Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Faith and (In)tolerance of Minority Religions: A Comparative Analysis of Romania, Ukraine, and Poland

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Faith and (In)tolerance of Minority Religions: A Comparative Analysis of Romania, Ukraine, and Poland

Article excerpt

Introduction

Places of worship have recently become revitalized in Central and Eastern Europe, bringing back worshipers committed to explore their faith. Where under communism one's relationship to religion was often private and even secretive, today the public identity of an increasing number of Eastern Europeans is closely tied to religion. In many areas, religion and national identity go hand-in-hand, and thus the project of reconstructing religious identity becomes synonymous with the revitalization of the nation. [1] Religion, like language, culture, and story-telling, may be an important component of the "imagined communities" [2] that are attempting to carve out a space for themselves as borders and powers shift in the new Eastern European geography. In this sense, religion becomes "publicized."

Both majority and minority nations find religion a useful tool in their quest to reshape their identities and gain power. These new "ethnarchies," to use the term coined by G. M. Tamas, demand that states "be reshaped at will, ... regardless of ancient ties between different linguistic, religious, or other groups through centuries. Only natural identity counts, an identity based on a 'nature' that cannot be approached rationally." [3] A person's religion is a mater of "natural identity." That is, Romanians are said to be "naturally" Orthodox; Ukrainians, also "naturally" Orthodox but of a Ukrainian Orthodox variety; and Poles, "naturally" Roman Catholic. In other words, authentic Romanians and Ukrainians are Orthodox, and an authentic Pole is Catholic. Those who step outside their natural designations -- for example, those who chose a new religion or minority religion -- are deemed traitors to their group. Those who have long been outside the majority "natural" designation are simply the "other," who may be tolerated but who need not be supported. Religion as imagined and manipulated by leaders and followers becomes a thread strung between those competing nations that remain ever willing to grab it in times of insecurity. The thread wears thin as tension mounts and as political leaders increasingly claim religion as an agent serving their vision of the pubic sphere.

The publicization of religion has been accompanied by a competing demand for renewed privatization. For many individuals in Central and Eastern Europe, the open expression of religion has become more of a personal matter, anchored in individual consciousness and a growing demand for individual choice. The buzz word of the day being trumpeted by international enders and Western leaders is "privatization," and it is to be expected that modern societies will be marked by secularization and the "privatization" of religious matters. [4] According to this reformulation, Robert Hadden reminds us that "religion may become capable of maintaining its traditional function as a mechanism of social control at least in some parts of human societies... [but] certainly religion is not to be taken seriously as a [cosmic] earth-moving force." [5] This thinking opens a small, contested space for minority religions.

It is the youth of Central and Eastern Europe who have most quickly adopted a consumer orientation, as new ideas, products, and peoples have flooded their once limited marketplaces. The youth experiment in constructing their identities is based on the widening choices before them. "The consumer orientation. . . is not limited to economic products but characterizes the relation of the individual to the entire culture." [6] The consumer's preferences toward religions "still remain a function of the consumer's social biography," [7] but within these limitations consumers have great latitude within which they may choose to experiment with their families' faith and with the choices offered by others. Within this context one can understand why the clash between majority faiths and those brought by outsiders may as likely appear to be a struggle between older traditionalists and youthful nonconformists or a fight between the older members of a traditional religion and its more vocal youthful members who wish to red efine the contours of their faith and the actions it takes in society. …

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