Dr Carool Kersten, King’s College London


The purpose of this fellowship application is to obtain dedicated research time to produce a monograph for which I have received a contract from an academic publisher. Selected data will also be made accessible through an open source online platform for teaching and learning materials in contemporary Islamic thinking currently developed by the applicant with a grant from the Higher Education Academy in the UK.

Within the framework of the ‘Translating Cultures’ highlight notice, this project will focus on two aspects of contemporary Islamic intellectual history. (1) Map new strands of Islamic thinking interrogating traditional Islamic religious doctrine and authority and criticizing conventional Islamic modernism and reformism developed in Indonesia by 2nd and 3rd-generation post-independence intellectuals using ideas from Western post-modernist and postcolonial theory, contemporary Islamic philosophers and other intellectuals from across the Muslim world to. (2) Examine the translation of these alternative Islamic discourses into Muslim civic activism affirming religious pluralism, advocating secular democratization processes, and upholding universal standards of human rights through reforming Islamic higher education and the transmutation of procedural legalistic thinking about Islamic law into a hermeneutics of normativity.

The project will examine contemporary Indonesian Muslim intellectuals in their role of ‘specialists in the translation between cultures’. It will explain and interpret the global, trans-regional, and cross-cultural dimensions of alternative Islamic discourses which challenge Islamic traditionalism, conventional reformist and modernist interpretations of Islam, political Islamism and ‘hard secularism’. This phenomenon will be interrogated through concepts such as ‘travelling theory’ and the ‘circulation of ideas’, which have been successfully employed in other scholarly fields like literary criticism, historical Indian Ocean studies, and international relations.

Indonesia and Turkey offer the most successful experiments in translating the ideas into initiatives that redefine the role of religion in the public sphere of the Muslim world. A better understanding of these experiences can help recalibrate longterm policies towards the Muslim world beyond the immediate security concerns governing present involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. The data are also useful for managing relations with Muslim minorities and developing community cohesion on the domestic level.

Following the seismic shifts during the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, Indonesia and Turkey’s so-called Post-traditionalist and Post- Islamist discourses have gained wide recognition as models for future democratization and the development of a civil society in the Arab world. However, Indonesia has received far less scholarly attention in comparison to the Turkish case. As an understudied subject, the intellectual underpinnings of Indonesian experiences with advocating freedom of expression, religious pluralism and tolerance, democratization, and economic development in Islamic contexts is best explained from the suggested trans-regional perspective.

By helping to close this gap in our knowledge of present-day Islamic thinking, the project will make a significant contribution to our understanding of intellectual developments in the contemporary Muslim world complementing the currently prevailing ‘securitization of religion’.



Dr Carool Kersten



King’s College London project page

RCUK Gateway to Research


Outputs and Publications:



Islam in Indonesia: The Contest for Society, Ideas and Values

(London and New York: Hurst & Oxford University Press, 2014)


Book chapter:

“Islamic Post-Traditionalism in Indonesia: Revisiting Tradition and the Future of Islam”.

In: Carool Kersten and Susanne Olsson (eds.)  Alternative Islamic Discourses and Religious Authority : Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2013, pp.137-158



“Islamic Post-Traditionalism: Postcolonial and Postmodern Religious Discourse in Indonesia”

Sophia: International Journal for Philosophy and Traditions 53:3 (2014) DOI: 10.1007/s11841-014-0434-0


Research Reports:

“Religious Pluralism versus Intolerance: Sectarian Violence in Indonesia”

Middle East-Asia Project
Papers. Middle East Institute, Washington DC, 7 July 2014


“Critical Islam: Muslims and their Religion in a Post-Islamist World” 

Singapore Middle East Papers 10(1),
National University of Singapore, Middle East Institute, 12 June 2014, pp. 1-20.