Dian A H Shah

Dian A. H. Shah is an Assistant Professor at the NUS Faculty of Law. She completed her LLM and SJD degrees at Duke University, and prior to that she graduated with an LLB from Warwick University. Her research interests span the fields of law and religion, comparative constitutional law, and human rights, and her work focuses on the interaction of law, religion, and politics in plural societies. Dr Shah is the author of Constitutions, Religion and Politics in Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka (CUP 2017). She serves as the Deputy Editor of the Asian Journal of Comparative Law (AsJCL) and the Editor of the AsJCL’s Special Issue on ‘Religion and Constitutional Practices in Asia’.

Designation: National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law
Institution: National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law
Paper: Centralization or Decentralization? Managing Religion in Democratic Transitions in Malaysia and Indonesia
Abstract: "In the wake of the May 2018 political transition in Malaysia, scholars, civil society, and political actors began deliberating prospects for institutional and constitutional reform. One of the most important issues that emerged was federal-state division of powers, which led to the government pledging to improve “the relationship between federal, state, and local governments” under the country's five-year development plan. Similar questions about center-regional division of powers - particularly with regard to religious matters - also emerged when Indonesia began its democratic transition in 1998. This paper investigates the significance of institutional arrangements in managing religion in plural societies. Malaysia and Indonesia have both settled for different arrangements with regard to religion: the former adopts a federalized approach, while the latter opted for a centralized model where the national government controls religious affairs. Yet, this paper demonstrates that in practice, the relationship has worked in an inverse direction for both countries, often with deleterious consequences on religious liberties. This paper asks why the arrangements have not quite worked out as they should and sheds light on the unintended consequences of particular institutional choices. It illustrates how existing legal lacunae and political maneuverings have weakened checks and balances against governmental exercises of power over religion and emboldened intolerant religious groups."