Religion and Social Capital: Civil Society Organisations in Disaster Recovery in Indonesia


Muhammad Riza Nurdin

PhD defended at: 

University of New South Wales


This thesis examines the roles of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and their social capital formation in post-disaster Indonesia. In the context of disaster recovery, this subject has been studied by scholars e.g. Aldrich (2011, 2012), James and Paton (2015) and Rivera and Nickels (2014) but their research focused on examining the role of internal civil society, that of associations that emerge within the disaster-affected communities. This study will fill the gap by studying external civil society: organisations from outside of the affected localities. The main research questions are the followings. To what extent external civil society groups along with other disaster management agencies, can contribute to providing economic recovery aid in post-disaster Indonesia? In what way are external CSOs groups able to create positive social capital or produce adverse results from social capital formation in the affected society?

The main arguments in this thesis are twofold. First, the roles of CSOs in post-disaster Indonesia are increasing particularly after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami but their involvement in the phase of recovery needs to be more extensive. CSOs involvement in the recovery phase is the least compared to other phases of disaster management cycle. This fact is analysed with little attention from scholars to study the recovery phase. Second, while scholars like Candland (2001), Lockhart (2005) and Smidt (2003) maintain that CSOs particularly with religious background (Faith Based Organisations, FBOs) are capable to generate social capital using religious means, their ability in building good social capital largely depends on numerous factors. As social capital is a “double-edged sword” (Aldrich and Crook, 2007: 379), I argue that external FBOs, through their recovery aid, can harm the society. Consequently, affected-communities will experience slower recovery and resilience. External civil society disaster relief organisations need to be careful with their approach of delivering recovery assistance and this consideration is not comprehensively reflected in disaster management policy in Indonesia e.g. Disaster Management Law 24/2007.

This study employs qualitative approaches, mainly semi-structured interviews and participant observation, using the 2013 earthquake in Central Aceh and the 2014 Mt. Kelud eruption in East Java as case studies.

Aldrich DP and Crook K (2007) Strong civil society as a double-edged sword. Political Research Quarterly 61(3): 379–389. DOI: 10.1177/1065912907312983.
Aldrich DP (2011) The externalities of strong social capital: Post-tsunami recovery in Southeast India. Journal of Civil Society 7(1): 81–99. DOI: 10.1080/17448689.2011.553441.
Aldrich DP (2012) Building resilience: social capital in post-disaster recovery: University of Chicago Press.
Candland C (2001) Faith as social capital: Religion and community development in Southern Asia. In: Montgomery JD and Inkeles A (eds) Social capital as a policy resource. Boston, MA: Springer US, pp. 129–148.
James H and Paton D (2015) Social capital and the cultural contexts of disaster recovery outcomes in Myanmar and Taiwan. Global Change, Peace & Security 27(2): 207–228. DOI: 10.1080/14781158.2015.1030380.
Rivera JD and Nickels AE (2014) Social capital, community resilience, and Faith-Based Organizations in disaster recovery: A case study of Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic church. Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy 5(2): 178–211. DOI: 10.1002/rhc3.12050.
Smidt C (2003) Religion as social capital: Producing the common good. Waco, Tex: Baylor University Press.