Religious authority is a slippery concept. One may refer to it as the rights to impose rules which are deemed to be in consonant with the will of God (Gaborieau 2005), meaning that authority shall only function in the absence of coercion. However, the exercise of religious authority in Muslim (and many other) societies is intimately linked to power. As Kramer and Schmidtke (2006) argue, it involves the ability to construct the canon of the authoritative; to define correct belief and practice of the religion; to shape and influence the views and attitudes of other people; and to identify, marginalize, and punish religious deviance, heresy and apostasy. Still, the work of religious authority also depends on the willingness of others to accept the authority of any given person or institution. This infers that religious authority is also exercised on the basis of trust, legitimacy, recognition, and acquiescence.
Traditionally, the construction of religious authority in Islam is largely based upon the significance of textuality, discursive methods, and personified knowledge (Mandaville 2007). For years, religious authority in Muslim societies has been dominantly held by those who controlled the production of selected knowledge and expertise required to understand the normative texts of Islam: some of them are religious scholars (ulama’), Sufi leaders, and political figures.
In modern time however, the construction of religious authority has been largely influenced by socioeconomic and technological transformations in society. In the last two-decades, for example, we have witnessed how the advent of new media and Internet-based communication technologies, process of democratization, and the rise of mass education and literacy rates in many Muslim-populated countries, have invited the emergence of various new types of Muslim actors, who do not necessarily have ‘formal’ religious qualifications, but vigorously created alternative sites of learning about, and speaking of and for Islam (Eickelman and Anderson 1999). These include, among its notable examples, popular celebrity preachers, video You-Tubers and bloggers, novel writers, political figures, and young filmmakers. Also, the rise of globalization has enabled the flux of transnational Islamic movements, such as Hizbut Tahrir and Muslim Brotherhoods across various Muslim countries. Not to mention, we also witness the rise of female ulama’ who have the ability to intervene in public debates on matters related to religion. These new actors and institutions, subsequently, are subverting, breaking with, and even attacking the traditional structures of scholarship, ideologies and authorities in the Muslim world (Devji 2005), forcing us the rethink the construction, pluralization, and contestation of religious authority in the contexts of present-day Muslim societies.
Based on these backgrounds, the first edition of Raden Intan International Conference on Muslim Societies and Social Sciences (RIICMUSSS), held on 19-21 November 2019, decided to focus on issues of religious authority in Muslim societies, as its main theme. The main questions of the conference include the followings. What is religious authority? Who has the right to speak for Islam in an authoritative manner? How is religious authority constructed, pluralized, and contested among Muslim actors, across times and places? How is the construction of religious authority in Muslim societies currently taking its shapes and characters? To what extent, and in what ways, the social, economic, and political transformations of the last two-decades have influenced the (re)configuration of religious authority in many, different Muslim societies?
In order to lead the discussions, the conference has invited four keynote speakers. They are Dr. Syafiq Hasyim (UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta), Prof. Dr. Irina Katkova (St Petersburg University, Russia), Dr. David Kloos (KITLV Leiden, the Netherlands), and Prof. Dr. Euis Nurlaelawati (UIN Sunan Kalijaga, Yogyakarta). No less than 100 submissions were received, but only 75 presenters were invited to speak in the panel sessions. Articles included in this proceeding, 66 in total, are results of the papers presented in the conference, and here, they are divided into the following panels:
1. Figures of Authority in Contemporary Muslim Indonesia: Contiuity and Change
2. Traditional Institution of Authority Amid New Changes in Society
3. Texts of Authority: Variety and Development
4. Civil Islam and Contestation of Authority in Public Space
5. Media, Technology, and the New Teaching Methods of Religious Knowledge
6. Authorizing Islamic Dakwah in Digital Era
7. Islamising Science: Psychology, Environment and Technology
8. Islamic Higher Education in Search of Authority
9. New Development in Islamic Economics: Between God's and Human's Authority
10. Between State and Islamic Law: Who is More Authoritative?
11. Pluralization of Authority in the Context of the Study of Religion
12. Religious Authority in the Contexts of Islamic Politics
13. Authority, Violent Conflict and the Transnational Islam
14. Authoritative Islam, Modernity and Family Issues
15. Islam, Local Culture, and the Production of Authority
16. Gender and Authority in Contemporary Indonesia
The organization of the 1st edition of RIICMSSSS conference and the publication of its proceeding are mainly funded by the generosity of Universitas Islam Negeri (UIN) Raden Intan Lampung. Because of this, we are very thankful and appreciative to the support and encouragement from our Rector, Prof. Dr. H. Moh. Mukri M.Ag, and to Dr. Alamsyah, M.Ag(Vice Rector I), Dr. Asriani, M.H (Vice Rector II), Prof. Wan Jamaluddin. PhD (Vice Rector III), Dr. Erina Pane, M.H (Head of Research and Community Service Institute), and Dr. Sudarman, M.Ag (Head of Research Center). The organization of RIICMUSSS obviously reflects the university’s interest in developing our understanding of the many ways in which Islam as a system of belief has shaped the everyday lives of Muslims, as well as the many ways in which Muslims as a modern subject have expressed their religious experiences within the dynamics of historical, social, economic, political, and cultural circumstances. We recognize that religious authority is a classic theme in academic debates about Islam. Yet, such topic has never been obsolete in our scholarly debates. The articles in this proceeding have proved that a topic such as religious authority in Muslim societies has perpetually come up in Muslims’ daily experiences and expressions of the religion, and it continues to take new shapes, new clothes, and new directions.
Bandar Lampung, 8 October 2020