Blog: Exploring Jakarta and the religious conviviality

26 June 2024

When I was exploring Chinatown in Jakarta, I stood in line for coffee behind an American and we got to talking. He asked if I was in Indonesia for business or pleasure. I told him it was a bit of both and that I was going to the IRTI conference. Laughing, he remarked that he found it surprising that I had travelled to a Muslim-majority country for a Christian conference.

Blog by Rieke Brouwer

Protestantism and John Calvin

The American had no right of speaking; he was here for a cybersecurity conference - also not something Indonesian is known for. That the population is predominantly majority is evident in the streets. Prayer calls echo through the streets several times a day, headscarves are widely worn, and before long I began to recognise the Indonesian words for "prayer room, women". 

Interest in religion and diversity

The surprise that a Christian conference is taking place precisely here is understandable, but the remarkable thing is that in the interactions I have had with locals that surprise is not shared. At customs, the official asked me what I had come to Indonesia for. I said it was for a theology conference. He asked which kind, and I replied Protestant. He said "I am also Protestant, which kind?" Now you have to keep in mind that I had just got off a sixteen-hour flight and had already spent an hour in the line, so my mind was mostly on getting to my bed as soon as possible. I mumbled something about Calvin and remember thinking that if everyone in front of me had also had to explain their denomination I could understand why the line had taken so long. Still, this was a good introduction to how interested Indonesians are in religion and the religious diversity that can be found in this country.

Houses of worship

In the week I have been here, I have come across many different places of worship. What is striking is that the houses of worship of different religions are found near each other. On one side of the street is a 1901 cathedral built in neo-Gothic style and on the other sits the largest mosque in Southeast Asia. In another district, a Hindu temple sits on one side of the street and you can smell the incense and candles on the other side, at the Santa Maria Church, a Catholic Church built in oriental style. At prayer times, the shoes taken off at the threshold of the prayer rooms give away that there are people inside, but the streets are far from deserted. Traffic remains relentlessly busy, people are haggling at the food stalls on the street and coffee is poured. I did not expect the people to treat faith with such affability. Yet that appears to be part of the Indonesian mentality.


I had asked the barista at a coffee shop if she had any tips for what I could see in Jakarta. She recommended a museum a bit out of the city centre. I figured I would give it a try. It turned out to be a cross between an amusement park and an open-air museum. They had recreated traditional houses for the common people and elites from each of the major Indonesian islands, as well as community centres and other distinctive buildings. In some sections I was greeted by people in traditional dress. At the section of the museum on Bali, I was only allowed to visit a small part of the exposition because there was a Hindu ceremony going on in the main part which I was not allowed to disturb, but at the Sumatra section, I could take my time to look at the temple. Next to the section on the islands was a section with places of worship. It featured a mosque, a Catholic church, a Hindu temple and a Protestant church. The buildings were part of the museum but also still in active use by a religious community. The signboard of the Catholic church announced the mass times, every morning at 7 am. At the mosque, I was allowed to peek inside once I took off my sandals.

Religions coexist

In the museum, I saw something that I had also seen on the streets in Jakarta itself: different religions coexisting. I do not think that people of different religions go out of their way to meet one another, but different religions are visible on the streets and places of worship are close to each other. I think that makes this country a very appropriate place for the conference we are here for. A conference on peace and geopolitical conflicts in the light of reformed theology. Indonesia is an example of how within a country many people with different views on life can live together in peace. Today we are travelling by train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, where the conference is taking place. In the coming days you will find blogs from other students traveling along published here.