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Prof. Mirjam Künkler, PhD

Senior Research Fellow

(07–10/2018, 04–05/2019)

Areas of interest

  • Iranian and Indonesian Politics
  • Religion-State Relations, Law, and Constitutionalism
  • Female Islamic Authority

The educational underpinnings of reformist Islamic thought in post-independence Indonesia

My project focuses on an organisational history of the fascinating institution of the IAIN (Institut Agama Islam Negeri), the Islamic State Institutes and Universities of Indonesia, which since the 1960s have been the institution of tertiary education for graduates of Islamic high schools (madares and pesantren). The project is woven around what is argued are six unique features of an institution without comparison in the Muslim world, and without which it would be difficult to conceive of Indonesia’s successful transition to democracy in 1998:

  1. The curriculum of theology and religious studies from the 1960s onward integrated a range of what were, at the time, non-mainstream approaches from critical hermeneutics to Western philosophy, transnational non-Islamic history, as well as Mu‘tazilite thought, and Shiite law.
  2. Close institutional connections with integrated exchange programmes for faculty and students were established with Western universities, notably McGill University and the University of Chicago, which had formative impact on a number of later Indonesian religious leaders and intellectuals.
  3. Admission to domains of religious learning, reserved for men in other Muslim societies, such as law and jurisprudence, was open to women, often from the beginning of the IAIN’s founding.
  4. A predominant number of Islamic leaders in the country's largest Islamic organisation were educated at the IAIN, while Muslim leaders in other countries would often have found it damaging to their reputation to attend a state institution of Islamic and religious studies.
  5. A significant number of Muslim political reformers contributing to the recent democratic project are graduates of the IAIN.
  6. The transformation of the IAIN into universities after Indonesian reformasi, with levels of bureaucratic autonomy from the state, set the institution apart from comparable state universities of Islamic learning in other Muslim countries where the leading personnel are presidential appointees (cp. Al-Azhar in Egypt).

The aim of this organisational history is to elucidate the evolution of this multi-faceted institution of higher Islamic learning and the far-reaching effects it has had on Indonesian society beyond the realm of intra-Muslim politics, organisational renewal and elite recruitment. The working hypothesis is that, without the IAIN, the generation of pluralistically-oriented religious leaders who made democratisation in 1998 possible would not have emerged.

Relevant Publications