A new article covers the topic of Traditionalism in Indonesia, a topic that has been covered in one PhD dissertation in Indonesian (and briefly on this blog) but has otherwise been largely ignored, certainly in Western languages. The article is by Asfa Widiyanto, and is “The Reception of Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s Ideas within the Indonesian Intellectual Landscape,” Studia Islamika: Indonesian Journal for Islamic Studies 23, no. 2 (2016): 193-236, DOI: 10.15408/sdi.v23i2.3002.
Widiyanto dates Nasr’s influence in Indonesia to three lectures that he gave during a visit in 1993, which attracted much attention. Some Indonesian translations of his books were then already available, but more have been published since 1993. Nasr’s views have also been promoted in the journal Ulumul Qur’an, which has published many articles with a Traditionalist perspective, and may even in some sense be a Traditionalist journal.
Widiyanto identifies a number of Indonesian scholars who have been influenced by the work of Nasr and Schuon, and lists many of their publications. He pays special attention to Nurcholish Madjid (1939-2005), a prominent Muslim intellectual whose PhD thesis at the University of Chicago was supervised by Fazlur Rahman, and who became Indonesia’s leading exponent of Traditionalist ideas. It was Madjid who was credited with persuading President Suharto to resign in 1998. Madjid was more enthusiastic about perennialism’s pluralism, which he likened to the non-denominational theism of Pancasila, Indonesia’s official state philosophy, than about its anti-modernism, which he rejected. In Widiyanto’s view, this corresponds to Nasr’s general reception in Indonesia.
Widiyanto also singles out Komaruddin Hidayat (born 1953), a professor of philosophy with a PhD from the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, a former rector of the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta, and an active journalist. An editor of Ulumul Qur’an, Hidayat is evidently now Indonesia’s leading Traditionalist.
Both Madjid and Hidayat are evidently significant figures in Indonesia, more important than Traditionalists are in most countries. They seem, however, to be “soft” Traditionalists more than “hard” Traditionalists.
Widiyanto spends some time on the issue of whether Nasr can be considered a Shi'i, an issue that has not caused much concern elsewhere, and argues that he is more scholar than Shi'i. He does not explicitly ask to what extent Traditionalism is Western and to what extent it is Islamic, but addresses this question obliquely, referring to Nasr’s debt to Suhrawardi, and concluding that “Nasr’s popularity in Indonesia is not merely due to his Perennialist ideas but also due to the fact that he represents an advocate of living Islamic philosophy, which survives in the Persian world most notably in the form of the School of Illumination.”