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Book: The Insider/Outsider Debate

Chapter: Chapter 14: Navigating Multiplicity in a Binary World: A Javanese Example of Complex Religious Identity

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.27464


Existing, theological interpretations of complex religious identity ‒ that is, spiritual formation influenced by more than one religious tradition ‒ fail to consider fully the positive, integrative, and adaptive dimensions of this expression of spirituality. In this chapter the author presents findings from a qualitative study of Javanese individuals with complex religious identities, which challenge the assumption that people who draw from multiple religious traditions do not have spiritual depth because they take a cafeteria or bricolage approach to spirituality. The participants in this study are spiritually and intellectually independent, deeply committed to their spiritual life, and likely to have mystical conceptions of God. They must find ways to integrate these multiple religious traditions in an environment that, while religiously plural, still enforces singular religious identity.

The study focused on two questions: (1) How do people with complex religious identity in Java, Indonesia, understand and explain their spirituality? (2) In what ways do people with complex religious identity respond to and navigate the norms and conventional interpretations of their traditions? These questions were engaged through two months of field research and in-depth interviews in and around the city of Yogyakarta in 2013. The study was informed by hermeneutic phenomenology, critical theory, and by the author’s primary disciplinary lens of pastoral theology, and used a grounded-theory approach to data analysis. Though the research conducted is particular to the Javanese context, the data suggest universal aspects of complex religious identity that deserve further study.

Chapter Contributors

  • Katherine Rand ( - krand) 'PhD student, Claremont School of Theology'