"Critical Spiritualism is an openness to the spiritual without betraying the critical reasoning."
Critical spiritualism in
the work of Ayu Utami is first mentioned in The Number Fu, a novel about a conflict in a Javanese village caused by the hardening of dogmatism both of the religious and the modern-secular groups. The novel was published in 2008, with an increasing
number of incidents of terror and religious violence in Indonesia and in the world as the context.
In the past the Javanese was well-known for their ability to reconcile different values by way of
syncretism. Many ancient temples show us a mixture of Shiva-Buddhist teachings of the past. Islam and Christianity developed through local and ethnic arts and world views. The wisdom is now in jeopardy with the invasion of two global powers: religious fundamentalism
and modern dogmatism; both using violence.
The main character in The Number Fu proposes critical spiritualism. Traditional syncretism is no longer sufficient as a means of negotiation. Rationality
is an unavoidable language unless we want to go back into the darkness. Critical spiritualism is a dialectic between critical reasoning with the thing beyond its limit.
Simple Critical Spiritualism
Critical spiritualism is mentioned in The Number Fu (novel), Confessions of A (sexual and
spiritual autobiography), before finally made into a series, and even used as a method of creative writing. The series is intended for the common reader, written in simple language.
For sure theologians,
philosopers, and mystics have been exercising dialogues and dialectics between critical reasoning and the-thing-outside-its-limit through the ages. Unfortunately the more specific the language, the more difficult it is for many people to understand. Modern
life especially in developing countries forces people to work from morning to night; philosophy is a luxury not always affordable. Critical Spiritualism series tries to give an easy reading of moving stories to help simple readers entering into a
deeper discussion. The other series, Creative Writing in Critical-Spiritual Way, comprises handbooks of creative writing that emphasize the importance of the dialectic between structure and freedom.
Ayu Utami was born into a Javanese Catholic family (a small minority in predominantly
Moslem Indonesia), the youngest of five siblings. Her father was a prosecutor during General Suharto’s regime. Her mother had been a school teacher for the first years of their marriage. In her teens Ayu was very religious. In her twenties, along with
the development of her sexuality and the understanding of it, she became critical to religion, especially to its patriarchal structure. She left the church and became an agnostic. She studied linguistic, worked as a journalist, and joined a pro-democracy movement
in the military era.
She started to be widely known through her debut novel, Saman (1998), which was considered to break taboos and also marked the changing from the military era to democracy.
She is a Prince Clause Award laureate in 2000 for having expanded the horizon of Indonesian literature.The novel made her realized that her important literary source is the Bible. In her thirties she began to reconsider religion in general with a more positive
perspective, and to see it as a valuable resource, but not necesarily a goal, for civilization. At the age of forty, she published The Number Fu, that mentions critical spiritualism for the first time in her works.