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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Church History in Maluku: Possibilities toward Social History Dimensions - part two

Historical Method and Significance of Post-Conflict Archive Study

When I was a student at faculty of theology UKIM in Ambon around 1990s, we got “General Church History” and “Church History in Indonesia” courses. We used Prof. Tom van den End’s books (e.g. Ragi Carita vol. 1 and 2) as main references.[1] Church history exploration through those books provided us deep insight about the dynamic of church history in Indonesia and in Maluku (only it was just small narrative). Then we realized – after comparing with others especially post Reformation 1998 – that Van den End’s books essentially presented a general view of church history about church birth and development institutionally. In that point of view his books provided small place for observing dynamic of social changes toward and within Christian congregations in Maluku (intentionally I focus on Maluku context).

Absolutely I believe that what he had done attempting in church history reconstruction is really based on studying archives deeply and comprehensively. I have no doubt of it. However, it must be realized that social dynamic from below is not much depicted explicitly in general picture of church history in Van den End’s Ragi Carita. Later, in his dissertation at Jakarta Theological Seminary (STT Jakarta), Tapilatu described specifically the history of GPM but again still focused on church as institution (of course, it must be put appropriately in social context).[2]

While, on the other side, churches in Maluku either institutionally or communally are very influenced by significant social changes and political, cultural, and economic upheavals as a whole. Formally church’s theology, mainly it taught at theological school, closely related to contextual dynamic of societal life in which church has been living and serving. Learning aspects of church history, therefore, in that point must give accentuation toward sociological, political, cultural, and economic processes.

Study on political history in Maluku by Richard Chauvel could be regarded as one magnum opus in study of local history in Maluku.[3] Prof. Chauvel provides important data and historical analysis that shown dispute of social groups in Maluku (i.e. between raja as traditional authority and intellectuals who originally from burger communities – Ambonesche burger). The dispute then becomes contradiction between Dutch loyalists and Indonesian nationalists. From his analysis could be seen the emergence social ideas related to the forming of political identities around discourses of being Indonesia in Maluku context. Although he does not mention explicitly about roles of GPM in his analysis, Chauvel describes such a political history determined political view and standpoint of Christians in Maluku. So that it could be assumed that various political views and standpoints of Christian in Maluku then becomes significant factors directing theological and political perspectives of the church toward certain issues as ethnicity, church-state relationship, and Islam-Christian encounter in new context of Indonesia society sociologically or politically.

It is important to note as well about historical study by Zakaria Ngelow, which I think provides widely perspective about theological perspectives of Christians and churches situated in the struggle for independence of Indonesia and forming processes of Indonesia nationalism conceptually.[4] In local context, I have to mention study of John Ruhulessin in his master thesis at Satya Wacana Christian University (Salatiga) which focuses on RMS (Republic of South Maluku) revolt from the Maluku Christian perspective who live in Maluku.[5] Unfortunately, his thesis is not published yet so it can be read publicly. I think that is a reason why young generation in Maluku remain confuse when speaking about RMS and easily used the issue of RMS mistakenly during and post-conflict.

There are many, of course, studies on Maluku history I can put in this section. In educational field, for instance, Cornelis Alyona completed his master thesis at STT Jakarta and dissertation at University of Indonesia on subject of Western education in Central Maluku 1885-1942. Alyona’s study is an important one to trace history of educational system in Maluku related to some problems deal with political policy from colonial until independence periods.[6]

Well, what shall be concluded from short review about historical study in Maluku by “church historians” and “secular historians”? Briefly, historical study in essence is not simply about mapping the past that often influence some occasions today. Historical study rather is a systematic effort to understand social reality within time continuum, and that difficult to restrict it as past, present, and future in linear viewpoint. Is the past a history? Where can we cease to define the past and making demarcation with the present? When can we say something as history and which one is not? Such questions at least bring us to rethink historical method and pattern of narrative. It may be useful here to quote what Lemon says in his Philosophy of History: A Guide for Students to make differences conceptually between speculative philosophy of history and analytic philosophy of history.[7]

… let us look further into that branch of philosophy of history called speculative philosophy of history. As already intimated, this consists of thinking about the actual ‘content’ of (human) history to see in what sense ‘it as a whole’ is explicable or meaningful. It is hence not surprising that some who have attempted this employed the term ‘universal history’, and that one recent scholar described it as ‘the central aspiration to afford a total explanatory account of the past’.2 Although not all speculative philosophy of history is so overtly ambitious, those who engage in it are variously attempting to reach conclusions about the following kinds of questions: does history demonstrate a single giant unfolding story? If so, does the ‘story’ have an ending? And is that ending utopian, cataclysmic, or simply mundane? Or does history go round in circles (‘cycles’)? Can history be divided up into distinct periods such as ‘the Dark Ages’, and if so, what are they? And what does this tell us about the course of history? Is the history of the world necessarily a history of progress of humanity; if so, why? If not, why not? Do ‘laws’ govern historical development, or is it already begging the question to see history as ‘developing’? Is the course of history determined by forces outside human control, or can individuals’ actions make a difference? Can we learn anything from the flow of history, or is every situation unique? (p. 9)

Whereas its speculative branch treats of history as past events and circumstances (i.e., history as ‘content’), analytic philosophy of history enquires into history as the discipline (or ‘form’) which discovers and understands that past. Its enquiry is ‘analytic’ because it critically analyses the thinking behind the ways in which historians undertake their discipline. For example, what conditions must be met for a statement about the past to be ‘true’. Is there an exclusively ‘historical’ way of explaining the past as distinct, for example, from a scientific way? Is narrative a satisfactory vehicle for historical knowledge? Do historians implicitly rely on certain ‘laws’ of human behaviour in their understanding of history? If so, what are they, and are they valid? How far are an historian’s perceptions and judgements an extension of his or her own ‘unconscious’ or ideological views – in other words, can the historian reach objective truth, or is he or she captive to subjective accounts? (p. 281)

I have no pretention to elaborate both dimensions of philosophy of history. At least, however, Lemon’s statement above may bring us to examine validity of historical methodology by church historians. In my view, with such understanding we realize that doing research on church history critically must be put in framework of social sciences widely. Consequently, we may question where the boundaries between historical study and social sciences; how to apply social research method in historical studies. It does mean that historical study actually is multidimensional study.

[1] Th. van den End, Ragi Carita vol. 1 dan 2 (Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia 1996).

[2] M. Tapilatu, Sejarah Gereja Protestan Maluku 1935-1980: Suatu Tinjauan Historis Kritis. Th.D. dissertation Jakarta Theological Seminary 1994 (unpublished).

[3] Richard Chauvel, Nationalists, Soldiers and Separatists: the Ambonese Islands from Colonialism to Revolt 1880-1950 (Leiden: KITLV Press, 1990).

[4] Zakaria J. Ngelow, Kekristenan dan Nasionalisme: Perjumpaan Umat Kristen Protestan dengan Pergerakan Nasional Indonesia 1900-1950 (Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia 1994).

[5] John Ruhulessin, Mencari Makna Cita Kemanusiaan Bersama: Suatu Analisis Sejarah Politik Lokal Secara Multidimensi pada Sejarah Ambon Antara Tahun 1945 Hingga 1950 Serta Implikasinya Bagi Artikulasi Iman Kristen Dalam Konteks Pluralisme Masyarakat di Maluku. Master thesis Satya Wacana Christian University Salatiga 1993.

[6] Cornelis Alyona, Pendidikan Barat di Maluku Tengah 1885-1942: Timbulnya Dualisme dalam Sistem Pendidikan. Ph.D. dissertation University of Indonesia, Department of Cultural Science 2008.

[7] M.C. Lemon, Philosophy of History: A Guide for Students (London: Routledge, 2003).

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One Earth, Many Faces

One Earth, Many Faces