The chapter tackles the patterns of religion and identity in the Balkans with a special emphasis on Bulgaria to foreground the concept of secularities instead of the “fixed” notion of a single path of secularism matching the classical Western ideal. Discussing the religious underpinnings of Balkan secularities and the lack thereof, we draw on Benedict Anderson’s notion of imagined communities, which marked a new way of using the term “imagined” in understanding politics and political action. Anderson’s concept is straightforward, arguing that ideas of political community are not given but are actively constructed, and contested, by those who hold them, and historically situated. Anderson’s insightful term was readily expanded by analogy from describing how nations took shape to the analysis of religious experience—not only for Christians and Muslims but also for other faiths. There has been resistance to use of the term “imagined” because it suggests to some an unreality. However, as the chapter argues, the term highlights how social and political forms get shaped by individuals and collectivities to become social facts. The notion of politics as centered on power relations and interests alone cannot account for how members of a society interact, cooperate, and sustain social cohesion. Overt political struggle is framed by implicit understandings of belonging and, of course, the arbitrary enforcement of what is permitted and forbidden. Pursuing this struggle about people’s imaginations, the chapter elucidates the relevance of two concepts invoking both Byzantine and Ottoman notions implicitly underpinning modern politics—symphonic and milletic secularism.
On 10 November 1989, the removal of Todor Zhivkov from the state and party leadership in Bulgaria marked the end of its Communist regime. In the religious sphere, the political change shook the decades-old monopoly of militant atheism, thus creating conditions for a return of religion to the public square. Among other things, this process stimulated a restitution of buildings and real estate which the Communist regime had taken away from religious communities. A set of laws adopted in the early 1990s instigated the mass return of arable lands, forests, industries as well as office and residential buildings to physical persons and judicial entities. Being major landholders before the Communist rule, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Muslim community benefited the most from this process.
In 2012, the restitution of the economically valuable tangible assets to religious denominations was over. Regarded as part of the restoration of historical justice, this process was generally welcomed by society in post-Communist Bulgaria. In 2013, however, people opposed the attempts of some political forces to spread the restitution over religious edifices ‘nationalized’ by the former totalitarian regime under the pretext of their preservation as monuments of national history and world cultural heritage. In this regard, Bulgarians faced difficulties that many contemporary secular societies have experienced in dealing with their religious cultural heritage. As this heritage bears special cultural and historical value for both the public and the sacred realms, the questions of its ownership and management often provoke tensions and conflicts between the corresponding religious institutions and the state authorities. In the case of post-atheist countries, this process is additionally complicated by the legacy of the totalitarian past. By presenting the debate of Bulgarian society over its religious cultural heritage, the chapter sheds light on this particular national case.
The Muslim community in Bulgarian Muslim villages share many of the characteristics of local Orthodox communities. It encompasses both explicitly religious people and more secular ones. The non-believers and the distant members get involved due to the symbolic sacrifices of their more religious relatives, while the virtuosi of religion get entangled and tempered in the small everyday practices of deference and respect offered by other villagers. After several centuries of cohabitation, Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities in Bulgaria share some important implicit notions about the ideal religious community.
Muslims in Bulgaria—male and female—struggle over the “authentic” meaning of hijab against the backdrop of modern secular society by explaining it as a religious duty. My aim is to reveal the role of major Sunni Muslim views on hijab as part of the ongoing broader process shaping a shared Islamic identity in post-Communist Bulgaria. The chapter traces its multiple meanings among interpretations proposed by Sunni religious authorities, domestic cultural codes, and the perceptions of veiling by Bulgarian Muslim women themselves. The study analyzes two types of evidence. First, it brings to the fore the discourses as documented by two periodicals with the same name, issued by the Chief Muftiship of the Muslim Denomination in the Republic of Bulgaria—the newspaper and the more recent bilingual magazine Myusyulmani/Müslümanlar (“Muslims”), issued simultaneously in both Bulgarian and Turkish. The examination of this magazine’s issues 1999–2016 indicates that nearly 20 percent of the articles deal with topics related to Muslim women, with one-third of the publications written by Muslim women or representing their opinions. The second type of evidence is ethnographic, drawing on fieldwork among Bulgarian Muslims in several localities of the Rhodopes Mountains. Finally, the chapter highlights attitudes toward the parliament’s passage of the 2016 Law Prohibiting the Wearing of Clothing Concealing the Face (known as the “burqa ban”). In sum, the study shows how Muslims are seeking to rediscover what they believe is the authentic meaning of hijab through a process of re-Islamization—a “piety movement” for stricter observance of Islamic rules. The need to return to “true” Islamic teachings is often publicly explained as a fundamental human right for practicing religion without state interference.
The present chapter discusses religious education and whether it advances co-existence, cultivates critical thinking in childhood and youth, and facilitates religious diversity. Its fundamental proposition is that religion and the co-existence of religions in the public sphere is again becoming imperative due to rapid changes in Europe and throughout the world, the “return of religion”—mainly through Islam—and the growing impoverishment of many regions. Religion as a subject matter in public schools has become the focus of heated debate. The chapter focuses on the Greek case against the backdrop of other major European models of religious education. It looks at the political and ideological debates on religious education, the new curricula and teachers’ study-guides, and the place of Christianity and Islam in the public and educational domains. Subsequently this chapter provides a brief presentation of the teaching of Islam in Western Thrace, an area of Greece where various Muslim groups account for about a third of the population, focusing on the way Islam is taught in Muslim-minority schools, mosques, and lately in public schools. It proposes an innovative operational program for education and lifelong learning that would benefit Christian and Muslim teachers of religion and religious officials in Thrace and elsewhere. This learning program is designed to bring Christian and Muslim Greek citizens together through the course of religious education (RE) and joint training in an intercultural process of religious education.
This chapter interrogates Western attempts to render Eastern Orthodoxy as a fundamentally “undemocratic” religious tradition. While contemporary scholars have critiqued the ontological imperialism of Western human rights discourses, they do so only with regard to Islam. This chapter provides a close examination of three cases against Bulgaria at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) between 1996 and 2011: the case of Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria (application no. 30985/96—judgment 2000), the case of Supreme Holy Council of the Muslim Community v. Bulgaria (application no. 39023/97—final judgment 2005), and the case of Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (Metropolitan Inokentiy) and others v. Bulgaria (applications nos. 412/03 and 35677/04—final judgment 2009). In all three of these cases the ECtHR assumed a distinctly Western norm of secularism, which it imposed on a society that has a long history of church-state collaboration wherein temporal and spiritual powers work together to promote religious pluralism. This doctrine is referred to as symphoneia, and has been a core theological principle of Eastern Orthodox Christianity since the time of the Byzantine Empire.
Despite the long history of symphoneia, however, the ECtHR repeatedly roots the “Eastern” tendency for states to regulate religious communities to the Communist past, and it is convenient that most Eastern Orthodox majority states fell on the non-democratic side of the Iron Curtain (with the notable exception of Greece). The particular conception of religion that underlies the contemporary Bulgarian understanding of the appropriate relationship between the church and state reaches as far back as 1054 and the Great Schism between Western Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Thus, rather than simply promoting a European conception of human rights and the legal framework necessary to maintain a “democratic” society, the ECtHR imposes a specifically Protestant conception of religion on Eastern Orthodox countries, in the same way that it imposes a Protestant-infused secularism on Islamic countries or upon Muslim minorities in Western Europe. In the end, the chapter suggests that the universalism of Western human rights discourses is perhaps more compatible with the supra-national universalisms of Islam than it is with the ethno-national particularisms of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
This chapter assesses the opportunities for the religiously-minded in Bulgaria (especially the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and its congregations) to participate—both as believers and through religious institutions that organize their collective activities and represent them—in the country’s public life. The theoretical problem addressed relates to the contrast between the manner of public legitimization characteristic of religious institutions and communities, on the one hand, and the patterns of such legitimization common to the public sphere in modern and “late-modern” societies, on the other. I hypothesize that the ways in which a religious “public” is persuaded that a given social norm (e.g., a law) or practice (e.g., a public policy) is legitimate or illegitimate are not necessarily convincing to the general public. The challenge is to find a common language between religious publics and their non-religious counterparts in order to avoid unnecessary antagonisms. I claim that this challenge is met in the case of East Orthodox Christianity differently by two types of religious public—a formal one (representatives of religious institutions) and an informal one (lay members of religious communities and rank and file clerics). I test this distinction through three case studies, comparing the formal and the informal Orthodox discourses concerning three major public issues in Bulgaria during recent years: gay parades, in-vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood, and the teaching of religion at public schools. I use the internet versions of those discourses—the official websites of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Bishoprics for the formal, and two major Orthodox web portals for the informal ones. I argue that informal religious publics demonstrate a greater capacity to speak a “common language” with the general public.
In Public Religions in the Modern World, José Casanova showed that secularism as deprivatization foregrounds religious organizations into the undifferentiated public sphere of civil society. This type of public religion, as opposed to state religion and religions on the level of political community, shows the greatest compatibility with the conditions of modern society. This transition occurs when religion, through religious actors, performs some actions in the field of civil society, brings them out for rational discussion and thus makes them visible, reaches a consensus with other actors, and changes the situation on the local level together with the agents of the state in accordance with the consensus reached. The present chapter analyzes the activities of Christian Orthodox actors and organizations—representatives of civil society, and shows that the entry of religion into the public sphere does not automatically imply desecularization in the sense used by Casanova. The example of Christian Orthodox work in abortion prevention and the support of women, families, and childbirth illustrates a situation in which a religious actor can contribute to the common good, acting along with other actors of the civil sphere, provided that the religious identity is not publicly visible. Religious actors do not refuse to work in the civil sphere and apply a variety of tactics, successfully adapting them to the conditions of modern society. Our analysis shows that the claim of deprivatization as an indicator of desecularization requires further elaboration, since in the same country in respect to one and the same denomination there may simultaneously occur both an increase in visibility (or publicity) at the level of state religion and a decrease in visibility (or publicity) at the level of the civil society, which does not make it possible to speak of an ongoing process of secularization or desecularization in that country.
The chapter analyzes the dichotomy between “traditional” versus “non-traditional” Islam, widespread in the post-1989 Balkans, by foregrounding the case of Bulgaria where the latter has been referred to as “Arab” and increasingly as “radical Islam,” Wahhābism, and Salafism. The public deliberations around that dichotomy are juxtaposed as a twofold and complex social phenomenon differently impacting mainstream secular discourses and the discussions within the Muslim community. Demonstrating how “Arab Islam,” or Salafism, has been discussed as a “radical ideology” as opposed to “traditional religion,” the chapter brings to the fore ethnographic evidence from two Bulgarian localities, Ribnovo and Madan. It then analyzes a judicial case—a high profile lawsuit against thirteen Muslims at Pazardzhik Regional Court, which has foregrounded Salafism as a new subject of public discussions in Bulgaria seen as “unfitting” for the country’s pattern of communal coexistence. In Bulgaria and the Balkans, the dichotomy “traditional”—“Arab” Islam ensues from a specific neo-millet pattern of managing ethnic and religious diversity termed “milletic secularism.” A socio-theoretical concept, milletic secularism evokes the Ottoman millet system and refers to divergent and competing contemporary transnational collective identities, loyalties and frames of reference coexisting within the same nation-state. The pattern of secularism in modern Bulgaria thus depicted resembles the way religious communities functioned within the Ottoman millet system but for both Muslims and non-Muslims in a reverse, upended way. Today, Muslims are a minority in a pluralist society and secular state governed on the basis of non-Muslim values and political procedures. The ongoing revitalization of Islam and the public discussions inspired by the increasingly transnational Muslim identity are analyzed against the backdrop of the tensions among the varieties of local Muslim religious experience (“little traditions”) and the increasing pursuit of a religious convergence through returning to doctrinal roots and strengthening the sense of belonging to the imagined community of Sunni Islam (“the great tradition”).