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Indonesian Students Favour Secularism Over Islamism, According to New Study

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A recent study conducted in Indonesia has explored the philosophical understanding of nationhood among high school students, revealing significant insights into their perspectives on secularism and Islamism. The study, which utilised a blend of qualitative methodologies including classroom ethnography, focus group discussions (FGDs), and in-depth interviews, aimed to understand how these young minds perceive and reconcile the concepts of nationhood, secularism, and Islamism in their educational context.

The findings were published in the Journal of Social Studies and Education Research.

The research employed classroom ethnography and content analysis to gather data, providing a comprehensive view of the students’ perspectives. Classroom ethnography allowed for the observation of teacher-student interactions and classroom dynamics, while content analysis helped in identifying key themes related to nationhood, secularism, and Islamism from the students’ written memos and discussions.

The study was grounded in two primary theoretical frameworks: philosophical teaching and the theory of the nation. These frameworks facilitated an in-depth exploration of how students philosophically understand nationhood through critical discussions and historical context .

The study revealed a dichotomous understanding among students, with some showing support for pro-Islamism views while others leaned towards pro-secularism. Students who supported pro-Islamism often viewed the historical marginalisation of Islamic groups as a significant issue, believing that the political dominance of the majority religion, Islam, should be reflected in the nation’s laws and governance.

On the other hand, pro-secularism students emphasised the importance of maintaining a secular state to ensure justice, equality, and peace for all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations .

The study made it clear that students’ exposure to various viewpoints and historical contexts has a significant impact on their philosophical understanding of nationhood. The CHLA (critical history learning activities) approach, which emphasises critical thinking and the exploration of various viewpoints, played a crucial role in shaping their understanding. This approach helped students move beyond mere memorisation of historical facts to develop a deeper, more nuanced understanding of national identity and the philosophical foundations of their nation.

One of the key outcomes of the study was the students’ acceptance of secularism as essential for fostering peace and national unity. The rejection of Islamic fundamentalism was seen as crucial to eliminating tensions and marginalising minority groups. Students expressed that a secular state would provide a sense of security and respect for diverse values, which are fundamental for a harmonious society. This perspective aligns with the broader philosophical understanding that nationhood should be inclusive and accommodating of all citizens, irrespective of their religious beliefs .

The study identified several factors that influence students’ understanding of nationhood, including socio-political-religious phenomena, historical agreements, and aspirations for a peaceful future. Students’ critical evaluation of fundamentalist Islamic movements and their return to historical norms and ethics were pivotal in shaping their perspectives.

The research underscores that a philosophical understanding of nationhood is formed through continuous critical discussions and reflections on historical and contemporary issues.

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