Written by Maurisa Zinira
The 2023 International Conference on Religious Moderation (ICROM), held on 24-26 August 2023, was vibrant with the presence of scholars, stakeholders, researchers, and practitioners from universities and relevant institutions. The participants included Ph.D. students from the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS). In this second ICROM hosted in Yogyakarta, three students and one staf from ICRS, Fardan Mahmudatul Imamah, Usman, Anna Amalia, and Hendrikus Paulus Kaunang presented their research and made valuable contributions to discussions around the intricate dynamics of religious life in Indonesia. The students delivered a presentation on their research findings pertaining to religious management practices in Indonesia, along with the seminar’s overarching theme of “Managing Religious Diversity in the Public Sphere.”
Hendrikus, a researcher of ICRS, together with ICRS lecturer and student Leonard C. Epafras and Siti Aliyuna Pratisti, presented a paper titled “Moderasi Beragama Suhu: Ngonten Agama Cupu? Penyuluh Agama di Media Sosial,” that reads in English as “A Master of Religious Moderation: A Learner in Making Social Media’s Religious Content? Religious Extension Officers (Penyuluh Agama) in Social Media.“ The research focused on the role of a religious officers in the realm of social media and found that the pivotal function of this role in addressing radicalism, conservatism, and extremism has not been fully realized because of several factors. First, the presence of a digital divide hindered their ability to effectively carry out their duties. Secondly, extension workers tended to perpetuate existing structures, resulting in a weakened agency. Third, it was found that their capacity to utilize digital technology and possess digital literacy was limited. Furthermore, the fragmented nature of supporting information systems further impeded their effectiveness. Lastly, popular instant messenger technologies like WhatsApp were identified as vulnerable to becoming epistemic echo chambers. According to the researchers, the last condition presents a potential for the hegemony of the dominating actors within the single discourse, encompassing individuals who promote extremist and conservative ideologies.
Within the domain of religious literacy concerns, Anna Amalia and Fardan Mahmudatul Imamah engaged in a discourse over the matter of religious education, which inadvertently fosters differences and segregation among various religious communities. Amalia disclosed that governmental policies mandating religious education as an integral component of national education create systemic issues that impact religious practices in Indonesia. The state’s inclination towards mono-religious education restricts students from exploring alternative ways to study other religions, fostering an impulse towards exclusivity even at the basic level of education. In her paper titled “Religious Literacy Approach for Religious Moderation from Program to Paradigm,” Amalia suggested that the concept of religious literacy needs to be comprehended and applied not solely as a programmatic endeavor, but also as a cognitive framework. But Imamah highlighted in her work titled “The Discourse of Religious Literacy: From ‘Learning Religion’ to ‘Learning About Religion’“ that such a transformation encountered numerous obstacles. There has not been a clear concept how studies on religious literacy should be carried out, bearing in mind that concepts and programs of religious literacy in Indonesia often intersect with government policies regarding terrorism, religious moderation, tolerance, religious education, and religious freedom. According to Imamah, this statement can be interpreted in two ways. On the one hand, this phenomenon facilitates the implementation of government initiatives pertaining to religious administration. However, on the other hand, it may impose constraints and oversimplify intricate issues by reducing them to a binary opposition such as ‘moderate vs extremist’, ‘lawful vs unlawful.’
The impact of a poor degree of religious literacy on minority groups was discussed pertinently by Usman, who researched the life of the Bonokeling indigenous community in Banyumas, Central Java. In his paper entitled, “Islam vs. Belief Adherents: Adaptation Strategies and Resistance of the Bonokeling Indigenous Community, Central Java,” he explained how the Bonokeling community must convert to Islam to save themselves from various social pressures and discriminatory actions. The low level of community knowledge about Bonokeling belief has led to various stereotypes and persecution of people who adhere to these ancestral beliefs, forcing them to make various adjustments to the existing power structure.
Indeed, the issue of religious literacy as a strategy for building understanding between faith communities has become a concern for ICRS for the last few years. ICRS has held several programs in collaboration with various institutions, notably the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and increased research projects in this area. In this event, which lasted three days and was attended by participants from Indonesia and abroad, ICRS students were also actively involved in efforts to develop inclusive religious study strategies by improving the quality of religious literacy. By improving this quality, the wider community, especially religious instructors as frontliners in religious management in Indonesia, is expected to have a greater ability to view the complexities of religious issues from various perspectives and approaches and to pay attention to various needs, including the need for recognition for minorities of religion.
 The ICROM program was an initiative launched by the Ministry of Religion in collaboration with many stakeholders, including universities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the media. Its primary objective is to serve as a platform for collective dialogue and the establishment of effective communication channels among these entities, with the ultimate aim of promoting religious harmony.