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A Wayang puppet representing Semar

Kebatinan, also called Kejawen, Agama Jawa and Kepercayaan is a Javanese religious tradition, consisting of an amalgam of animistic, Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic, especially Sufi, beliefs and practices. It is rooted in the Javanese history and religiosity, syncretizing aspects of different religions.


The term kebatinan is being used interchangeably with kejawen,[1] Agama Jawa[2] and Kepercayaan,[3][4] although they are not exactly the same:

Kebatinan is the inner-directed cultivation of inner peace, rooted in pre-Islamic traditions,[10] whereas kejawen is outer-directed and community-oriented, manifesting in rituals and practices.[10]


A Wayang puppet representing Garuda

Java has been a melting pot of religions and cultures, which has created a broad range of religious belief.


Animism was the first religion at Java.[11]

Hinduism and Buddhism

Indian influences came first with Hinduism, which reached the Indonesian Archipelago as early as first century.[12] In the 4th century, the kingdom of Kutai in East Kalimantan, Tarumanagara in West Java, and Holing (Kalingga) in Central Java, were among the early Hindu states established in the region. Several notable ancient Indonesian Hindu kingdoms are Mataram, famous for the construction of the majestic Prambanan temple, followed by Kediri and Singhasari. Since then Hinduism along with Buddhism spread across the archipelago and reached the peak of its influence in the 14th century. The last and largest among Hindu-Buddhist Javanese empires, Majapahit, influenced the Indonesian archipelago.

Hinduism and Buddhism penetrated deeply into society, blending with the indigenous tradition and culture.[13] One conduit for this were the ascetics, called resi, who taught mystical practices. A resi lived surrounded by students, who took care of their master's daily needs. Resi's authorities were merely ceremonial. At the courts, Brahmin clerics and pudjangga (sacred literati) legitimized rulers and linked Hindu cosmology to their political needs.[13] Small Hindu enclaves are scattered throughout Java, but there is a large Hindu population along the eastern coast nearest Bali, especially around the town of Banyuwangi.

Nowadays Bali is still pre-dominantly Hindus, while Buddhist communities also exist in the major cities, primarily among the Chinese Indonesian.


Main article: Islam in Indonesia

Java adopted[14][note 1] Islam around 1500 CE.[14] Islam was first accepted by the elites, which contributed to the further spread and acceptance. Sufi and other versions of Folk Islam were most easily integrated in the folk religion of Java.[14] The learned versions of Sufi Islam and shari`a-oriented Islam were integrated at the courts with rituals and myths of the existing Hindu-Buddhist civilisation.[14] Clifford Geertz described this as abangan and priyayi, "the lower class and elite varieties of Javanese syncretism".[14]

The Kyai, the Muslim scholar of the writ became the new religious elite as Hindu influences receded. Islam recognises no hierarchy of religious leaders nor a formal priesthood, but the Dutch colonial government established an elaborate rank order for mosque and other Islamic preaching schools. In Javanese pesantren (Islamic schools), The Kyai perpetuated the tradition of the resi. Students around him provided his needs, even peasants around the school.[13]


Christianity was brought to Java by missionaries, first from the Dutch Reformed Church, and in the 20th century also by Roman Catholics, such as the Jesuits and the Divine Word Missionaries. Nowadays there are Christian communities, mostly Reformed in the larger cities, though some rural areas of south-central Java are strongly Roman Catholic. Roman Catholics and other Christian groups have been persecuted for their beliefs such as a ban on Christmas services but there are no such things like that nowadays.[15]

Islam and kebatinan

Nowadays more than 90 percent of the people of Java are Muslims, on a broad continuum between abangan and santri. Although Java is nominally Islamitic, kejawen, the syncretic Javanese culture, is a strong undercurrent.[16] Pre-Islamic Javan traditions have encouraged Islam in a mystical direction.

Some Javanese texts relate stories about Syekh Siti Jenar (also known as Syekh Lemah Abang) who had conflicts with Wali Sanga, the nine Islamic scholars in Java, and the Sultanate of Demak.[17][18] Although Syekh Siti Jenar was a sufi whose teaching were similar with Al-Hallaj, most of his followers (Ki Kebo Kenanga) come from Kebatinan. Some historians have doubted the existence of Syekh Siti Jenar, suggesting the stories represent conflicts between Kebatinan and Islam in the past.

With the Islamisation of Java there emerged a loosely structured society of religious leadership, revolving around kyais, Islamic experts possessing various degrees of proficiency in pre-Islamic and Islamic lore, belief and practice.[13] The kyais are the principal intermediaries between the villages masses and the realm of the supernatural. However, this very looseneess of kyai leadership structure has promoted schism. There were often sharp divisions between orthodox kyais, who merely instructed in Islamic law, with those who taught mysticism and those who sought reformed Islam with modern scientific concepts.

As a result, the Javanese recognize two broad streams of religious commitment:[19][note 2]

  1. Santri or putihan ("pure ones"), those who pray, performing the five obligatory daily ritual prayers.[19] They are more orthodox in their Islamic belief and practice,[13] and oppose the abangan, who they consider to be heterodox.[22]
  2. Abangan, "the red ones", who do not strictly observe the Islamic rituals.[19] They have mixed pre-Islamic animistic and Hindu-Indian concepts with a superficial acceptance of Islamic belief,[13] and emphasize the importance of the purity of the inner person, the batin.[19]

This distinction between "the High Islam or scripturalist, shari`a-oriented Islam of the `ulama"[14] and "living local Islam"[14] or "Folk Islam"[14] or "popular Islam"[14] is not restricted to Java, but can be found in other Islamic countries as well.[14]

Ernest Gellner has developed an influential model of Muslim society, in which this dichotomy is central:[14]

He sees a dialectical relationship between the two, with periods of scripturalist dominance followed by relapses into emotional, mystical, magical folk Islam. Modernity — especially urbanisation and mass literacy — unsettles the balance between the two, by eroding the social bases of folk Islam. An irreversible shift to scripturalist Islam occurs, which is in Gellner’s view the equivalent of secularisation in the West.[14]

Bruinessen finds this too limited, and distinguishes three overlapping spheres:[14]

  1. Shari`a-oriented Islam,
  2. Sufism (mystical Islam, which has its learned and popular variants),
  3. The periphery of local rituals, local shrines, local spirit cults and heterodox beliefs and practices in general.[note 3]

Javanese syncretistic religiousness has a strong popular base, outnumbering the santri and the support for Islamic political parties.[23][web 2] Choy relates this to a Javanese apparent openness to new religions, but filtering out only those elements which fit into the Javanese culture.[24] Choy mentions several reasons for this nominal Islamic identity:[25]

  1. The Islamic scholars in Java have been trained in curricula which were geared for social conditions of two or three centuries ago, lacking the ability to impart the spirit and sense of Islam;[24]
  2. The inability to summarise the principles of Islam in understandable basic points which can be applied to daily life;[25]
  3. Kebatinan can be learned and understood without the need to learn Arabic.[26]

In the early 20th century, several groups became formalised, developing systemetised teachings and rituals, thus offering a 'high' form of abangan religiosity, as an alternative to the 'high' Islam.[27] Bruinessen opines that the kebatinan-movements is a deliberate rejection of scriptural Islam,[28] which arose out of "folk Islam".[14]


A Javanese man meditating under Banyan tree. Dutch East Indies, before 1940.


See also: Batin (Islam)

Kebatinan is derived from the Arabic word batin, meaning "inner" or "hidden",[5] or "inner self".[29] It is a metaphysical search for harmony within one's inner self, connection with the universe, and with an Almighty God.[29] Kebatinan believe in a "super-consciousness" which can be contacted through meditation.[26]


Kebatinan is a combination of metaphysics, mysticism and other esoteric doctrines[29] from Animistic, Hinduistic, Buddhist and Islamic origins. Although the Javanese culture is tolerant, and open to new religions, only those qualities are accepted and filtered which fit into the Javanese culture, character and personality.[24] Javanese ideals combine human wisdom (wicaksana), psyche (waskita) and perfection (sempurna). The follower must control his/her passions, eschewing earthly riches and comforts, so that he/she may one day reach enlightened harmony and union with the spirit of the universe.

According to Choy, the Kebatinan have no certain prophet,[30] sacred book,[30] nor distinct religious festivals and rituals. Nevertheless, various kebatinan-movements have their own foundational writings and founders.[31][32]

A kebatinan practitioner can identify with one of the six officially recognized religions, while still subscribe to the kebatinan belief and way of life.


Although kebatinan is a predominantly Javanese tradition, it has also attracted practitioners from other ethnic and religious groups, such as Chinese and Buddhists,[33] and foreigners from Australia and Europe.[9] President Suharto counted himself as one of its adherents. Their total membership is difficult to estimate as many of their adherents identify themselves with one of the official religions.[34]

Official recognition

The Indonesian state ideology strives toward a unified nation, recognizing only monotheism. Meanwhile, there is also a tolerance for non-recognized religions.[16] A broad plurality of religions and sects exist. In the middle of 1956, the Department of Religious Affairs in Yogyakarta reported 63 religious sects in Java other than the official Indonesian religions. Of these, 22 were in West Java, 35 were in Central Java, and 6 in East Java.[13]

These include also kebatinan-groups, such as Sumarah. This loosely organized current of thought and practice was legitimized in the 1945 constitution, but failed to attain official recognition as a religion.[9] In 1973 it was recognized as Kepercayaan kepada Tuhan Yang Maha Esa (Indonesian: Belief in One Mighty God[9]), but withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Religion and placed under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Culture.[9]


A variety of practices is being used in kebatinan to acquire ilmu[35][note 4], namely tiraka[36][35][37][note 5] and tapa[36] or tapabrata.[37][note 6]

Many Kebatinan followers practice in their own way to seek spiritual and emotional relief. These practices are not performed in churches or mosques, but at home or in caves or on mountain perches. Meditation in Javanese culture is a search for inner self wisdom and to gain physical strength. This tradition is passed down from generation to generation.


There are several tapa:


Fasting is a common practice employed by Javanese spiritualists in order to attain discipline of mind and body to get rid of material and emotional desires:

Pantheistic worship

Kebatinan often implies pantheistic worship, because it encourages sacrifices and devotions to local and ancestral spirits. These spirits are believed to inhabit natural objects, human beings, artifacts, and grave sites of important wali (Muslim saints). Illness and other misfortunes are traced to such spirits, and if sacrifices or pilgrimages fail to placate angry deities, the advice of a dukun or healer is sought.

Other practices

Other practices include:

Historical texts

Kebatinan and kejawen practices are extensively written about in texts that are held in the Sanabudaya library in Yogyakarta, and the main Kraton Libraries of Solo and Yogyakarta. Many of the texts are deliberately elliptical so that those who do not work with either initiates or teachers are unable to ascertain or understand the esoteric doctrines and practices. In quite a few cases codified texts with secret systems to "unlock" the meanings are employed.

But according to Bruinessen, the writing down of kebatinan teachings was a novelty which appeared with the institutinalisation of the kebatinan-movements in the beginning of the 20th century.[28]

Kebatinan organisations

The appearance of formal kebatinan movements reflects the modernisation of Indonesia.[1] Kebatinan movements appeared early in the 1900s in urban traditional elite circles,[14] together with the rise of nationalism and the Muhammadiyah, a modernist Islamic movement.[1] Hardopusoro, one of the earliest kebatinan-movements, had strong links with the Theosophical Society.[1] Some remained very elitist, while others also accepted lower urban and rural followings, thereby popularising abangan, or syncretistic Islam, as an alternative to shari`a-oriented Islam.[14]

After the independence of 1949, the kebatinan received political support and attracted large followings.[39] Kebatinan-movements were seen by secular nationalistic elites as allies against the rise of political Islam.[28] The political struggle between the Muslim parties and the Communists and Nationalists lead to a sharper demarcation between syncretistic and shari`a-oriented Islam, whereby most kebatinan movements affiliated with the Communist or Nationalist Parties.[14][note 7]

Umbrella organisations representing several hundred kebatinan organisations, lobbied to attain legitimacy and recognition as an official religion.[1][3] They are registered at the HKP (Himpunan Penghayat Kepercayaan), which is controlled by the PAKEM (Pengawas Aliran Kepercayaan Masyarakat).[web 2] After the Suharto-era (1967-1998), the kebatinan-movements lost political support,[39] and have become less dynamic, their adherents avoiding public engagement.[1]

Altogether several hundred kebatinan-groups are or have been registered, the best-known of which are:[note 8]


Main article: Subud

Subud was founded in the 1920s by Muhammad Subuh Sumohadiwidjojo. The name Subud was first used in the late 1940s when Subud was legally registered in Indonesia. The basis of Subud is a spiritual exercise commonly referred to as the latihan kejiwaan, which was said by Muhammad Subuh to be guidance from "the Power of God" or "the Great Life Force". The aim of Subud is to attain perfection of character according to the will of God.[52] Only when passion, heart and mind are separated from the inner feeling is it possible to make contact with the "Great Life Force" which permeates everywhere.[53]

The name Subud is formed from the words susila ("the good character of man"[52]), budhi ("the force of the inner self"[52]) and dharma ("trust in God"[52]). These words are derived from the Sanskrit words suzila, bodhi and dharma.[web 3]

Muhammad Subuh saw the present age as one that demands personal evidence and proof of religious or spiritual realities, as people no longer just believe in words. He claimed that Subud is not a new teaching or religion but only that the latihan kejiwaan itself is the kind of proof that humanity is looking for. He also rejected the classification of Subud as a kebatinan organization. There are now Subud groups in about 83 countries, with a worldwide membership of about 10,000.[54]


Sumarah was formed in the 1930s by Pak Hardo, Pak Sadina and Pak Sutadi, without a formal organisation.[55] In those early days, the younger members were taught kanoman, occult practices including invulnerability for knives and guns. This was regarded as essential in the struggle against the Dutch colonial powers.[55] Around 1950, when Indonesia becale an independent nation, Sumarah was streamlined and organised by dr. Surono. The emphasis shifted from magic to "surrender to God".[55] From 1957 on internal struggles surfaced between dr. Surono and the founders Pak Hardo and Pak Sadina, leading to a change in leadership by dr. Ary Muthy in 1967.[55]

Sumarah theology maintains that humankind's soul is like the holy spirit, a spark from the Divine Essence, which means that we are in essence similar to God. In other words, "One can find God within oneself," a belief similar to the "I=God" theory found in Hindu-Javanese literature.[56]

According to Sumarah theology, man and his physical and spiritual world are divided into three parts:[56]

Sumarah's conception of God is different from Islam. It has a pantheistic vision of reality, considering God to be present in all living beings.[56]


Pangestu was founded in 1949.[57] Its doctrine was revealed in 1932 to Sunarto Mertowarjoyo, and written down in the Setat Sasangka Djati by R.T. Harjoparakowo and R. Trihardono Sumodiharjo Pangastu.[57] It describes the way to obtain wahyu, the blessing of God.[57]

Sapta Dharma

Sapta Dharma was founded in 1952 by Harjo Sapura, after he received a revelation.[51] According to Sri Pawenang, it was God's wish to provide the Indonesian people with a new spirituality in atime of crisis.[51] Its aim is to free man of his passions.[57]

According to Sapta Dharma teachings, suji (meditation) is necessary to pierce through different layers of obstacles to reach Semar, the guardian spirit of Java.[58] Theory and practice resemble Indian Kundalini yoga, aiming at awakening the Kundalini energy and guiding it through the chakras.[57]

Majapahit Pancasila

Majapahit Pancasila[note 9] was founded by W. Hardjanta Pardjapangarsa.[53] It is based in Javanese Hindu-yogic practices,[60] c.q. Kundalini yoga,[53] rather than Balinese ritual practice as is prevalent in Parisada Hindu Dharma.[60] According to Hardjanta, his meditation practices also lead to invulnerability for knives, daggers and other weapons.[61]

Spread of kebatinan


Kebatinan beliefs have spread to some parts of Malaysia in which certain individuals have combined it with Islamic concepts (e.g. proclaiming themselves to be new-age Islamic prophets, but delivering messages that are a combination of Islamic and kebatinan beliefs). This has led to the Malaysian Islamic authorities declaring elements of kebatinan to be "syirik" (shirk) and un-Islamic. Kebatinan interpretations of Islam are widespread in Malaysia among practitioners of silat, traditional healers and some preachers (such as Ayah Pin and other self-proclaimed Islamic prophets).


In the Netherlands, the former colonial power in Indonesia, some kebatinan-groups are active.[62]


Since the majority of Singaporean Malays are of Indonesian descent, particularly from Java, many of Kebatinan are still practiced usually among older people. However, the practice is still widespread among some Javanese Silat and Kuda Kepang groups, and also traditional shamans.

See also


  1. Bruinessen: "Java was converted to Islam quite late; the process started seriously around 1500CE, that is, at the time of the great Alevi rebellions. Adoption of Islam is perhaps a better term than conversion, for the Javanese were deliberately syncretistic. For many of the new Muslims Islam, especially in its Sufi variety, was a welcome additional source of spiritual power, not a substitute for what they already had."[14]
  2. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz made a well-known, though criticised, threefold distinction between abangan, antri and priyayi.[web 2][20] The priyayi are the descendants of the high class and court members, were gurus taught the Hindu-Buddhist art of inner cultivation,[21] which stayed alife in the interior areas of Java.[6] Geertz noticed that the priyayi play a central role in the teaching of kejawen and kebatinan to the abangan.[21]
  3. Bruinessen: "This third sphere was no doubt in most parts of the world for many years the one that had by far the greatest numbers of adherents. It has often been through Sufism that people from the heterodox periphery gradually moved towards some degree of conformity with orthodoxy."[14]
  4. knowledge, power
  5. "Fasting",[36] "ascetic exercises",[35] "spiritual techniques"[37]
  6. "austerity",[36] "spiritual techniques"[37]
  7. The relation between religion c.q. "spirituality", politics and (post-)colonial struggles is not unique to Indonesia. In India, Hindu reform movements involved both religious and social reforms, for example the Brahmo Samaj,[40] Vivekananda, who modernised Advaita Vedanta,[41] Aurobindo[40] and Mahatma Gandhi.[40] In Buddhist countries, Buddhist modernism was a response against the colonial powers and the western culture.[42] In Sri Lanka, Theravada Buddhism was revitalised in the struggle against the colonial rule. The Theosophical Society played an essential role here.[43][44][45] In China, Taixu propagated a Humanistic Buddhism, which is again endorsed by Jing Hui, the (former) abbott of Bailin Monastery.[46] In Japan, Buddhism adopted nationalistic politics to survive in the modern era, in which it lost support from the government.[47][42] zen was popularised in the west by adherents of this modern Buddhism, especially D.T. Suzuki and Hakuun Yasutani.[48][42]
  8. See [49] for a longer list of kebatinan-organisatons
  9. Full "Sanaata Dharma Majapahit Pancasila",[59] acronym "Sadhar Mapan"[59]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Ooi 2004, p. 719.
  2. 1 2 Caldarola 1982, p. 501.
  3. 1 2 3 Hooker 1988, p. 196.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Caldarola 1982, p. 539, note 30.
  5. 1 2 Levenda 2011, p. 72.
  6. 1 2 3 Mulder 2005, p. 16.
  7. Oey 2000, p. 58-59.
  8. Mulder 2005, p. 17.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Choy 1999, p. 112.
  10. 1 2 Levenda 2011, p. 73.
  11. Muhaimin 2006, p. 2.
  12. McDaniel 2010.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 van der Kroef 1961.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 van Bruinessen 2000a.
  15. Epa 2010.
  16. 1 2 Mulder 2005.
  17. Headley 2004, p. 367-368.
  18. Azra 2006, p. 129.
  19. 1 2 3 4 Mulder 2005, p. 15.
  20. Mulder 2005, p. 21-22.
  21. 1 2 Mulder 2005, p. 21.
  22. Mulder 2005, p. 15-16.
  23. Mulder 2005, p. 22-24.
  24. 1 2 3 Choy 1999, p. 109.
  25. 1 2 Choy 1999, p. 109-110.
  26. 1 2 Choy 1999, p. 110.
  27. Masus 2009, p. 148.
  28. 1 2 3 van Bruinessen 2000b.
  29. 1 2 3 Choy 1999, p. 107.
  30. 1 2 Choy 1999, p. 108.
  31. Choy 1999.
  32. Masud 2009, p. 148.
  33. Choy 1999, p. 111-112.
  34. Beatty 1999.
  35. 1 2 3 Retsikas 2012, p. 179.
  36. 1 2 3 4 Christomy 2008, p. 171.
  37. 1 2 3 4 Hughes-Freeland 2008, p. 189.
  38. An adulterous pilgrimage,
  39. 1 2 Musad 2009, p. 148.
  40. 1 2 3 Senari 2000.
  41. Rambachan 1994.
  42. 1 2 3 McMahan 2008.
  43. McMahan 2008, p. 98.
  44. Gombrich 1996, p. 185-188.
  45. Fields 1992, p. 83-118.
  46. Feuchtwang 2010, p. 189.
  47. Victoria 2006.
  48. Fields 1992.
  49. van Bruinessen & Howell 2007, p. 225-226.
  50. 1 2 3 4 van Bruinessen & Howell 2007, p. 226.
  51. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Choy 1999, p. 116.
  52. 1 2 3 4 Choy 1999, p. 118.
  53. 1 2 3 Choy 1999, p. 119.
  54. Hunt 2003, p. 122.
  55. 1 2 3 4 Choy 1999, p. 115.
  56. 1 2 3 Choy 1999, p. 114.
  57. 1 2 3 4 5 Choy 1999, p. 117.
  58. Choy 1999, p. 116-117.
  59. 1 2 Research School of Pacific Studies 1980, p. 217.
  60. 1 2 Tarling 1992, p. 563.
  61. Choy 1999, p. 122.
  62. Renard 2010.


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Further reading

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