This paper analyses the political agency of Islamic universities during the democratization processes in Indonesia (1998–2004, IAIN/UIN Jakarta) and Tunisia (2011–2014, al-Zaytuna University Tunis). While in the Indonesian case study the Islamic university and its academic milieu strongly participated in identity politics by promoting the compatibility of Islam and democracy on campus as well as in the wider public sphere, in the Tunisian case study the university manifested itself as a politically passive academic ivory tower. By drawing on the theoretical premises of path dependence, the paper traces the contrasting historical relationships between Islamic academia and political authorities in Indonesia and Tunisia to show that these had crucial repercussions for the development of distinct Islamic university types in these countries, which in the long run shaped IAIN/UIN Jakarta’s and al-Zaytuna University Tunis’ contrasting behavior during the democratization processes.
The evolution of different university types over time was coupled with the formation of different characteristics of each country’s Islamic academic milieu: in Indonesia, it became politicized and holder of a high capital endowment, while in Tunisia both of these factors remained low. When authoritarianism collapsed, the Indonesian Islamic university was able to build on its deeply institutionalized experience in the world of politics and thus attracted the support of powerful external actors for collaboration in the strategic promotion of democracy both on and off campus, while in Tunisia the Islamic university was marginalized in politics by the lack of its political know-how, access to resources, and an absence of collaboration with external actors.
This paper argues that the mainstream Indonesian cosmopolitan Islamic intellectual milieu has not been adequately conceptualized in existing literature. By presenting a political history of the evolution of this cosmopolitan cohort and by engaging with contemporary emic Indonesian debates on the nexus between cosmopolitanism, Islam, and the nation state, the paper finds that in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in the archipelago, cosmopolitan Islamic thought has been, and continues to be, significantly driven and shaped by the interplay of international influences dominated by the “West” and Indonesian patriotic politics. More recently, Indonesia’s perceived status as an Islamic periphery and the country’s emerging soft power agenda contribute to furthering a peculiar relationship between cosmopolitanism and patriotism in Indonesian Islamic intellectualism. The paper argues that as a result of the strong impact of patriotism, mainstream Indonesian cosmopolitan Islamic intellectuals are best understood as nationally rooted “cosmopatriots,” representing “cosmopatriotism,” while the “West” remains a central intellectual and cultural reference point.