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Teaching religious tolerance

Some inspirational efforts are being made to promote inter-religious understanding, but state schools are way behind


Lyn Parker

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   Chinese Christian students discussing religion at an Islamic boarding   school
   Lyn Parker 

The ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity of Indonesia is built into the concept of Indonesia. However, under Suharto, it was forbidden to explore differences of class, ethnicity, ‘race’ and religion. The government made strenuous efforts to construct a homogeneous national culture notably through the education system. Since Suharto, the freeing of the press, democratisation and the policies of regional autonomy and decentralisation have given free rein to the heightened expression of local ethnic and religious identities. Political elites of all stripes have played up such differences for their own advantage, leading to violent conflicts in several well-known trouble-spots around the nation. Fundamentalisms of most faiths have flourished, but it has been the Islamisation of the public sphere that has attracted the most attention internationally.

Indonesia is not an Islamic state, but it is expressly religious. The first principle of Pancasila, the state ideology, is belief in one God. The Constitution of 1945 guarantees religious freedom but not the freedom not to be religious. Indonesia recognises only six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. All citizens must identify their religion as one of these six on their identity cards and in many official documents such as birth and marriage certificates. Indonesia has

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