An Embarrassment of Spirits: Spirits, Hauntology and Democracy in Indonesia

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Kyai Muzakkin is the spiritual leader of a Koranic school (pesantren) in East Java that he claims is the only pesantren in the world that is attended entirely by spirits (jin). Kyai Muzakkin is also the founder of an anti-corruption NGO. In 2009, he gained national notoriety and infamy when he combined his vocational interest in spirits and anti-corruption and sent a thousand spirits to Jakarta to protect the supporters of the Indonesian president at an anti-corruption rally. The introduction of spirits into the increasingly ‘occult’ Indonesian politics of 2009 was as apt as it was embarrassing. Describing how the public revelation of the intimate link between political worlds and spirit worlds made good political sense while also constituting an intense embarrassment to both modernist ideas of secular politics and the sensibilities of many orthodox Muslims, this article argues that the embarrassing irruption of spirits into Indonesian politics reflected not only a haunting within Indonesian politics and Indonesian Islam but also a haunting of the spirit of global democracy. Embarrassment, the paper posits, provides a useful methodological entry point into the ethnographic study of politics and its effects.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPaideuma: Zeitschrift für kulturanthropologische Forschung
Pages (from-to)115-138
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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