Mesquita Istiqlal em Jacarta
Mesquita Istiqlal em Jacarta claims to be the largest in southeast Asia. (Photo by David Crumm)

Religion journalists from throughout Asia and beyond will be gathering in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.

Religion reporters from secular news outlets will explore issues of faith in public and private lives in this dynamic, religiously diverse region at an October 17-to-19 conference in Jakarta, organized by the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ).

This illustrates the strength of the IARJ, which focuses on building strong peer relationships between journalists so that we can collectively lift up our core values of accuracy, balance and fairness in the work we do, said David Crumm, an American publisher and journalist who consults with the IARJ.

Recently, long-time IARJ members offered a strong endorsement of those values in an online forum about the value of this global association.

Indonesia is an exciting place for this year’s conference. In many parts of the world, including North America, we tend to forget that Indonesia is a major global center of Islam—and it’s also a nation working to build healthy relationships across diverse religious and cultural boundaries,” said Crumm, who reported from Indonesia on religious diversity for the former Knight-Ridder newspaper network in 2006.

The 2017 conference’s keynote address will zero in on this nation’s goal of bridging diversity, both among Islamic groups that sometimes experience their own internal friction—and with other faiths as well. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi is scheduled to deliver a keynote address, titled, “Interfaith dialogue as Indonesia’s signature diplomacy.

Workshops: Getting Religion Right

At the gathering, journalists will participate in workshops on the joys and tensions associated with plying their trade throughout Asia and Oceania, while covering Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jews and the non-religious—as well as the complex relationships between these groups.

Welcoming guests to the conference will be Endy Bayuni, who wears two hats at this event. He is Executive Director of the IARJ and he also is Editor-in-Chief of the influential Jakarta Post newspaper.

Workshop titles capture the issues the participating journalists are eager to discuss. They include: Getting Religion Right e Melhores práticas na elaboração de relatórios em zonas problemáticas. Sessions also will give journalists an opportunity to compare their approaches to covering religious minorities and emerging issues in the region. One is called Feminism and Religion: Journalistic Viewpoints. Another explores 500 Years of Reformation in Asia, since the 2017 worldwide anniversary of the Protestant Reformation also touches many Christian communities in Asia. Yet another session looks at The Jewish Diaspora in Asia-Australia.

A site visit is scheduled to one of Indonesia’s distinctive Islamic boarding schools. Throughout the world, Indonesia is known for developing some of the largest and most elaborate Muslim boarding schools, which house students in some cases from kindergarten to college.

Most journalists at the conference will be from 14 countries: Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Australia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, China, South Korea and India. They will be joined by religion journalists from North America, Europe and Africa.

Co-sponsors of this conference include the Embassy of Denmark in Indonesia, the Asia Foundation Indonesia, the Tifa Foundation Indonesia and CBMM, a minerals company in Brazil. The IARJ is jointly organizing the event with the Union of Journalists for Diversity (Sejuk) and the Nusantara Multimedia University (UMN), both of which are based in Indonesia.

The Indonesia conference marks the sixth event organized by the International Association of Religion Journalists. Since the inaugural IARJ conference in Bellagio, Italy, in 2012, major regional conferences have occurred in London, England ; Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Accra, Ghana.

Vancouver-based journalist Douglas Todd is chair of the IARJ and a long-time, award-winning religion writer. He has chronicled the growing importance of the IARJ over the years, starting with the 2012 founding conference in Italy.

Three girls walk to their high school classes at one of Indonesia's distinctive Islamic boarding schools.
Three girls walk to their high school classes at one of Indonesia’s distinctive Islamic boarding schools. Participants at the 2017 IARJ conference will visit this kind of institution, built as a vast educational community. (Photo by David Crumm)