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Becoming Christian and Dayak: a Study of Christian Conversion among Dayaks in East Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Connolly, Jennifer, 2004, Becoming Christian and Dayak: A Study of Christian Conversion among Dayaks in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Ph.D. thesis (Cultural Anthropology). New School University.

This dissertation explores the social impact and cultural meaning of Christian conversion among Dayaks, the indigenous people of East Kalimantan, Indonesia. The findings are based on eighteen months of fieldwork in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, as well as archival research conducted at the Christian Missionary Alliance's National Archives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A variety of methods were used to collect data, including surveys, participant observation, interviews, the collection of life histories and conversion narratives, and documentary research.

The research revealed that conversion is a complex process motivated not only by social and political expediency, but also by the desire to gain access to a new supernatural realm; by some groups' cultural receptivity to Christian messages; and by personal ties and circumstances. As Dayaks have converted, they have learned new religious practices and discourses which have gradually re-shaped their consciousness and religious identity.

This new Christian identity, as well as East Kalimantan's changing social terrain, have aided in the formation of a pan-Dayak ethnic identity. Given the Indonesian state's requirement that citizens belong to one of five state-sanctioned religions, conversion also helps Dayaks claim a place in the nation. In addition, Christian conversion has emerged as a way for the politically and economically marginal Dayaks to maintain their ethnic boundaries and re-negotiate their social status vis-a-vis Malay Muslims. In particular, Dayaks argue that, as adherents to a religion of love and truth, they are morally superior to Muslims. However, by contributing to the maintenance of an oppositional ethnic and religious identity, Christianity perpetuates Dayak subordination.

Furthermore, Christian conversion strengthens the boundaries between Muslims and Dayaks. Dayaks particularly fear intermarriage between Muslim men and Christian women which they believe threatens the integrity of the Christian community. Muslim-Christian relations become a gendered hierarchy in which Muslims are potent male predators and Dayaks are their docile female prey (Winzeler database online).
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Publication:Borneo Research Bulletin
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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