This article discusses the ambiguous role of religiously-marked civil society organisations during the Christian-Muslim communal violence in Maluku, eastern Indonesia, from approximately 1999 to 2004. During the Maluku violence, some social groups supported peace and reconciliation, while others were major backers for the collective conflict.

Using Maluku as the primary case study, this article aims to re-examine a well-established Western concept of civil society that puts emphasis on three key features, as follows.

First, the concept focuses on the constructive role of civil society, while ignoring its destructive contribution in society. Second, the concept focuses on formal organisations, while neglecting informal associations, networks and neighbourhoods. And third, the concept excludes the contributions of government and state institutions in the shape—and influence of—civil society organisations.

The article also examines the growing theme on “alternative forms” of civil society. It studies the plurality of civil societies and investigates that form of civil society association that might help contribute to civic coexistence and which type that encourages social conflict.

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