Indonesia’s Religions and Traditional Belief Systems

A close up photo of Buddha statue at a Buddhist temple in Indonesia

Comprised of more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the world’s largest island nation. The country’s unique geography lends itself to a diverse array of religions practiced among its citizens.

Eighty-seven percent of the Indonesian population identifies as Muslim, making it the most populous Muslim-majority country. Ten percent practice a Christian denomination, and nearly two percent are Hindu.

Less than one percent of the population practices Konghucu, a unique version of Confucianism followed mostly by Indonesians of Chinese descent. Konghucu outlines examples of ethics, behavior, and moral character for its followers to exemplify. 

Chinese Indonesians also make up the majority of the roughly two million people who practice Buddhism, once a dominant religion in the country alongside Hinduism. In fact, Indonesia is home to the largest Buddhist sanctuary in the world, Borobudur Temple.

Although most of the population identifies with one of the major world religions, many people incorporate elements from other religions into their beliefs, making it difficult to draw clear lines between individual belief systems.

Traditional belief systems

There are more than 180 smaller religious denominations present in Indonesia. Scholars estimate that 20 million people practice traditional belief systems across 400 unique communities. The government uses the term “aliran kepercayaan” to refer to these minor religions and traditional belief systems.

Many of the traditional beliefs in Indonesia predate the introduction of major world religions to the country and are based on teachings handed down from generation to generation. Each localized religion has its own unique history. However, they all tend to have roots in animism, which attributes spirits to plants, animals, and natural phenomena, and also incorporates a veneration for the group’s ancestors. 

Religious discrimination

The government coined the term “aliran kepercayaan” in 1952 when the Indonesian minister of religious affairs adopted a decree outlining the differences between “kepercayaan” meaning faith, and “agama” meaning religion. 

It defined “aliran kepercayaan” as “dogmatic ideas, intertwined with the living customs of various ethnic groups, especially among those who are still underdeveloped, whose main beliefs are the customs of their ancestors throughout the ages.” The decree states that in order for a community to be considered religious the people must worship “an internationally recognized monotheistic creed; taught by a prophet through the scriptures.”

Many Indonesians who practice traditional belief systems feel the legal delineation between faith and religion is discriminatory against polytheistic religions.

Learn More:
A Guide to Religion in Indonesia 
Religious Minorities in Indonesia Face Discrimination
2020 Report on International Religious Freedom: Indonesia