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Religious Idioms of Vulnerability

The presence of religious idioms in people’s responses to vulnerability and misfortune is not unique to Aceh, or to Indonesia. Yet the scale of the tsunami coupled with the historically deeply ingrained presence of religion in Acehnese everyday life has magnified religious discourses on misfortune, not only in the immediate aftermath of disaster, but continuing over the past 15 years. The case of Aceh thereby offers exceptional insights into religious idioms of disaster. These insights may help to better understand socially shared experiences of vulnerability in post-disaster settings in Indonesia and beyond. From a secular perspective, the belief that natural disaster is a matter of fate may seem like a problem, as fatalism may be thought to correspond with a lack of enthusiasm for reducing vulnerability to disaster. But as both of us noticed during our time in Aceh, applying the concept of fate almost never means inaction. Quite to the contrary, it often comes with equally religiously inspired notions of collective responsibility, perseverance and self-betterment. Individuals and institutions engaged in programs of disaster response would be wise, we feel, to take such notions seriously and consider the potential asset they entail.

Annemarie Samuels, David Kloos
22 May 2019
Inside Indonesia
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