Pentecostals are talking to Islam, another fast-growing faith group

Currently, the two fastest growing religious movements in the world are Pentecostalism and Islam.

Nowhere is this ‘dual-rise’ clearer than within Australia’s closest neighbour, Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world with around 87 per cent of the population, or 200 million people, identifying as Muslim. Research shows though that in Indonesia there also has been a recent boom to around 10 million Pentecostals, with another 130 million across the Asia Pacific region.

Yet, there appears to be little focus on Islam-Pentecostal connections anywhere in the world. Surely if we are to understand the shifting demographics, political stability, and engagement potential then this is an area that deserves serious attention.

Traditionally, Pentecostalism has viewed interfaith dialogue as a ‘slippery slope’ toward compromising religious convictions.

A focus on concepts such as ’spiritual warfare’ and ’pulling down strongholds’ does not tend to lend itself easily to respectful conversation.

There are some exciting innovations occurring in this space which will potentially open a number of significant doorways. An upcoming global online conference, ‘Beyond the Divide’ attempts to shift the focal point for inter-religious research and dialogue.

Hosted on July 7-8 by the Centre for Intercultural Research and Engagement at Alphacrucis College in Australia and the Centre for Religious Moderation and Diversity at State Islamic University in Indonesia, this event will be the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere – and possibly anywhere in the world.

Co-convenor of the conference, Robert Pope, has worked in Indonesia for more than 25 years and has established a close relationship with leaders of the State Islamic University in Yogyakarta. He identifies higher education as a key pathway for deeper engagement between Pentecostalism and Islam.

The fact is, despite the usual reticence for cultural exchange, university networks like this have developed partnerships with overseas universities over several decades. Hundreds of the State Islamic University’s post-graduate students have been sent to Canada for further education, and this appears to be a growing trend within many open-minded Islamic universities. Most of these exchanges tend to be with secular universities, leaving Christian higher education institutions with a missed opportunity to build mutually beneficial connections.

Last year a free-trade agreement was signed between Australia and Indonesia, and for the first time in any free trade agreement, Indonesia has offered commitments on a wide range of technical and vocational education aspects. This is partly because the Indonesian government recognises, as Austrade describe it, that ‘economic growth aspirations need to be supported by reform in education, training and research’. With 40% of Indonesia’s population aged under 24 years, and half its population aged under 30, it is clear that education sector will soon be a key vessel for the relationship.

… Christian universities and higher education providers can help establish the region as a leader in such internationally significant spiritual debates.

Why put in the effort for such a dialogue? Well, from a Pentecostal perspective, the glossolalia (speaking in tongues) of the Day of Pentecost is not just a symbol of diversity, but a symbol of embracing the languages and cultures of the world to proclaim the wonderful works of God (Acts 2:11). Additionally, the strong interracial foundations, and younger demographic, of Pentecostalism provides an obvious gateway to increase connection and understanding between faiths. This comes at a key moment when secular governments and regional global powers seem to be less and less familiar with the value and importance of religious worldviews.

Also, the Asia-Pacific region could develop into the new epicentre of scholarship around religion. Historically, Islamic studies has been focused on the Middle East. However, a rapid evolving of contemporary Islamic studies is seeing the integration of diverse disciplines with re-creation of the historical context of the Qur’an, based upon diverse sources. This means that Christian universities and higher education providers can help establish the region as a leader in such internationally significant spiritual debates.

‘Beyond the Divide’ is a first-step in moving beyond a suspicion-driven cultural divide to a place where scholars of different religions can engage in meaningful ways. Featuring world renowned Pentecostal and Muslim keynote speakers, papers will also be presented on Jewish, Buddhist, Catholic, and Orthodox perspectives. The 24 speakers come from diverse backgrounds across 15 higher education institutions in seven different countries.

We believe this conference will serve to dispel historical and deeply embedded mistrust and discover points of congruence between faith-based higher education across various religious worldviews. Importantly, it will open further prospects for inter-religious understanding and collaborative endeavours for peace, education, academic networking, and community development, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.

Registration is free, and you can sign up here to be part of this ground-breaking event.

Rev. Professor Denise Austin is the Deputy Vice President or Research and Standards, Alphacrucis College.

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