Multiculturalism in Southeast Asia

Muhamad Ali, Jakarta

The condition of being culturally diverse is neither uniquely modern nor Western, but as an approach, multiculturalism is quite a modern concept (born in mid-20th century). In Southeast Asia, multiculturalism has become constructed and contested in state and society.

Some refer to the pre-colonial time when cities were a pluralistic melting point of peoples from all over Southeast Asia, depicting the archipelago as one of the crossroads of world civilizations. During the colonial time, British scholar, J.S. Furnivall used “plural societies” to describe Southeast Asian societies, “two or more elements or social orders which live side by side, yet without mingling, in one political unit”.

The colonial policies of assimilation, segregation, transmigration, ethnic categorization, adat-recht (customary law) codification, politics of Islam and regulations have impacted on post-colonial multiculturalism. But networks of Islamic reformism, Hinduization, Buddhist Mahayani and later Theravada propagation, Christianization, Chinese migration and assimilation and other processes have shaped the way in which multiculturalism has taken different forms.

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Categories: Asia, Indonesia

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