This theory of Islamic development was put forward by anthropologist Clifford Geertz in the 1950’s and 60’s.
He based his observations on a study of the town of ‘Modjukuto’ (which actually means ‘middle town’, and was devised as a way of protecting the privacy of those studied ) in a rural area of Java. Here, he described three types of Islam; ‘Santri’, ‘Abangan’, and ‘Priyayi’.
The abangan people are those greatly influenced by the traditional Javanese animist religions, they have combined their ancient rituals and beliefs with that of Islam. The santri place far more emphasis on the Islamic doctrines and their interpretation. Santri are interested in the social interpretation and view the scriptures as a way of life, and as a source of values and morals. Abangan perform many rituals, primarily concerned with their household and village. The santri place less emphasis on rituals, but still adhere strictly to prayer five times a day. Another important distinction is that the santri tradition has a far greater sense of the Islamic community, or ummah, but for the abangan the primary focus is on the household and family.
Priyayi was the term used to describe those Indonesians who were most closely associated with the Hindu traditions, and who styled their own form of Islam on this basis.
Why is this important to international relations today? Because it is this conflict between the two types of Islam which has partly caused the resurgence we are facing in Islamic fundamentalism.
Some followers of 'santri' Islam feel that they have been suppressed and subjugated through colonisation and Western values. To make up for this 'santri' Islam has promoted itself as a pure strain of the religion, and focuses on returning to the 'state of paradise', believed to have been during the time that the prophet lived (thousands of years ago).
Fundamentalism can therefore be seen as a response to the failure of Western ethics and capitalism to succeed in delivering benefits to the third world (much of which is Muslim). When we finally lose the last of the syncretic 'abangan' Islam, we may be faced with a polarised Islam vs Christianity situation.
Although this theory is only one component of the many which currently describe modern fundamentalism, it is one of the most simple and yet present problems which are most difficult to solve.