Inter-religious Romance as Patina of Pluralist Harmony in Indonesian Cinema (an abstract)

I will be presenting a paper (titled above) taken from my doctoral research as part of the International Gender Studies Centre Trinity Term Seminar Series at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, on 16th May 2013. The theme of the seminar series is ‘Gender and Propaganda’ and I’ve somehow managed to design my paper in such a way to fit the theme.

The narrative of inter-religious romance and marriage in film, usually between a Muslim and a non-Muslim, is typically employed as a superficial statement of tolerance, pluralism, and acceptance of perceived irreconcillable differences. This is because love between two people from different social groups can sometimes be seen as a seal over group divisions and as a way to incorporate one member from a different social group to another. Depending on the historical and political context of the film and the motivations and background of the filmmaker, such representations of inter-faith romance may however tell a different story. Indonesia is a hugely diverse country but beset by bloody inter-faith conflict between Christians and Muslims since the 1990s. A few films with Islamic themes from 2008 onward transcode the discourse of inter-faith discord and subvert it into a feel-good narrative of heteronormative love and romance. However, such narratives play out a specific gendered arrangement of faith and religious conversion: female love interests are Christian while their male paramours are Muslim. Christian female characters convert to Islam for their love of the faith and the man they love but Muslim male characters do not convert to Christianity or other faiths. Such narratives may be informed by several Islamic interpretations and cultural specificities pertaining to religious conversion in Islam in Indonesia. But ultimately, what the films say about inter-faith relations through romance reveal faith-based hegemony and propaganda.

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