Diversity in Harmony. Photo By: Arnold Panjaitan.
Like other organizations, we at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), a consortium of three universities representing different academic and faith traditions (Universitas Gadjah Mada, Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga and Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana) face new challenges as we navigate the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since mid-March, our classes have transitioned to an online format. Moving forward, the pandemic may affect our ability to gather a diverse group of students and scholars from across Indonesia and the world, a defining characteristic of the ICRS academic community. Social distancing and travel restrictions will also transform the ways in which we conduct research and host academic events, such as conferences and regular seminars. While we hope the conclusion of this pandemic will come soon, unfortunately it may be prolonged. As such, we can only adjust to what many have called “the new normal.” We are in the process of learning and adapting to this new world while simultaneously striving to advance.
Next year will mark ICRS’s 15th anniversary. We currently have 21 active Ph.D. students and earlier this year, we celebrated our 50th Ph.D. graduate. Our program not only draws Indonesian students and scholars, but internationals as well. Our students and alumni come from various parts of the Indonesian Archipelago and not less than 15 countries, including Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, The Gambia, India, Myanmar, The Philippines, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, and the United States. Our alumni work as academics in universities and schools, civil society activists, lawmakers, and religious leaders.
In addition to the Ph.D. program, ICRS is active in research, academic conferences, and community engagement. Here, we also collaborate with individuals, state institutions as well as civil society and faith-based organizations, both nationally and internationally. For the past two years, we have specifically engaged civil society organizations as well as mayors and district heads from a number of cities and districts in Indonesia and abroad in a program called “Co-designing Sustainable, Just and Smart Urban Living”. This work is supported by the Ford Foundation, which has been one of our main partners since the outset. We also partnered with the Ministry of Religious Affairs, with partial support from the British Council, to offer religious literacy training to religious counselors (penyuluh agama) in ten cities.
As I write this greeting amid this crisis, we at ICRS are discussing ways to continue our previously planned programs, but also to learn more from the pandemic. We are planning a research series on religion and COVID-19 and designing online courses which not only respond to the current situation, but also help to expand our educational strategies. We hope the (currently unavoidable) more extensive use of communication technologies will provide new tools and insights to further ICRS’s aspiration of creating an inter-religious, inter-disciplinary and international community.
I would like to thank the rectors of the three universities, especially the Director of UGM Graduate School, which hosts our Ph.D. program, for their support thus far. I would also like to thank our partners and donors for their trust in what we do, and plead for their continued support, particularly in an unusual time like the present. Welcoming our 15-year anniversary next year, we are committed to the advancement of ICRS through increasing the quality of its education and our students’ learning experience, and, surely, also the quality of its research and collaborations with our strategic partners.
Yogyakarta, April 2020.
Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir