Paper: Being a “martyr” (syahîd) in Java today, by Stephen Headley

Being a « martyr” [syahîd] in Java today: a deformation of sacrifice?

Stephen C. Headley (CNRS, EPHE)

Colloque “Martyr(e) et suicide dans l’islam contemporain »

(Paris 6-7 mars 2006, MSH : CNRS, EHESS)

The complete article can be downloaded here: Being a martyr in Java

1 . Introduction.

In central Java on the southern edge of the town of Surakarta (Solo) there in the hamlet of Ngruki is Pondok Pseantren (Koranic school) of Abu Bakar Ba’ashir, the leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah movement, responsible for the four terrorist bombings in Indonesia since 2002. This movement says these bombers are syahîd (martyrs in Arabic and Indonesian). Although in past centuries this term syahîd was used in Malacca, southern Celebes,  Aceh and even in Bali , none of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Javanese anti-colonial holy wars raised in the name of sharia  ever used the term syahîd to describe their fallen warriors . Thus Javanese Islam presents an anomaly . Does the presence in central Java of the Jemaah Islamiyah “benefiting” from the support of al-Quaeda, in anyway explain this important innovation, for instance by the inevitable fragmentation of the umma under the influence of these extremists. If one emerges from the virtual representation of Java in the media, this new use of  the word martyr remains as marginal as ever in Java and there are cultural reasons for this. Such is the position this paper defends.

Outside of one short visit  in 2003 to al-Munir, the Ba’ashir’s madrasah – pesantèn, I had little occasion and even less desire to speak to the young students there. My reticence was  principled. I did not want to give them more important than the media had already managed to do. A subject like the legitimacy of naming a suicide bomber a martyr is ambiguous and is better treated by cultural history and Islamic jurisprudence than with one off interviews with immature students. In a region as exocentric as Indonesia to the historical centres of the Islamic world, comparison must be made not only with the Middle East, but also within Indonesia itself given its demographic importance. Despite formal prohibitions against such terrorist violence by the local Muslim authorities, the local differences in the use of the terms martyr prove to be of first importance. The use of the term in the nineteen-sixties by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Langka, or the Buddhist monks in South Vietnam also show that in each society a certain political “claustrophobia” gives the term martyr its new semantic content.

I am not arguing that we ignore the predicament of the extremists only that anthropological observation of contemporary politicised events is haphazard at best. When an author as competent as Robert Hefner published his book, Civil Islam. Muslims and Democritasation in Indonesia (2000) less than two years after Soeharto’s dictatorship’s collapse, it was the bearer of an immense hope, immediately shattered by the failure of the reformasi movement during the following two years. Rather than exploring these troubled political waters, I believe anthropologists are better equipped to ask questions such as whether Javanese values today are still structured by its socio-cosmology. In other words is Java then a post-traditional society or a quasi holistic one or even a pseudo-holism?

To permit us answer this question, we will focus on the role of sacrifice in the accomplishment of martyrdom. How and what does martyrdom purify? In Java the value of purification historically precedes and encompasses that of sacrifice for the former is both individual and social. Individual by its agent and social by the benefits is brings.

The complete article can be downloaded here: Being a martyr in Java

Journal issue on Russian Orthodoxy (2013)

L’orthodoxie russe aujourd’hui, Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religion, n°162-163

“Depuis l’écroulement du régime soviétique, l’Église orthodoxe russe est partie à la reconquête des âmes avec l’appui des autorités étatiques. Fondé sur une série d’enquêtes de première main, le présent dossier thématique rend compte des évolutions conjointes entre l’Église, la société et l’État. La conception despo- tique du pouvoir, la culture de l’obéissance et les arrangements de la tradition avec l’individualisation de la société marquent ce moment. Les observations portent notamment sur des objets aussi divers que complémentaires: les liens entre les hommes d’affaires et le clergé; le réemploi de compétences acquises sous le régime soviétique au bénéfice de la vie des paroisses, notamment l’investissement de femmes professeurs dans l’enseignement religieux ; les différentes formes d’engagement religieux dans les communautés moscovites; les mécanismes de promotion de nouveaux saints nationaux. Le dossier varia qui suit se compose d’études aussi diverses que celles sur le temps dans les traditions eschatologiques judéo-chrétiennes, sur la politique de charité des communautés marranes dans l’Europe de la modernité naissante, sur la photographie des miracles de Lourdes, sur une controverse théologique récente au sein de l’Église catholique germanophone, sur l’appréhension des sectes dans le système juridique belge, et enfin sur le combat de jeunes musulmans pour la création d’une mosquée à Strasbourg. Derrière la disparité des terrains et des modes d’approche, l’histoire de l’existence publique des visions, raisons et institutions religieuses se lit en filigrane.”

More information here:

Secularization without secularism in Pakistan, by Christophe Jaffrelot

Secularization without secularism in Pakistan, by Christophe Jaffrelot

Research Question 41

By Christophe Jaffrelot

CERI-Sciences Po


The full version can be downloaded here: Secularization without secularism in Pakistan


Pakistan was created in 1947 by leaders of the Muslim minority of the British Raj in order to give them a separate state. Islam was defined by its founder, Jinnah, in the frame of his “two-nation theory,” as an identity marker (cultural and territorial). His ideology, therefore, contributed to an original form of secularization, a form that is not taken into account by Charles Taylor in his theory of secularization – that the present text intends to test and supplement. This trajectory of secularization went on a par with a certain form of secularism which, this time, complies with Taylor’s definition. As a result, the first two Constitutions of Pakistan did not define Islam as an official religion and recognized important rights to the minorities. However, Jinnah’s approach was not shared by the Ulema and the fundamentalist leaders, who were in favor of an islamization policy. The pressures they exerted on the political system made an impact in the 1970s, when Z.A. Bhutto was instrumentalizing Islam. Zia’s islamization policy made an even bigger impact on the education system, the judicial system and the fiscal system, at the expense of the minority rights. But Zia pursued a strategy of statization of Islam that had been initiated by Jinnah and Ayub Khan on behalf of different ideologies, which is one more illustration of the existence of an additional form of secularization that has been neglected by Taylor.

Paper: “Unfinished” Secularization in Russia, Indonesia and India, by Stephen Headley

“Unfinished” Secularization meets traditional

hierarchies of values in Russia, Indonesia and India

Stephen C. Headley

(Unpublished conference paper, latest version 15 March 2013)

You can download the whole paper at the bottom of this page.

“Il n’existe au monde qu’un seul litige, celui de savoir si c’est le tout ou le particulier qui prédomine. » (F. Hölderlin, Oeuvres, Pléiades, Gallimard 1967 : 996) In his Essais de Sociologie (1983), Louis Dumont gives this question a profound sociological turn through his analysis of the rise of  “pseudo-holisms” in the context of fascism and communism. Thirty years later, extreme economic changes and globalization have further eroded local customs and unfinished secularization has multiplied the appearance of pseudo-holisms.

What role can this concept play in comparative studies of secularization? Case by case comparisons are very time consuming but provide solid empirical data on which to enlarge this theoretical concept. This paper is a methodological proposition with only two examples.

1) An overview of secularization processes

At the beginning of the twentieth century, structural societal differentiation at work in non-European countries was driven by the increasingly contested hegemony and homogenizing potential of modernity. The pretensions of the earlier cosmologically-ordered social regimes were gradually being replaced by an ethic of autonomous agency. “Modern” authenticity began replacing the fetters of “tradition”, but at the end of the twentieth century it was clear that this individualism has not fully displaced early collective representations. Unfinished secularization left societies hanging; juxtaposed cosmologies provided little belonging and less transcendence. It became clear that any partial acceptance of modernity[1] led to continual redefining and reconstructions of cultural and political programs. This breakdown of traditional legitimacies led to the appearance of fundamentalism, and reinventions of damaged, endangered traditions. Ethnic cleansing and other forms of protest appeared in these artificial efforts to revive or reconstruct threatened or new social centers and pivots on the basis of an earlier consensus.

The internal antinomies of such hybrid cultural communities animated by critical political discourses inhibited multiple cosmologies from creating pluralism where a common good could emerge[2]. Unfinished secularization lays bare the ambiguous place of “the Good” in the articulation of a social morphology. The incoherence between their respective hierarchies has forced partial rationalities and values into separate “pseudo-holisms” (Louis Dumont, 1983) among which politicians pretended one was the totality. This reflects the fluctuation of modernity between a certain cultural autonomy and its need (via la raison de l’état) for total control of that freedom which they cannot guarantee. The dynamics of media and migration straddles, encloses, both the nation-states practicing procedural (so-called “democratic”) legitimization and those practicing substantive forms of ideological and religious legitimization. The impossibility of finding a consensual accountability between “civil” society and the state reflects the confusion between secular social relations and “universal” would-be primordial values.

In the first half of the twentieth century in Europe the initial alternatives to modernity were fascism and communism. In the course of this century the Soviet Union, and later Communist China, attempted utopian and eschatological social programs, but finally without the means to make them take root except through extraordinary violence.  Finally, both proved themselves not universal ideologies, but to broaden Dumont’s terminology, “pseudo-holisms”. In a word equality and hierarchy were obliged to compete. This phenomenon spread; collective identities of utopian Muslim regimes exhibited increasing tensions. Even French laicité struggling to maintain its vaunted neutrality, was challenged. A weakening of the centrality of the nation states at the end of the twentieth century was accompanied the demographic diasporas created by almost total, worldwide, mobility which produced so-called “subdued” ethnic, local, regional and transnational identities. These have, or are in the process of redefining citizenship, and the laws and rights of their respective nation-states. Citizens have been creating “foreign” alliances through WEB-generated networking that put pressure on local political processes.

Appropriating modernity on one’s own (non-Western) terms favored ideologies of political correctness which viewed from the outside seemed to create untenable new totalities. According to S. Eisenstadt[3], the tensions between authentic indigenous and “Western” reflects that no way has yet been found to unravel the tensions that modernity creates. Sharing spaces, i.e. pluralism in a scene so ideologically charged, means that the utopia of modernity is an ever vanishing horizon whose disillusioned adherents veer off into new-found pseudo-holisms. Even here, this questioning of the limits of modernity is in itself a modern move. Such artificiality and fundamentalism are trapped in the very modernity they sought to escape. To understand the on-going processes of counter-secularization, the only move left to us is to study comparatively different experiences of secularization. This modest essay is meant to be a contribution to such an anthropology.

The issue of what is secularization needs clarification[4]. This process is a project and has relevance only vis-à-vis a given cultural context. Separation of “religion and state” means very different things in different cultures because their respective values are so differently articulated. Taken out of its European context, secularism can become an ideological tool of cultural destruction[5]. Secularism is not a good in itself although the features of its justification (i.e. Charles Taylor’s “over-lapping consensus”) and the bases of its adoption tell us about “good” as understood in the societies from which the promoters of secularization came. In fact it has rarely created this over lapping consensus when exported.

In the 2012 Dumont Centenary conference, Joel Robbins forcefully proposed that in each cultural area, one must clarify the cultural differences that structure different secularizations in order to escape the dead-end of those social scientists whose only heuristic tool to understand society are explanations of relations of power. To pursue Louis Dumont’s intellectual legacy and study secularization, we need to deploy a comparative anthropology of morality, of the cultural capital of the “Good’s” place in the articulation of a social morphology[6]. Empirical observations of hierarchies of values should produce scenarios which should contribute to the anthropology of morality[7].

Where religious traditions have been dilapidated, the transmission of spiritual authority is diluted through a fragmentation of rapidly accessible charisma. These revivals are presented as authenticity and such fundamentalism is now found globally in every belief system. If such a general description of fundamentalism is widely accepted today, what is more difficult is to describe in detail, chronologically, its development in a given country, and to compare it with secularization as found in the hybrid fabrics of other non-European societies[8].

[1] Modernity, for Louis Dumont (1983), is an ideology characterized by contemporary individualism and incompatible with holism which subordinates the individual in a hierarchy which encompasses its opposite through an internal distinction of identity. The relations of persons to others are higher valued than that of human to objects of nature. In the context of globalization, Arjun Apadurai (1996: 3-4) stresses modern subjectivity as a work of imagination (a collective social fact), where the cultural dimensions of globalization constructs  imagined selves and imagined worlds that subvert earlier narratives. “…because of the rapid way in which they move through daily routines, electronic media provide resources for self-imagining as an everyday social project.”

[2] – In this paper I will be considering Indonesia and India and not trying to describe Europe where this took place much earlier. Western Europe entered the process of secularization slowly enough to develop political and religious theories of pluralism, economic explanations of industrialization and more recently analyses of globalization. Cf. René Rémond, Religion et Société en Europe. La secularisation aux XIXè et XXè siècle, 1789-200O,  1998. More recently, secularization processes have not encouraged pluralism but rather tried to prevent religion norms from becoming public ones.

[3] This introduction was inspired by reading S.N. Eisenstadt’s essay on multiple modernity’s in the winter issue (2000) of Daedalus.

[4] Cf. Jean-Claude Monod, Sécularisation et laïcité, 2007.

[5] As Aristotle identified it more than two thousand years ago, the “Good”, is a key question in the construction of any polis, hence the need for a analysis of morality. In China secularization was deliberately programmed irrespective to the cultural history, of the Chinese understanding of good. And yet despite the violence the Chinese cultural revolution provoked many of the burned books and leveled temple have reappeared from their Chinese ashes in the last two decades.

[6] As everyone is aware, the ways in which a religious good or value is conceptualized have very local genealogies, usually holistic in outreach while the European notion of religious freedom has often become unmoored from their societies of origin as it was be exported under the name of secularization to recently decolonized states.

[7] – Any analysis of secularization is not purely academic as both of the two societies studied here, India (1946+) and Indonesia (1965+), have recently suffered pogroms between communities, nominally for religious reasons.

[8] – For instance the purification of Indonesian Islam from its local customs and accretions (especially Javanism) led to a fundamentalism through the Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama movements described in section two below, but these were both conservative and modern reformations of Indonesian Islam. In fact conservatism and modernity go quite well hand in hand. In India’s central states, the appearance of Hindutva, a fundamentalist Hindu cultural and political movement in the 1970’s, prevented the India from pursuing its secular course, as communalism concocted from of cultural and political boundaries destroyed the collective identities that Gandhi had strived to reinforce.

You can download and read the whole paper here: Secularization 2013

Comparative Secularization

The object of this site is analysis of multiple modernities. Its aim is to facilitate theorization of the different ways individualism finds a niche in the ideologies of secularization undertaken during modernization and governance in very different national settings. To do this as many empirical descriptions as possible are necessary. What is at stake is a shared understanding of personhood as revealed in both historical and antrhopological studies.