Blasphemy, Islam and the State: Pluralism and Liberalism in Indonesia


Blasphemy, Islam and the State: Pluralism and Liberalism in Indonesia

Room 920
185 Pelham Street


More information

T: 8344 6847

Guest speaker Simon Butt, Professor of Indonesian Law, Sydney University, and author Dr Stewart Fenwick will address the legal, political and constitutional challenges arising in the management of religious freedom in Indonesia today.

'Blasphemy, Islam and the State: Pluralism and Liberalism in Indonesia'

The controversy generated by the trial of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or ‘Ahok’, on blasphemy charges and the political drama surrounding his bid for reelection demonstrates the importance of the Indonesian blasphemy regime for contemporary Indonesian democracy. This book, which focuses on another equally controversial prosecution over a decade ago, considers the legal and constitutional issues arising in cases of religious freedom. However it goes much further by dealing with the critical issue of the nature of the foundational principles underpinning the modern Indonesian state, and its partial embrace of liberal political principles.


This book draws on the work of John Rawls to explore the interaction between faith, law and the right to religious freedom in post-Soeharto Indonesia, the world’s largest democracy after India and the United States. It argues that enforcement of Islamic principles by the state is inconsistent with religious diversity and the country’s liberal constitution. The book thus contributes to understanding the role of religion in the development of democracy in the world’s largest Muslim nation. A key objective is to test the argument that Rawls’ thinking about public reason cannot apply to the case of Indonesia, and Muslim states more broadly. The book therefore contributes to emerging scholarship that considers Rawls in a Muslim context. In addition to examining public reason in detail and considering critiques of the concept, the work highlights the fact that the theory was created to deal with value pluralism and is therefore relevant in any religious setting, including an Islamic one. In doing so, it emphasises that Islam is multifaceted and demonstrates the difficulties, and negative consequences, of integrating faith and law in a liberal state.


  • Dr Stewart Fenwick
    Dr Stewart Fenwick, Honorary Professor
  • Professor Simon Butt
    Professor Simon Butt, Associate Director (Indonesia) for the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law