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SPIRITUAL ECONOMIES: Islam and Neoliberalism in Contemporary Indonesia



This essay argues that the convergence of religious ethics and business management knowledge illustrate the formation of what are termed spiritual economies. Spiritual economies conceptualize how economic reform and neoliberal restructuring are conceived of and acted on as matters of religious piety and spiritual virtue. The spiritual economy described consists of producing spirituality as an object of intervention, reconfiguring work as a form of religious worship, and inculcating an ethic of individual accountability and entrepreneurial responsibility among workers. Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic research, the majority of which took place at Krakatau Steel in Banten, Indonesia, this essay describes a moderate Islamic spiritual reform movement active in state-owned companies, government bureaucracies, and private enterprises in contemporary Indonesia. Proponents of spiritual reform consider the separation of religious ethics from economic practice as the root of Indonesia's economic crisis because this disjunction resulted in rampant corruption, inefficiency, and a lack of discipline at the workplace. The essay analyzes these efforts to inculcate Islamic ethics in combination with western management knowledge that is expected to enhance economic productivity, reduce endemic corruption, and prepare employees of state-owned enterprises for privatization.