Religious Liberty in Transitional Societies: The Politics of Religion

By John Anderson | Go to book overview

6
Conclusion: modernisation, conflict, culture and religious liberty

Our study so far has focused on the place of religion in the life of transitional societies. To that end we have explored two issues: the extent to which ‘traditional’ or ‘national’ religious communities are granted a formal status in the new constitutional and legal order, and how these states handle the issue of religious pluralism. Clearly the issue of constitutional recognition has been more important in some of our cases than in others, and in the Greek case the very overt legal privileging of the Orthodox Church was something that had nothing to do with transition and was inherited from an earlier period. Though some politicians questioned the appropriateness of such definitions during the constitutional debates of the mid-1970s and there have been occasional attempts to raise the question of separation since that time, at present the close formal ties of church and state look set to remain well into the twentyfirst century. For the other Orthodox or ‘Oriental’ churches, and indeed for the Muslim countries discussed briefly here, the issue of constitutional status as such has generally proved unimportant. Instead, the issue of ‘recognition’ has come to the fore in discussion of separate laws on religion emerging, with the exception of the Armenian case, in the late 1990s. In Russia, Bulgaria, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, laws or legal drafts have attempted to carve out a special role for ‘traditional’ religious groups and, to varying degrees, grant them greater rights than those accorded to religious communities categorised as ‘non-traditional’. This ‘privileging’ of the dominant religions has been justified in terms of their national status, contribution to historical development, the need to protect them against unfair competition, and with reference to wider debates about how best to pursue the nation-building process.

Only in our two Catholic cases, Spain and Poland, did the constitutional issue acquire a considerable political salience, as in both cases the Roman Catholic Church fought against its exclusion from the public sphere. In Spain the church simply demanded recognition of its status as the church of the majority, whereas in Poland the hierarchy sought a more extensive national commitment to Christian values and argued

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