A new perspective for 'Balinese Hinduism' in the light of the pre-modern religious discourse: a textual-historical approach

Andrea Acri

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    A significant amount of scholarly literature on Balinese religion has been published so far. Several of these studies, mostly written by anthropologists, have focused on the process of normalization and universalization of Balinese religion promoted by various reform movements since the early twentieth century. According to the most influential theories, the reformers sought to promote a shift from orthopraxy (adat) to an abstract religion (agama), the allegiance to a single deity and the ‘scripturalization’ of traditional beliefs. This process has been regarded as one of discontinuity, witnessing a (self-) superimposition of foreign concepts on the local pre-existing framework. In other words, Balinese Hinduism has been viewed as a construction or ‘invention’ of local leaders and intellectuals in their attempt to establish a form of religion which could be reconciled with both Indian Hinduism and Balinese traditions. While this approach has offered a substantial contribution to the analysis of the process of ‘Hinduization’ as it unfolded in modern times, scholars have often paid too little attention to the historical perspective, with the consequence that it is still difficult to discern features that are the result of reformist influence from those that took shape in the pre-colonial past. The emphasis has tended to be on sociological issues connected with ritual and hierarchy, rather than doctrinal and philosophical ones. In particular, scholars have largely ignored an important source of data on the latter aspect of Balinese religion, i.e. the extensive corpus of S´aiva texts known as Tutur, representing a body of didactic literature contextualizing materials of South Asian provenance into a Javano-Balinese doctrinal framework.1 Furthermore, very little attention has been paid so far to the comparison with features of ancient Indian religion(s), which since the first millennium CE have contributed to shaping the Balinese religious tradition. Following an approach inspired by the ground-breaking research on Bali- nese mysticism by Stephen (2005),2 I argue in this chapter that several widely accepted statements in studies on Balinese religion could be questioned in the light of the most recent research on the Tutur literature.3 Drawing upon Tutur texts, this chapter tries to show that several of the characterizing features of modern Balinese religious discourse can be traced back to the pre-modern past, being ultimately based on Indic ideas. This testifies to the existence of a complex mystical and philosophical tradition that predates twentieth-century reformist efforts and which existed alongside the ritual dimension of the everyday local religious practices described by anthropologists. In presenting my analysis, the chapter focuses on three characteristic features of modern Balinese religion, arguing that they represent, at least in part, elements of continuity rather than being uniquely the result of the normative influence of Christianity, Islam and (Neo-)Hinduism. These features include: the scripturalization of Balinese religion, the theological-philosophical dimension as reflected in the traditional literature, and its monotheistic character. Rather than denying the important role played by external elements in polarizing certain aspects of Balinese religion, I aim to show that a careful text-oriented analysis is required in order to better understand the dynamics of the religious discourse in its historical dimension.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe politics of religion in Indonesia: syncretism, orthodoxy, and religious contention in Java and Bali
    Editors Michel Picard and Remy Madinier
    Place of PublicationOxford
    PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
    ISBN (Print)9780415613118
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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