Menue phone
all research fellows

PD Dr. Martin Ramstedt

Senior Research Fellow


Areas of interest

  • normative pluralism
  • religion and law
  • secular ethics
  • indigenous rights

Contested fault lines between “religion” and “the secular” in colonial and post-colonial Indonesia – a legal anthropological perspective

In the late 19th century, when the eminent Dutch scholar of Islam, Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, became adviser to the government of the Netherlands Indies, he introduced two conceptual fault lines that henceforth constituted important reference points in public policy and debate. These fault lines separated, on the one hand, “religion” (agama) from “custom” (adat), and, on the other, “religion” from “politics”. From then on, custom and politics were identified as secular domains that were regulated in legislation and policies separate from those dealing with religion. While the aforementioned fault lines had originally been developed with the aim of controlling Islam, they were also to inform the policies of the colonial government with regard to the ethnic traditions of the non-Muslim peoples in the archipelago. This is borne out by the particular legal pluralism developing in the Netherlands Indies, involving ordinances on “foreign Orientals”, “customary law”, “formal education”, and “retraditionalisation”. Further important aspects of this setting are the “social movements” of the late colonial period, such as the religious reform movements and the different ethnic nationalist movements of the time, which contested and renegotiated the fault lines between “religion” and “the secular” promoted by the colonial government.

This project aims to demonstrate how the evolving legal order and institutions of the post-colonial Indonesian state have cemented the old colonial conceptual fault lines. While “religion” has, since the beginnings of the unitary Indonesian nation state, been regulated by the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs, “custom” and “culture” have been the responsibility of the Indonesian Ministry of Culture and Education and later also of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism. Politics in the sense of governance or affairs of state, on the other hand, have been the shared domain of the Indonesian Ministry of Home Affairs, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Indonesian Ministry of Defence. Lastly, I will analyse how different social movements in post-colonial Indonesia, like the indigenous peoples movement, political Islam, environmental activism, and various ethno-nationalist movements have challenged anew the old conceptual fault lines between “religion” and “the secular”, opening up new spaces of both secularity and religion in the event.

Relevant Publications

  • Ramstedt, Martin, Siswo Pramono, and Christoph Antweiler. Mitigating Religious Extremism – The Chances for Pluralism and Democracy in Indonesia. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Forthcoming.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Education as Site of Orientalist Knowledge Exchange: The Hybrid Moral Geographies of the Early 20th Century Javanese Nationalist Movements.” Modern Asian Studies. Forthcoming.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Applicable Religious Rules According to the Law of the State: Legal Pluralism from an Anthropological Perspective,” in Applicable Religious Rules According to the Law of the State. Edited by Silvio Ferrari. München et al.: Elsevier. Forthcoming.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Anthropological Perspectives on Law and Religion,” in Routledge Handbook of Law and Religion. Edited by Silvio Ferrari. London, New York: Routledge, 2015.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Converging Ontologies, Flattening of Time – Discordant Temporality and Feeling Rules in Bali’s New Village Jurisdictions,” in Feeling at the Margins. Edited by Birgitt Röttger-Rössler and Thomas Stodulka, 53–80. Frankfurt/ Main, New York: Campus, 2014.
  • Ramstedt, Martin, Keebet von Benda-Beckmann and Melanie Wiber, eds. Temporalities of Law. Special Issue of the Journal of Legal Pluralism, 46/1 (2014).
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Buddhism and Modernity: Politics of Religion in South and Southeast Asia.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde / Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia, 170/2-3 (2014): 343–54.
  • Ramstedt, Martin, Franz von Benda-Beckmann, Keebet von Benda-Beckmann, and Bertram Turner. Religion in Disputes: Pervasiveness of Religious Normativity in Disputing Processes. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
  • Ramstedt, Martin and Fadjar I. Thufail, eds. Law and Religio-Ethnic Identity in Post-New Order Indonesia. Special Issue of Asian Ethnicity, 13/4 (2012).
  • Ramstedt, Martin, Martin Slama, and Christian Warta, eds. Ethnizität und Religion als Kapital: Prozesse der Kapitalisierung von Kultur im Indonesien nach Suharto. Special Issue of ASIEN, 123 (2012).
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Colonial Encounters between India and Indonesia,” in South Asian Transnationalisms: Cultural Exchange in the Twentieth Century. Edited by Babli Sinha, 103–31. London: Routledge, 2012.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Colonial Encounters between India and Indonesia.” South Asian History and Culture, 2/4 (2011): 522–39.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “A Fatwa against Yoga: Mitigating Conflict in the Face of Increasing Fundamentalism in Indonesia.” Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, 5 (2010).
  • Ramstedt, Martin. ”Indonesia,” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Edited by Knut Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan, 353–69. Leiden: Brill, 2009.
  • Ramstedt, Martin and Coen J.G. Holtzappel. Decentralization and Regional Autonomy in Indonesia: Implementation and Challenge, Singapore: ISEAS, 2009.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Balinese Hindu Law,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Legal History, Vol. 1. Abbasid Dynasty-Cicero. Edited by Stanley N. Katz, 251. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Diasporic Religions Today,” in Atlas of the World’s Religions, Second Edition. Edited by Ninian Smart and Frederick Denny, 18–9. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Press; 2008.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Hindu Bonds at Work: Spiritual and Commercial Ties between India and Bali.” The Journal of Asian Studies 67/4 (2008): 1227–50.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. „Bali heute. Zur ökonomischen Dimension des traditionellen Ritualsystems.“, last modified 2008, http://www.journal-ethnologie....
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Metaphor or Invocation: The Convergence of Fantasy Fiction and Pagan Spirituality.” Journal of Ritual Studies, 21/1(2007):1–15.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “New Age and Business,” in Handbook of New Age. Edited by Daren Kemp and James R. Lewis, 185–205. Leiden: Brill, 2007.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. Hinduism in Modern Indonesia – A minority religion between local, national, and global interests. London et al.: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Hinduism in Modern Indonesia,” in Indonesia – A New Beginning? Edited by Satish Chandra and Baladas Ghoshal, 140–68. New Dehli: Sterling, 2002.
  • Ramstedt, Martin. “Indonesia, Buddhism; Indonesia, Confucianism; Indonesia, Hinduism,” in Religions of the World. A comprehensive encyclopedia of beliefs and practices. Edited by J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, 638–43. Santa Barbara et al.: ABC Clio, 2002.