Piety and Politics : Nurcholish Madjid and His Interpretation of Islam in Modern Indonesia

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


This dissertation in the field of Islamic studies offers a critical analysis of Nurcholish Madjid's attempt to interpret Islam within the framework of modern Indonesia. Nurcholish, who recently passed away at the age of sixty-six, had been active in the reform of Islamic thought for over thirty years, and while remaining deeply coloured by the local Indonesian context, was also part of a global and century-old tradition of reform. Nurcholish developed a contextual approach both to the Qur'an and to a variety of other sources from Muslim history. In this regard the "Constitution of Madinah" and the works of Ibn Taymiyya had been of particular importance. Nurcholish's understanding of Ibn Taymiyya, for example, was instrumental in the formation of his own inclusive view of religion; however, such an understanding of Ibn Taymiyya is not common. Throughout his career Nurcholish attempted to negotiate Islam and modernity by way of a contextual and collective ijtihad. His intent had been to formulate common values that favour social justice, religious pluralism and tolerance, as well as democracy. He failed, however, to address the issue of gender equality in a systematic manner. Spirituality and the Islamic concept of takwa, or ?god-consciousness?, played a continuous and increasingly important role in Nurcholish's interpretation of Islam. These ideas also provided the foundation for the realisation of his societal and political aims. He was therefore active in the spheres of both piety and politics.

The aim of this dissertation is twofold. Firstly, it is a study in the tradition of the history of ideas, and thus attempts an analysis of Nurcholish's ideational production and methodological approach. Secondly, it aims to locate Nurcholish's ideas and activities within the Indonesian context. To this end it provides a presentation of his life, intellectual influences and an overview of relevant historical facts. In addition it presents a variety of material collected during several periods of fieldwork in Jakarta. This material discusses the diffusion of Nurcholish's ideas through higher Islamic education, the socio-religious organisation Paramadina, and his role as an independent public intellectual. His target groups had been the Indonesian middle class and elite, many of whom have been drawn to his ideas over the years. Then again Nurcholish's ideas and activities have been subject to criticism from both conservative and secular elements in Indonesia. This study includes an examination of these critiques as well.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History of Religions


  • Nurcholish Madjid, Indonesia, takwa, Islam, context, ijtihad, Paramadina, tolerance, pluralism, gender, Sufism, spirituality, democracy, human rights, Pancasila, Ibn Taymiyya, education, Non-Christian religions, Världsreligioner (ej kristendom)
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2005 Nov 25
  • Almqvist & Wiksell International
Print ISBNs91-22-02139-6
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2005-11-25 Time: 10:15 Place: Hörsal 128,(S:t Mikael) Stora Algatan 4, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Hellman, Jörgen Title: FD, universitetslektor Affiliation: Göteborgs universitet ---