Vassil Prodanov

Religion and Inculturation in the Post-Communist World  


Admittedly, the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is the most important event since the Second World War, and represents the beginning of a new stage in world history. We face now a unique predicament in history when in an inconceivably short time a universal ideology, the belief system of a population of about 400 million people, populating almost one fifth of the earth, broke down. This leaves a huge number of people in conditions of moral, spiritual, ideological, political, cultural and economic crisis. Millions of individuals find themselves in a blind alley of internal chaos without identity or meaning in their life. This vacuum is unknown in the human history. Even the collapse of the old ideologies and religions in the Roman Empire and their replacement by Christianity took place over a much longer period of several centuries.

The Post-Communist world is at the crossroad. What to do next; where to go? In this situation three major sets of ideas and belief systems rush forward to serve the souls and govern the behavior of these millions of people - liberal democracy, nationalism and religion. In some cases they are separated, but most frequently they are mixed in miscellaneous and some­times odd combinations. Undoubtedly, religion is one of the most influential forces.

The Christian Church now confronts the unimaginable situation of a new world open for new evangelization. When, 500 years ago, the mission­aries reached the New World and were trying to convert the indigenous peoples they collided with people who were closed in their own strong belief system, and they thought it necessary to use force to coerce them to be evangelized. The current "New World" — the ex-communist world — is much more open and eager for a new evangelization, because the old belief systems have been destroyed and the souls of these people are void, without meanings, without identities. This situation has never existed in history; scores of religions and sects are rushing to transmit their meanings to these empty souls.


Ethnic and Religious Revival:  

Religion as a Ground of Ethnic and National Identity

In the last decade, we have observed a coincidence of two processes - religious and ethnic revivals. They are intertwined and feed upon one anoth­er. The endeavor of ethnic revival or nationalism may use religion as an additional force. At the same time, in its struggle for survival and to regain territory, religion uses the ethnic and national identification. Accordingly, the issue arises of the similarity and difference between these two processes. Since the strengthening of religion, neo-evangelization and neo-islamization could use nationalism as a resource. In a number of countries, a stronger influence of religion and opposition to secularization are inseparable from nationalism. In the Catholic sphere, Poland and Ireland confirm this hypoth­esis.

Many similarities of national and religious identities allow close interaction and integration between them.

1) These are the two larger Gemeinschaften overstepping the direct relations characteristic of family and kinship. They require overriding all other obligations, call for sacrifice, and satisfy the need of affective relation­ship. Because the national and religious communities are not directly "visi­ble" identification with them is realized by means of highly developed sym­bolic and ritual systems.

2) These two communities put strong emphasis on the role of the past, tradition, history as factors for identification.

3) Their sets of symbols are included in the culture and interact with all other symbols in the cultures. If a religion is strongly rooted in a culture, it could play a larger role in ethnic and national identity. Religion and na­tion exchange their symbols and mutually support each other. But major religions go beyond nations. They are included in the cultures before the rise of nations and in this way the religions could be the ground for a develop­ment of national identity, but not conversely. Religious distinctions and conflicts precede national distinctions and could become boundaries for different nations.

4) The major causes bringing about today's religious revival - disruption of the other communities, social insecurity, the rise of non-material values, etc.—bring forth as well ethnic and nationalist revivals.

Ethnic and national movements use religious identifications and symbols to strengthen their positions. Religions also use ethnic and national movements to strengthen their own positions. This is one of the best avail­able opportunities for their inculturation. But in different periods, different types of relations between religion and nationalism could be found.

The first type is that of separation, hi a secular society and a secular national movement, religion is separated from the state. But the main char­acteristic of the nation is that this is a community desiring, supporting, and identifying itself with its own state. That is why nationalism might divide from religion. The case of the father of the modern Turkish nationalism, Kemal Ataturk is typical; he divided the state and Islam giving birth to a secular nationalism.

The second type of relationship between religion and nation is one of relative independence and interaction. In some situations and within some limits, religious identity prompts national identity or national identity prompts religious identity. When, for instance, a Bulgarian compares his national identity and culture with Turkish national identity and culture, he commonly thinks of himself also as Christian and accepts the "otherness" of the Turks as including, above all, the fact that they are Muslims. In this case, religious identity becomes part of national identity. But when the Bulgarian compares his national identity with that of the Serbs, with whom they share the same Orthodox Christian religion, then the religious identity does not share in the national identity, and other non-religious characteristics will be more important.

In the third type of interrelationship between religion and culture the religious identity becomes the ground for nation (or ethnic) identity and is considered as the most important part of this identity.

a) Religion and ethnic identity. In fact, in the most Ancient societies the religions were ethnic religions and were the most important factors supporting ethnic identity. This is the case, for instance, with Judaism, which has guarded the Jewish identity for thousands of years without a common Jewish political unity.

Ethnic revival today in the developed countries also is inseparable from some religions. This is especially visible in the USA where churches and the parishes too often are the only force uniting an ethnic group; it is their place for contact, meeting, and support. Here the church is the nexus, or core of ethnicity. In fact, when the state's support of ethnicity is absent, the church commonly becomes the most important institution in conserving this ethnic identity. This is the case with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which supported the Bulgarian ethnic identity for five hundred years under the Ottoman yoke.

b) Religion and national identity. As E. Gellner points out, a people's meeting with larger cultures, especially literate cultures which is often medi­ated by a conversion to a variant of a world religion, allows ethnic groups to acquire assets which may later help to turn them into nations and structure them as such.[1]

Accordingly, religion plays an important role in almost any national movement, especially in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa. The modem Bul­garian nation began in the XVIII century with the activity of a monk, Father Paisii, who wrote a history of the medieval Bulgarian kingdom and brought together what was required for a common Bulgarian spoken language. The first fighters for "national awakening" in Bulgaria were monks and priests. In India in his appeal to the Indian masses Gandhi also suggested a greater mobilization of the role of religion than has been usual in modern Europe.

My claim is that the opposition of "us and them" between two groups in a situation of conflict has been the most important factor in the process of "national awakening" and nation building for the last two centuries. When this opposition takes place between two different religious societies, religion plays the first role in the process of nation building and maintenance of national identity and a specific religious-ethnic identification is developed.

Accordingly, Poles maintained their Catholic Polish identity in the struggles with the Russian Orthodox Christian state. In Great Britain, Irish, English, and Scottish identities were formed on the basis of different religions - Catholic, Anglican and Calvinist. People in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia share a single language and culture, but feel themselves affiliated to three different nations because their religions are different – Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Moslem. In principle, when national and religious identi­ties and oppositions between two groups coincide, their tensions and strife tend to be much more severe and harsh. The reason is that we have here a unity of two most important distal identities of the person and one's em­brace of these identities is much stronger if people have different national and ethnic identities the uncertainty, danger or crisis connected with one of diem could be replaced by the other. If they are tangled in a common religious-ethnic identity, then the danger of losing this identity is perceived as much stronger and the battle to stand up for it is much more furious and bloody. It is no accidents that as most all ethnic conflicts and wars in the contemporary world are not "pure" ethnic, but religious-ethnic.

At the same time, the different religions have different abilities to interact with nationalism to support it and to provide a basis for religious-ethnic identity.

It could be a one-sided or a poly-sided religious-ethnic identity. A nation has a one sided religious-ethnic identity if this identity defines the nation only in opposition to one or several, but not to all other nations. For instance, Roman Catholicism is part of die national identity of Lithuanians when they compare themselves with Lutheran Germans or Orthodox Rus­sians and Byelorussians, but not when they compare themselves with Catho­lic Poles.

A nation will have a multi-faceted religious-ethnic identity if its religion is not universal, but specifically ethnic. This religion will distinguish it form all other nations and make its identity stronger and more closed. Typical is die case with Japan where most of die Japanese people are connected with die old Japanese animist religion, Shinto, or in China where similarly die specifically Chinese semi-religious teaching of Confucianism is most widely spread.

Another distinction, which could be drawn is between partial and complete religious-ethnic identity. Partial religious-ethnic identity is formed in cultures, which are to some significant extent secularized so dial die tradi­tional religious cultures do not concur. There, die national and religious identities will coincide partially. The more a religion is separated from die profane culture, the more partial and non-important will be its role in development and maintenance of national identity.

Complete identity in which die limits of die religious, cultural, and national identities almost coincide means a lack of clear-cut borders between die sacred and die profane, die religious and die mundane.

From this point of view, we can say that Protestantism could be in­cluded in only a partial religious-ethnic identity, while die Muslim religion could be die ground for a complete identity. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches be "in between."

This implies a different role of these religions in die processes of development of ethnic self-consciousness and nation-building. The Islamization or Neo-islamization almost definitely means a change of national identity. In die history of humanity Islam has been die most mighty "melting pot" for die assimilation of different groups, much more mighty than die "melting pot" of American civilization during the XXth century. The potential of the other world religions to create and support national identity is weaker and secularization has weakened it additionally. Accordingly, it would be easier for Islam to use nationalism as a means of Islamization than for Christianity to do this for the purpose of evangelization.


Re-Evangelization and Re-Islamization

In the developed countries, the process of religious revival is strongly connected with growing diversity and pluralization. This means that a variety of new religions and sects are quite active, and that the old universal churches search for ways to adjust to the new plurality and to face the issue of inculturation.

On the whole, in the Third World and the ex-communist world reli­gious revival has first of all the form of re-evangelization and re-islamization. Different versions of Christianity and Islam are the mainstreams in this shift to the de-secularization an de-atheization of these societies, as people search for faith, meaning, solace and support in order to be able to cope with their broken lives and realities.

The revivification of Christianity and Islam in the ex-communist world, Asia and Africa is as a matter of fact, a revivification of two old adversaries. During this millennium, Russia and the Balkans always have been frontline sites, areas of contact and conflict between these two great civilizations.

The revival of Christianity and Islam in these regions is linked first and foremost with the failure of the two major projects of modernity, both originating in the Enlightenment: Communist society and Westernization. The attempts at rapid industrialization to overcome the backwardness with­out market and democracy in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union have failed. But in many countries of the Third World this has also failed. When the power of the efforts to overcome the backwardness and the build modern secular societies are compared the stronger is the restoration and resurgence of religion.

The most forceful manifestations of Islamic resurrection has occurred in the more advanced and "modernized" (seemingly secular) countries of the Muslim world, such as Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, and Tunisia. The secular "White Revolution" in Iran was replaced by the "Islamic Revolution." The sense that existing political, economic and social systems had failed and disenchantment with secular modernization brought forth a quest for identity and a greater authenticity. Nationalism and religion are answers to this quest. In the Christian states, they partially overlap. In the Muslim world the feeling is widespread that Islam provides a self-sufficient ideology for both state and society, a valid alternative to secular nationalism, socialism, and capitalism. As John Esposito points out:

In the nineties, Islamic revivalism has ceased to be restricted to the usual marginal organizations on the periphery of society and instead has become part of mainstream Muslim society, producing a new modem-educated but Islamically oriented elite which work alongside, and at times in coalition with its secular counterparts. Revivalism continues to grow as a broad-based socio-religious movement, functioning today in virtually every Muslim country and transnationally. It is a vibrant, mul­ti-faceted movement that will embody the major impact of Islamic revivalism for the foreseeable future. Its goal is the transformation of society though the Islamic formation of individuals at the grass-roots level. Dawa (call) societies work in social services (hospitals, clinics, legal-aid societies), in eco­nomic projects (Islamic banks, investment houses, insurance companies), in education (schools, child-care centers, youth camps), and in religious publishing and broadcasting. Their common programs are aimed at young and old alike.[2]

There is a revival of Christianity also in the ex-communist block, but the situation is quite different compared with most Islamic countries. On the one hand, there is a surge in the quest for religion as a refuge from the severe value crisis and as a foundation for the identity of the personal self. But the Orthodox Churches in most of these countries is not sufficiently mobile and versatile to react to this quest. They have not enough missionary spirit and missionary structures. Both within and in public a furious struggle for power in some of these churches is waged. They are not too well prepared to face the growing need for re-evangelization. For the last hundred years they have had almost no experience in inculturation and lack the ability to adapt themselves to the psychology of the contemporary person. Thus, many other denominations are trying to gain influence in this region.

On the other hand, by contrast to most muslim countries where neo-islamization is an expression of disillusionment with the process of Westernization, understanding their failure to be a result of Westernization, in the ex-Communist countries the attitudes are just the opposite. The mass impression is that a lack of Westernization is the main reason for the failure of their countries. They are ardent, zealous adherents of anything coming from the Western world. This world is looked to for support in distress. This leaves room for a great influx of different sects, religion and denominations from the West, and first of all, from the USA. They bring with them not just their religious hope, but the lure and reputation of something from a country seen as an example to be followed. Some of them are Christians, some of them are not, but there is much room for neo-evangelization. What is different from the Muslim revival in the Middle East is that this is taking place in conditions of greater democracy, openness, and competition among different religions. Moreover, most of the sects and churches coming form the West bring with them some idea of the limits of the appropriate activity of the church in civil society and the division between civil society and state. They are accepted by people as part of their way to the new dream: the wealthy West.

Accordingly, we have conditions for a more monolithic and authoritarian re-islamization and more open and pluralistic re-evangelization. If the former is connected with a tendency to full deserialization, the second is connected with an endeavor to overcome atheization. If islamization is a strong political movement toward unity between state and church, re-evan­gelization is first of all a shift in civil society without so strong a tendency to unite church and state. For instance, the new, post-communist constitution of Bulgaria did not merely promulgate once again the separation of church and state, but forbade the establishment of parties on religious grounds.

Across a huge territory from Asia and Africa to Europe, we observe the revival of two old rivals with different positions, advantages and disad­vantages in the processes of evangelization and islamization, re-evangelization, and re-islamization. In this process Western and Eastern traditions encounter one another.

Their difference from the point of view of a strategy of inculturation is that in principle in most cases evangelization and re-evangelization have as their points of departure some distinctions dividing sacred and profane, secular national identity and religious identity. In contrast, Islam tends to deny these distinctions in principle an strives to include under its rule the whole person and culture. That is why Islamic conversion encloses the whole person in a specific world and is quite successful. For this reason, it is more difficult to convert a Muslim to another religion or to secularize him than to do so which a Christian. It is a well known fact in the history of the Muslim religion, that although Muslims were initially a minority in the conquered territories, in time they became a majority, due largely to mass conversions of local Christians. In addition, those who remained Christians were Arabized adopting the Arabic language and culture.[3] At the same time, there is not a single case of mass conversion of Muslims to the Christian faith. That is why the communities of Muslim emigrants in the developed Western countries are more closed and more difficult to integrate into the whole society.

The major peculiarity is the near inseparability of the religious from the national (or Ethnic). Evangelization does not mean ethnic or national conversion. Islamization means a change of the entire way of life and practi­cally always leads to a change of ethnic or national identity. When convert­ed to Islam a Christian, Buddhist, etc. population either affiliates itself to the closed muslim nation or claims its own specific Muslim national identity. This is true throughout the world. In Bulgaria, Christians who changed their faith to become Muslims under the Ottoman yoke are now inclined to identify themselves as Turks, because Turkey is the nearest nation which is Islamic in religion. At the same time in Bosnia Serbs identify themselves as a specific Muslim nation, although they speak the same language as Christian Serbs. Even if, as in the case of Bosnia, people are not very religious, reli­gion left so deep a vestige that now, with their brother Christians, they wage the most bloody nationalistic civil war in recent European history. To be Bosnian means first of all to be Muslim, and to be Muslim means to be Bosnian. In the same way in Malaysia many consider it axiomatic that to be Malay is to be Muslim. In Bulgaria Muslim theology has never been devel­oped nor has the Muslim literature been disseminated, the Koran is preached in the Arab language which almost no one understands. Nevertheless, Islam is retained as the way of life, and there remains the self-consciousness of "us" Muslims as different from "them" (Bulgarian Christians). Their Islamic identity and their appropriate ethnic or national identity are inseparable. According to J. Esposito,

the modem notion of religion as a system of personal belief makes an Islam that is comprehensive in scope, with religion integral to politics and society, 'abnormal' insofar as it departs from the accepted 'modem' norm, and nonsensical. Thus Islam becomes incomprehensible, irrational, extremist, threatening.[4]

The problem however is not just that of different perceptions of religion as a result of modernity, as J. Esposito emphasizes. There are two more impor­tant distinctions, which are disregarded by him. The first distinction is the originally different notion of relations between the sacred and profane, religion and the state, which are characteristic of Christianity and Islam and not just of modern and pre-modern visions of religion. The second distinction is that the inseparable unity between Islam and state leads to an integral unity of religious and national identity. The nation is a phenomenon of modernity, of the modern world, and now this modern phenomenon is linked with the pre-modern unity between religion in state.

Accordingly, nationalist and religious revivals, which could be quite separate in other cultures tend to coincide. This multiplies their force, strengthening both religious and national identities. This is in some sense a new historical phenomenon. When the two parts of a uranium nuclear bomb unite they become qualitatively new and different, and are followed by an enormous explosion. Similarly, the fusion of nationalist and religious revival may be the greatest danger in the Post-Cold War world.

As a matter of fact most of the nationalistic and ethnic wars and conflicts during the last decades are religious-ethnic wars. This makes conflict much more plausible in the case of ethnic (national) opposition and tension between "us" and "them". Accordingly, along the thousands of kilometers of the borderline between Islam and Christian civilizations we observe tensions, conflicts, terrorist acts and wars. It begins from the military clashes with the Muslim minority in the Philippines, passes through Islamic terror­ism and separatism in India, the civil wars between Muslims and Christians in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Lebanon, Cyprus, the relations between Jews and Arabs, the tensions between Greece and Turkey, Bulgarian Chris­tians and Bulgarian Muslims, the war between Christian Serbs and Muslim Bosnians, the conflicts between Christians and Albanian Muslims in Kosovo, etc. Everywhere the war is between religious-ethnic identities.

Two additional factors prompt the confrontation between these two different religious-national identities and cultures.

The first factor is the traditions and stereotypes of the confrontation between these two civilizations:

The confrontations and conflicts have spanned the ages and reinforced images of a historic and global militant Islam: the early Muslim expansion and conquest; the crusades and the fall of Jerusalem; Ottoman hegemony over Eastern Europe and, with the siege of Vienna, its threat to overrun the West; the great jihads against European colonial rule; Arab-Israeli wars; the economic threat of oil embargoes; Iran's humiliation of an "America held hostage" and its threat to export its revo­lution; media images of despots (Quddafi, Khomeini, Saddam Hussein) wielding an Islamic sword and calling upon the fren­zied faithful to rise up against the West; and the specter of radical revolutionary groups seizing Western hostages, hijack­ing planes and wantonly visiting a reign of terror. Death threats against Salomon Rushdi and Muslim secular intellec­tuals like the Egyptian philosopher Foudad Zanaria, who had declared that "the tide of political Islam . . . constitutes a very real danger", reinforce images of an intolerant and dangerous Islam.

At the same time one finds similar stereotypes from the other side.

Muslim images of the West in turn as the "real" threat to them. Many in the Arab and Muslim world view the history of Islam and of Muslim world's dealing with the West as one of victimization and oppression at the hands of an expansive imperial power. Thus many counter that it is "militant Chris­tianity" and "militant Judaism" that are the root causes of failed Muslim societies and instability: the aggression and intolerance of Christian-initiated Crusades and the Inquisition; European colonialism; the break up of the Ottoman empire and artificial creation of modem states in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, and Palestine; the establishment of Israel; Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and its invasion of Lebanon; and the extent to which oil interests have been the determining factor in support for autocratic regimes.

The second factor prompting the confrontation between Christian-national identities and Islam-national identities, between the processes of re-evangelization and re-islamization is the desperate crisis, destitution, and marginalization of millions of peoples in the area of the main contacts be­tween the two civilizations in ex-communist countries and a large part of Muslim states in Asia and Africa. In these conditions people become intoler­ant and look for scapegoats and enemies, which is the strongest factor rein­forcing the nationalistic identity. This occurs in the "zone of contact".

In any case, the process of re-evangelization in the Ex-Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is inseparable from an encounter and tensions with the concurrent process of re-islamization.  


          Totalitarian Ideologies as Religion

One could understand the strength of the quest for a new faith in Eastern Europe if one takes as a starting point that a religion collapsed and that this gave rise to a search for a new one by its disillusioned adherents.

There is an old debate whether the Marxism-Leninism in the ex-com­munist world was a religion, a surrogate of religion, or had nothing to do with the religion. First Berdiaev in 1937 put forward the idea of Commu­nism as a rival religion explaining in this way its conflict with Christianity. The debate is not finished because it is inseparable from the other much-debated problem: "what is religion". I will make a short summary and con­tinue this debate.

If we take some of the most popular definitions of religion we find in them several recurrent characteristics: a supernatural (or transcendental) reality; the sacred; a set of coherent answers to the universal existential problems of mankind; some human behavior expressing relation to the supernatural and the sacred, and institutions connected with this behavior (Church). In some form these characteristics are formed in the ex-communist societies.

(1) A Supernatural (transcendent) reality. This is a qualitatively different reality from that which is experienced as "nature". It is an explana­tion of the surrounding world, not by its intrinsic properties, but by means of something added. The predominant personal link with this world is not rational and could be provided not by science, but by religion.

To oppose this position Marxism-Leninism calls its credo "scientific". But, in fact, there is nothing from positive science in this understanding. The claim for the existence of objective laws governing the movement of human history toward communist society is a claim for the existence of a supernat­ural reality. The main proof for this "scientific" character is the ability of its ideas to influence people as "social historical practice". From this point of view the "objective laws" and the "objective necessity" of Marxism-Leninism play the role of a supernatural (transcendent) reality. (Of course, the ideas of the world religions have influenced people over thousands of years, and Christianity displayed a stronger ability to change the human world and to create a new civilization. Yet this does not provide a concrete "scientific" proof.)

(2) The Sacred. According to P. Berger, "empirically speaking, what is commonly called religion involves an aggregation of human attitudes, beliefs and actions in the face of two types of experience — the experience of the supernatural and the experience of the sacred."[5] He distinguishes the sacred as another kind of reality, one that overlaps with the supernatural and carries redemptive significance. The sacred affirms the individual at the center of his being and integrates him within the order of the cosmos.

We find many indications of this reality in the practice of the ex-communist societies. They have their prophets and saints-Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc. The communist society is the future sacred reality placing the individual at its center. The working class is the redemptive force; the sufferings of present generations will be redeemed by the "bright future". The writings of the "classics" are like a scripture, revealing past and future events.

(3) A set of coherent answers to the universal existential problems of mankind. Marxism-Leninism claims to give a comprehensive explanation of all core existential problems—from the physics of nuclear particles (Lenin's writing "Materialism and Empiriocriticism") to appropriate haircuts (in the Soviet Union a book published the quotations from the "classics" regarding this topic).

(4) Organization mediating between the sacred and the profane, the natural and the supernatural.


There are many comparisons between the role of the church and that of the party. I will quote one of the most famous from the Christian Centu­ry, in 1952.

Years ago observers of the growth of international communism began to see it as a secular religion, so closely approximating in its purposes the social concepts of Christianity that Arch­bishop Temple called it a "Christian heresy". The parallel between the development of the Christian institution and appa­ratus and the Communist institution and apparatus have often been pointed out. Think of almost any element supposedly distinctive in the Christian church—its inspired revelation, its inherent dogma, its heresy trials and excommunications, its saints, its martyrs, its hagiography, its demonology, its pope, its hierarchy, its consecrated priesthood, its missionaries, its initiatory vows, its sacred shrines and icons, its reliance on an apocalyptic future to compensate for a grim present—and com­munism, less than seventy years after the death of Karl Marx, already shows a counterpart.[6]

Some additional explanatory remarks could give a sociological ac­count of these similarities.

First. Any revolution desperately needs some new religion to inspire the people. It could be against some old religion, but the disintegration of society during the revolution requires even more urgently a set of beliefs, which acts as a religion. It is paradoxical that the victors in the strongest battles against religious forces most desperately need their own religion to replace the old one. The example with the French Revolution is classical: priests were being hanged and church property confiscated, but at the same time a surrogate was established, a new civil religion in which Reason is worshipped as a high metaphysical entity.

Second. At first sight ex-communist societies are atheistic, anti-reli­gious and lacking in any basis for religion. In fact, their need for religion is stronger and the conditions created by them stimulate religious growth more than do the conditions of modem bourgeois society. On the one hand, the lack of developed market and profit motivation in the individual's behavior means much less instrumental rationality and materialistic value orientations, which are the grounds of modem secularization. The market is re­placed by the party and its decisions, relying on historical laws and necessi­ty. Higher and transcendent laws and necessities replacing the real market-forces are evoked by the party and its leaders. Because a real substitution is impossible this evocation and all economic policy become irrational. This creates much more "false consciousness" than the one that was analyzed by Marx in bourgeois society. The market forces are replaced by religious faith in the power of the non-market plan.

On the other hand, there is a desperate need for some religious substitute because forceful and very rapid industrialization and urbanization destroy all old communities and identities. The party and its ideology is sug­gested as the only possible identity.

Max Weber has argued that Protestantism and its ethics is the religion of the Capitalist society—the spirit promoting its birth, which in turn is the birth of modernity. It could be claimed that Marxism-Leninism in the ex-communist states was a specific religion necessary for the rapid moderniza­tion of backward Eastern authoritarian peasant societies. For lack of the conditions for an individualistic Protestant ethics these societies gave birth to a collectivist totalitarian (fundamentalist) ethics and religion. They required asceticism and sacrifice now in the name of the "Bright future". This ascetic was necessary for the initial accumulation of capital, for rapid industrial­ization and for the predominance of heavy over light production. The satisfaction of personal needs was limited in the name of future generations. The distinction, however, was that the sacrosanct revelation was the result not of personal experience, but of party documents.

The proliferation of this kind of fundamentalist religion was connected with the marginalization of the traditional Christian religions. Now the collapses of communism as a religion has opened room for the restoration of Christianity and re-evangelization.  


Religions and religious revival in Bulgaria  

I will take Bulgaria as an example of the conditions and the shifts in religions today. It combines a collapsed Marxist-Leninism, a religious revival in a region of ethnic clashes and an encounter of Christianity and Islam.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was founded by an ecumenical council in Constantinople in March 870. In 927 it became fully independent. The evangelization of the Bulgarian state took place in the context of the struggle between Eastern and Western Churches for influence and conver­sion of the pagan Slavs.

Using, in fact, the tool of inculturation the church in Constantinople sent its two missionaries, Cyril and Methodius, to create a special Slav alphabet and to preach the scriptures in the Slavic language. This was, against the dogma in that time that scripture could be disseminated only in one of the three sacred languages: Hebrew, Greek or Latin. The Bulgarian Tzar, Boris I, needed Christianity as a common religion to unite the two parts of his population-the Slavic and the Bulgarian tribes. When some of them tried to keep their heathen religion, he did not scruple to kill 300 clans and to enforce Christianity.

This importation of the Orthodox religion by force and the subordina­tion of religion to the state was the reason why the anti-feudal and anti-state movements were open to receive heretical movements. The strongest of these was the dualistic teaching of the Bogomils, which spread from Bulgaria under other names and versions to Western Europe.

At the end of the XIV century Bulgaria fell under five hundred years of Ottoman yoke. Broad processes of Islamization of the Christian popula­tion were taking place during this time. In order to have stronger support and protection at the beginning of the XIV century some Bulgarians sought the help of the Catholic Church in Rome and were converted or accepted the authority of the Pope. During the Ottoman rule the church played the most important role in preserving the Bulgarian identity and in the XVIIIth and XlXth centuries priests and monks began the struggle for church indepen­dence and for the resurgence of the Bulgarian national identity.

After the liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in 1879 the Bul­garian Church became again totally independent. According to the Law of Religions in Bulgaria enacted in 1977, which remains valid the church is separated from the state but is dependant upon the government. It receives some governmental subsidies and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a special Department of Ecclesiastical Matters, which in fact approves the most important promotions in the church.

Religious education in the state schools is forbidden and the propagation of religion is banned. The separation of church and state in a totali­tarian context means more than merely the Western type of secularization. Because in the totalitarian society everything is the state there is almost no other social space. All property, economic and political activities are state matters. This means that the church is pseudo- separated from the state, for the lack of civil society in the totalitarian system means that there are no independent organizations between the state and individual. So for almost five decades the church was closed in itself, unorganized and subordinated to the state; it was maintained by the state and seen as an appendix from the past. It had had some cultural significance in the past, but will vanish in the future. Officially, its place and role are seen first of all from the point of view of foreign policy – the image of the country abroad, the struggle for peace and for humanism. That is why it is a department in the Foreign Min­istry that is in charge of the church and the religions in Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian population is about 9 millions. According to the most recent data Christians in Bulgaria are 89.1% — the prevailing part of them are Orthodox, 0.9% Catholics, 0.5% protestants. The Moslems are 10.5% (Turks, Pomaks and gypsies). 16 Churches are registered with the Department of Ecclesiastical Matters.

Catholic Christians are between 60 and 80,000. They are divided into two dioceses with bishops in Sofia and Plovdiv. One of these dioceses is Roman Catholic with a congregation of about 50,000, 40 priests and 30 churches. The other is Unite and has between 10 and 20,000 believers, 20 priests, 25 parishes and 17 churches.

Muslims are 14% of the believers in Bulgaria. They have between 1000 and 1300 mosques and about 1000 ministries.

The first sects in Bulgaria appeared before it fell under the Turkish yoke. These sects are many – Bogomils, Adamits, Hesychasts, etc. — most of which were islamized and disappeared under the Ottoman rule.

During the last 100 years, and especially for the last three years, there has been an active penetration by different sects in Bulgaria. For many of them there is no sufficient data and for others the data is not sufficiently exact:

Adventists (established in 1923, about 3700 members), Adventist-reformers, Pentecostal (established in 1921, about 10 thousand members), Baptists (established in 1880, about 2500 members), Methodists (about 1300 members), Bulgarian Church of God (about 15,000 members in 70 villages), Dunovists (about 10,000 members, founded after the First World War by the Bulgarian Petur Dunov), Hare Krishna, Biblical center "Christian Charity and Education", Biblical Movement "Vasan", Satanism, Unification Church of Dr. Moon, Mormons, etc.

According to opinion polls there is an abrupt growth of the number of believers which soared from 23.6% in 1986 to 48.5% in 1992-11.2% are deeply religious and 37.3% of the respondents answer that they are "partially religious". The percentage of religious people increases with the age of the respondents and decreases with education. There is a great difference, how­ever, between Christians and Muslims~47.1% of Bulgarians respond that they are religious, but 79.1% are from the population traditionally connected with the Muslim religion; 44.9% of Bulgarians are not familiar with the Bible, but only 22.2% from the population with the traditional Moslem religion is not acquainted with the Koran; only 15% of the Christians men­tion the name of God often, but 50% of the Muslims mention the name of Allah every day. These distinctions are indicative. Partially they are result of the fact that the Muslim population has less education, but the most impor­tant factor is the specific cultural and ethnic function of the Muslim religion. This function is even stronger when, as is the case, the group is a minority.

The process of demoralization has changed importantly the position of the Orthodox Church and the different religions. Christmas and Easter were declared official holidays. The new Constitution of Bulgaria, adopted in 1991, included the text that "Bulgaria is traditionally an Orthodox Chris­tian State". At different universities faculties of theology were established. It became fashionable that any important event, commemoration, holiday, establishment of new firms, institutions, etc., be opened with a religious service.

At the same time internally the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Muslim Church in 1992 were deeply divided politically in a struggle for power. There were two synods and patriarchs and two General Muftis. The struggle between them was at times physical, each side desiring to seize the buildings of the other. There were declarations and counter-declarations on television, radio, and newspapers. One of the sides claimed that the other was connected with the old regime, and conversely. The groups were supported by different political forces; there were no theological distinctions between them, but only a furious struggle for power. This was and is a repercussion of the traditional subordination of the Church to the state; hence, one result of the deep political division in the society is division as well between the main churches in the country. This impedes the growth of their influence and leaves enough room for an active intrusion and propagation by the different sects from abroad.

hi a situation of strong politicization of the society religion too is politicized and different forces and people try to use it as a political weapon: several priests and bishops were elected to the parliament, and the evocation of religious values has become a means of political legitimization.

hi Bulgaria, never before had there been any parties claiming to have started from some religious values. Now there are dozens of such parties, e.g.: Christian Democrats, Christian-Republicans, Christian-Democrat (Cen­ter), Christian Union "Salvation", Christian Movement of Women, etc. Some of them are in the anticommunist "Union of Democratic Forces" now ruling Bulgaria, others are in a coalition with the Socialist Party. Many are not in parliament.

But what is important is that almost any political force at any point on the political spectrum tries to take advantage of the revival of religion. This kind of politization has a double effect. On the one hand, there is much ballyhoo and demonstrative use of religious symbols. On the other hand, this politization has negative results because it turns the church and religion from being values in themselves into being merely instrumental values. This instrumentalization of the traditional Orthodox religion turns the sacred into a profane tool for power. In this way religion loses its own intrinsic traits and becomes the same as all other things in the profane world.

Here there arises a very important question regarding the role of religions, the church and Christianity in the process of the demoralization of society. The problem is that, as in other periods in the history of humani­ty, the growing need of religion and of fruitful conditions for religion coin­cided with a growing disintegration, insecurity and division in society. This gives rise to growing intolerance, hatred, a search for "scapegoats" and punitive attitudes. This explains for instance the furious persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire and of heretics at the end of the Middle Ages.

The problem is whether in this kind of situation the Church will play a democratic or antidemocratic fundamentalist role, whether it will contrib­ute to an enhancement of hatred and confrontation or will prevent these. Up to now, being engaged in severe political struggles, the Bulgarian Orthodox and the Muslim churches reflect the intolerance and hatred of society. The physical attacks and occupation of church residences and buildings displays a lack of rule of law and appears as a resurrection of the Hobbesian "natural state of the people". This deepens hatred as well as authoritarian and neo-totalitarian social attitudes.

In this situation re-evangelization with the help of a church that is part of an already established democratic tradition in the developed Western countries could make an important contribution to the humanization of society, democratic development and the lowering of tensions and confronta­tions.

There are two very important factors prompting a process of re-evangelization from the West.

First, evangelization coming from the West is accepted as a part of the process of Westernization of the country-which, in turn, is considered by the largest part of the population to be the only "true road" for the coun­try today. Phrases describing the changes as a "way to Europe", a "way to America" are considered to be of quite high value. There is even talk between scholars and other intellectuals that the adoption of Christianity in Bulgaria by the Eastern Church in Constantinople, and not from the Church in Rome had been a terrible historical mistake which entailed the unfortu­nate history of Bulgaria, its separation from the Western World and five centuries under Ottoman rule. They argue that if Bulgaria had been a Catho­lic country Western Europe would have defended it from the Ottoman Turks.

Second, the use of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in political life in a situation of intolerance repulses and disgusts many of its people. This strips the church of its nimbus of sacredness and makes room for other efforts at evangelization. In fact now the influx of different sects and reli­gions introduces competition and puts all in the situation of marketing reli­gion. In this situation those have an advantage who are more active, with better advertising, more knowledge of the different social groups and their needs, and can accommodate to the local conditions, culture, mentality, leisure, music, dances, dress, national identity, social problems, etc.

Creating a new political culture for the societies is now very important and will develop with the active help of the changing human religious values. For instance, the great experience of the Catholic Church in different charity organizations, health care organizations and institutions of social care will mitigate the shock of mass impoverishment of the population and will provide the basis for the development of a vital civil society.

Finally, there are several important dimensions of the process of inculturization, which will promote the process of evangelization.

First, connections with and support of traditional culture. This will remove any accusation that the church from abroad destroys traditional Bulgarian values and identities. It is especially meaningful now when be­cause of the crises all subsidies for the national arts and folk culture have been cut off abruptly. In the conditions of emerging "wild capitalism" the church will stand up for national values.

Second, removal from political life and engagement with some politi­cal forces, but strong support of the person and individual's rights. Standing up as well against any violation of human rights religion could play a very important role for the defense of individuals from political persecutions in conditions of growing authoritarian attitudes. The church as a shelter in a collapsed world is one of the best positions for inculturation.

Third, applying a sociological approach, attending to the different needs, ways of life and behaviors of the various social groups-scholars and undergraduates, the unemployed and homeless, men and women, the single and old people, the disappointed and those broken in spirit.

In this way we observe different modes of Westernization. The tradi­tional type of Westernization of societies from the Third World is connected with an imposition of secular culture and the abandonment of many of the traditions and values of the societies. This kind of modernization failed and had many negative effects. Now we observe in the Ex-Communist countries the quest for a new mode of Westernization in which, not secularization, but some form of de-secularization (evangelization, de-atheization) is taking place. This is a new chance to unite this region with the Western World. Re-evangelization is part of this difficult and complicated process.




[1] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy (Anchor Books; Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., 1959), p. 243.

[2] See: T.F. O'Dea, "Sociology of Religion", The New Catholic Ency­clopedia, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967), p. xii, and p.263.

[3] See: Robert S. Ellwood, Jr., "Emergent Religion hi America: An Historical Perspective", in Understanding the New Religions, Jacob Needle-man and George Baker, eds. (A Crossroad Book; New York, Seabury Press, 1978), pp. 273-282.

[4] John L. Esposito. The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 29-30.

[5] John L. Esposito. The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 29-30.

[6] Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Socio­logical Theory of Religion (New York et al: Anchor Books, 1967), pp. 111-112.