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Whittier College

Publication Date

Spring 2020

Program Name

Indonesia: Arts, Religion, and Social Change


On the Indonesian island of Java, there is a religious tradition referred to as Kebatinan, which can be seen as the mystical branch of the indigenous religion of Java called Kejawen. However, unlike the mystical traditions of other religions, mysticism is critical to the entire popular practice of Kejawen and is not simply reserved for a select few. There are, on the other hand, a select number of people who fully understand the philosophical notions associated with Kebatinan and so can still be considered the “mystics” of the Kejawen faith. What these principles of mysticism have ultimately manifested as in Java, has been an ability to adapt to the international religions that have made Java their home, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. Since mystical sects are usually far less dogmatic than their more popular, exoteric forms, mystics accept the truths offered by other religious traditions. While this is the case, Kebatinan practitioners have struggled to preserve their unique identity while adapting and blending with other religious traditions. They have struggled to gain full recognition since the independence of Indonesia was declared in 1945. Still, Kebatinan and Kejawen as a whole have infiltrated nearly every aspect of Javanese life, manifesting in art, politics, and all forms of popular culture. While syncretism has flourished on the island of Java for centuries thanks to the flexible belief systems of Kejawen practitioners, there is still a great deal of discrimination toward this community for their not following the template offered by the Indonesian government concerning what constitutes “official religion.”


Asian Studies | History of Religion | History of Religions of Eastern Origins | Indigenous Studies | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion | Sociology of Religion | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


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