“Borderless spirituality in a plural Asia: tomb-sites and normative national pieties”

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Date(s) - 17/03/2014
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

ACJC Seminar Room Building H, 8th Floor (H8.06 H8.05)


Trans-Asia as Method with CSEAS

“Borderless spirituality in a plural Asia: tomb-sites and normative national pieties

Speakers: Dr Lewis Mayo (the Chinese Studies Program at Asia Institute, Melbourne University) & Dr Julian Millie (co-convenor of the Monash Anthropology program)

Monday 17 March 2014, 12.00pm1.30pm,

ACJC Seminar Room, Building H Level 8,

Monash University Caulfield Campus

Light lunch will be provided.



For Chinese Indonesians, the category of “national religion” has been a disquieting one, at least since the revolutions of the mid 20th century that produced the present-day nations we know as Indonesia and China.  Membership in the Indonesian nation has been contingent on every Indonesian citizen formally aligning himself or herself with one of the nationally-defined and nationally-approved religions.  This has created problems for those whose personal religious commitments were eclectic or non-existent, and for adherents of forms of religion which did not have official endorsement. Chinese folk religion, by and large, did not receive official sanction from the Indonesian state, and particularly during the age of heightened Sino phobia under the New Order, involvement in it was often seen as foundationally incompatible with a commitment to the Indonesian nation. (Significantly, Chinese folk religion was also the target of state opposition in the People’s Republic of China, and it has been given ornamental status at best in China, right up until the present.)  Scholars of Indonesian Islam have long emphasised the difficulties encountered by highly indigenised or heterodox forms of Islamic practice in the post-revolutionary era, and especially under the New Order, where the state has often colluded with the proponents of Islamic modernity, such as the major Indonesian Islamic organizations, to oppose these styles of Indonesian Islamic practice and belief.

In light of these phenomena, pilgrimage sites ‘shared’ by followers of Chinese popular religion and the spiritual current known as Kejawen (Javanese belief) are important sites of contemporary religious expression and observance, for they display ways of being religious and/or spiritual that cut across the ideals that have gained normative force in contemporary Indonesia and China. In this talk, Julian Millie and Lewis Mayo will reflect on their research concerning the tomb at Mount Kawi (Gunung Kawi), near Malang in East Java. The Malay and Chinese language guides to the pilgrimage sites associated with the tomb and its occupant, the Sino-Javanese holy man Eyang Jugo, are particularly illuminating; since they make representations about a site in which highly indigenised Islamic and Chinese Indonesian folk religion converge.  These texts and the religious beliefs and practices to which they relate are the very entities, which the category of national religion in modern Indonesia has defined itself against.  They also represent a very different set of images of Chinese Indonesian culture from those which are often promoted in the literature on the subject, which has often stressed the loyalty of Sinophobe Indonesians to a normative or orthodox vision of Chinese culture, be it that of Confucianism or that of Chinese nationalism.  Yet this is something more than a case of religious and cultural syncretism or hybridity: what can be seen in these texts, one can argue, is a convergent form of religious universalism in which local geographies of spiritual power – both “Chinese” and “Javanese/Islamic” – are joined quite seamlessly to large religious cosmologies – Chinese, Javanese, Indic and Muslim. These texts embody what was meant by Denys Lombard’s representation of Java as a “crossroads of civilization”.

(Previous publications from this collaboration: 2010 ‘Driving under the new order’. Inside Indonesia 99: Jan-Mar, 2010)