Freshmen at state universities are often pressured to join campus-based religious groups. (Antara Photo/Khairizal Maris)

Religious Fundamentalism a Creeping Problem in State Universities: Survey


JULY 01, 2019

Jakarta. Religious teaching in Indonesian state universities could be amplifying fundamentalist tendencies among their students, making them more accepting of extremist ideas, a recent survey has shown. 

Setara Institute's "Students' Religious Model," a new study released on Sunday, involved one thousand respondents with various religious beliefs from 10 state universities in Indonesia.

The study was intended to find out the students' views on religious fundamentalism, conservatism, inclusivity and religious violence.

The survey featured yes-or-no questions, including the following: "The road to salvation in the world and afterlife can only be found in my religion"; "Only my religion could answer the spiritual needs of every human"; "My religion is perfect and does not need an extra guidance from others"; "Only my religion could create justice for all Indonesians"; "Indonesia will be safe if everyone follows the same religion."

According to the study, the way people act toward followers of other religions are influenced by many factors, but family upbringing is one of the most prominent. 

"[It depends on] the students. University campuses are neither inclusive or exclusive [in general]," Setara Institute researcher Noryamin Aini said on Sunday.

The study puts forward the proposition that fundamentalist views can strengthen religious faith and are not necessarily harmful to society, but can also have a negative effect if social pressures or irresponsible teaching lead them to a more extreme direction.

"Religious fundamentalism could become the root of exclusivism and intolerant behavior if students' social life also follows a strict fundamentalist vision," Noryamin said.

Policy Changes Needed

The deputy director of Setara Institute, Bonar "Choky" Tigor Naipospos, said the study will be submitted to the government, along with suggestions for policy changes.

One of the suggestions is for the Education and Culture Ministry to move the compulsory religion course at state universities from the first semester to the fifth semester. This should prevent new students from being recruited by campus-based religious groups.

Another of Setara's suggestions is to employ philosophy graduates as lecturers of the religion course. 

"If a lecturer belongs to an exclusive religious group, he will force his beliefs on his students," Choky said.

The study also suggests that the ministry should monitor religious fundamentalism at all state universities and send in tolerant religious figures to give lectures there. 

Setara's executive director Ismail Hasani said the government would do well to pay close attention to the study and that President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo should focus on countering intolerance and radicalism in his second term. 

State Universities Ranked by Their Religious Fundamentalism

The Setara study also includes a ranking of state universities according to the strength of their students' fundamentalist views. The higher the score, the more fundamentalist the students in the university are likely to be.

According to the list, students at Bandung State Islamic University are the most fundamentalist. The Jakarta branch of the same university is ranked second. This is the full list:

- Bandung State Islamic University, "religious fundamentalism score" of 45 

- Jakarta State Islamic University, 33 

- Mataram University, 32 

- Bogor Agricultural Institute, 24

- Yogyakarta State University, 22

- Gadjah Mada University, 12 

- Brawijaya University, 13

- Bandung Institute of Technology, 10

- Airlangga University, 8

- University of Indonesia, 7