Arrival of New Religions in Bulgaria after 1989
“Long before the time of the "velvet" revolution, timidly
but unretreatably there came new religious cults, Protestant churches
crowded in, talks began about occultism, mystics, irrationalism. The
powerful wave of young counter-culture, started long ago from the West,
tiredly broke into the stone pier of the "socialist" outlook
of the East.
Instead of the merciless rational dissection of nature in biology,
chemistry, geography textbooks it offered the picture and music of bound
with Man Cosmos. Instead of happiness in the unknown future it carried
the spiritual prescription for Paradise – here and now. At the place
of the formal collectivity of public organizations it offered intimate
"brotherhood" bound by the spiritual relations. It replaced
the exhausted myth of belonging to the vanguard of the human history by
belonging to the community of the "initiated", "God's
elect", "lighted up"; it saved from solitude and the
unbearable thought about death.
And the Body – unnoticed, offended, lined-up body, with the constantly
scolded by the ideology senses, could turn into a language for
communication with the Sacred, into a particle of the Divine Cosmos,
into a healing power. And all that in most of the cases – through a
mediation, sermon, orders of one "most chosen of God",
"omnipotent", because he has incarnated the energy and power
of the ruined, but extremely necessary authorities: the authorities of
the Parent, the Teacher, the Ideologist.
The proclaimed new democratic values – pluralism, freedom, and
democracy – gave a new chance for a "quest" and "offering"
in the field of New Religions. All former values, idols, symbols have
been ruined and the phenomenon of spiritual tabula rasa has been
reproduced. Upon it ardent missionaries write down their "only"
and "sacred" truth. Young souls emigrate to cultures and
values created in distant latitudes and in foreign cultural spaces; they
pray with provincial reverence before the idols of the strange and
unknown temples..." 
That was an introduction of a paper of mine, published six years ago in a
Bulgarian intellectual newspaper. This paper expressed more emotions
than a rational reflection on the phenomenon; more intuitions than
analysis. Of course, that fact was a result of both the spirit of time
then – more passions and less feeling of reality, and the lack of
clear socio-cultural knowledge about New Religions. The past years are
not enough time regarding possible crucial evolution of the research
attempts, but they are enough either to confirm, or to reject some of
the above expressed intuitions.
present paper will be framed on the following problem directions:
Cultural-historical and Statistic Information; Legal Status
of the three main streams of the Christianity exist in Bulgaria now. The
Eastern Orthodoxy is a "traditional religion of the Republic of
Bulgaria" according to our new Constitution; Muslims are about 13%
of the Bulgarian population; Catholics and Protestants are about 1%.
The surveys of the authoritative Bulgarian-British sociological agency
announced 51% religious people in Bulgaria in general in July 1997.
The Protestant Churches in Bulgaria
could be presented mainly according to two notions: traditionally formed
and new ones, usually called "sects". The traditional Churches
are denominations, established in Bulgaria at the end of the last
century as a result of the activity of foreign missionaries. The most
stable of them, which possess a national structures and legal status are:
Methodists, Congregationalists and Baptists. About 20 varieties of those
main directions of Protestantism have a legal status and they number
over 20000 members.
absolutely new phenomenon in the Bulgarian religious space are the new
spiritual associations of believers, often defined by the mass media and
by the public opinion as "sects". Their origin is varied: some
of them originate of small, closed groups, which existed illegally
during the communist time. Others unite young people disappointed by the
traditional Protestant denominations. There are absolutely new
organizations, established by foreign missionaries. Here are some of
them acting especially in Sofia and in some big Bulgarian towns as Varna,
Plovdiv, Russe, Stara Zagora: "Truth from Zion", "Soldiers
of Christ", "Church of Jesus Christ of Last Days Saints"
(Mormons). The Mormon Society has a few branches in Sofia and structures
in two big Bulgarian towns. Years
ago they numbered about three thousand members, now – about 1000.
Structures of "Jehovah's Witnesses" and of the "Unification
Church" act without legal registration in Bulgaria. Missionaries of
the "Family" developed some activity seven years ago, but
without great success.
Adherents of some non-Christian religions established their
organizations during last 5-6 years: "International Society for
Krishna Consciousness", "Bahai's religion", varieties of
Yoga, etc. "Bahai's religion" and "Krishna" have a
legal status. A sociological survey of NOEMA agency, representative for
the adult Bulgarian population showed about 1% adherents of the New
religious sects and movements.
I would like to mention a specific Bulgarian non-traditional religious
society, called "White Brotherhood". It is based on Peter
Dunov's doctrine, which came into being at the beginning of our century.
It is based on Christian ideas interpreted in an original way as well as
ideas, borrowed from occultism, theosophy, Indian
religious-philosophical thought, the Bogomil's heretic movement. The
ideas of Dunovism are known in Europe, South America, USA, Japan thanks
to Bulgarian emigrants, as well as by means of connections with the
Esperanto movement, Vegetarian and Ecological movements. Dunov says the
aim of Christianity is not to prove the existence of God, but to create
connections among all souls, to create conditions for developing the
Spiritual in every person. Love is the main principle of the World, it is
God. Love is interpreted as mutual respect, doing good to others; it is
also love for God, Whom Dunov understands as mystic intuition. The
institution of "fraternity" is an optimal variant of human
co-existence. Dunov's idea about the Slav's mission in the world history
connects it with the following features of the Slav character: religious
feeling rather altruistic than fanatic, hidden spiritual forces which
remain undeveloped due to the historical fate. This moment explains the
attractiveness of the doctrine to Bulgarians living abroad and even in
general to the Slavs who have left the frames of their natural
The past ten years are not enough for analyzing some stable tendencies
concerning new religious societies in Bulgaria. Nevertheless we could
outline some evolutional trends. New religious movements and sects
flourished intensively in the first years after the anti-totalitarian
revolution – about 11 years ago. The allowed religious freedom, the
clash of the communist ideology and the high degree of the emotions and
passions within the social psychology caused that process. Of course,
the number of the Eastern Orthodox believers increased too.
Most of the above mentioned New Religions came in Bulgaria at that time.
Some of them gradually limited their activities (the "Family",
the "Unification Church"). Others, as "Jehovah's
Witnesses", for example, stabilized and intensified them.
The Bulgarian type of acceptance of New Religious Formations and the
expectations, connected with them
I fully agree with the idea of Jean-Francois Mayer, that the research of
the formation and evolution of the new religious societies in a single
European country could throw light on the understanding of the
phenomenon as a whole.
Detailed and complete new sociological surveys of that phenomenon do not
exist in Bulgaria now. Nevertheless. enough materials are available –
results of inquiries, of research observations and conversations with
the movements members, publications in mass media and in the Academic
magazines. These results confirm to a great extent the main conclusions
of many known European and American researchers about the socio-cultural
origin and functions of New religious movements, societies, sects. I
would mention here only some of them: "All New Religions, out of
necessity, offer something unavailable in older religions. Basically,
they offer a surer, shorter, swifter, or clearer way to salvation"; "Both the temporary
flourishing of these New Religious Movements and the reciprocal
formation of the ACM are most immediately rooted in specific aspects of
expending contractualism in the years following the Second World War.
There was a sharp increase in the prevalence, scale and concentration of
corporate-bureaucratic organization; the normative primacy, accorded to
voluntarism, rationality and autonomy in social relations...";
the New Religious Movements are a "product of a normal cultural
activity". These conclusions are to
a great extent true for the Bulgarian situation.
the totalitarian state organized and stimulated the processes of
modernization connected with the developed technologies, the intensive
urbanization and industrial development.
There were processes of bureaucratization of the political and economies
spheres; of rationalization and secularization of education and culture.The
moral authority of the private spheres – family, ethnos, religion
decreased; the institutional authorities – state structures, etc. –
have been hypertrophied. So, among the main motivations to participate
in the New Religions, their members show: longing for valuable
communication, based on the moral relationships, filled with love,
sympathy, mutual understanding and help – features lacking in school's,
institute's, party's types of communication.
family – one of the most stable institutions in the Bulgarian history
and a traditional bearer of deep moral and existential values – had
exhausted its vital energies as well as its emotional and educational
resources. The statistics showed that the number of divorces and the
demographic collapse of the Bulgarian society had reached dangerous
In the New Religions people, especially young people looked for an
eternal normative archetype of the social commonwealth – the affective
potential, the ecstasy of communication.
the Bulgarian society now prevail communitarian, group social values.
The modernization process, directed by the totalitarian state did not
allow development of individuality, of individual self-consciousness.
The sociological surveys showed that the great part of the Bulgarians
give preference to communitarian values as equality, state protection,
traditional cultural models, rather than to individual enterprise and
That fact explains to a great degree the stabilization of such New Religions
as the "Mormons" and "Jehovah's Witnesses", which
respect community, cooperation, and communication. And at the same time
– the failure of "New Age" and "Scientology",
which give preference to and respect individuality. As far as the
influence of the latter’s on Bulgarian elite philosophical and
cultural consciousness is concerned, I would say that their place is
occupied to a great extent by the Russian religious philosophy from the
end of the last century – Berdjaev, Solovjov, Dostoevski, Florenski,
etc. Having created a peculiar transmission between the dogmatic
Orthodoxy and the philosophical, literary and cultural consciousness of
their time, and having proposed original versions of religious
existentialism along with a new eschatological perspective, these ideas
today complement the palette of the "imported" colors in the
Bulgarian cultural consciousness. They project the exotic character of
the Eastern mysticism along with an anti-institutional longing for
spiritual community with personal, unique, directly individual attitude
towards God and feeling of Election and Supremacy of the Orthodox world
/16/. In this way the Russian religious philosophy replaces some
eschatological and individualistic messages of the New Religions.
motivation for membership in the New Religions is the lost charismatic
aureole of the traditional and institutional authorities – parents,
teachers, and ideologists – in the result of their involving in the
anti-vital energies of the totalitarian process. The search, the longing
for charismatic authority is a powerful archaic archetype (which is
being revitalized now in the Western Europe too). In Bulgaria its
influence is stronger because of powerful patriarchal background of the
Bulgarian culture and mentality, which attributes importance to such
specificities of authority as: power, protection, father's type of love.
So, a particular projection of the powerful archetype "father –
children", "parents – children" is transferred to the
relationship leader – members of the new religious societies. That
fact is favorable mental background for manipulation of the members by
the leader. These cases are strongly criticized by the Bulgarian public
The intensive starting of some New Religions
in Bulgaria was stimulated both by the situation of anomie and
desacralization of the past and at the same time – by lack of
doctrines and ideas, sacralizing the present. The Bulgarians lost their
supporting points both of the social and of the individual biographies.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which has been for many years capsulated
and alienated from actual social problems, could not show new spiritual
roots. This situation of anomie
after the "velvet" revolution was "Golden century"
for New Religions. Their ideas about resacralization of present, about
forthcoming God's Kingdom, about God's elected members attracted
schoolboys, students, workers, and intellectuals.
3. Some "Paradoxes" of the Bulgarian Public Acceptance
the New Religions
The first Paradox: The changes associated with spiritual, economic,
cultural, political freedom, which allowed freedom to New Religions
became their very competitor, rival regarding proclaimed values. Our
society now tries to remake, to refresh its main spheres through new
persons, faces, ideas, new style of communication and action. The former
bureaucratized, alienated institutional structures are now filled with
passions, emotions, they became a scene of innovation and rivalry;
restore the ecstasy of communication. Of course, that process could
hardly be evaluated only in optimistic way. It seems to me that the
perspective of the development of New Religions in Bulgaria will depend
on the eventual success of those social changes.
second paradox: New Religions themselves revive institutional social
structures, because involuntarily they unite the society in emotional
commonwealth, based on the powerful archaic archetype – enemy
archetype, stimulated strongly by mass media. The sociological inquiries
showed that the percentage of the persons who absolutely negate New
religious movements and sects is bigger among those who are neither
members, nor have relatives members. The members of New Religions are
absolutely unknown to them, empirically unidentified. They are only part
of the aggressive social mythology The very members of the New Religions
view them with ambiguity: 45% of the members evaluate the influence of New Religions
on them as "negative" and 10% as "positive". Among
non-members the percentage is the following: 67% - "negative"
influence; 2% - positive influence. The cases of real manipulation,
financial aspirations, lobbying etc. among New Religious Movements and
Sects endow that social mythology with empirical validity.
Another fact, which in Bulgaria
gives anti-cultist emotions additional energy, is related to the foreign
leadership of the most of the New Religions. The foreign missionaries
are usually viewed as an anti-national, anti-patriotic phenomenon. The
possible failure of economic transformations in Bulgaria (projected in
many directions by foreign experts) would add to anti-cultist passions
new powerful energy.
As an academic, citizen, Bulgarian
and parent – roles, which I try to harmonize – I would support the
following idea and attitude towards the New Religious Culture: its
long-lasting development in the West showed at least two things: Firstly,
that it is a symptom of processes and trends of social communication and
institutions which destroy the particular for each society measure,
harmony of individual and social, of emotional and rational, of everyday
life and its elite forms, of power and love in family and in society;
Secondly, that the New Religions themselves could hardly propose models
of communication and spirituality with, on the one side, a long-lasting
social validity (Bromley and Shupe), and, on the other side, an
organizational incarnation of the proclaimed ideas (the so-called
ambiguity, or contradiction of their ideas and their actions, widely
discussed among researchers).
Maybe the existence of this “New” Religions, accompanying all human
history, would be better viewed as a motive, as a stimulus to a
merciless cultural self-analysis of society and individual, as an
institutionalized and marginalized rebellion-longing for the lost charm
of human commonwealth.
N. Bogomilova. The
Season of Crossroad Questions, in: Az-Buki, February, 1991.
Sources of data:
Department of Ecclesiastical Matters of the Council of Ministers; The
sociological surveys and inquiries, carried by the Committee of
Youth and Children (Bulgaria), S. Langova and G. Manev, Youth and
 Relations of Compatibility and Incompatibility between Christians and Muslims in Bulgaria. Sofia, 1994, p. 215.
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N. Bogomilova. The
Sacred, the Time and the Everyday Consciousness in Eastern Europe,
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J.-F. Mayer. L'évolution
des nouveaux mouvements religieux: quelques observations sur le cas de
la Suisse. in:
Social Compass, 1995, vol. 42, N2, p. 184.
B. Wilson. Religious
Sects. A Sociological Study. London, 1990, p. 205.
D. Bromley and A. Shupe. Anti-cultism
in the United States: Origins, Ideology and Organizational Development.
in: Social Compass, 1995, vol. 42, N2, p. 224.
J. Gordon Melton. The
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