Consortium of:

Executive Course on Islam & Religious Pluralism in Indonesia


  November 25th 2021

Dr. Dicky Sofjan delivers introductory remarks in an online executive course for Diplomats.

The Center for Education and Training of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs realizes that today diplomats are increasingly engaged in religion-related issues and discourses in their work. It is clear that the resurgence of religion in the post-911 international political landscape and foreign relations has forced diplomats to contend with issues such as Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), religious discrimination, radicalism, and violent extremism, terrorism, religious populism, etc. This awareness encourages the emergence of a wish to equip diplomats with knowledge about religion-related issues and discourse. Therefore, the Center for Education and Training of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (abbreviated hereon as “the Center”) establish cooperation with the Indonesian Consortium of Religious Studies (abbreviated hereon as “ICRS”) organized an online course named ‘The Executive Course on Islam and Religious Pluralism in Indonesia’ to get its diplomats and visiting diplomats to develop their knowledge, skills, and attitudes relevant to their profession. With this Executive Course on Islam and Religious Pluralism in Indonesia, the Center and ICRS hope to deliver an inspiring lecture series and activities that would ensure participants get the best possible exposure to the subject matter, albeit online.

This Executive Course was held over five weeks between 27 September and 25 October 2021. There were ten sessions of this program, thus there were two sessions per week. The sessions were comprised of the following topics: Introduction and History of the Coming of Islam; Pancasila, Islam, and Politics in Indonesia; The Role of Islamic CSOs; Islam and the Gender Jihad; The Phenomena of Islamism and Terrorism; The ‘Other’ Religions and Faith Communities; Indigenous Communities and Their Beliefs; Interfaith Relations and Initiatives; Religion on the Internet; Special Session: Community Engagement or Religion and Diplomacy. All sessions were held synchronously in live, real-time interaction, and facilitated by the Course Director and faculty members. The Executive Course was delivered using interactive, participant-based learning approaches. In line with the Center’s vision of developing Diplomats 4.0, all course syllabus, materials, readings, and grading systems will be provided by ICRS using Fabo.org. An announcement or information kit will be made available before the start of the Executive Course.

The director of this course was Dr. Dicky Sofjan, Core Doctoral Faculty at ICRS representing Yogyakarta-based Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). His interests include religion and politics, diplomacy, international affairs, religious literacy, human dignity, and sustainability. Dr. Sofjan has been engaged in many inter-religious initiatives of the Government of Indonesia, namely with the Ministries of Religious Affairs and Foreign Affairs. Faculty members (speakers) of the course include: First, Dr. Fatimah Husein, she is the ICRS Associate Director and a Lecturer in the State Islamic University of Sunan Kalijaga. Dr. Husein’s main expertise is on interfaith relations and practice. She has researched religious piety, youth, and Hadrami Muslims in Indonesia.  Second, Dr. Leonard Chrysostomos Epafras,  a Core Doctoral Faculty member at ICRS, and representing Duta Wacana Christian University (UKDW). He teaches and researches Judaism, Jews in Indonesia, and Online Religion. Third, Dr. Muhammad Wildan, the Dean of Faculty of Letters at the State Islamic University of Sunan Kalijaga. He teaches Arabic Literature, and has conducted numerous research studies on Islamic radicalism and countering violent extremism. Fourth, Rev. Dr. Daniel K. Listijabudi, a theologian by training and educator at ICRS and UKDW. His expertise is in textual and comparative hermeneutics. Fifth, Dr. Siti Syamsiyatun, former director of ICRS, and lecturer in the State Islamic University of Sunan Kalijaga. Her main expertise is on Islam, gender, politics, and ethics. She is also active in the women’s wing of Muhammadiyah. Sixth, Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir, the incumbent ICRS Director. His main background is in Islamic philosophy. Dr. Bagir’s research covers freedom of religion or belief as well as religion, science, and ecology. Seventh, Dr. Samsul Maarif, the Director of the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies (CRCS) at UGM. An anthropologist by training, he is the foremost expert on indigenous communities and ecology.

One rationale that was emphasized in this course is that in the context of the increasing salience of Islam and religious pluralism within the framework of Indonesia’s domestic and foreign policies. Indonesia has been engaged proactively in various bilateral and multilateral inter-faith initiatives through direct dialogues or the South-South Triangular Cooperation (SSTC). Take an example from the session led by Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir about the role of Islamic civil society organizations (CSOs). According to Dr. Bagir, a healthy civil society is a good indicator of a healthy democracy, and there is a necessity of a plurality of opinions from different organizations, especially Islamic civil society organizations. However, according to Dr. Bagir, the challenge is how to manage diversity democratically, as compared to the pre-1998 government. The questions arise, in contestation between groups in society, which will be more dominant? Will Indonesia remain a "moderate", tolerant, pluralist democracy? In this session, many critical questions and strategic issues were posed by the participating diplomats. Furthermore, in Dr. Muhammad Wildan’s session The Phenomena of Islamism and Terrorism, he explained that extremism is related to many factors. Globally, US hegemony and the concept of global jihad are impactful. In a local context in Indonesia, low law enforcement, poverty, low education, and social and political marginalization are influential. Following that, Dr. Dicky Sofjan, as director of the course, thought that the system of knowledge on Islam (and/or religion in general) needs to be somehow translated into strategic knowledge that can be applied and utilized by people from various occupations, including those working in the field of diplomacy to bring about peace, harmony and "blessings to the multiverse and all existing species". Finally, through all the sessions, the participants were expected to be able to understand the language and discourse of religion and the role of faith communities in international politics and diplomacy, because it is clear that religious engagement in foreign policy and diplomacy has become much more prominent.