Accepted Paper:

Owning religion in Banyuwangi: NU Islam and Beatty’s <em>Varieties of Javanese Religion</em>  


Nicholas Herriman (La Trobe University)

Paper Short Abstract:

Observing animist/mystical Islam alongside traditional Islam in his fieldwork village, Bayu, Beatty implies that mystical Islam is widespread in Banyuwangi district. I suggest that a traditional, orthodox form of Islam known as “Islam NU” is widespread.

Paper long abstract:

Situated in far-east Java, Banyuwangi is a district where more than 95% of the population professes Islam. Andrew Beatty’s <em>Varieties of Javanese Religion</em> is based on ethnography in Banyuwangi’s Bayu village. Beatty describes Bayu’s Islam as having a ‘purer’ version and an animist/mystical version. He writes ‘villages like Bayu…make up well over half of [Banyuwangi] district’ (124). I provide four objections to this generalisation. First, during one year’s fieldwork in Banyuwangi, I visited and interviewed people in dozens of the 167+ villages in Banyuwangi, and found evidence of Beatty’s mystical version only in Bayu village. Related to this is a second objection. Bayu is unique—it was established as a tourist destination by the district government with the intention of promoting and preserving its unique cultural characteristics. Third, over the past decades a relative decline in mystical/animist beliefs might have resulted from Muslim revitalisation (<em>dakwah</em>), state education, commercialisation, increased communications, and the relative strength of orthodox Islamic organisations, both modernist (Muhammadiyah) and traditionalist (Nahdlatul Ulama or NU). Fourth, in villages I visited, Islam is largely traditional and orthodox, emphasising ritual meals, preaching, magic, and the role of Islamic scholars. My research participants associated their traditional orthodox religious culture with the NU, referring to ‘their’ Islam as ‘NU Islam’. A major contribution to studies religion in Java, Beatty’s work might nevertheless tell us more about the exceptional type of Islam in isolated mountain villages in Java, rather than Islam in Banyuwangi.

Panel P45
Religious relations In Asia