Journal Article

Public Islam and the Problem of Democratization

Robert W. Hefner

in Sociology of Religion

Published on behalf of Association for the Sociology of Religion

Volume 62, issue 4, pages 491-514
Published in print January 2001 | ISSN: 1069-4404
Published online January 2001 | e-ISSN: 1759-8818 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3712438
Public Islam and the Problem of Democratization

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As in much of the late modern world, Muslim societies in recent years have seen an unprecedented resurgence of religious issues and organizations into public affairs. The resurgence has given special urgency to the question of .whether this revitalized Islam is compatible with democracy and civic pluralism. Drawing on comparative materials and an in-depth discussion of recent events in Indonesia, the world's largest majority-Muslim country, this article presents a preUminary analysis of the relationship of Islam to democratization. The article argues that most Muslims continue to look to their religion for principles of public order as well as personal spirituality. The political ideals Muslims derive from their tradition, however, are not immutable, but vary in a manner that reflects competing views as to how Muslims should respond to the challenges of the late modern world. Some Muslim activists invoke the idea of Islam as “religion and state” to justify harshly coercive policies and the fusion of state and society into an unchecked monolith. But there is also an emerging democratic or civil-pluralist tradition in the Muslim world that seeks to recover and amplify Islam's democratic endowments. Its supporters argue that, by concentrating vast power in rulers' hands, the “Ishmic” state only increases the likelihood that their religion's high ideals will be subordinated to authoritarian intrigues. As events in Indonesia illustrate, this “clash of cultures” between promoters of a Muslim civil society and democracy and supporters of an anti-pluralist “Islamic” state is likely to remain a key feature of Muslim politics for some time to come.

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Subjects: Religion ; Sociology of Religion

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