Singing Yourself into Existence; Chinese Indonesian Entrepreneurs, Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity, and the Indonesian Nation State

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


As the news report above reveals, charismatic Christianity is gaining popularity in Indonesia, and particularly so among Chinese groups in urban areas. While it is argued that countries like Indonesia, and also Singapore, China and Malaysia, have the fastest-growing Christian communities in the world, and that the majority of these new believers are middle-class Chinese (Brazier 2006; Yang 2005), little is known about the reasons why they are converting to this vibrant form of Christianity. This chapter aims to resolve this lack of understanding by focusing on a group of recently converted Chinese Indonesian entrepreneurs in the city of Yogyakarta, central Java. The case of Chinese Indonesians has a particular edge to it because of the

precarious position of Chinese Indonesians within the Indonesian nation state (Coppel 2002). In the mid-1960s, the New Order regime of former president Suharto (1966-98) installed a severe assimilation policy, which meant that Chinese schools were closed down and Chinese religious traditions were banned from the public sphere. Being Chinese became a contested position within a nation state that many Chinese Indonesians consider theirs. Apart from ethnic and religious quandaries, their economic predominance has also been troublesome, of which the often heard stereotype that ‘all’ Chinese Indonesians are ‘extremely rich’ is the best example. Although Chinese

Indonesians supposedly control 80 per cent of Indonesia’s corporate assets (Yeung and Olds 2000: 7-9), the large majority of the three to seven million Chinese Indonesians are shopkeepers and traders.2 Their strong representation in entrepreneurial activities is closely related to the fact that during the New Order regime they were not allowed to occupy political, civic and military positions (Freedman 2000). Their multiple contested positions have made Chinese Indonesians into easy scapegoats in times of economic and political turmoil; the most recent outburst of violence against them took place in May 1998. The late 1990s saw a culmination of environmental, economic and political crises, and Chinese Indonesians faced heightened insecurity due to financial losses, but more importantly because their physical safety was under attack. This leads to the question of whether the intense insecurity of the late 1990s was the trigger for some Chinese Indonesian entrepreneurs to convert to Charismatic Christianity. In the remainder of this chapter I shall discuss the research methodology followed by the positioning of Chinese Indonesians within the Indonesian nation state. The next section reflects on the global and local ‘faces’ of Pentecostal-charismatic Christianity, while the subsequent empirical part, by way of a narrative approach, explores the reasons behind the move towards charismatic Christianity. In the final section several conclusions are drawn.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChristianity and the state in Asia
Subtitle of host publicationComplicity and conflict
EditorsJulius Bautista, Francis Khek Gee Lim
PublisherRoutledge/Taylor & Francis Group
ISBN (Electronic)9780203883761
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

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