Saturday, 26 April 2014

Dr Budhy Munawar-Rachman: Defender of Religious Pluralism in Indonesia

Dr Budhy Munawar-Rachman
Budhy Munawar-Rachman, a leading figure in what I call Indonesia's third generation of postcolonial Muslim intellectuals, has received was doctorate by the Driyarkara School of Philosophy, on the basis of a thesis entitled Titik Temu Agama-agama: Analisis atas Islam Inklusif Nurcholish Madjid (Points of Agreement between Religions: An Analysis of Nurcholish Madjid's Inclusive Islam).

For many years, Budhy was a close confidante of Nurcholish Madjid (1939-2005, affectionately known as 'Cak Nur'), one of the most important Muslim intellectuals during Suharto's New Order (1965-1998) and founder of the Movement for the Renewal of Islamic Thinking. As the founder of the Nurcholish Madjid Society, former executive director of the Paramadina Foundation and editor of many of Cak Nur's books, he is the prime custodian of the latter's intellectual heritage. Thus Budhy was uniquely positioned to write this dissertation on his mentor's views of interfaith relations and interreligious dialogue.

Budhy Munawar-Rachman's own views on the subject are shaped by a lengthy and meandering intellectual trajectory. The sketch below is taken from one of the chapters in my upcoming book Islam in Indonesia: The Contest for Society, Ideas and Values:

Although regarded as an exponent of progressive Muslim thinking, Budhy Munawar-Rachman earlier education firmly integrated him  into the mainstream of Sunni orthodoxy, where ‘fiqh became the science that underpinned social reality’. His interest in physics kindled a desire for finding a rationalized understanding of religion, changing fixed religious convictions and received rituals into an intellectual and spiritual quest, which he expanded further through readings into popular psychology and the writings of Krishnamurti. However, Munawar-Rachman‘s key educational experience was the time he spent at the Higher School for Entrepreneurship (Sekolah Tinggi Wiraswasta, STW). This unconventional adult education institute by Utomo Danajaya, who later joined Nurcholish Madjid in establishing the Paramadina Foundation, teaches through participatory training and does not offer any formal degrees or qualifications. This approach is based on Paulo Freire’s philosophy of education, called the ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, and geared towards grassroots level social development and empowerment.

In this milieu he was also introduced to the world of Islamic theology and philosophy, becoming captivated by the writings of Harun Nasution and especially his advocacy of a rehabilitation of the Mu‘tazila. Another deep impression was left by the publication of the diaries of AhmadWahib (1942-1973), Mukti Ali’s protégé in Yogyakarta who had died in a traffic accident. This influences ‘turned him into a free thinker, who had the courage to think for himself without fear of error’. Thus Munawar-Rachman was drawn into a study circle run by Ahmad Wahib’s close friend Djohan Effendi, where he learned to understand that the Qur’an must be seen as a phenomenon ‘reflecting the structures of that society, culture, economy and government, its foreign relations, customs, climate, the personality of the Prophet and his Companions’. Here he was also introduced to Nurcholish Madjid’s ideas on secularity and learned to appreciate the distinction between secularism as an ideology and secularization as a social process, captured in a new anthropology which made humankind God’s vicegerent on earth.

After a few years as a social research, during which he undertook a project investigating religious motivation where he tried to use the categories of Muʽtazili philosophy learned from Nasution for determining the level of rationality in pre-urban societies on the outskirts of Jakarta, Munawar-Rachman joined STF Driyarkara, which was equally unconventional as STW and used a  teaching philosophy called ‘conscientizing research’ also modelled after the work of Freire. It stimulated Munawar-Rachman to engage seriously with the work of Marx, Wittgenstein and Popper, as well as other academic fields such as economics and the sociology of development and education. These studies provided him with a more solid philosophical underpinning for rethinking theologies, such as the one formulated by the Mu‘tazila, as functional-rational approaches to modernity and transform them into an ideology for social change -- a Liberation Theology shaped by a new paradigm standing in stark contrast to the privatization of religion found in conventional liberal theology.

All this forms the foundation for Budhy Munawar-Rachman’s later involvement in defending religious pluralism – especially in the wake of the controversial fatwa by Indonesia’s Council of Islamic Religious Scholars (MUI) – culminating in a hefty study entitled Reorientation of the Renewal of Islam: Secularism, Liberalism and Pluralism, A New Paradigm for Indonesian Islam.


Samuel Maynes said...

If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the Trinity, please check out my website at, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

* The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

For more details, please see:

Samuel Stuart Maynes

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