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31 Mar 2016

Charisma and Rationalisation in a Modernising Pesantren: Changing Values in Traditional Islamic Education in Java

Achmad Zainal Arifin, July 2013
Griffith University

This thesis examines the process of transmission of charismatic authority from an Islamic religious leader, called a kyai (sometimes also spelled ‘kiai’), to one of his sons, given the title ‘gus,’ within his teaching community [pesantren]. There are four topics addressed in this research in order to analyse the transmission process: (1) the curriculum and learning structure changes made by pesantren in responding the modernisation of educational system throughout the country; (2) the appearance of bureaucratic-like organisation within the traditional pesantren, so called “pengurus pondok” [pesantren’s board] that represent an administrative rationalisation of pesantren; (3) the adaptability of charismatic authority of kyai, which relies mostly on the gift of grace [barākah] and working-miracle [karāmah], to a more modernised and rationalised community; and (4) the routinisation of charisma, especially regarding to the issue of succession.

To address those topics, I conducted a case study at Pesantren al-Munawwir, particularly in Komplek L, part of the pesantren which lead by a young kyai, who had to lead the pesantren after the death of his father in 2001. I conducted my fieldwork for nearly 11 months in total. I did two weeks pre-research in June 2009, before doing my confirmation of candidature. Then, from September 2009 to July 2010, I did my fieldwork for data collection. My last visit was for nearly three weeks in December 2011 for updating some information. During my fieldwork, I participated in most pesantren’s activities, ranging from the daily activity of madrasah, weekly agenda of jam’iyahan [gathering], to yearly khaul [commemorating the death] of Kyai Ahmad. I also conducted several interviews with Gus Munawwar, some family members, alumni, ustadz (teachers), and santri (students). Most of these interviews were done in informal ways within the daily activity to keep the natural setting of the research.

From my fieldwork, I found that the processes of modernisation and rationalisation of pesantren have both challenged and reinforced the charismatic authority of the kyai. They have contributed to increase the number of santri, and this increase in itself is seen as evidence of the charismatic authority of the kyai. However, by implementing the madrasah system, as well as employing the pesantren board, the kyai is forced to share his authority with new teachers, who provide an alternative perspective through which the santri may interpret their social realities. The way the kyai engages with the tension of preserving traditional values, while at the same
time accommodating modern ones, has resulted in a unique amalgam of traditional and legalrational authority which preserves his charismatic authority. Importantly, the rationalisation process does not really change the values system of pesantren, although it has, in some ways, changed the perception of some santri of the charisma of their kyai.

The administrative rationalisation of charismatic authority, offers an alternative way of seeing the relationship between rational-legal and traditional authority. In the everyday life of pesantren, rational-legal authority can fit and work well within the traditional authority. The pesantren board, which has responsibility for ensuring the running of most activities in the pesantren, also functions, during the absence of kyai, as his badal [representation] in teaching and leading the prayers. Therefore, in my opinion, it is necessary to reconsider the use of a tripartite categorisation of authority, as proposed by Weber, in examining the authority of the traditional Islamic leader, especially in consideration of the possibility of the three forms of authority being combined within a single phenomenon.

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