Indigenous and World Religion in Contestation

Religion is something inherent in human nature. Admittedly, when one talks about religion, it always refers to world religion such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, etc which have the universal features so that they make sense to call so. On the other hand, there are many indigenous religions existing in some places such as in Africa, Australia, even in Indonesia like Sunda Wiwitan in Banten, Tolotang in Sidrap, Todolo in Toraja and Ammatoa in Kajang. They are often overlooked and even so-called primitive religion because they have different features with the world religion.

The features of world religion in the eyes of Platvoet in Cox (2007) are claiming its religion is the only way of salvation, deeming as the final revelation, retaining the orthodoxy, the salvation is attained in the different realms going beyond this life. While, the indigenous religion are rather placing ritual as the central concern, the belief are vague and contradictory to the contemporary era, having constant revelation which is got by some ways such as dream, vision, and the salvation clearly seen in the world and tending to disregard the salvation after life death.

Undeniably, the term of religion always remains debate, especially in Indonesia language where religion is translated as “agama” and it induces a kind of confusion because when listening to the term “agama”, people will refer it to the legal religion confessed by the state such as Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Yet, as Harsojo (1988) notes the term “religion” in anthropology has the broad meaning utilized to portray and cover the system of belief of human phenomenon in empirical and comparative way to figure out on the origin, function, and systematic of religion. Furthermore, anthropology does not focus on which religion is the truth, but it is rather to find out on how religion affects the people and society.

If so, the existence of indigenous religion is must be regarded and at least, is admitted as the early religions which still exist up to now and has given a lot of contribution in existence of the biggest populous religions (outsider religions) such as Islam, Christianity, etc because its openness and inclusiveness towards them . The term “world religion” in my mind is must be reconsidered to use because this induces a kind of dichotomy which will eventually shift to “cultural imperialism” borrowing the term of  Edward Said, as if the culture around the indigenous religion adherents is old-fashioned and irrational as the culture that world religions have.

For instance, Islamic and Christian teachings have been taken to be the new culture where these religions exist. This is also underpinned in the fact that Islam and Christian are both of religions which passionately doing the widespread distribution of their teachings worldwide. As a matter of fact, the culture of indigenous religion is placed peripherally because it is only conceded spatially. The most important thing to point out in this case is the dichotomy between indigenous and world religions is a contestation of power relation to be the truth where the world religions succeed to become the winner because they rule the power (discourse) as Foucault states:

“Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its own régime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true” (Foucault 1977, translation in Gordon 1980: 131).

As the closing, Ernst Cassirer (1987) states that the highest value of religion are rather to the essential ethic differentiating the good and the not good.  Hence, he points out the core of religion is the ethic of thinking, speaking, and doing in good and proper way. Based on this assumption, I say that the indigenous religion has proved so, why so?

Because the fact designates that most of the indigenous religion adherents are wiser and more inclusive in everyday life by taking good care the harmonization between human and nature as the adherents of Sunda Wiwitan (Baduinese) in Banten always mind their manner especially about honesty as well as take good care the nature around them, rather than some of the world religion adherents who always make a conflict due to claim as the only way of salvation, especially between Islam and Christian which will eventually devastate the harmonization of human and nature. This is homework for the world religion!


Cassirer, Ernst. 1987. Manusia dan Kebudayaan: Sebuah Esei Tentang Manusia (An Essay on Man, 1944). Jakarta: Gramedia

Cox, JL.  2007. From Primitive to Indigenous: the Academic Study of Indigenous Religions. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Foucault, Michel. 1977. ‘Truth and Power,’ in Gordon, Colin (ed.) (1980), Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge. Selected Writings and Interviews 1972–1977, by Michel Foucault, New York, London, Toronto: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Harsojo. (1988). Pengantar Antropologi. Bandung: Binacipta.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s