Breaking Chains, Transforming Faith

The Journey of Decolonizing Religions

August Corneles Tamawiwy 1


The 8th Interfaith Dialogue Conference held in the enchanting city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, where art and culture intertwined seamlessly. Amidst the breathtaking surroundings, Duta Wacana Christian University hosted a transformative event that aimed to challenge prevailing Western interpretations of religion and revive indigenous spiritual traditions. This conference served as a platform for thought-provoking discussions on decolonization, justice, and the revival of indigenous spiritual traditions.

This gathering was the result of a collaboration between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, the Indonesian Embassy in The Hague, the Netherlands-Indonesia Consortium for Muslim-Christian Relations (NICMCR), the Dutch Embassy in Jakarta, and Duta Wacana Christian University (UKDW). Under the theme of “Decolonizing Religion(s),” the conference aimed to challenge the dominance of Western interpretations and revive indigenous spiritual traditions. It served as a clarion call for a more just and equitable world, where every individual’s rights are respected, and injustices are addressed, transcending the boundaries of race, gender, social status, and religion. Foreign Affairs’ Director General for Information and Public Diplomacy of the Indonesian Ministry, Teuku Faizasyah, hosted a concluding dinner for the diplomatic officials, members of the NICMCR Steering Committee and members of the Organizing team of UKDW, whereas the Dutch Embassy sponsored four young Dutch nationals to attend the events in order to engage in experiences of interfaith dialogue in Indonesia.

at the Kraton, Yogya, getting ready for the concluding dinner

The conference kicked off with a mesmerizing dance performance presented by the renowned Wiraga Laras Interfaith Dance Group and Mawar Saron Dance Group from Christian Javanese Church (GKJ) Kalipenten, Kulon Progo, Yogyakarta, titled Pelangi dari Bukit Menoreh or “Rainbow from the Menoreh Hills,” which showcased the diverse tapestry of life in the Menoreh Hills. The fusion of traditional dances, such as The Lengger Tapeng, Angguk, Jathilan, and Wayang Golek, captivated hearts and served as a powerful symbol of the conference’s inspiration drawn from the beauty of diversity.

Throughout the conference, keynote and plenary speeches explored various dimensions of decolonization, sparking conversations about rethinking education, restoring agency to marginalized communities, and recognizing the interconnections between religion, environmental stewardship, and social justice. The event left attendees inspired and reinvigorated, dedicated to driving positive change in their communities and beyond. Overall, the 8th Interfaith Dialogue Conference served as a significant step towards challenging dominant narratives, promoting inclusivity, and fostering dialogue among different faiths and cultures.


Embracing Decolonization and Inclusive Religious Education

The 8th Interfaith Dialogue left a profound impression on participants, evoking a sense of satisfaction and gratitude. Teuku Faizasyah, recognized the dialogue’s potential to deepen understanding of decolonization and gender. It was seen as a valuable platform for transformative conversations, where individuals could challenge prevailing perspectives and explore new insights.

Karin Mossenlechner, the Director General for Asia and Oceania at the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressed deep appreciation for the event organized by NICMCR. She acknowledged the dialogue’s role as a catalyst for the Dutch people to confront their colonial history, extend apologies, and embark on a profound journey of self-reflection and healing. The urgency of engaging in interfaith dialogue was emphasized, highlighting the need to address historical and social issues collectively.

Corrie van der Ven, steering committee of NICMCR, warmly welcomed participants to the 8th Interfaith Dialogue, emphasizing the Consortium’s commitment to fostering equal and critical exchanges between Indonesia and the Netherlands. The importance of decolonization was highlighted, and gratitude was expressed for the collaboration between Christians and Muslims, which led to valuable insights and a shared dedication to justice and personal growth. The Consortium’s aim to contribute to various aspects such as colonialism, eco-justice, gender justice, and inclusive religious education through research and discussions involving students, religious leaders, and experts was also emphasized.

Wiyatiningsih, the Rector of UKDW, expressed appreciation for hosting the Interfaith Dialogue and acknowledged the ongoing impact of colonization. The dialogue aligned with the university’s mission of promoting inclusivity and shedding light on decolonization and its enduring consequences, indicating its significance in addressing historical legacies.


Exploring the Essence of Decolonization, Rethinking Education, Restoring Agency and Spirituality

The conference left a strong impression by challenging conventional notions of decolonization and prompting participants to question the why rather than the what. Zainal Abidin Bagir, the keynote speaker, shed light on the overuse of the term in academia, raising concerns about its diminishing significance. Instead, the focus shifted towards exploring the emerging characteristics of decolonization, specifically within the realms of religion, interreligious dialogue, and religious studies. By delving into the decolonization of religion, the presentation served as a powerful reminder to reexamine critical issues within these domains.

the conference

During the first plenary session, Ruard Ganzevoort expanded the understanding of decolonization, emphasizing that it extends beyond the mere cessation of colonialism. Decolonization involves the healing of traumas, injustices, and racism inflicted by colonization, extending its reach beyond formerly colonized societies. The influence of colonizers is evident in religion and religious education, reflecting power dynamics that must be questioned. To embrace decolonization, it becomes imperative to challenge imposed norms and embrace one’s own culture. This transformative process paves the way for positive change and societal growth. Interfaith dialogue plays a crucial role in addressing neglected religions and supporting marginalized beliefs, while recognizing the complex roles of both colonizer and colonized is essential in healing and rectifying broken systems.

Samsul Maarif highlighted the significance of indigenous religions, which encompass a diverse range of spiritual beliefs deeply rooted in specific cultures. These religions promote interconnectedness, sustainability, and harmony with nature, emphasizing the importance of environmental stewardship and sharing within indigenous societies. Decolonizing religion becomes a means of restoring agency and spirituality to marginalized communities, challenging oppressive power dynamics that have persisted. By integrating diverse perspectives and synthesizing beliefs, cultural and spiritual revitalization can be achieved. Through the process of decolonization, indigenous communities reclaim spiritual sovereignty and foster inclusive religious practices based on relationships and personal resonance.


Challenging Dominant Narratives, Decolonizing Theology, and Unrevealing the Complexities of Religion

The second plenary session was truly enlightening as Dewi Candraningrum delved into the complex dynamics of women’s experiences, exploring ecological injustice and religious dominance. Her groundbreaking research challenged the prevailing belief that religion is solely oppressive towards women, unveiling how Muslim women in Indonesia find liberation within their spiritual lives. Through the compelling stories shared by women living in climate-affected communities, the study delved into the profound impacts of religion, socio-economic status, pollution, and climate change on various aspects of their lives, including sexual and reproductive health. The findings revealed a remarkable sense of solidarity among women who unite against ecological injustice, drawing inspiration from indigenous wisdom and liberative religious perspectives. These resilient women reclaim traditional practices as powerful decolonial tools to safeguard the planet. The material also highlighted the inspiring efforts of courageous individuals like Magdalena Maria Nunung Purwanti, Neni Yuliawati, and Sukinah, who advocate for gender equality, clean water access, and a healthy environment. Their endeavors embody a deep commitment to environmental preservation, resource management, and public awareness, emphasizing the significance of an intersectional feminist approach and decolonization in addressing climate injustice and empowering marginalized women as agents of change.

Decolonizing theology emerges as a profound quest for equality and liberation, aiming to dismantle the remnants of colonial power. Josien Folbert and Haryani Saptaningtyas offered a thought-provoking perspective on the practical implementation of decolonizing theology through a local theology program in Central Java and the Netherlands. This collaborative initiative between the Javanese and Dutch Protestant Churches disrupts unequal relationships and challenges rigid thought patterns between official and local theology. It creates a space for dialogue, inviting individuals to share their unique experiences and contemplate faith within the context of decolonization. By doing local theology, communities embark on a transformative journey where they engage in independent and imaginative theological exploration, seamlessly interweaving their beliefs into their everyday lives. This approach celebrates the richness of religious experiences and strives to rectify the imbalances caused by colonialism. Through the embrace of decolonization and local theology, communities liberate themselves from the constraints of colonial dominance, fostering diverse expressions of spirituality and nurturing an atmosphere of free thought and creative theological discourse.

Frans Wijsen provided a captivating perspective on the intricate interplay between religion and colonialism, with a specific focus on the impact of late 19th-century Dutch religious studies in Indonesia. Going beyond simplistic views that oppose religion to tradition, Wijsen emphasized the need for a nuanced approach inspired by influential thinkers like Foucault. At the center of his analysis was the enigmatic figure of Christian Snouck Hurgronje, also known as Abd al-Ghaffar, who played a pivotal role in Dutch colonialism and the shaping of religion in Indonesia. Through the lens of Dialogical Self Theory, Wijsen delved into Snouck Hurgronje’s multifaceted identity and allegiances, spanning the realms of scholarship, colonial advisory, Muslim conversion, marriage, aristocracy, and skepticism. By examining individual actors alongside their alliances with indigenous allies, a rich tapestry emerged, unraveling a nuanced understanding of decolonization and challenging fixed notions of passive victims and active agents within the West-Orient dichotomy.

Robert Setio, closing remarks

After the conference activities, the following day, an excursion was planned as integral part of and together with the participants of the NICMCR’s 8th Interfaith Dialogue. We visited the Mendut Monastery, in Magelang and PERCIK, in Salatiga. At the Mendut Monastery, we admired the beauty of the temple adorned with Buddhist religious symbols such as stupas, pillars, stone and wooden carvings, metal sculptures, and Buddha statues, along with Bodhi trees representing past, present, and future Buddhas, and captivating Mendut Temple. We also engaged in discussions about the intricacies of the Buddhist religion, particularly the activities of the monks within the temple complex. At PERCIK, we were welcomed with a Reog dance before delving into an intriguing discussion about local theology with the local theologians in Salatiga. It was a very interesting experience because we were able to continue the interfaith dialogue on a practical level.

reog dance at Percik, Salatiga



The 8th Interfaith Dialogue Conference in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, under the theme “Decolonizing Religion,” ignited transformative conversations on justice, equality, and indigenous spirituality. With diverse participants and experts, it challenged Western interpretations, spotlighting the enduring effects of colonization. The conference emphasized embracing diversity, promoting justice, and inspiring positive change. It fostered discussions on education, spirituality, and the interconnections of religion, environment, and social justice. Additionally, participants had a fascinating experience visiting the Mendut Monastery and engaging with local theologians in PERCIK, Salatiga. Attendees left with renewed inspiration and a commitment to decolonization, inclusivity, and interfaith dialogue.



  1. Lovely Rering – Undergraduate Student of Theology, UKDW
  2. Geovany Geraldy – Master Student of Theology, UKDW
  3. Oktovionaldi – Master Student of Theology, UKDW
  4. Magdalena Pura – Master Student of Theology, UKDW
  5. Paulus Eko Kristianto – Doctoral Student of Theology, UKDW
  1. Ethics and Constructive Theology Lecturer at Duta Wacana Christian University, he actively contributes to organizing the conference.