Informed by postcolonial theories and approaches, and based on the works of three Indonesian Catholic writers, this essay looks at the ways in which these writers address the question of identity. They propose the notion of hybrid identity where the identity of the nation is built upon different layers of racial, ethnic, and religious belongings, and loyalties to local tradition and aspirations for modernity. While this notion of identity is inspired by the framework of “catholicity”, it is also “postcolonial” for a number of reasons. First, its formation betrays traces of colonial conditions and negotiations of power. Second, it reflects the subject position of these writers as Indonesian natives who embraced a religion that has complex ties to European colonialism and problematic relations with Islam. Third, it criticizes the post-colonial state and society, which perpetuate many of the ills of the colonial political system, including racism and the abuse of power. Their discourse also reveals the pain of being hybrid, mainly in their inability to appropriately tackle the question of political Islam. The recent political upheaval reveals the need for more creative engagement with political Islam in order for this hybrid identity to work.
In today’s Indonesia, public theological discourse is messy, sectarian, superficial, and highly apologetic. While the state philosophy of Pancasila offers an inclusive theological vision of citizenship and nationhood, its inclusiveness and dialogical character suffer from the exclusive use of the combination of the modern world-religion paradigm, European Christian theology, and Islamic parameters. This essay argues that the new comparative theology can serve as a dialogical theological reasoning that is particularly helpful to foster theologically constructive encounters among different religions, and thus able to address public concern, especially identity politics. This essay presents some concrete examples of comparative theological works in the Indonesian context, drawn from the author’s experiments. These highlight the dialogical, confessional, spiritual, and constructive characters of this theological reasoning, and pay attention to the hybrid identity and local cultures that form the richness of the Indonesian reality.