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In: Lives in Solidarity
In: Lives in Solidarity
In: Lives in Solidarity
In: Lives in Solidarity
In: Lives in Solidarity
In: Lives in Solidarity

Abstract

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.

In: Islam, Christianity, and Secularism in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe

Abstract

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.

In: Islam, Christianity, and Secularism in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe
Author:

Abstract

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.

In: Islam, Christianity, and Secularism in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe

Abstract

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.

In: Islam, Christianity, and Secularism in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe