Indonesia’s Islamic organizations sustain the country’s thriving civil society, democracy, and reputation for tolerance amid diversity. Yet scholars poorly understand how these organizations envision the accommodation of religious difference. What does tolerance mean to the world’s largest Islamic organizations? What are the implications for democracy in Indonesia and the broader Muslim world? Jeremy Menchik argues that answering these questions requires decoupling tolerance from liberalism and investigating the historical and political conditions that engender democratic values. Drawing on archival documents, ethnographic observation, comparative political theory, and an original survey, Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance without Liberalism demonstrates that Indonesia’s Muslim leaders favor a democracy in which individual rights and group-differentiated rights converge within a system of legal pluralism, a vision at odds with American-style secular government but common in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

  • Challenges the assumption that liberal modes of tolerance are necessary for making democracy work.
  • Instead of asking whether Islam is compatible with democracy, investigates the more important question: What kind of democracy do Muslims want?
  • Draws on 24 months of field research in Indonesia, including archival research, ethnographic observation, and an original survey.


New York Review of Books
Journal of Politics
Foreign Affairs
Perspectives on Politics
American Journal of Sociology
Tempo Magazine
Jakarta Post
Politique étrangère
Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde
Studies of Transition States and Societies
Reading Religion
South East Asia Research


Ta’seel Commons
Research on Religion

“The world’s largest Muslim-majority country, Indonesia’s success at transitioning to democracy has perplexed students of comparative Muslim politics – as has the tendency for Indonesian democracy to show a decidedly non-liberal attitude toward matters of religious pluralism. In this richly researched and elegantly argued book, Jeremy Menchik explains how both phenomena have been possible. In so doing, he also offers a study of great importance, not just to Indonesianists, but to scholars and readers interested in the prospects for democracy in the broader Muslim world.”
– Robert Hefner, Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion, and World Affairs, Boston University

“At a time when calls for tolerance usually impugn religion and imply the secular, political scientist Jeremy Menchik proposes an original vision of democracy that includes and is even grounded in religion – godly nationalism, he calls it. To make his case, he turns to Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic democracy, where he conducted tireless research that he presents here with assertive vivacity and intellectual versatility. Ranging across political theory, sociology, religious studies, and political science, the product is a major contribution to scholarship on religion and politics.”
– Daniel Philpott, Director, Center for Civil and Human Rights, University of Notre Dame, Indiana

“Jeremy Menchik’s thought-provoking and carefully crafted study examines the complex and politically productive role of Islamic organizations in the world’s largest Muslim-majority democracy. He challenges the notion that liberal modes of tolerance are a sine qua non of democratization. This book opens new possibilities for the study of religion, governance, politics, and power in a world than can be neither dominated nor defined by Euro-American history and experience.”
– Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Northwestern University, Illinois

“Brilliant! This is by far the best book on the complex relationships between the state and the three major Islamic civil-society organizations in Indonesia. It is a conceptual and empirical tour de force, integrating political science, anthropology and history.”
– Alfred Stepan, Wallace Sayre Professor of Political Science, Columbia University, New York

Post-Publication Reviews

“It seems we are experiencing a new golden age of research on Indonesian Islam. Islam and Democracy most certainly takes a place at the leading edge of this new wave of scholarship.”
–Edward Aspinall, Indonesia


“Jeremy Menchik’s wonderful new book takes the challenges of doing constructivist political science theory seriously. That is no simple task, since even the best works in the constructivist tradition often avoid the difficult work of actually defining the approach and its implications. What Menchik achieves is not a replacement for the grand theoretical traditions of religion and politics that he criticizes but something more useful. He provides a careful research design that produces a handful of empirically consequential mechanisms explaining why leading Indonesian Islamic organizations are sometimes more or less tolerant of non-Muslim minorities, a credible account of how these mechanisms might generalize to other times and places, and a clear examination of their normative consequences. … [t]his is a book that deserves to be widely read and debated not only by Indonesia scholars but also by all who study religion and democratic politics.”
–Brandon Kendhammer, Perspectives on Politics

“His revealing research into local history shows how the diverse experiences of different Muslim organizations have produced a wide range of beliefs about religious tolerance and even about what a belief system has to look like in order to be counted as a religion.”
–Andrew Nathan, Foreign Affairs

“There are two features of Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance without Liberalism that set it apart from nearly every contemporary social scientific treatment about Islam and politics. First, author Jeremy Menchik takes political theory seriously as a subject in comparative politics. Second, it is based on a careful study of Islamic mass organizations in Indonesia—which as scholars of Islam and politics are now tired of hearing, is the world’s largest Muslim country and a consolidated if imperfect electoral democracy. The result is an original take on Islam and democracy in a critical case…. The audience for Menchik’s thought-provoking and thoroughly original take on democracy, tolerance, and Islam will certainly include scholars of Southeast Asia and of political Islam. However, it should also include anyone interested in religion and politics, or in the old questions of consociational democracy, minority rights, and pluralism in comparative politics. Finally, this book also ought to be read by political theorists, both comparative political theorists and others working on classical liberalism and democratic theory, who should engage with Menchik’s take on how one Muslim democracy works in practice.”
–Thomas B. Pepinsky, Journal of Politics

Islam and democracy in Indonesia was a co-winner of the International Studies Association Religion and International Relations Best Book award in February 2017 and it is easy to see why. …Menchik has some real insights into the Islamization of Indonesia, and the concept of Godly nationalism offers opportunities to generalize and rethink our understanding of the ways in which religion can operate in the public sphere. His argument is supported by a weight of material and detail, and a careful exposition of the book’s methodology.”
–Katherine Brown, International Affairs

“Menchik’s illumination of an alternative to the Rawlsian vision of secular‐liberal democracy operating in Indonesia challenges long held assumptions that place religion on the fringes of political science. He provides a different way of conceptualizing religion and politics that is productive for not only the field of political science, but also religious studies, area studies, Islamic studies, and Indonesian studies.”
–Jamie Edmonds, Reading Religion

“This line of argumentation is invigorating, but what makes it convincing – and a joy to read – is the richness of the data Menchik draws from and the unique structure in which the book is arranged. Each chapter describes a new point upon which he builds his main argument, highlighting attitudes towards a different segment of Indonesian society during a given time period by each of the three Islamic organisations he has selected as a case study. …the book provides a significant contribution not only for those concerned with Islam in Indonesia but for political theorists more broadly.”
–Chris Chaplin, South East Asia Research

“Menchik’s Islam and Democracy in Indonesia: Tolerance without Liberalism thus unmistakably stands among other great books studying Islam and democracy outside the MENA in general and Southeast Asia in particular. … In its own right, each chapter in the book is an impressive study illuminating each causal factor shaping the contour of tolerance found in Indonesia’s mass Islamic organizations. Chapter 3, 4, and 5 are especially rich, textured, and as a whole exhibit a sharp historical analysis derived from both primary and secondary resources that will impress historians and comparative historical scholars in political science alike. Likewise, chapter 6 demonstrates an exemplary and thoughtful engagement with the study of tolerance in political theory. … Islam and Democracy in Indonesia is undoubtedly a significant contribution to the literature of religion and politics in general as well as Islam and democracy in particular. It is now incumbent upon future students of Islam and democracy to engage Menchik’s argument and to meet the high standard he has set with his rigorous study.”
–Gde Dwitya Arief Metera, Studies of Transitions States and Societies