Spiritual Economies: Islam and Neoliberalism in Contemporary Indonesia

Peer Reviewed


Majalah Nebula, "Training ESQ Eksekutif Nasional Angkatan 23." April 22, 2005 via Flickr.

In February, 2009 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Daromir Rudnyckyj analyzes the convergence of religion and capitalism in a moderate Islamic spiritual reform movement active in Indonesia’s public and private enterprises and government institutions. Rudnyckyj explores the ways in which spiritual reform projects bring together Islamic ethics and management principles to create a more disciplined and less corrupt company employee. These spiritual reforms have inculcated an ethic of individual self-policing based in Islamic practice to enhance company productivity, eliminate corruption, prepare employees for privatization of this state-owned enterprise and increase Indonesia’s transnational competitiveness.

Complementing Jean and John Comaroff's notion of "occult economies" and building on James Scott's notion of "moral economy," Rudnyckyj utilizes the concept of "spiritual economy" to shed light on the convergence of religious resurgence and neoliberal transformation. In Indonesia, religion is not a "refuge" from or resistance to neoliberalism, nor is it a retreat into "magic and mystery" in response to global capitalism.  Instead, religion and capitalism are brought together to address the challenges of globalization. By enabling Islamic virtues of self-discipline, accountability and entrepreneurial action, one becomes both a more pious Muslim and a more productive employee. Rudnyckyj argues that "managers, state technocrats, and religious reformers sought to enact a set of neoliberal practices by creating a new type of subject, a worshipping worker, for whom labor was a matter of religious duty."  Spiritual economies articulate how these practices were deployed "to remake the country's political economy and to elicit a type of subjectivity commensurable with neoliberal norms of transparency, productivity, and rationalization for purposes of profit."

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published a number of other essays on neoliberalism and subjectivity. See, for example, Aradhana Sharma's "Crossbreeding Institutions, Breeding Struggle: Women's Empowerment, Neoliberal Governmentality, and State (Re)Formation in India" (2006); Nickola Pazderic's "Recovering True Selves in the Electro-Spiritual Field of Universal Love" (2004); and Yan Hairong's "Neoliberal Governmentality and Neohumanism: Organizing Suzhi/Value Flow through Labor Recruitment Networks" (2003). 

Cultural Anthropology has also published a range of articles on globalization. See Ritty Lukose's "Empty Citizenship: Protesting Politics in the Era of Globalization" (2005); Karen Ho's "Situating Global Capitalisms: A View from Wall Street Investment Banks" (2005); and Victoria Bernal's "Eritrea Goes Global: Reflections on Nationalism in a Transnational Era" (2004). 

Cultural Anthropology has also published additional essays on Indonesia. See, for example, Tom Boellstorff's "Playing Back the Nation: Waria, Indonesian Transvestites" (2004); Celia Lowe's "Making the Monkey: How the Togean Macaque Went from 'New Form' to 'Endemic Species' in Indonesians' Conservation Biology" (2004); and Webb Keane's "Knowing One's Place: National Language and the Idea of the Local in Eastern Indonesia" (1997).

About the Author

Daromir Rudnyckyj is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Victoria, British Columbia Canada. His book, Managing Hearts, Developing Faith (under contract), examines contemporary projects of "spiritual reform" that take economic development as religious and ethical problems. His current research concerns modernity, religion, globalization, development, and the state in Southeast Asia. He is planning future research on anti-corruption in Indonesia and Islamic finance in Southeast Asia.


ESQ Interviews

Majalah Nebula, "Untitled ." April 11, 2005 via flickr.

"ESQ Model." November 1, 2012 via ESQ.com.

Sekilas ESQ (English version)

Related Links

ESQ training is one of many spiritual reform programs that establish connections between work, worship and individual ethical transformation. Below is a list of other programs in Indonesia, in other Muslim countries and elsewhere.

Management Qolbu Management of the Heart Corporation (In Indonesian)

Celestial Management (In English)

Syariah Manajemen (In Indonesian)

Mark Driscoll (An American Evangelical pastor)

Newspaper articles on ESQ (Mostly in Indonesian)

Ary Ginanjar: G-Spot Business (An article about ESQ written by a business reporter)

VP stresses importance of human resource development (The support of the Indonesian Vice President, Jusuf Kalla)

Stress on observing values of Islam (ESQ in Quatar)

163 attend seminar to raise civil-service efficiency (ESQ in Malaysia)

Spiritual Health and Spiritual Intelligence (Malaysian government website that draws on ESQ)

Personal growth course travels to Netherlands (ESQ in Netherlands)

A new capitalism we can live by: An interview with Danah Zohar (The co-author of SQ: Connecting with Our Spiritual Intelligence with Ian Marshall. She extended the principles of quantum physics to human consciousness, psychology and social organizations and popularized the term "spiritual intelligence.")

A nose for business (A Guardian article about the integration of a variety of activities including jazz, horse whispering, religion and acting to management training programs)

ESQ 165 goes to USA

Additional Works by the Author

"Technologies of Servitude: Governmentality and Indonesian Transnational Labor Migration." Anthropological Quarterly, 2004. Vol 77(3)

Worshipping Work: Producing Commodity Producers in Contemporary Indonesia and Taking Southeast Asia to Market: The Production of Nature, People and Places as Commodities in a Neoliberal Age, eds. J. Nevins and N. Peluso. 2008, Cornell University Press.

"Market Islam in Indonesia." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2009 Vol.15(s1) Special Issue on "Muslim Politics"

Spiritual Economies: Islam, Globalization, and the Afterlife of Development. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2010.

Related Readings

Hoesterey, James. "Aa Gym: The Rise, Fall, and Re-Branding of a Celebrity Preacher." 2007, Inside Indonesia.

Ong, Aiwha. "Corporate Players, New Cosmopolitans and Guanxi in Shanghai." Frontiers of Capital: Ethnographic Reflections on the New Economy, eds. G. Downey and M. Fisher. 2008, Duke University Press.

Silverstein, Brian. "Disciplines of Presence in Modern Turkey: Discourse, Companionship and the Mass Mediation of Islamic Practice." 2008, Cultural Anthropology Vol. 23(1)

Watson, C. W. "A Popular Indonesian Preacher: The Significance of Aa Gymnastiar." 2005, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute Vol 11(4)

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