Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Nature of Faith in Albania: Toward the 21st Century

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Nature of Faith in Albania: Toward the 21st Century

Article excerpt

As the third millennium approaches, Albania is fertile terrain for the awakening of indigenous religious sentiments and the propagation of new beliefs and faith groupings. The sight of new and restored mosques and churches, packed with parishioners, of vans cries-crossing the countryside linking prayer meetings and the wide publication of religious texts and personal reflections bear testimony to a thirst for deeper knowledge of God and an intimate connection with others based on shared values, doctrine and ritual.

STRUGGLING FOR THE SOUL OF ALBANIA

Coming out of a stifling period of enforced atheism,(1) the phenomenon of religious ascendancy has been joyously anticipated, encouraged both by a yearning in the population itself to renew a previously prohibited human inclination and by a democratically elected government striving to become part of the social mainstream on its continent.(2)

Even debates on liturgical language, the dialect of scriptural translations,(3) the ethnic imperative of religious leaders,(4) and sectarian struggles which aim to win the hearts of the people are positive signs of a compelling search for a new reality on which to orient its future course as a European nation.

At the same time, as the prior monolithic structure of communism crumbled, the welcomed new freedom of religious expression brought with it also a potential for divisive dangers(5) requiring vigilance and caution on the part of all those undertaking the society's reformation.(6) Will it be a savage or a spiritual century that looms ahead?(7)

IDENTIFYING THEMES FOR THE FUTURE

To predict the shape of Albania's religious landscape through the next decades comes close to prophesy, given the swift, unpredictable and kaleidoscopic patterns such analysis entails. There are, however, certain persistent themes worth exploring, in light of the country's geographic place in southeast Europe and its own unique history. Above all, such poignant inquiries address the vital needs of its long-suffering and spiritually isolated people.(8)

The question first arises: which lens do we utilize to envision what is to come: a secular or a sectarian one? From which vantage point do we begin an assessment: the point of view of the individual soul-seeker or that of a predominant worshipping community?(9) Which criterion ought to apply: that of constitutionally guaranteed rights(10) or that of genuine belief ever so difficult to measure?)(11) For the purposes of this essay, I avoid a focus on any one specific creed since the over-arching issues being raised affect all the people in the land regardless of denomination or confessional persuasion. Each perspective brings to the table its own unique ambiance and dilemmas.

THE POLITICAL CHALLENGE

By virtue of the commitment of its constituents, a religious group gathers primarily for worship of the Divine but also in order to concretize and perpetuate a way of life.(12) This incentive quite naturally influences the very society in which it finds itself and seeks to transform.(13) Increasingly, established religious groups are formulating policies that bring their ideals to bear on the governments which represent them: right-to-life, pro-choice, euthanasia, genetic engineering, creationism, religious education, to name a few. Privately held beliefs are impacting daily on the public arena and Albanian society shall be no exception to this contentious dialogue.(14)

Already, the politicization of religious agendas is a process which has manifested itself in Albania today and the challenges are many. Domestically, the current issues of land ownership and taxation, proselytism, and fundamentalist extremism are affecting ecclesiastical discourse and re-evaluating church/state relations throughout Europe and not in Albania alone. On another scale, some believers have attempted to form political parties based on commonly held values, seen as divisive by some and self-protective by others. …

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