Graduate Theological Union

Promoting Dialogue in Indonesia

GTU Alum Explores Faith and Tolerance

2002 Alumnus of the Year John Titaley has been working in his native Indonesia to create academic programs that replicate the GTU's ecumenical and inter-religious environment. As rector (president) of Satya Wacana Christian University in central Java, Titaley oversees the first graduate program in religion and society in the country. The program admits Muslims and Hindus as well as Christians, and has been modeled by a state university in Indonesia.

Titaley's passionate commitment to interfaith and ecumenical dialogue stems from his grasp of the connections between politics, pluralism, and religious tolerance, and from the history of distrust and upheaval in Indonesia. As he says, "If you want someone to be changed, you have to change yourself first. If you don't start, who else will? In a pluralistic society, that is the only solution. You have to go beyond your boundaries."

Civil religion
As a student in Indonesia, Titaley learned of the GTU through the work on civil religion being done by Robert Bellah, then a GTU adjunct professor. Titaley came to Berkeley and entered the graduate program, subsequently becoming interested in the socio-historical approach to the Bible developed by Robert Coote and Marvin Chaney at SFTS.

While studying the Old Testament, Titaley was struck by the parallels between Israel and Indonesia. For both, building a nation necessitated developing a new ideology to unify their diverse communities. Israel developed a royal ideology, anchoring the new nation in the king. In Titaley's country, the uniting force was the concept of pancasila, or equality, which generated a democratic form of government. Titaley's dissertation examined attempts to unify diverse people through ideologies with religious elements, and proposed a post-independence political philosophy for Indonesia. He earned his Th.D. in inter-area studies (Old Testament and sociology) in 1991 from SFTS and the GTU.

The need for a "new paradigm"
Titaley comments that taking classes from Catholic and Unitarian professors, at a consortium with Jewish and Buddhist centers, was an eye-opening experience for him. Having grown up in a strong, traditional reform church, the ecumenical environment of the GTU was quite challenging at first. Throughout his years as a graduate student, the experience of religious openness and interest at the GTU was transformative. It became a linchpin of his future work.

He notes that the current need for dialogue presents a new challenge, as most religious traditions have developed in a context of "exclusivity, that they are the only right way. Especially with 9/11, the need for openness and understanding is becoming greater. We live in a global village—it is one world right now. The future of our humanity lies in our solution to the problem" of religious distrust and divisiveness.

Creating a consortial program
Titaley served as the chairperson of the Indonesian Association of Theological Schools from 1994 to 2002. In this capacity, he developed the approach that he had initiated at his university into a national policy, through which the ten main theological schools formed the Indonesian Graduate Program in Theology.

During this time, theology as a discipline was officially recognized by the Indonesian government (which runs the education system), as equal to other disciplines. After the milestone of formal recognition in 1996, accreditation followed. And last year, Titaley was installed as the professor in theology recognized by the Indonesian government, the first such appointment among theological schools in Indonesia. A day after his installation, he was appointed as the rector, or president, of his university!

Towards greater mutuality
Starr King professor Clare Fischer, a longtime supporter of Titaley's work, composed the citation for his Alumnus of the Year certificate, which reads in part:

For your creative effort in constructing bridges across geographic distances, religious differences, ethnic identities that opened the way to greater mutuality;

And for your scholarship and public witness on behalf of Indonesians in the struggle for religious tolerance, justice and peace.