Indonesian Tourists' Affections for Palestine and Israel as Markers of Cosmopolitan Religious Identities


Mon, 26/04/2021 - 10:30 to 12:30


Dr, Mirjam Lucking

Why does the world´s largest menorah, a symbol of Judaism and Israeli nationalism, stand in
Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, that in fact shares no diplomatic relations with Israel? And why do Indonesians collect donations for Palestinian hospitals when there is need and poverty in their own country?


At first glance, these interactions with Israel and Palestine look like a surrogate conflict between Muslim and Christian Indonesians. However, a closer look reveals that such expressions of solidarity reflect much more complex frictions across various religious traditions in Indonesia and also surprising similarities.


Affections for peoples and places beyond Indonesia are part and parcel of defining one’s own religious identity. Yet, the flair of cosmopolitanism that accompanies these affections, often says more about the domestic context rather than the international one. Tourism is a vivid example for what could be described as “patriotic cosmopolitanism” in Appiah’s (1998) words.

A growing Indonesian middle class can afford overseas’ travels, which often follow religious aims. Pilgrimage-tourism to the Middle East, Europe and Asia, and its documentation on social media, are popular representations of prestigious cosmopolitan religious identities. Strikingly, the travel destinations, markers of cosmopolitanism and the overall framework as guided package tours are similar among Muslim and Christian Indonesians of various traditions. Nevertheless, on a rhetoric level, Indonesian pilgrims and travel agents do emphasize differences and demarcations along with statements of solidarity for Israel or Palestine.


Based on ethnographic research in Israel, Palestine and Indonesia, this talk unravels this ambivalent discourse-practice divide among Indonesian tourist-pilgrims and explores the meanings of religious cosmopolitanism, which reveal continuities as well as new trends in Indonesian religious traditions creating rather similar patterns of patriotic cosmopolitan religious identities among Indonesia’s middle classes.