Of mysterious whispers and biodiesel : the engtanglement of religion and everyday environmental practices in Indonesia

Ulil, Amri. Of mysterious whispers and biodiesel : the engtanglement of religion and everyday environmental practices in Indonesia. Diss. of U of Washington. 2019.
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Abstract: This dissertation examines the entanglement of religion, ecology, science, and everyday political economy in the making of new socio-environmental practices. It shows how the practices are driven by various forces, including religious power (mysterious whisper), global and national environmental discourse, a local search for economic benefit, and national identity. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted from 2014-2017 in several places in Indonesia (mainly in a traditional Islamic institution named Pesantren Sunan Drajat, Lamongan, East Java), this dissertation shows that socio-environmental practices have created multiple subjectivities among the members of the Pesantren. They displayed various positionalities, such as being idealistic, pragmatic, or both during tree plantation, waste management, participating in a green school, and, most recently, involvement in alternative energy programs, including the production of biodiesel fuel (Kemiri Sunan/Reutealis Trisperma/Candlenut) and the development of an incineration plant. Such subjectivities and positionalities in turn shape the characteristics of their socio-environmental practices. This dissertation aims to destabilize the bifurcation of religion and secularism, modernity and tradition, and science and occultism. The members of Pesantren Sunan Drajat have shown that their involvement in their socio-environmental practices is informed and influenced by the entanglement of religious ideologies and neoliberal calculative reason, traditional values and modern visions, as well as scientific development and occultism. Furthermore, this dissertation argues that Indonesian Muslims are trying to religionize neoliberalism, traditionalize modernity, and mysticize science in unusual, awkward, and complicated ways. The entanglement of all forces and practices become the everyday life of the members of the Pesantren in producing alternative modernity.

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Completed/published
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