Power, Medicine, and the “Remaking” of Religion
in Socialist Bulgaria
The conventional wisdom holds that religion was suppressed in, or absent from, communist societies. But proponents of this interpretation often obscure facts that counter the black-and-white view. Based on careful ethnographies, anthropologists such as Caroline Humphrey and Katherine Verdery have shown the dangers of oversimplification in the study of socialism. Similarly, the anthropological study of religion also refuses easy dichotomies.1 The “domestication” formula is already applied to religion in the USSR with regard to the local-level negotiation between the official discourses and ongoing practices.2 The rigid interpretations of religion under socialism were challenged in an analysis of ritual, an area of study that highlights transformation and more vividly depicts state socialism's failure to uproot religiosity.3 Ritual is part of the religious realm: after religious rituals were banned from the public (though not necessarily the private) life of “socialist citizens,” other rituals were invented. Ritual life just shifted from one domain of life to another.4 As a site for the expression of symbolic relationships, ritual is the arena where power materializes and is negotiated.
More attentive to local practice, the anthropology of postsocialism also pays attention to the local actors of religious life. The sociology of religion has also inspired this approach; from Luckmann's “invisible religion” to “religion as memory” to “religion in everyday life” in the new French sociology, there is a marked shift from a church-oriented perspective to a societal- and actor-oriented one.5 This shift is defended by the philosopher Charles Taylor, who demonstrated the importance of non-institutional religion and the “less structured” spiritualities.6