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Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia

as a New Religious Movement

Hinduism Recreated in the Image of Islam

June McDaniel

ABSTRACT: This article describes the role of Hinduism in modern

Indonesia and the ways in which it has been adapted to fit the government’s
definition of religion as a prophetic monotheism with revealed texts and
a universal ethic. It gives a brief background on Indonesian history and
analyzes the structure and theology of Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia.
It discusses whether a governmental reorganization of an ancient religion
can be considered a new religious movement, and some approaches that
might be useful from the field of religious studies. It suggests that the
definition of new religious movement be changed to fit the case in which
a modern religion considered to be a revealed religion also acts as a civil

ndonesia is often called the largest Muslim nation in the world, but
while it has the highest Muslim population it is neither a sultanate
nor a theocracy. Its government policy is tolerance towards religions
claiming one Almighty God, and non-tolerance towards others. We may
call this approach “mandatory monotheism,” or the required belief in
one God, though the name and qualities of that deity may differ. This
article will explore how Indonesian Hinduism had to change in order
to fit the government definition of a legitimate religion, and the ways it
has become a new religious movement.
The Republic of Indonesia is a Southeast Asian country with over
13,000 islands.1 While Indonesia is primarily Muslim, a minority of its

Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Volume 14, Issue 1, pages
93–111, ISSN 1092-6690 (print), 1541-8480 (electronic). © 2010 by The Regents of the
University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to
photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s
Rights and Permissions website, at
DOI: 10.1525/nr.2010.14.1.93


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inhabitants are Hindu, living primarily on the island of Bali (about

95 percent Hindu). Estimates of the Hindu population of Indonesia
range from the government estimate of 3.6 million to the Parisada
Hindu Dharma Indonesia estimate of 18 million.2 Balinese Hinduism is
quite different from Hinduism in India.
To begin, we should take a look at the meaning of “Hinduism,” an
umbrella term for a variety of Indian religions. Hinduism’s major sub-
types include shamanic or folk Hinduism (emphasizing animism and
nature deities), Vedic Hinduism (polytheistic), Vedanta (monistic), Yoga
(non-theistic or monistic, sometimes dualistic), Dharma (polytheistic),
and Bhakti (usually henotheistic, with a high god over minor gods, and
sometimes monotheistic, with other gods as emanations or manifesta-
tions). There is no single Hindu religion, yet one has been deliberately
created in Bali.
Actually, there are two Balinese Hinduisms; one is practiced by most
people, and the other has been imposed by government mandate. Leo
Howe distinguishes between these as Adat Hinduism and Agama
Hinduism.3 The popular Adat form of Hinduism is both polytheistic
and animistic with a variety of gods. It involves reverence toward good
mountain spirits, bad ocean spirits, deified village founders, agricultural
gods, ancestors and guardian spirits. Adherents follow taboos as well as
purity and pollution rules, and the supernatural world is shown vividly
in plays, dances, holiday processions and the visual arts. By contrast,
Agama (the official Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia) is monotheistic,
with revealed scriptures and moral rules. This official form of Hinduism
bears little resemblance to the widely practiced form.
My thesis is that Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia is a new religious
movement of a type different than those usually discussed in the litera-
ture. It is a government-sponsored, government-generated religion with
a moral and ethical focus, understood to be a modern adaptation of an
ancient revelation. It has the major advantage of an older religion—
religious authority. It also has the advantages of a new religion: it is ra-
tionalized, adapted to social and political needs, conforms to the national
creed, and fits in with structures of other government-approved religions.
This article will explore its origins and current situation.


I learned about the religious situation in Indonesia when I men-

tored a religious studies undergraduate writing a senior thesis on spiri-
tual journey in Balinese religion. As part of her research and while
learning the language, she lived with a family in Bali. Although she was
not interested in the government’s perspective on religion, she found
it odd that it differed so greatly from the popular religion. I also thought
it was odd. I had done two years of fieldwork in West Bengal, India, and


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I decided to study the situation in Bali, I received a grant from my col-

lege to do so.
I went to Bali during the summer of 2002 to study the relationship
of church and state in Indonesian Hinduism. Accustomed to the diffi-
culties of fieldwork in India (with informants living in remote places
and speaking no English), I found Bali a much easier place to work.
Government officials were willing to talk about the issues, as were many
of the public intellectuals who developed the philosophical basis for
Indonesia’s government-supported religion.4 I found people who were
proud of their modern form of Hinduism, convinced it was a worth-
while response to a difficult situation. I spoke with journalists, psycholo-
gists, teachers and school principals, and was struck by the level of
interest in the religious situation. Though most people did not practice
the form of Hinduism they learned in school, they tended to view it
as an important philosophy and recognized its value in maintaining
religious freedom. of course, bcz having a state version allowsthem to practice their
own version and legallyclaim to be hindu


There are a variety of theories of how Hinduism came to Indonesia.

I. Gusti Putu Phalgunadi describes four of these, using the metaphor of
the caste system. According to Vaishya theory, Hinduism came with trad-
ers and merchants from India, whose voyages often included intermar-
riage with Indonesians. According to the Kshatriya theory, defeated
warriors and soldiers fled India with their followers to take refuge and
build alternative strongholds in Indonesia. The Brahmana theory posits
that priests and missionaries from India spread the religion, which was
accepted because these people were believed to possess supernatu-
ral knowledge and power. In contrast, the Bhumiputra (“native son” or
nationalist) theory holds that Indonesians visited India, liked the cul-
ture, and brought back religious ideas.5 Indonesia (especially Bali) is
mentioned in such ancient Indian texts as the Ramayana, Brahmanda
Purana, Vayu Purana, and jataka tales in the Pali Canon. In these texts,
Bali is usually called Suvarnadvipa (“golden island”) or Suvarnabhumi
(“golden land”).6 In the sixth-century encyclopedia, Brihatsamhita, and
the eleventh-century collection of stories, Kathasaritsagara, Bali is called
Narikeladvipa, “the island of coconuts.”7 India was the source of the
kavi (from the Sanskrit kavya) literature—including the Mahabharata
and Ramayana epics, the Puranas and the Vedas—still considered sacred
in modern Indonesian Hinduism.
The Hindu religion influenced kings and warriors in Hindu and
Buddhist kingdoms on the major Indonesian islands of Sumatra, Java,
Bali and Kalimantan. The most influential Hindu kingdom was the
Majapahit empire, which reached its peak in the fourteenth century.
Hinduism lost its status as the dominant religion during the fifteenth


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see pollmann
and sixteenth centuries when the Majapahit empire was conquered by
reference to Muslim sultanates. As that kingdom disintegrated, many of its priests,
initialDutch artists, musicians and leaders moved to Bali, and Islam became the state
religion of Indonesia. Foreign merchants, especially Portuguese and
Balinese later Dutch traders, were attracted by the spice trade. Dutch seamen
Royalty came to the islands of Bali and Lombok in 1597, and the Dutch East
Indies Company came to dominate much of Indonesia.8
Indonesia gained its independence when the Dutch relinquished
sovereignty over the former Netherlands East Indies in 1949, and Bali
was integrated into the Republic of Indonesia. Its first president was
Sukarno (1901–1970). To appease the Muslim majority, Sukarno pro-
claimed belief in One Almighty God to be government policy, thereby
forging a compromise between secularism and Muslim law (sharia, or
in the language of Bahasa Indonesia syariah). It was the first of five con-
stitutional laws in Indonesia, the pancasila, intended to build national-
ism and discourage ethnic loyalties within a wide range of tribes,
kingdoms and societies lacking common language, currency or cul-
ture.9 The other four laws are a just and civilized humanity, Indonesian
unity, democracy and social justice.
The term pancasila comes from two Sanskrit words, panca or five, and
sila or principle,10 and the five principles form the non-secular basis of
modern Indonesian statehood, emphasizing religious tolerance as a
sacred duty. Human rights are understood as gifts from God, and the
basis of national unity is belief in the One God. Thus, both constitution
and law are based on religious faith.11 Indonesia defines itself as a reli-
gious state while avoiding labels of theocracy (with its danger of extrem-
ism) and secular state (with its danger of Communism).12
was either'danger'taken into
account in '45??

Sukarno founded a Department of Religious Affairs to organize and

deal with accepted religions, which had to be monotheistic with a re-
vealed holy book, prophet, and universal ethical teachings. By law, reli-
gion could not be limited to a single ethnic group, but when Bali was
integrated into the Republic of Indonesia in 1950, religious problems
became apparent. Balinese religion was classified as “tribal” or uncivi-
lized, thus not an agama or legitimate religion.13 In order to be sanc-
tioned by the government, Balinese Hinduism had to change.


In order to reformulate Hinduism to fit government criteria, Hindu

Balinese intellectuals came together in a council (parisada, or society)
they called the Parisada Hindu Dharma Bali. In their formulation one
god was called the Almighty God, with other gods and ancestors de-
moted to angels or other aspects of the one God. The Vedas, Ramayana
and Bhagavad Gita became the equivalent of the Qur’an or Bible, and
the Vedic sages or rishis became prophets. Philosophy and theology


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McDaniel: Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia as a New Religious Movement

were based largely on South Indian Shaiva Siddhanta and justified by

Sanskrit mantras on the unity of Brahman (as divine ruler of the
universe).14 The Parisada strongly affirmed ethics and national identity,
and promised to emphasize textual sources and theology while simplify-
ing ritual.
Early Parisada members analyzed sacred texts to find a monotheistic
basis for Indonesian Hinduism and to emphasize a legitimate “religion”
rather than a collection of ethnic and polytheistic rites and rituals.
Some members, including Reshi Anandakusuma, based the idea of one
God on Narayana/Vishnu.15 Others used a Shaiva Siddhanta interpreta-
tion, with Paramasiwa (Supreme Shiva) as the ground of being who
manifests as Sadasiwa (Shiva of Truth/Being) or visible reality, and the
godhead Siwa (Shiva) being the true nature of the person. This trinity
of emanation was called Sanghyang Tiga.16 Most members, emphasizing
the importance of the nation, chose an Indonesian name—Sang Hyang
Widhi Wasa—to refer to Brahman as the high God who could be
worshiped by both Shaivas and Vaishnavas.
The Indonesian government accepted Balinese Hinduism—Agama
Hindu Bali—as an official religion in 1959. It is currently regulated by
the Parisada to keep it in conformity with government requirements,
and it is learned through mandatory courses in the school curriculum
with a heavy emphasis on ethics and obedience to authority. Children
must study religion in school for six years.17

Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia

The Parisada is currently the highest religious body in Bali. Founded

in Denpasar upon acceptance of Hinduism as a legitimate religion in
Indonesia, the group was originally called the Parisada Hindu Dharma
Bali, and its goal was to support the rights of Hindus in Bali. Its strat-
egy for gaining acceptance for Hindu monotheism was an interesting
one. It spent years as an informal organization, sending out radio broad-
casts and using other media to describe the Hindu God as a single,
universal God. In 1958 the society officially requested the state govern-
ment to recognize Agama Hindu Bali as a religion that fit the Indonesian
The original group consisted of Hindu academics, writers, govern-
ment officials and priests. It had an eleven-member council of priests
(sulinggih), a twenty-two-member council of experts, and an executive
committee with a Brahmin high priest (pedanda) as president. There
were local branches, but headquarters were in Denpasar. Academics
tended towards cultural innovation, while Brahmin priests specialized
in training other priests and writing interpretations of sacred texts.19 We
can see a sort of specialization of labor here, with priests as voices of
tradition and academics as voices of adaptation.
but what exactlydo you mean by'tradition' here when you've pointed out the whole thing isa
recent construction

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The government strongly emphasized ethics and urged people to

obey the three gurus: guru rupaka (parents, who teach knowledge and
morality), guru pangajian (schoolteachers, who give religious instruc-
tion), and guru wisesa (government).20 For its part, the government
would keep obligations (vratas), which included maintaining impartial
justice, punishing evil, making laws known to people, creating places of
relaxation, giving people wealth and safety, providing a good education,
and organizing an army for protection.21 In 1960 there was added a
fourth guru—the monotheistic God.22 Thus guru bhakti or devotion to
the Guru included devotion to God as well as the political leaders of
Indonesia.23 Thus was created the doctrine of the four gurus.
In 1964, seeking to include Hindus in Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi,
Parisada Hindu Dharma Bali became Parisada Hindu Dharma. It de-
vised a philosophy (tattwa) of five fundamentals of Balinese Hinduism
called the five beliefs (pancasradha): belief in one God (Sang Hyang
Widhi Wasa), a soul (atman), karma and its effects (karmaphala), rein-
carnation (samsara), and liberation (moksha).24 These formed a simple
creed that any Hindu could follow.
In 1984 the group expanded to become an all-Indonesia religious
group called Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia.25 It moved its center
to Jakarta, the capital, and began the Institute for Hindu Studies (Institut
Hindu Dharma), training teachers and chaplains to create a consistent
Hindu doctrine through education and outreach. In 1987 the group
organized and instituted 30-day training courses for priests and devel-
oped a series of textbooks on Hindu priesthood. It also developed a
youth wing, Peradah Indonesia, and started the national Festival of the
Songs of Dharma (utsawa dharma gita) for competitive recitations from
the Wedas (Vedas), Gita (Bhagavad Gita) and other texts.26
The model of the state as understood by the Parisada was based on
kingship. The state has the same obligations as the traditional Hindu
king. It should follow the Laws of Manu (and debatably the Artha
Shastra), and it has the same obligations of providing prosperity, educa-
tion, recreation, and protection against criminals and foreign enemies.27
There are many levels to government, just as God is like one government
with many departments.28 God’s unity and multiplicity is reflected on
earth through hierarchy and organization. The government is reflected
in the desa adat, the group that determines and is responsible for govern-
ing village ritual life. Local laws must harmonize with state laws, showing
that society may be compared to a body or family.
Because the pancasila has religious belief as the basis and justifica-
tion of the country, religious education is an obligation of the state. It
should give students faith and an appreciation for religious truths
(rasa agama), because it channels the basic religious impulses of hu-
mankind. According to Gusti Agung Gede Putra, an early member of
Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia, these impulses include the desire


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McDaniel: Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia as a New Religious Movement

to encounter God, offer sacrifices, depict God in images and symbols,

struggle against evil, tell mythological stories, and appreciate art.29
Education was important in all situations—even Hindu pregnancy ritu-
als were justified as “prenatal education.”30 Hindu religious education
in Indonesia should be based on written sources, though classes may
have students act out challenging religious and ethical situations.

Agama Hindu Dharma

In terms of practice, Agama Hindu Dharma requires three prayers a

day (trisandya). There are five pillars of belief (in Brahman, atman,
karma, moksha, and reincarnation), and five pillars of practice or yadnya
(offerings to God, to ancestors, to society in life-cycle rites, to propitiate
destructive spirits, and to sages in rites of ordination), and pilgrimage
is valued.31 The old Hindu idea of the trimurti (“three forms”) of
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva becomes the Supreme Being’s three mani-
festations of Brahma, Wisnu and Siwa. There are also three basic rules
of behavior: think good thoughts; speak honestly; do good deeds.
Agama Hindu Dharma is understood to be based on revelation and
adapted to Indonesia’s unique culture. It is a true religion revealed by
God, a “religion of heaven” as opposed to the ethnic “religions of the
earth,” which are human-made. Perhaps the biggest change in Indonesian
Hinduism was the adoption of a monotheistic deity, Sang Hyang Widhi
Wasa.32 The god’s origins are somewhat obscure. Some writers say the
name refers to a Balinese god; others say it was created at the time of
the Indonesian constitution as a monotheistic term for Brahma or
Shiva; still others claim the term came from attempts by Dutch Christian
missionaries to translate the Judeo-Christian God into Balinese. Sang
Hyang Widhi Wasa is the Balinese equivalent of the Indonesian Muslim
term Tuhan, or God. The name may be translated “Almighty, Divine
and Supreme Ruler of the Universe” (a more monotheistic translation),
or “Divine, Powerful Cosmic Law” (closer to Hindu Vedanta and Sanatana
Dharma philosophy).33 Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa is not known to Indian
Hinduism and is not worshiped by most of the merchants, artists, writ-
ers, waiters, taxi-drivers and musicians with whom I spoke. Balinese
Hindus worship their ancestors and follow family religious traditions.
The state requires only that persons believe in, not necessarily pay at-
tention to, the God, hence the state religion is affirmed publicly but
then largely ignored. thislast bit feelsa bit oversimplified
A local tourist book’s description of the monotheistic nature of the
deity represents the government’s official position:

Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Waca is the source of all creations. God of all Gods.
The center of all, the one God and Supreme Creator, Source of all sources
in the universe, Bhur, Bwah and Swah, 3 levels. Hyang Widhi creates


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different God forms to accomplish the many tasks of taking care and
protecting the universe and all of its entities. Each form, such as Dewa
Brahma, Dewa Wisnu, and Dewa Siwa, together with their Sakti, Dewi
Saraswati, Dewa Sri, and Dewa Dhurga represents a different characteristic
of Sang Hyang Widhi and rules over a different aspect of the Universe.34
explain WHY you're using a tourist bookto define a religiousconcept...
Currently, Indonesia accepts six officially recognized religions, and
has institutionalized Islam, Catholicism, Protestant Christianity, Hinduism
and Buddhism.35 Confucianism is being adapted.36 All are understood as
monotheistic religions with revealed texts and prophets. The government
ignores some religions (such as Judaism and Zoroastrianism, monothe-
isms that never went through the paperwork), and bans others (such as
Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim the ban was instigated by trinitarian
Christians).37 Atheism is also not accepted, and some Islamic groups have
been banned for moving too far from orthodoxy.38
Currently people are not compelled to practice their faith, but every
citizen must be classified as a member of a recognized religion. Without
declaring a religious affiliation, persons cannot get official documents
such as the national identity card, without which they cannot vote or
travel out of the country. Also, people without an accepted religion are
open to aggressive proselytizing by accepted religions.
The current situation, however, is much more open than it was dur-
ing Suharto’s presidency (1967–1998). From 1965 to 1968 there was an
attempt to overthrow the government, understood as led by Indonesian
Communists and the People’s Republic of China. The Indonesian
military, assisted by Muslim youth organizations, began a purge of
Communists, as well as atheists and “people without religion” who
might be secret Communists. Only members of accepted agamas were
safe from death squads. There were attacks on peasants following more
liberal forms of Islam, and on mystical kebatinan groups.39 With
Suharto’s violent rise to power, religious rules were made much more
rigid. Any beliefs not following the rules of the central government’s
“New Order” were interpreted as threats to national unity. Being an
atheist was equated with being a Communist, justifying a death sen-
tence for treason. There was massive fighting between Islamist,
Communist and nationalist groups in Indonesia (in 1965, a half-mil-
lion to one million people were killed).40 Fear of violence still exists.
Everyone has an official religion, though some will write down their
religion as “Islamic for the identity card.”41


Religion is controlled by the Department of Religion (Departemen

Agama), a bureau of the national government led by the Minister of
Religion, with headquarters in Jakarta and offices throughout Indonesia.
The term agama in Sanskrit means “scripture,” as in the Shaiva Agamas,


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which inspired the Shaiva Siddhanta philosophy that influenced

Indonesian Hinduism. In the language of Bahasa Indonesia, agama
more generally means “religion.” There are two major sections of the
Department of Religion: the Education Office handles curricular issues
and teacher training, and the Information Office is liaison to the pub-
lic. The Department of Religion has major sections for the five accepted
religions. Its Hindu section works through Parisada Hindu Dharma
Indonesia and the school system. I spoke with Department members in
Denpasar and Gianyar, as well as with Parisada members and school of-
ficials and teachers.
According to I Gede Potha of the Department of Religion, there are
several major reasons for the Department’s existence, the most im-
portant of which is conflict resolution among major religious groups
and sometimes within religions themselves. If there is fighting, the
Department has mediators who can step in as outside authorities and
make peace. The Department also offers counseling within religions as
a part of the process of peacemaking, and organizes educational confer-
ences and meetings with religious representatives to maintain interfaith
dialogue. It has public relations specialists to speak to the media and
clarify religious misunderstandings, and trains religion teachers and
Hindu priests.42
The Information Office of Agama, Adat and Budaya (Religion,
Custom and Culture) deals with the media and approves the ordination
of priests and religious professionals. The Information Office handles
the certification of high priests (pedanda) and lower (or temple) priests
(pemangku or ampu). While high priests learn primarily from their gurus
and are routinely approved if the guru approves them, the lower priests
must attend a month-long course on ritual, theology and the proper
relationship of religion and government.
Of the several issues currently before the Department of Religion,
perhaps the most contentious is whether to alter the 1945 Indonesian
Constitution and turn Indonesia into an Islamic State. This important
debate poses a potential conflict with the other pancasila rules, espe-
cially issues of human rights and equality under Muslim law, and issues
of freedom of expression and decision-making powers resting in the
community rather than Islamic judges. This is often expressed in the
question of whether non-Muslim citizens should be treated differently
from Muslim citizens as dhimmis or “protected people.” Under most
forms of Muslim sharia, non-Muslims must pay extra taxes and follow
special rules. As Bassam Tibi notes, the pancasila “puts Muslims,
Christians, Hindus and Buddhists on an equal level.” Under tradi-
tional Islamic law, non-Muslims should have dhimmi status and not be
treated as equal citizens under the law.43 Tibi also notes that “Pancasila
is the highest expression of freedom of religion. In contrast to religious
indifference in Western civilizations, the Pancasila-based freedom of


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religion does not mean a rejection of religion but freedom of religious

The question of turning Indonesia into an Islamic state currently is
being debated in the Indonesian media. The largest Muslim religious
body in Indonesia, the Nadhlatul Ulama (“Awakening of Religious
Scholars”) has forty million members opposed to adopting Muslim law
or syariah. The second-largest body, the Muhammadiyah (“Way of
Muhammed”), with more than thirty million people, has recently
changed its position and also opposes an Islamic State. There are also
debates over setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission over
past government abuses, especially the massacres during Suharto’s
reign, and Christian-Muslim fighting on various islands.45 There are
current threats from radical Islamist groups.46 Indonesia’s former pres-
ident, Abdurrahman Wahid (in office 1999–2001), gave a useful argu-
ment for peace to many radical groups accustomed to the idea of the
world being divided into two camps, the world of Islamic peace (dar al-
Islam) and the world of war against Islam (dar al-harb). Wahid empha-
sized that within the Sunni Shafi‘i legal school (the major Islamic school
in Indonesia), there are actually three legitimate kinds of state: Islamic
(dar al-Islam), anti-Muslim (dar al-harb), and states at peace with Islam
(dar al-sulh).47 He argued that Muslims only need to fight enemies, not
those who wish peace and cooperate with Muslims. This gives a legiti-
mate legal argument for peaceful coexistence between Islam and other
The Department of Religion’s Hindu Section has its own areas of
debate, largely concerning new religious movements. Agama Hindu
Dharma is not considered to be such because it is considered to be an
old religion that has been rediscovered. Hindu new religious move-
ments are called “AK” (aliran kepercayaan or “streams of belief ”), which
emphasize personal devotion and empowerment as well as active ritual
and belief in specific gods. They are understood as being “cults” in the
sensationalized sense of the term, groups considered to be dangerous
to society. Accepted religions emphasize the social order as the focus of
revelation, while AK are willing to ignore society in favor of an individ-
ual focus. Current concerns include new guru-based teaching traditions
or sampradayas that have come to Bali, such as Sai Baba devotion, the
International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Sri Chinmoy,
and others. These devotees claim that the government approach to reli-
gion is wrong and that worship should be based on individual faith and
experience. From the government perspective, such spontaneity can be
unpredictable and disruptive to the social order, threatening to destroy
'government perspective'
the political compromise of Balinese Hinduism. presented too uncritically
For Indonesia, concerns with AK or “streams of belief ” were initially
associated with tribal religions. According to the 1952 definition, these
older religious movements follow “a dogmatic opinion that is closely


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connected to the living tradition of several tribes, especially those that

are still backward. The core of their belief is everything that has become
the customary way of life of their ancestors over time”.48 At present the
criteria for illegitimate religions have shifted from older “backward-
ness” to modern emotionalism. Illegitimate religions today are those
that emphasize personal enthusiasm over obligations to the State. They
are considered to be charismatic religions that lack the universal moral
rules of behavior, citizenship and social responsibility found in true
world religions.
Below the Department of Religion is the Parisada Hindu Dharma
Indonesia, a largely volunteer organization with both priests and lay
members (including civil servants, who get time off from their jobs for
Parisada work). It organizes festival times (which is important, as Bali
uses several calendars) and makes local theological and ritual deci-
sions.49 It is the link between the Department of Religion and Hindu
practitioners at the state and local levels, and balances Indian Hinduism,
traditional Balinese Hinduism, and government Hinduism.50


A major challenge in the field of new religious movements has been

isthisidiot trying to
to find a definition that captures their variety. Popular ideas are that
comparing Balinese new religious movements are small apocalyptic or millennial religions
Hinduism with thiskind led by a charismatic leader with passionate and sometimes violent devo-
of "religious
tees; however, modern scholars of new religious movements look for
greater nuance. Our question here is whether these scholarly defini-
tions fit the Indonesian situation.
One articulation comes from David Bromley, who is interested in
“groups in significant tension with the established social order.”51 This
is important for the criterion of newness, exploring a religion’s lack of
“congruence with the structure and interests of dominant institutions”
and its deviation from the “symbolic patterns of the dominant culture.”52
Bromley calls these “questions of alignment,” and emphasizes the dis-
tinctions between new religious movements and the dominant culture.
“New religious groups are those that are aligned with neither the dom-
inant cultural patterns nor social institutions…absent both cultural and
social alignment, there is continuing potential for high tension with the
dominant social order.”53 This definition emphasizes the opposition
between the dominant culture and a new religious movement. It is not
clear whether a group that might be called “aligned” with the dominant
social order can exist as a new religious movement. If we allow for a
continuum of distance from and proximity to the dominant culture,
there might be a place for Agama Hindu Dharma.
J. Gordon Melton offers a basic definition of new religious move-
ments as “religious groups that have been found, from the perspective


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of the dominant religious community…to be not just different, but

unacceptably different.”54 Melton emphasizes the “outside status” of
such groups existing in a “contested space within society as a whole.”55
New religions “are thus primarily defined not by any characteristic(s)
that they share, but by the tension in their relationships with the other
forms of religious life represented by the dominant churches, the eth-
nic religions and the sects.”56 I think this definition fits the majority of
new religious movements very well. But in the Indonesian case, Agama
Hindu Dharma is not socially and culturally alienated from the domi-
nant religious milieu; rather, it is carefully crafted to fit right into it.
Melton also briefly mentions the idea of “family groups” of religions that
are offshoots of older religious groups. Balinese Hinduism could fit into
this category as a modern branch of an older form of Hinduism.
Eileen Barker has identified specific characteristics of new religious
movements: new combinations (adoption of ideas from other religions),
new locations and social organizations, and new membership (first-
generation converts or those born into the religion). She notes the
tendency of new religious movements to polarize ideas: good and evil,
right and wrong, them and us. There is often charismatic leadership that
is eccentric and lacking consistent rules that allows for rapid change and
development.57 In the Indonesian case, we see that there is no charis-
matic leadership (unless we count the government itself), there are
indeed consistent rules and rituals, syncretism is controlled, and polar-
ization is deliberately avoided to lessen religious conflict. The genera-
tional issue, however, did concern informants. Many of the teachers in
Bali with whom I spoke were particularly concerned about the next
generation. They felt that the home practices of Balinese Hinduism
might die out through academic neglect, and that students were gener-
ally uninterested in the curriculum’s philosophical categories of reli-
gion. Westernization seemed to be taking hold.
Another important Indonesian concern is the question of the mul-
tireligious public square. How can the state support religious diversity
and pluralism without conflict? Does respect for one national religion
guarantee disrespect for others? One approach to this question has
been public secularism, what Richard John Neuhaus called “the naked
public square.” He understood this situation as a national hostility to
religion that stripped the public square of religious presence.58 This is
the separation of church and state found in many modern Western
countries, of which he disapproved. This is exactly the Indonesian cri-
tique. Though it comes largely from Muslim rather than Christian reli-
gionists, the “public intellectuals” and Hindu Parisada Dharma Indonesia
were concerned about this same issue. How do we have religious free-
dom without a secular society?
The French philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau believed that some
sort of core values must undergird the social order, and he discussed


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McDaniel: Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia as a New Religious Movement

this in his book The Social Contract (1762). In the United States, Robert
Bellah notes certain “common elements of religious orientation that
most Americans share,” and understands them to be the basis of civil
religion in America. These include following God’s will, valuing human
rights, rewarding virtue and punishing vice. He notes that there is an
acceptance of “higher law” based on revelation, and reference to a
monotheistic god, but civil religion is not specifically Christian. It is
rather “Unitarian,” and more related to order, law and right, than to
salvation and love.59 However, American civil religion has no formal
This is quite similar to the structure of the Indonesian pancasila,
which I would argue fits Bellah’s definition more clearly and simply
than the wide range of American political statements. As Bellah’s
American civil religion is monotheistic but nonsectarian, so the reli-
gions accepted by the Indonesian government are monotheistic but not
limited to specific sects. Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia is an explicit,
State-supported, mandatory monotheism.60 This is mandatory not in
the sense of being forced, but required if one wishes to have the bene-
fits of an accepted religion. Religious liberty is allowed insofar as the
religion fits the accepted model of one God, scriptures and a universal
ethical system. The pancasila list—the country is based on one God, a
just and civilized humanity, the unity of the nation, democracy, and so-
cial justice—fits these concerns with God, human rights, justice, and the
virtue of the State. It is an intentional, mutually supportive union of reli-
gion and nationalism that works against communal identities to create a
national religious identity intended to avoid regional and religious wars.
Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia might best be categorized as a new re-
ligious movement that is a fusion of “revealed” or historical religion and
civil religion, a systematized union of public and private religion.


How might we examine Indonesian Hinduism from the perspective

of the broader field of religious studies? In any transnational situation,
religions must change and adapt. Religious identities are shifting, as
those who are educated by government schools (and classes in priest-
hood) become “true” Hindus, rather than those with faith in and expe-
rience of the gods and ancestors, who do rituals, and follow the caste
system. Hindu theology in India covers a broad range of systems, but in
Indonesia the acceptable range of Hindu belief is more narrow, a mix
of nineteenth-century Neo-Vedanta and bhakti monotheism without the
From the history of religions perspective, we can see the influence
of thinkers like Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) and Swami
Vivekananda (1863–1902), who valued a philosophical and universalist


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Nova Religio

form of Hinduism with an emphasis on service to humanity. Indonesian

Hinduism also bears a resemblance to the Indian Brahmo Samaj, an
ethical, rational belief system that emphasizes the unity of God.61
However, Indonesian religion in many ways returns to older forms of
Hinduism, where the ideal religious response was loyalty and obedience
rather than passion and love. In India this changed with the spread of
emotional bhakti and the popularizing of the Bhagavata Purana around
the ninth century.62 Theologically, it is a monotheistic variant of Shaiva
Siddhanta philosophy, which originated in its more systematic form in
the tenth through twelfth centuries.
In terms of social psychology of religion, this split between official
belief and actual practice has caused a mixture of faith and alienation.
Informants follow the traditional gods and ancestors but are hesitant
toward government monotheism. When I asked people if they believed
in Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, the most frequent response was a shrug.
God seemed rather like an algebra equation, perhaps true but irrele-
vant to life as lived. One would not pray to such a God, who, even if
real, would be far away and busy. It was only the local gods who cared.
What was intended to be public faith and religious freedom became
instead religious apathy and freedom from missionaries of more ag-
gressive religions.
Does such protective coloration of religion actually give security? It
does give identity cards, time off on religious holidays, and government-
enforced interfaith dialogue to avoid riots and lessen tensions between
religious groups. However, radical Islamists are aware of the theistic am-
biguities in Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia. Thus the various bomb-
ings in Bali, especially in 2002 and 2005, attacking immoral Westerners,
Hindus understood to be polytheists, and the central government’s tour-
ism revenues (Bali brings in more than fifty percent of the country’s $6.5
billion tourism income).63 There are also tensions between the Santri
Muslims (who follow a strict, Middle Eastern-style Islam) and more lib-
eral schools of Islam . Smaller religions may be caught in the crossfire.
Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia is in some ways a model compro-
mise. It brings God into the marketplace without specifying which god.
It creates a basis of unity among different ethnicities and cultural ideas,
a middle ground between liberals and fundamentalists, federal peace-
making between feuding religious factions, licensing of priests and min-
isters (thus fewer uneducated ones), government oversight and
responsibility on issues of abuse, and religious education to teach stu-
dents about their own faith. But there are also disadvantages. It sup-
presses smaller religions, requires a “public faith” that may well be at
odds with private faith, and intrudes politics into religion. For some
Balinese it is a sort of Potemkin religion, having a false theological facade
without the support of private faith or experience. It is enforced religion,
with rejection of the government’s definition of religion leading to loss


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McDaniel: Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia as a New Religious Movement

of many liberties. And, of course, there is no room for atheism in a

country self-defined as religious.
We may question whether the government restructuring of an old
religion can be categorized as a new religious movement. If a new reli-
gious movement is a new means of understanding and interpretation,
a new god, a new theology, and a new authority structure, then Agama
Hindu Dharma Indonesia fits this definition. And as a new religious
movement, ancient but rediscovered, we may question if the image of
Islam is a suitable template for modern Hinduism.


In this article I have examined a new religion of Indonesia, Agama

Hindu Dharma, which was accepted by the government as a legitimate
religion in 1959. While it is new, and it is a religion, there is some ques-
tion as to whether currently articulated definitions of “new religious
movement” can describe this tradition accurately. As a government-
supported religion, it does not have the distance from the dominant
culture that new religious movements are commonly thought to have.
It has no charismatic leader, no new revelation, no millennial ambi-
tions, and no alienation from mainstream culture or other, government-
accepted religions. Indeed, it harbors a suspicion of other new religious
movements whose emphasis on personal emotion and commitment is
understood to interfere with one’s obligations to the State. Agama
Hindu Dharma gives us insight into the modern creation of an alterna-
tive religion by academics rather than prophets, and raises questions
about the roles of civil religion and the distinctions between public and
private faith.

My thanks go to the Faculty Research and Development Committee of the College

of Charleston for their summer grant funding.

1 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U. S. Department of State,
“Indonesia International Religious Freedom Report 2005,” <http://www.state.
gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51512.htm >.
2 This wide range of populations was given in Bureau of Democracy, Human

Rights, and Labor, U. S. Department of State, “Indonesia International Religious

Freedom Report 2005.” No reason was given for the discrepancy, but it may well
be that each tends to exaggerate its major followers. There are also Hindu
minorities (Keharingan) in Central and East Kalimantan, Northern Sumatra,
South and Central Sulawesi, and Lombok.


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Nova Religio
3 Leo Howe, Hinduism and Hierarchy in Bali (Santa Fe, N.M.: School of American
Research Press, 2001), 145.
4 In deference to the College of Charleston’s Institutional Review Board, I did

not do formal interviews or write down the names of informants (other than
official government representatives).
5 I. Gusti Putu Phalgunadi, Evolution of Hindu Culture in Bali: From the Earliest

Period to the Present Time (Delhi: Sundeep Prakashan, 1991), 26.

6 Phalgunadi, Evolution of Hindu Culture in Bali, 21.

7 Phalgunadi, Evolution of Hindu Culture in Bali, 33.

8 Suzanne Charle, Bali: Island of Grace (Lincolnwood, Ill.: Passport Books,

1991), 33.
9 In its earlier draft form, the preamble to the Constitution contained the

Jakarta Charter stating that Indonesian Muslims must follow Islamic religious
law (sharia), and that the President must be Muslim (in order to properly
protect Muslims). The pancasila was a compromise between nationalist Muslims
who wanted a Muslim State and the demands of other religions. When the 1950
final version of the Constitution did not include the Jakarta Charter, radical
Muslim groups (which we would later categorize as Islamist) broke off, creating
the Darul Islam movement, arguing for an Islamic state of Indonesia. It motivated
the creation of later Islamist splinter organizations, such as the Commando Jihad
10 Simplified transliterations of Sanskrit are used in this article, but standard

Indonesian transliterations are retained.

11 Larissa M. Efimova, “The State Ideology Pancasila as a Manifestation of

Religious Revivalism in Contemporary Indonesia,” Temenos 32 (1996): 55.

12 These concerns about Communism and extremism are noted by many

Indonesian writers up to the present day, both officially and in the opinion pages
of Indonesian newspapers. NOT before the sixties, idiot.
13 Howe, Hinduism and Hierarchy in Bali, 147.

14 These included the mahavakyas (“great sayings”) of Shankara, statements

from the Vedas and Upanishads made famous as the basis of the Advaita Vedanta
school in India. For instance, aham brahmasmi or “I am Brahman” refers to the
unity of self and ultimate reality.
15 Frederik Lambertus Bakker, The Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals:

Developments in Modern Hindu Thinking in Independent Indonesia (Amsterdam:

Vrije Universiteit Press, 1993), 61.
16 Bakker, Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals, 20.

17 Howe, Hinduism and Hierarchy in Bali, 132.

18 Bakker, Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals, 229.

19 Bakker, Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals, 299.

20 These were formulated in 1957 by Parisada member Anandakusuma.

21 Bakker, Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals, 87.

22 This was written up in the Dharma Prawritti Sastra, a book on the laws or

dharma of social action and worldly life. See Bakker, Struggle of the Hindu Balinese
Intellectuals, 135.


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McDaniel: Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia as a New Religious Movement
23 These ideas are justified in textbooks by quotes from the Bhagavad Gita, Laws
of Manu, and Ramayana. See the course textbook edited by Tim Penyusum, Buku
Pelajaran: Agama Hindu Untuk Tingkat SMTP Kelas III (Denpasar: Departemen
Agama, 2001), 98–100.
24 Bakker, Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals, 237.

25 Martin Ramstedt, “Negotiating Identities: ‘Hinduism’ in Modern Indonesia,”

IIAS Newsletter Online, no. 17, <

html>, accessed 12 March 2010.
26 Bakker, Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals, 241.

27 Bakker, Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals, 96.

28 A memorable quote from Gusti Agung Gede Putra cited in Bakker, Struggle of

the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals, 190.

29 Bakker, Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals, 173.

30 Bakker, Struggle of the Hindu Balinese Intellectuals, 272.

31 The term yadnya derives from the Sanskrit yajna, a sacrifice or offering. The

similarities here with Islam, with its five pillars and five daily prayers, are clear.
32 There are variant spellings of the name of this god. This spelling comes from

the textbook for religious education used in the schools. See Penyusum, Buku
33 Ramstedt, “Negotiating Identities,” 1.

34 Yves Tulsi Boutin, Bali Culture and Legends (Ubud: Succan Widhi Group/Ni

Luh Edyawati, SE, 1999), 2. Bhur, bhuvah and svah refer to the earth, supernatural
worlds and heavens.
35 Buddhism also had to become monotheistic and went through the same sort

of challenges Hinduism did. At one point, the Bandung group proposed that
the Three Jewels be called a monotheistic entity, but currently Sang Hyang Adi
Buddha is the Buddhist God.
36 In 2000 a presidential decree repealed the ban on Chinese religion (once it

became the monotheistic worship of the Sky God). Now Confucian marriages
can be registered officially, and Confucians can get government identity cards.
Earlier tension over accepting Chinese religion arose from Chinese Communists
being implicated in the coup of 1965.
37 Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Indonesia: Country Report

on Human Rights Practices 2000,” February 2001, Section 2, <http://jakarta.>.
38 Religious organizations other than the five accepted groups can register with

the Ministry for Culture and Tourism, but only as social organizations. Such
groups cannot rent places to hold services and must find other means to perform
rituals. They often have problems registering marriages and children’s births,
and the lack of a birth certificate can prevent a child from enrolling in school,
getting government scholarships, and having government jobs. Indigenous
beliefs are considered to be cultural traditions, not religions.
39 Martin Ramstedt, “Introduction: Negotiating Identities: Indonesian ‘Hindus’

Between Local, National and Global Interests,” in Hinduism in Modern Indonesia:

A Minority Religion Between Local, National and Global Interests, ed. Martin Ramstedt
(New York: Routledge, 2004), 15.


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Nova Religio
40 Douglas E. Ramage, Politics in Indonesia: Democracy, Islam and the Ideology of
Tolerance (New York: Routledge, 1995), 23.
41 Personal communication with Tom Hunter, 25 July 2003.

42 Interview with I. Gede Potha, Department of Religion, Denpasar office, in

August 2002.
43 Not only are Christians and Jews not considered dhimmis in Indonesia, but full

status for members of religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism were not
mentioned in Islamic revelations. See Bassam Tibi, “Indonesia, A Model for the
Islamic Civilization in Transition to the 21st Century,” 1995, <http://godlas.>. The term dhimmi in Islam refers to “People of the
Book” (especially Jews and Christians) who have secondary status under Muslim
law. Tibi calls the pancasila “not only a revolution in Islamic thinking but also a
translation of the mystical ideas of the great Sufi Muslim Ibn Arabi into a
political program” in which all people are equal. He views it as “a model for
domestic peace in this part of the world” (4).
44 Tibi, “Indonesia,” 4.

45 Philip Eldridge, “Human Rights in Post-Suharto Indonesia,” Brown Journal of

World Affairs 9, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 134.

46 Islamist groups include the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (Indonesian Holy

Warrior Assembly), the Fron Pembela Islam (Front of the Defenders of Islam),
and the Hizb al-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), as well as many other groups.
There are also representatives in Indonesia from international Islamist
47 Benjamin Fleming Intan, “Public Religion” and the Pancasila-Based State of

Indonesia: An Ethical and Sociological Analysis (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), 97.
48 This is from Regulation 9, Article VI, of the Indonesian Constitution, cited in

Ramstedt, “Negotiating Identities,” 9.

49 These involve the Indian Saka calendar, which is lunar, and the Wuku year of

210 days.
50 The Parisada is split currently between the older and more traditional Parisada

Champuhan, which emphasizes Balinese tradition, caste, priestly leadership

and regional autonomy, and the newer Besakih Parisada, a pro-India reform
group with an international focus, which is interested in modernization,
egalitarianism and equal representation for all groups. In July 2003 this liberal
group was voted in as the dominant Parisada position, and one of their first
recommendations was to end the Balinese caste system and its privileges. The
debate between Balinese tradition and outside influences will doubtless be a
long one. The Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia website is located at <http://>, accessed 12 March 2010.
51 David G. Bromley, “Perspective: Whither New Religions Studies? Defining and

Shaping a New Area of Study,” Nova Religio 8, no. 2 (November 2004): 88.
52 Bromley, “Whither New Religions Studies?” 92.

53 Bromley, “Whither New Religions Studies?” 94.

54 J. Gordon Melton, “Perspective: Toward a Definition of ‘New Religion,’” Nova

Religio 8, No. 1 ( July 2004): 79.

55 Melton, “Toward a Definition of ‘New Religion,’” 84.


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McDaniel: Agama Hindu Dharma Indonesia as a New Religious Movement
56 Melton, “Toward a Definition of ‘New Religion,’” 81.
57 Eileen Barker, “Perspective: What Are We Studying? A Sociological Case for
Keeping the ‘Nova,’” Nova Religio 8, no. 1 ( July 2004): 88–102.
58 Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in

America (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1984).

59 Robert Bellah, “Civil Religion in America” in Robert Bellah and Steven M.

Tipton, eds. The Robert Bellah Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006),
228, 231–232.
60 June McDaniel, ”Mandatory Monotheism and Some Problems of Religious

Freedom in Bali,” paper presented in the Religious Freedom Group, American

Academy of Religion annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, 22–25 November
61 The Brahmo Samaj was founded by Ram Mohan Roy (1774–1833) in 1828 in

Calcutta (Kolkata). The organization was based on “reformed Hinduism” or

Brahmoism. In its emphasis on one God and ethical action, it is much like
Agama Hindu Dharma. However, the Brahmo Samaj did not accept the
authority of prophets and sages, rejected dogmatic statements about theology
and karma, and believed that religion should be separate from the State.
62 In his book, Viraha-bhakti: The Early History of Krsna Devotion in South India (Delhi:

Oxford University Press, 1983), Friedhelm Hardy distinguished between

“intellectual bhakti” emphasizing loyalty and knowledge found in the Bhagavad
Gita and Vishnu Purana, and “emotional bhakti ” emphasizing love and ecstatic
states found in the poetry of the Alvars and the Bhagavata Purana. Hardy argues
that the Bhagavata Purana originated in South India in the ninth century, but its
origins are still debated by scholars. It is difficult to date a Sanskrit puranic text, as
the material accumulates over centuries and is altered over time by commentators
and storytellers. It existed in some form by the eleventh century, when it was cited
by al-Biruni in his account of India. The systematized writing on Shaiva Siddhanta
philosophy also came from this time period (tenth through twelfth centuries). If
we were to look for a Hindu precursor to the theology of Agama Hindu Bali, this
would be a useful time period and set of values to analyze.
63 See Rita A. Widiadana and Wasti Atmodjo, “Does Bali Need Autonomy?” 10

January 2007, Why Go Indonesia, <

a-trip/does-bali-need-autonomy-bali-indonesia.html>. There have been many
smaller bombings, but the most well known are the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing
in the tourist area of Kuta Beach killing over 200 people, and the 2005 bombings
on both the Jimbaran coast and Kuta Beach. These are generally believed to be
the work of Jemaah Islamiyah, possibly assisted by al-Qaeda, although the
Islamic Defenders’ Front (Fron Pembela Islam) has been implicated also. The
major public arguments have been religious ones. However, assigning
responsibility is complicated by other factors: military factions, internal conflicts
within Indonesia (such as Aceh and Maluku), and organized crime groups
(smuggling, illegal logging, extortion and illegal drug trade), as well as tensions
between the military and police. Thus, groups working under the guise of Islam
may have other concerns as well. For a discussion of such motives, see Stephen
Sherlock, “The Bali Bombings: Looking for Explanations,” E-Brief: Online Only
issued 14 October 2002, Parliamentary Library, Parliament of Australia <http://>.


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