Postmodern Forms of Religion in Asian Islam

Over the past 50 years, Western forms of religiosity and spirituality have changed markedly. The individualism and consumerism of the post-traditional age have had great influence on the way that religion is expressed. As illustrated in the article on megachurches in this edition of
Pointers, Pentecostal and charismatic megachurch growth has arisen in an age of ‘free market’ religion in which individuals have sought for that expression of faith which best suits their needs, rather than being attached to a denomination that is part of their heritage and a church which serves the local area. This has encouraged many churches to become ‘seeker sensitive’ in the ways they present their services. While the focus of research on change has occurred in Western countries, and in relation to Christianity, there have been some similar movements in Asia. At the International Society for the Sociology of Religion conference held in Turku, Finland in June 2013, the University of Western Sydney researcher, Prof Julia Howell pointed to growing new expressions of Islam in Indonesia.

In the last ten years, two new expressions of Islam have grown in influence in Indonesia: mass prayer rallies and television presentations of Islam. Both of these are led by charismatic leaders, appealing to mass audiences, and while they are focussed on strengthening commitment to Islam they attempt to be somewhat ‘seeker-sensitive’ in their approach. In strengthening commitment, Prof Howell argues that both seek to create intense personal experiences of faith, often using music and prayer, in a way which is reminiscent of Pentecostal revival meetings. Prof Howell suggests that, while they increase awareness of and levels of commitment to the worldwide fellowship of Muslims, they ‘problematise’ religious belonging, forcing people to make choices about their levels of involvement.

However, in post-modernity, the experience of being close to God has become much more important than the law and the exact form of belief.
Such experiences are mediated by prayers and singing which have become very important in both these forms of Islamic revivalism as well as in the Pentecostal and charismatic forms of the Christian faith. The people who are best able to mediate such experiences are not scholars and religious experts.

While there are parallels, there are also differences which arise out of a very different context. The Islamic preacher can safely assume all his listeners are Muslims, and therefore the focus can be on enhancing commitment to Islam. In the West, the popular preacher must grapple with a pluralistic environment in which many have little commitment to any religious faith.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 23, No. 4, Pages 15-16

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