Indonesia is a postcolonial nation-state characterized by religious pluralism. It is a striking example of how the public sphere is being transformed by movements which are putting religious images and symbols to political use.


In the wake of the economic and political crisis that led to the collapse of Suharto's authoritarian New Order regime (1967-98), Indonesia has witnessed the rise of popular mobilizations against formal politics and beyond political parties. In parts of Indonesia, the recent decentralization process, which occurred in the context of the neo-liberal reforms promoted by the IMF and the World Bank, has proved to be a source of oxygen to forms of populism in the form of religiously inspired 'crime'-fighting movements.


The aim of the project is to provide new understanding of the links between popular religious movements and the deployment of violence in the context of a weakened state. Specifically, in this anthropological project Telle will focus on the 'security' groups dedicated to 'fight crime' and enforce justice that have emerged among the Muslim Sasak and the Hindu Balinese on the densely populated island of Lombok in the post-Suharto 'reformation' era.


The project will will look at the interrelationship between economic marginalization, religious mobilization and rapidly evolving forms of 'contentious politics'. These groups were formed by religious or 'traditional' leaders, and ritual and religious obligations form integral parts of their modus operandi. The project rests on the hypothesis that it is only by unravelling the religious dimensions of these vigorous new social movements that it is possible to understand the appeal and legitimacy they enjoy, especially among relatively impoverished Balinese Hindus and Sasak Muslim. The project will advance knowledge of the structural conditions (local, national, global) which have led religious movements to assume classical aspects of statecraft, thereby challenging the state's monopoly on the deployment of legitimate violence. The project will examine the socio-political effects of the trend towards vigilantism, a trend with parallels to other postcolonial countries in transition from authoritarianism to neo-liberal democracy.