International Conference on Indigenous Religions: The State, Indigenous Religions, and Inclusive Citizenship

The Constitutional Court Decision 97/2016, followed by the Circular Letter (2018) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, officially legalized Indonesian citizens to mark their identity on ID cards as kepercayaan (indigenous religions). This significant change has invited attention to re-think issues affecting citizens who follow indigenous religions. While the Decision intended to accommodate aspirations of followers of kepercayaan for equal treatment, the Letter has complicated the decision by mandating two separate ID cards, agama and kepercayaan. The Letter has created confusion among followers of kepercayaan, as well as exclusion of other citizen groups who do not affiliate officially with either category of agama or kepercayaan.

The Decision and the Letter are significant indicators of the State’s progress in recognizing and providing services to followers of indigenous religions. Throughout Indonesian history, these groups have not been recognized as full citizens. Their citizenship rights have been denied, forcing them to affiliate to one of six officially recognized religions (agama). Kepercayaan, the category for indigenous religions, was sanctioned as merely “cultural” and not religious, making it an invalid category for full citizenship. Affiliating as kepercayaan brought social stigma of having “no religion”, which even extended to being labelled as atheist, anti-religious and communist. The Decision, which is the result of decades of advocacy, is meant to end the above discriminations. As kepercayaan is now a valid category for full citizenship, the above stigmas are now legally unsupported.

Public response to the legal recognition of indigenous religions have been mixed. Soon after the Decisition was announced, it generated controversy in public discourse. The Indonesian Muslim Council (MUI) was the most vocal populist agent against the Decision. It claimed that the Decision was against “a politically-established agreement” that kepercayaan is not religion. Some other agencies made statements which followed MUI’s viewpoint.  However, MUI also stated that followers of kepercayaan are citizens who should have equal rights as any other citizen for just treatment from the State, and their citizenship rights must be granted. Their objection was that kepercayaan should be distinguished from agama (religion). In response, the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued the Letter as legal guideline for civic administration. ID cards of followers of the six religions would be distinguished from ID cards of followers of kepercayaan. Administratively speaking, government agencies have now effectively utilized both agama and kepercayaan as citizenship categories for services and protection.

However, these two citizenship categories – agama and kepercayaan – remain problematic. Classifying citizens into two categories, especially when the two are seen to be mutually exclusive, simplifies the complexity of kepercayaan as well as religious phenomena. As a response to these administrative categorizations, groups of kepercayaan have adopted different positions: those who firmly declare their identity of kepercayaan in ID cards; those who are members of kepercayaan organizations but affiliate to one of the recognized religions; and individuals who are not affiliated to a registered organization of kepercayaan. Member of certain groups have been challenged as to whether they are actual followers of kepercayaan. To complicate things further, citizens whose column for religion in their ID cards is blank (based on the policy before the Constitutional Court Decision) and who do not officially belong to kepercayaan, now have no space for official recognition, insofar as the regulation on ID card is concerned.

Inviting scholars, researchers, activists, and practitioners of the field to participate in the conference. The timeline is as follows:
Abstract submission deadline: May 15th
Notification : May 20th
Full Paper: June 20th
Submission of your abstract (250-300 words) and more inquiries about this conference are sent to:
Date of the conference: July 1st-3rd, 2019
Venue: University Club UGM, Yogyakarta

Agenda: The first two days will feature research reports from invited institutions as well as papers of selected participants. The third day will feature policy-makers, in a talk show, from Ministries of Education and Culture, of Internal Affairs, and of Religious Affairs who will respond to issues raised in the first two days. In addition, the conference will include other events such as film screenings, book launches, and art exhibitions by kepercayaan communities and partner organizations.

For more information: