Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

New Competitors for Hegemony: Western Evangelicals and the Rebuilding of Albanian Civil Society

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

New Competitors for Hegemony: Western Evangelicals and the Rebuilding of Albanian Civil Society

Article excerpt

Introduction

As the ideological influence of Marxism is disintegrating in most regions of Eastern Europe, evangelical missions from the West, particularly from North America, have proliferated. New strategic political and religious alliances are being formed in the ideological vacuum created in these societies that are undergoing rapid and extensive reorganization. Emerging interest groups are engaging in struggles for positions of influence. There is a global culture war going on in Eastern Europe, and evangelical missionaries from the West are one of the contenders in it.

Albania is a country that has experienced one of the most dramatic collapses of both Marxist ideology and the related institutional infrastructures. With the collapse of communism in 1991, an ideological vacuum became apparent almost immediately, [1] both in the chaos that engulfed the nation and in the immediate influx of powerful foreign contenders for hegemony that were seeking to take advantage of the chaos.

The opportunities for new contenders in the struggle for cultural hegemony are illustrated by the immediate influx of evangelical missionaries, who recognize that Albania's current situation is an unprecedented and unparalleled "openness" to new ideas within the culture. In the absence of monopolies within the political, ideological, economic, and religious spheres of Albanian society, the influx of outside ideas, particularly from the West, has heightened the crisis by contributing to the once repressed but now openly raging culture war within Albania society itself.

Since 1991, Albania has been undergoing a rapid and chaotic transition from being the "world's first truly atheistic nation," as Albania's xenophobic leader, Enver Hoxha, once boasted, to the country with the highest ratio of evangelical missionaries per capita in all of Eastern Europe. This dramatic influx of evangelical mission agencies and personnel from the West into a context of religious resurgence and competition makes religion a key issue as Albania seeks to reconstruct itself and shape its future. Evangelical missionaries add a powerful new dimension to the rebuilding of Albanian civil society; their presence, their agendas, and their strategies create controversy that centers around the issue of religious freedom. Evangelical missionaries exercise hegemony in their missionary enterprise in Albania, both unintentionally and deliberately.

Research among Evangelical Missionaries

The following observations and analysis of the Western missionary activity in Albania are based on the research I conducted between 1994 and 1996 among evangelical missionaries working in the country. During this time, three periods of extensive research among representatives of the member mission organizations of the Albanian Encouragement Project were carried Out. The A.E.P. operates an office in the capital city of Tirane that serves as a coordination and communications center for the member mission organizations. The A.E.P. gave its permission to conduct interviews among its members and graciously made its office center in Tirane available to facilitate this activity.

The research in Albania consisted primarily of open-ended interviews with thirty-seven key A.E.P. missionaries. The interviews incorporated thir teen basic questions designed to elicit responses about the social dimensions of their mission activity, such as their own vision for Albanian society, their motivation for engaging in mission work, their assessment of their impact within Albanian culture, the nature of the competition they were encountering in their efforts, and the comparison of their attitudes toward Albanian and American culture. In addition, I used the same set of questions to interview four key leaders or representatives of the historic religions of Albania -- Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Islam. For comparative purposes, I carried out adaptations of the same interview with fourteen other Americans present in Albania, including Mormon missionaries, military advisors, government officials, and a variety of advisors and consultants from nongovernmental organizations. …

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