The Mosque as a 'School of Democracy': Civic Skill Opportunity and Houses of Worship in Indonesia

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This paper examines the potential role of houses of worship as institutions where individuals can acquire civic skills that can be deployed for political participation in the world’s largest Muslim-majority democracy: Indonesia. Drawing on participant observation of almost 300 worship and non-worship gatherings in seven Muslim, Protestant, and Catholic religious communities in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, as well as interviews with members of these communities, this paper investigates two key questions: 1) what opportunities exist for members of Indonesian worship communities to develop and practice the civic skills that are believed to facilitate political participation? and 2) does civic skill opportunity vary across religious denominations? The study introduces an original Civic Skill Opportunity scale, which, when tested, shows that mosques are less likely to develop the civic skills among their worshippers than are churches. These denominational differences can be explained by a house of worship’s embeddedness in a confessional hierarchy, style of worship, and the relative size of the religious denomination. This study’s findings could have important implications regarding how we think about religion in Southeast Asia, especially Islam, as an impediment or incubator of democracy.