The Queen of the Sea and the Limits of Religion. How a Javanese Sea Spirit Forces a Reconceptualization of Religion and Religious Syncretism
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Javanese religiosity is generally seen as a syncretic/hybrid mix of Islam and pre-Islamic Javanese Hindu-Buddhism. At the ritual site Cepuri Parangkusumo in the Yogyakarta region, petitioners visit daily to bring offerings to the Queen of the South, a non-Islamic sea spirit. These petitioners are almost all Muslim and thus called syncretic. But syncretism is an untenable approach because it forces us to conclude that these Muslims are not fully Muslim, among other reasons. Syncretism’s replacements do not solve these issues but obscure them, which is why I collectively call them the syncretic view. This syncretic view fails because it is not an intellectual category but a perceptional one, in which the borders of religions serve as the frame of reference. Solutions must therefore not examine border-crossing, but leave open the possibility that there is no border-crossing and study why. How do local concepts of religion draw borders? We must study the Queen rituals to learn how to approach the Queen rituals. Yet it is not enough to understand a so-called syncretic case; we must allow that understanding to feed back into our paradigm so that this perceptional bias can be alleviated. A rhizomatic perspective of religion could facilitate this. I suggest that the religiosity of the Cepuri practitioners crosses no borders because their concept of religion functions within an ecology of efficacy, and through a mode of knowledge that selects for effective knowledge rather than theoretically correct knowledge. In this frame, the Queen rituals cannot be seen as conflicting with Islam on the basis of theoretical orthodoxy. Rather, they supplement Islamic practices with other effective ways of reaching power or God’s blessings (which are themselves a form of efficacy).