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Spiritual area on the Gadjah Mada campus linked to Joko Widodo?

Fulcrum - December 18, 2023

Leo Suryadinata – Universitas Gadjah Mada, one of Indonesia's top campuses and alma mater of the current president as well as four of the six candidates vying for the 2024 presidency and vice presidency, is constructing worship facilities for all six of Indonesia's recognised religions.

In late October this year, the Student Activities Unit (UKM) at the University of Gadjah Mada (UGM) announced that a "spiritual area" consisting of houses of worship on its campus would be ready soon. A public university, UGM is the alma mater of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and the only Indonesian university where houses of worship for various religions (other than Islam) are being established. This is a significant symbol that would show UGM embraces Pancasila and religious pluralism.

As Jokowi is known as a Pancasila-ist and is still powerful even near the end of his presidency, one wonders who conceived this project and why it is being completed near the end of Jokowi's presidency? Was President Jokowi involved?

In the New Order era, to combat the resurgence of Communism, Suharto promoted six official religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. However, Confucianism was "de-recognised" by the administration in 1978-79 when the abovementioned objective was achieved. Confucianism was seen as hindering ethnic Chinese assimilation and only returned as Indonesia's sixth officially recognised religion after Suharto's fall.

Although mosques are typically established on state university campuses in Indonesia, worship houses are not built for the other five religions. After Jokowi assumed the presidency, things began to change. In 2017, Professor Panut Mulyono, then the new rector of UGM, reportedly released a masterplan for the construction of campus buildings for the period 2017-2022, including that of worship houses for the five other recognised religions.

The masterplan targeted the completion of these houses of worship by 2022 but as late as November 2021, the plan faced various difficulties. The Intellectuals Club at UGM hosted dialogues, inviting students, the religious communities, and university management to discuss the plan. The university revealed that difficulties included funding, the adjustment of the masterplan, and persuading senior UGM staff members to move out from areas where the planned houses of worship were to be built. The pandemic was probably another delaying factor.

Nevertheless, on 21 May 2022, Professor Mulyono announced the laying of the foundations for the five houses of worship in a Spiritual Area (Kawasan Kerohanian) on campus that would occupy an area of 4,789 square metres. Each house of worship can accommodate 250-300 people and construction was due to be completed by mid-December 2023.At the May event, Professor Mulyono stated that this Spiritual Area will be a symbol of tolerance and religious harmony. He noted that its establishment was one of the commitments to make UGM a "Pancasila university", meaning an open tertiary institution that catered to various religious activities. These activities would be connected with the activities of the campus mosque.

Professor Mulyono was the first to lay the foundation stone, followed by Pratikno, Minister of the State Secretariat and chairman of the Board of Trustees of UGM. Pratikno welcomed the establishment of this Spiritual Area, noting that the world was becoming more pluralist and that various cultures and religions had been interacting rigorously. Indonesia had been able to deal with challenges facing other multicultural countries using the concept of "unity in diversity" (Bhineka Tunggal Ika). Pratikno added that this plurality "should be maintained within the education system for Indonesia's future generation".

In August 2023, UGM leaders inspected the project and stated that 46 per cent was complete. The authorities believed that it would be completed as scheduled. Professor Wening Udasmoro, Chairman of the Academic Senate, noted that the construction of this spiritual complex would be "a place for learning as well as a place for students to practice the values of tolerance and solidarity". A university website piece ran in September announcing some limited funding awarded to the Hindu spiritual facility, reiterating the timeliness of the project's completion.

The building of the Spiritual Area at UGM may well have been the brainchild of Professor Mulyono, the rector for 2017-2022. As his predecessor, Pratikno, a UGM professor and former rector for 2012-2017, was possibly also involved from the beginning. There is no clear evidence that Jokowi was directly involved but Pratikno has been the Minister of the State Secretariat in Jokowi's cabinet since 2014. As noted above, the plan for the Spiritual Area was released in 2017 and Pratikno attended the foundation laying ceremony last year.

The above circumstances and personalities involved suggest that Jokowi has probably tacitly endorsed the project. Some may see this as Jokowi refining one aspect of his presidential legacy, specifically at his alma mater. Others may interpret the plan as the university leadership's effort to make UGM more attractive to a younger generation of Indonesians and foreign students, given Indonesia's status and growing influence in the region.

[Leo Suryadinata is Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and Professor (Adj.) at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at NTU. He was formerly Director of the Chinese Heritage Centre, NTU.]

Source: https://fulcrum.sg/is-the-establishment-of-a-spiritual-area-on-the-gadjah-mada-campus-linked-to-joko-widodo