The relationship between nationalism and religion is very complicated. In the context of colonialism, Christianity has surely been perceived as a foreign religion that poses a menace to native nationalism. This essay presents a different picture, taking the case of colonial Java (the Netherlands East Indies) to illustrate the complex historical relationship between Catholicism and Indonesian nationalism. Perhaps it is rather ironic that it was chiefly through their connection with the Dutch Church and their mission enterprise that the Javanese Catholic intelligentsia were made deeply aware of their own dignity as a particular people and the limitations of European colonialism. In this case, Catholic Christianity as a world religion with supranational connection and identity has been able to help the birth of an intense nationalism that was prevented from being too narrow, chauvinistic, or simply “racialist,” precisely because it is connected with its larger ecumenism or network. More specifically, this ecumenism is also founded on the idea of “catholicity,” that is, universalism, that lies at the heart of Catholic Christianity. In the post-colonial Indonesia, however, this Catholic view needs to be translated into common platforms with the views and concerns of Indonesian Muslims, who face the same new challenges as they play their role in the formation of an authentic Indonesian nationalism.


Catholicism, colonialism, Indonesia, Java, nationalism, the Netherlands East Indies, religion, universalism

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

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Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
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Yale University (US)

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Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

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