Christmas Joy Offering – Supporting our leaders: past, present and future.

A PC(USA) partner in Indonesia helps provide interreligious understanding and education

The Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies also works at community engagement and research

by Leonard Chrysostomos Epafras of the ICRS for Mission Crossroads | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Executive Board of the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies, a partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). (Contributed photo)

The Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies is a consortium of three universities — the Universitas Gadjah Mada (a non-confessional state-owned university), Universitas Islam Negeri Sunan Kalijaga (a state-owned Islamic university) and Universitas Kristen Duta Wacana (a private Christian university) — all located in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

ICRS is a unique and interfaith educational institution that provides an upstream solution to interreligious understanding, social justice, gender issues and ecology through education, research activities and community engagement. Besides providing doctoral education on interreligious studies, ICRS has initiated numerous research projects and community engagements. 

  The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been a close partner of ICRS since its establishment. Professor Bernard “Bernie” Adeney-Risakotta of the PC(USA) was the first director of ICRS. The PC(USA)’s Synod of the Covenant once invited me to be part of the Mission to the USA program, exchanging experiences between Indonesian churches and the United States.

Leonard Chrysostomos Epafras

The PC(USA) supported one student in the past and two in the current academic year. One of them was finalizing his dissertation project on the hospital as an interfaith space, and one other was preparing for her comprehensive examination. 

The pandemic drove ICRS to refocus and adapt, manifested in several adjustments and initiatives. Among others, it was momentum for realizing a digital-based learning system through a Fabo-based MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). MOOC is a platform for ICRS to provide outreach to larger audiences, particularly non-specialists, to learn and update their knowledge about several crucial religious issues.

The current one is the Executive Course on Islam and Religious Pluralism in Indonesia, which has trained more than 30 Indonesian and foreign diplomats and religious instructors. Other prepared courses include the topics of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), Religious Literacy, and Religion and Ecology. Online community engagements included training for the Extension Officers for Religion (penyuluh agama) on ecology and the protection of peatland, working with a government agency that mobilizes local religious leaders to participate in conservation. 

The pandemic accelerated research activities as well. Five research projects under the rubric Religion and Covid dealt with women, vaccines, religious freedom, social media and apocalypticism. The outcome of the projects materialized in several publications, including “Virus, Humanity, and God: Interreligious Reflection on Pandemic” (Indonesian, 2020), “Limitations of Freedom of Religion or Belief during the COVID-19 Pandemic” (English, 2020), “Varieties of Religion and Ecology: Dispatches from Indonesia” (English, 2021), “Co-Designing Sustainable, Just and Smart Urban Living” (English, 2022), and “The Politics of Religious Moderation and Freedom: A Critical Assessment” (Indonesian, 2022). The publications can be seen here.

Since 2021, ICRS has been involved in several other collaborative research projects, such as the eco-pesantren project (pesantren is an Islamic boarding school) with the National University of Jakarta, FoRB projects with the Communion of Churches in Indonesia and with the National Research and Innovation Agency. 

As a highly multicultural and multi-religious country, ICRS manifests itself as a host for students from 18 ethnic groups and diverse religious affiliations. Since its inception in 2006, ICRS has become a learning space for students from 18 countries, including Bulgaria, Colombia, India, Myanmar, Libya, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam and the United States. As of 2022, 57 ICRS alumni served society in Indonesia and abroad as academics, researchers, religious leaders, business professionals and a lawmaker. 

Eventually, the fruit of 16 years of hard work, according to World University Rankings 2022, ICRS (along with the Master program of Religious Studies, from the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies) ranked 47th on the subject of Theology, Divinity & Religious Studies, through Universitas Gadjah Mada, as the host of ICRS and CRCS. ICRS appoints two adjunct professors, Michael Northcott (working on Christian ethics and ecology) and Frans Wijsen (discourse analysis and interreligious studies), to work closely with our students and to shape curriculum development. 

The effect of pandemic disruption might cast a long shadow. ICRS learned the hard lesson to reinvent itself and to hold tighter with friends and colleagues, such as the PC(USA), to face the still uncertain post-pandemic era. We envisioned the opportunities to grow further in this new situation, such as the more extensive use of digital technology in administration, academic development and community engagement, which continues and further develops even as the pandemic has receded. We believe the spirit of cooperation and friendship will endure the crisis. 


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?