The second seminar in the Institute’s new series exploring Muslim Pluralism, “Islam and Cultural Pluralism: Reflections from Indonesia and France,” was conducted by Professor John R. Bowen on April 11, 2002. In his presentation, Dr Bowen explored the role of cultural forms, particularly legal discourses, and the processes of social change as they manifest themselves through local values and norms in the two contexts.
Comparing approaches to jurisprudence and the discourses concerning pluralism amongst Muslims in Indonesia and France, Dr Bowen cited the different intellectual and political histories that inform current debates in both countries. In the case of Indonesia, Dr Bowen argued for an evolution of legal practice that accepts local differences amongst local and world-wide legal interpretations; a kind of ‘interpretative pluralism’ that arises from the processes of colonisation and decolonisation of Indonesia.
By contrast, amongst those Muslims living in France who are engaged in elaborating positions on various aspects of Muslim legal practice in France, there appears to be a search for an overarching normative framework, an ‘Islamic law’ or a suspension of ‘Islamic legal requirements’, which overrides local differences, despite the fact that Muslims in France have there roots in different parts of world. Dr Bowen pointed to the contemporary French social and political context in which this discourse is taking place, particularly in relation to notions of civic identity.
Among the questions that Dr Bowen’s seminar raised was the issue as to whether Muslims in different contexts see their own plurality, their different expressions and approaches to Islam, be they legal, artistic, literary, etc., as an unavoidable, brute fact or an ideal to be achieved or desired?
The next seminar in this series, entitled “Muslim Identity and Mosque Architecture,” will be led by Hasan-Uddin Khan on May 15, 2002.