Since Clifford Geertz's classical study of Javanese religion and cultural life (1960), this is probably the best book written on the subject. As the author himself says in the "Acknowledgments," although he has his disagreements with Geert's analysis of Javanese Islam, Geertz's "Religion of Java" was one of the few books that helped him in his research.
As Geertz did in the late 1950s, Woodward too divides the Javanese religious landscape into certain groups or variants, but along rather different lines. Woodward suggests the division between "normative Islam" and "Islam Jawa" (Javanese Islam). The normative Muslims can according to Woodward be divided into kaum muda, the "young group" influenced by the Middle Eastern reformist movements, and kaum tua, the "old group" who participates in the ritual and mystical aspects of Islam Jawa. In Woodward's view, the Islamic law (shari'ah) together with the Qur'an and the hadith form the core of normative Islam in Java, while the adherents of Islam Jawa confine themselves to perform certain life crisis rituals in accordance with the shari'ah while saying that other aspects of this law-centered piety are optional. Both normative Islam and Islam Jawa are in Woodward's view purely Islamic traditions, and this together with his observance that these categories often fade into each other and incorporate space for personal and regional variation are his major contributions to the study of religion in Java. As he says: "Islam is the predominant force in the religious beliefs and rites of central Javanese, and... it shapes the character of social interaction and daily life in all segments of Javanese society."
Woodward's approach to Javanese religion is very appealing; he compares his ethnographic data with the Islamic textual tradition as well as with ethnographic reports from other parts of the Muslim world. By doing this he sees that the Javanese Islam not is permeated with pre-Islamic customs and beliefs; on the contrary he sees that the Javanese religion is a purely Islamic one. His knowledge about the Qur'an and the hadith makes it possible for him to find that Javanese religious practices and beliefs are firmly grounded in a textual Islamic tradition. Woodward's contribution to the study of Javanese religion is extremely valuable. Not only does he show that Javanese religiosity is firmly grounded in an Islamic tradition, but he also situates the Javanese Islam in a wider Islamic perspective, i.e., he shows that Javanese Islam has an important place in the Muslim world.
This book should be of definite interest for students of Javanse/Indonesian religious and cultural life, but also for students and scholars of Islamic civilization, and even for anthropologists.