“Some people questioned why I should learn Islamic studies, as if I was done with my studies on Catholicism. Others were quite anxious because they perceived me to be ‘too sympathetic’ with Islam, while others asked me whether studying Islam for four years had somehow made me doubt the teachings of the Catholic church,” the 52-year-old priest told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview in Jakarta.
He added that the anxieties expressed above were unfounded as studying Islamology actually strengthened his Catholic faith.
Greg, as he is fondly called, successfully completed his master’s and doctorate degrees by defending his dissertation titled, Language, Power and History: Marshall G.S. Hudgson’s Islamic Historiography Through the Perspective of Michel Foucault’s Poststructuralism Studies.
He graduated on May 24 with flying colors; cum laude with a grade point average of 3.75. One of his dissertation supervisors and examiners was prominent Islamic scholar Azyumardi Azra.
Greg’s graduation was arguably historical because he became the first Catholic priest from the Jesuit order to earn a doctorate in Islamology from the prestigious Islamic university.
“I use a historical approach to interpret contemporary social phenomena on Islam and politics. Religious fundamentalism and exclusivism have become issues everywhere,” Greg said.
According to Greg, modern society’s tendency to measure everything based on money, business and the economy using a very myopic paradigm on socio-political development has only excluded and marginalized people, who then turn to religious identities as the only rock they can cling to.
Certain people with strong political and economic ambitions seem to be able to recognize this trend, seizing opportunity to grab power through divisive identity politics, like the one that took place during the recent Jakarta gubernatorial election.
While many people are getting pessimistic about the future of Indonesia’s interfaith tolerance after going through the recent highly divisive election in Jakarta, Greg retains a cautious optimism on the country’s future.
“If you really look at history, human beings are always destined to progress. We never regress. The process to attain that progress, however, is never linear; it is a spiral. Human beings are quick to learn, but at certain periods, they can be quite slow,” he said.
“For instance, in the 15th and 16th centuries, Christians were massacring one another and branding followers of different denominations infidels when the church was having an affair with politics. But that has led to positive reforms within the church itself,” he illustrated.
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SOURCE: The Jakarta Post