept of Cosmopolitanism is imperative and needed to be socialized immediately. In this Postmodern era the more Cosmopolite society, the bigger the chance to accomplish peace. Interfaith dialogue eventually will bridge multiculturalism and peace. 

Makalah ini disampaikan dalam Seminar Call For Paper dengan tema: 
“Seeking the Peace and Prosperity of Our Nation” Yang dilakukan oleh 

Keluarga Mahasiswa Kristiani Pascasarjana (KMK PS) UGM


[1] In his paper, Hoon also mentioned about “The Marriage Law No. 1/1974, which recognizes only marriages registered with the Civil Registration Office, and not those registered with religious institutions. This law made inter-religious marriages increasingly difficult from the 1990s, as the Civil Registration Office would refuse to register them; The Education Law No. 2/1989 (replaced by Education Law No. 20/2003) required religious education teachers to be from the same religion as the students; the Law No.7/1989 on the Religious Court (to deal with Muslim legal matters) was seen by the Christians as step towards realizing the Jakarta Charter and Islamic State.” As for intra-religion debate within Christianity was focused on the approaches of three main movements within Christianity (Ecumenical, Evangelical, and Pentecostal) regarding doctrinal issue, the nature of Gospel, and liturgical matter.

  • Hoon, C. Y. (2013). Between Evangelism and Multiculturalism: The Dynamics of Protestant Christianity in Indonesia. Social Compass, 60(4), 457-470.
  •  Ramírez, J. M. (2007). Peace through Dialogue. International Journal on World Peace, 24(1), 65-81.
  •  Skrbis, Z., Kendall, G., & Woodward, I. (2004) Locating Cosmopolitanism between Humanist Ideal and Grounded Social Category. Theory, Culture and Society, 21(6), 115-136.
  • Heater, D. (1999). What is Citizenship? Cambridge: Polity Press.
  •  Sidel, J. T. (2007). Riots, Pogroms and Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.
Online Article
  • Indonesia Prakarsai Interfaith Dialogue. (2013, May). Tabloid Diplomasi. Retrieved from
  •  Indonesia Promotes and Enhances Interfaith Dialogues. (2013, December). Retrieved from

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