Christianity and Modernity in Eastern Europe

By Luehrmann, Sonja | Canadian Slavonic Papers, March 2011 | Go to article overview
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Christianity and Modernity in Eastern Europe


Luehrmann, Sonja, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Bruce R. Berglund and Brian Porter-Szücs, eds. Christianity and Modernity in Eastern Europe. Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2010. xvi , 386 pp. Maps. Tables. Index. $55.00, cloth.

With an ambitious scope that spans almost two centuries, eight countries, and Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox denominations, this volume demonstrates that anyone interested in religious change under conditions of modernization should pay attention to Eastern Europe. It is the result of a series of workshops that brought together scholars from Eastern and Western Europe as well as North America. Together the authors dismantle common stereotypes about the region as either a stronghold of religious traditionalism or an atheist wasteland. Starting with essays on nineteenth-century urbanization in Poland and religious politics in interwar Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the book then moves into the socialist and post- sociali st periods. In this way, the influence of atheist policies is neither taken for granted, nor is religious change in each country subsumed under a generic narrative of modernity.

As outlined by Brian Porter- Szücs in his introduction, one of the challenges of writing about Christianity in Eastern Europe is to produce actor-centred, empathetic histories of religious communities without glossing over the less appealing aspects of Christian politics. In essays on the pre- socialist period, Paul Han eb rink, Martin Putna, and James Felak explore how Christian critiques of liberal democracy stood in dangerous proximity to rightwing (and, more rarely, leftwing) politics. The chapters on the socialist era show the necessary collaboration of church actors with communist authorities, and the piece by Patrick Hy der Patterson looks at the tensions with Muslim neighbours created by resurgent appeals to a Christian Europe. Bruce Berglund's concluding essay on spatial approaches to religious histories points to the sacralization of homelands as a widespread feature of Christian national cultures, ties that - as the example of Kosovo reminds us - can produce blood baths as well as moving art and literature.

In their quest to portray Christian communities in Eastern Europe in their full complexity, most essays focus either on churches as institutions or on the writings of public figures - self-identified Christian politicians and intellectuals. Whether the topic is interwar Hungarian nationalism, concepts of human rights among East German and Czech Protestants, or the policies that accompanied the liquidation of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the analysis mostly remains at the level of published statements or state policies. Only the more locally circumscribed studies by Anca Çincan and Galia Valtchinova of, respectively, a church construction project in socialist Romania and a popular seer in Bulgaria engage sources that bring us closer to the realm of popular practice. Likewise, David Doellinger introduces a group of East German conscientious objectors whose relationship with Protestant churches he traces through their published statements, but also through oral history interviews. Tantalizing gaps remain between the intellectual histories of published debates and the more elusive stories about changing practices that emerge from local archives and oral histories.

One example of how to bridge both levels is James Bjork's work on regional diversity in religious practice in post-war Poland.

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