Building U.S.-Indonesia Mutual Understanding Since 1994

USINDO DC Open Forum July 25, 2017 – “The Interplay of Religion and Politics in Indonesia: What Does Jakarta’s Gubernatorial Election Signify?”

usindo logo

USINDO cordially invites you to a Special Open Forum

The Interplay of Religion and Politics in Indonesia:
What Does Jakarta’s Gubernatorial Election Signify?


Prof. Thomas B. Pepinsky

Prof. Jeremy Menchik

Associate Professor of Government and faculty affiliate, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University

Assistant Professor, Fredrick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University

Tuesday July 25
2:30 – 4:30 p.m.
1625 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Suite 550
Washington, DC 20036

The recent elections for governor of Jakarta have taken Indonesia to a new place in its evolution as a country in which Islam, religious pluralism, and democracy co-exist.  Ahok, the incumbent governor of Jakarta and a Chinese Christian, faced charges of blasphemy for comments about Islam during the campaign.  He was defeated by two Muslim candidates who courted Islamists as part of their campaign.  Ahok was subsequently convicted and incarcerated for violations of Indonesia’s law against blasphemy.   Religious issues, religion’s role in politics, and effective religious messaging in politics, which had over the past decade seemed to be on the decline, have now re-asserted themselves in new ways in Indonesia, as well as other countries.
What do these developments signify? The increasing power of Islam and Islamic identity in Indonesian national politics?  The increasing importance of political campaigns becoming adept at religious messaging?    What are their implications for Indonesian democracy? For the relations between majority and minority religious groups in Indonesia?   Do they alter our view of the compatibility of Islam and democracy in Indonesia?

These are weighty and complex issues, only at the start of being understood. We are fortunate to have two expert speakers on our panel, each bringing their own perspective to the topic:

Dr. Tom Pepinsky, Associate Professor of Government and faculty affiliate, Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, will speak on the gubernatorial election, how to explain it, and its implications for Indonesian politics. There is a lively academic debate about the role of religion and ethnicity versus economic grievances in explaining Ahok’s defeat.  Dr. Pepinsky believes the key lesson to draw is not about the rise of conservative Islam in Indonesia, but rather about the ability to mobilize identity in Indonesian elections. In discussing Islam in contemporary politics, he will also discuss Indonesia’s new presidential decree that bans organizations that threaten Pancasila, Indonesia’s multi-faith national ideology.

Dr. Jeremy Menchik, Assistant Professor of International Relations in the Fredrick S Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, will review the origins of the blasphemy law, the social and religious forces driving contemporary Islamic movements, and the implications of the election for democracy in Indonesia and the larger Muslim world. Although Dr. Menchik believes many scholars are rightly concerned about a “conservative turn” in Indonesian Islam, he suggests these fears miss the mark. His view is that Ahok’s winning the election was always unlikely because of the influence of Indonesian Muslim moderates, who have long been wary of non-Muslim leaders in Jakarta and in national office. He suggests that while many Indonesian Muslims are opposed to the country becoming an Islamic state like Saudi Arabia, they are equally opposed to the state becoming a secular, liberal democracy like the United States.

Please join us for this informative special event on a topic essential for understanding today’s Indonesia.

This event is open and FREE of charge. To register, please kindly email by July 24, 2017 at 10:00AM.


Thomas Pepinsky is Associate Professor in the Department of Government and Associate Director of the Modern Indonesia Project at Cornell University. He also serves as the founding president of the American Institute for Indonesian Studies. A specialist in maritime Southeast Asia, his teaching and research focuses on identity, democracy, political economy, and globalization. He is the author of Economic Crises and the Breakdown of Authoritarian Regimes: Indonesia and Malaysia in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2009), as well as articles in the American Journal of Political Science, British Journal of Political Science, Economics and Politics, International Studies Quarterly, World Development, World Politics, and other venues. Together with R. William Liddle and Saiful Mujani, he is the coauthor of Piety and Public Opinion: Understanding Indonesian Islam (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2018). He received his PhD in Political Science from Yale University in 2007. He recently helped to found a new organization called the Southeast Asian Research Group to highlight the best new contemporary research on Southeast Asian politics in North America.

Jeremy Menchik is Assistant Professor in the Fredrick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and faculty affiliate in Political Science and Religious Studies. His teaching and research focus on comparative politics and the politics of religion. His book, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance without Liberalism (Cambridge University Press, 2016) explains the meaning of tolerance to the world’s largest Islamic organizations and was the winner of the 2017 International Studies Association award for the best book on religion and international relations. His research has appeared in the academic journals Comparative Studies in Society and History, Comparative Politics, and South East Asia Research as well as in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and other venues. He received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2011 and has held fellowships at Columbia University and Stanford University.

The United States-Indonesia Society’s mission is strengthening mutual understanding between the United States and Indonesia, enhancing the bilateral relationship, and deepening the U.S.-Indonesia Strategic Partnership. We implement our mission through public discussions in each country and long-term bi-national programs in the education, legislative, and other sectors, including the US-Indonesia Joint Council on Higher Education Partnership and the newly-created Indonesia-U.S. Council on Religion and Pluralism.