Dimas Kanjeng and modernity challenged

Diterbitkan tanggal 15 Oktober 2016

M. Latif Fauzi

Muh. Latif Fauzi, M.A., M.S.I
Dosen Fakultas Syariah (PhD Researcher di Humanities Faculty – Universiteit Leiden)

Controversy has been rife in Indonesia over the seemingly religious “cult” in East Java called Padepokan Dimas Kanjeng Taat Pribadi, whose leader — Dimas Kanjeng — has been arrested for murder and possibly a fake investment scheme. This follows the preceding case of Gatot Brajamusti, arrested for alleged drug possession and sexual harassment.

Of late, Indonesia has seen several peculiar ritual groups. Nuanced with religious activities, the Dimas Kanjeng movement has remarkably involved some prominent elites and thousands of followers. They believed that thekanjeng (spiritual leader) can “produce” money and gold. This phenomenon has caused increasing public and scholarly concerns.

I was not completely surprised with the varying voices stepping forward to a TV talk show discussing the phenomenon. Indeed, from the testimonies presented by the murdered relatives, fraud almost convincingly explains the case.

At stake are issues of delusion, a deviant sect, money forgery and murder. These were opinions argued by police officer, politicians, religious scholars, and intellectuals. One of them specifically persuaded the well-renowned religious leader, a follower of the kanjeng, to “come back”.

Murder reconstruction: Suspect Dimas Kanjeng (center) participates in a reconstruction for a murder case in Wangkal village, Probolinggo, East Java, on Monday. Dimas and one of his staff members stand accused of murdering Abdul Gani, a follower of Dimas. (Antara/Umarul Faruq)

It shows the way both religious-traditional and modern approaches regard the Dimas Kanjeng case from a very legal, black-and-white view: black magic, crimes, fraud and the likes. The case has been simply viewed in a structural manner, rather than functional. The fact is, however, that the police arrested the kanjeng on several suspicions.

I do not necessarily intend to defend one side as true or oppose the legal process. That is not a productive stance, from an academic perspective at least. However, little has been asked on the extent to which the notion of modernity, let alone state sovereignty, has to cope with present-day complexities such as the case in question.

Some questions deserve to be mentioned here. Why join this group? Do the followers have the same orientation? What does modern rationality means to them? Why spirituality? Where is the nation-state?

Over the last few decades scholars have been concerned with the relation of modernity and religion. That modernity, attributed to rationality, leads to the decline of traditional-religious values and its practices now are coming under scrutiny.

Modernization brought about secularizing effects. By contrast, it also provoked anti-secularization movements (Berger 1999). This generated an increasing demand for the re-advancement of religious and traditional institutions in many worldly sectors (Kalanges 2014).

Modernity has been imagined as the promotion of the nation-state, the resurgence of science and technology, the respect for human rights, and the promise of economic welfare.

Yet, scholars today have observed a global increase in the role of religion in contemporary societies. It has encouraged revival movements and resulted in so-called modern crises of authority (Keyes et al 1994). The more modernity is promoted, the more it is resisted.

Modern ideas have inevitably encouraged the coming-into-being of the state, yet in a non-natural swift way. It assumed legitimate rule and appealed to its people to strive for unity. Commitment to modernization led to the alienation of past traditions, discouraging ritual activities. Here modernity experienced a problematic relationship with the past. It somehow invented a new authority and “rite”.

Now Asian countries are generally experiencing this variety of religious resurgence. They are resisting against modernity. The alleged state authority is challenged. These movements interestingly benefit from modern technology and transnational networks.

The academic sphere is experiencing the same challenge, explaining why traditional, religious choices are still popular. Whereas the world is heading to a more rationalized society. Back to Dimas Kanjeng, his followers believed he could provide them prosperity. As dower, they transferred money via the “modern” ATM to purchase special perfume oil for duplicating money. This entails modernity and magical power working as one.

Despite the legal issues, the occurrence of Dimas Kanjeng is a symbol of the unending contestation of religion, spirituality and modernization. Given this complexity, it seems misleading to only put this case on the religious agencies’ shoulders (official and non-official ulema).

Criminalization of Dimas Kanjeng dashed the utopic hopes of his followers. The problem lies not solely on rationality, legal awareness and proper religious understanding. This nation still needs to do its homework on economic welfare and future prosperity.

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Muhammad Latif Fauzi
The writer, who is pursuing his PhD at LIAS, Leiden University, the Netherlands, is also a lecturer at the Surakarta State Islamic Institute.

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