chapter  12
Pluralist currents and counter-currents in the Indonesian mass media: The case of Anand Krishna
ByJULIA DAY HOWELL
Pages 20

This chapter examines the mass media, both print and electronic, as sites for the contestation of religious pluralism in Indonesia since the restoration of effective democracy in 1998. The Reformasi period (as the following decade came to be known) can be seen as one of destabilization and dispute over divergent notions of religiosity as properly communalist or autonomous, with the scales tipping towards the communalist since the Indonesian Council of Ulama (Majelis Ulama Indonesia or MUI) pronounced a series of fatwa against pluralism and liberalism in religion in 2005. This shift is examined by following the trajectory of one movement, that built

around the popular writer and eclectic spiritual development figure Anand Krishna.1 In the first years of Reformasi, Krishna’s easy-reading books on spirituality in many different religions crowded out other personal development and general religion books in big city stores. Through his books, and through his public appearances, many people were drawn to the spiritual development courses offered at his centres. Around the large open halls at the centres where he held his stress management and spiritual cleansing workshops (with titles like ‘Seni Memperdaya Diri [The Art of Self Empowerment], 1 & 2’ and ‘Neo-Zen Reiki’), he provided prayer spaces appropriately appointed for people of all Indonesia’s recognized religions. There were also niches for the symbols and pictures of the principal figures of other traditions. Workshop participants joined in short prayers from several of the major religions at the beginning of their sessions, but were encouraged to maintain their commitment to their professed religion, as shown on their identity cards. Krishna himself did not nominate a religious affiliation on his identity card,

and his life story traverses several religious traditions. Born in Surakarta, Central Java, in 1956 to parents of Indian descent, he received a Hindu upbringing, but his father also introduced him to the poetry of the famous Sindhi Sufi master Shah Abdul Latief, forming the basis of his abiding deep appreciation of Islam’s devotional and mystical heritage. For his primary and secondary school education Krishna was sent to Lucknow, India. There he met and followed the remarkable Sufi teacher Sheikh Baba, who made his living on the streets selling ice blocks. Years later, after doing university studies and becoming a successful businessman in the Jakarta garment trade, Krishna was diagnosed with terminal leukaemia.