Religion and Civil Society

To facilitate comparison and contribute to an overall picture of the postsocialist religious landscape, all researchers are expected, in addition to the specific concerns of their own project, to gather at least basic data on the following subjects:

Religious practices in the socialist period - how are they remembered, for different periods and for different social groups?
Recent legislative changes - what is the legal status of religious congregations? Are they all treated alike? Is it necessary to register? What exactly are the criteria applied?
International aspects - do people look abroad for their models of proper religious practice? What new religious currents have appeared on the national scene in the postsocialist period? How do people perceive them, and explain their relative success or failure?
How far can religious observances of all kinds be linked to changing socio-economic conditions? Which marginalized elements take refuge in organized religion? Do they also have more diffuse recourse to religion outside organized congregations?
Is religion in general, a force promoting positive or at least negative tolerance in postsocialist societies? Are some of its organized currents more conductive to 'civil society' than others?

The historical pilgrimage centre of Türkistan in southern Kazakhstan has experienced a resurgence of religious activity in the postsocialist years; the main mausoleum has undergone major construction work, largely financed by Islamic pious foundations in Turkey.
A Russian Orthodox church and a large monument to Lenin that dominated a central square are two contrasting signs of Russia's historical impact on the city of Bishkek, capital of predominantly Muslim Kyrgyzstan. The National History Museum, visible behind the Lenin statue, still devotes as much space to the myths and heroes of Marxism-Leninism as it does to Kyrgyz ethnic traditions (these photos were taken in April 2003, but the Lenin statue was removed overnight and without consultation in August 2003).
A Russian Orthodox church and a large monument to Lenin that dominated a central square are two contrasting signs of Russia's historical impact on the city of Bishkek, capital of predominantly Muslim Kyrgyzstan. The National History Museum, visible behind the Lenin statue, still devotes as much space to the myths and heroes of Marxism-Leninism as it does to Kyrgyz ethnic traditions (these photos were taken in April 2003, but the Lenin statue was removed overnight and without consultation in August 2003).

Whereas data on this last topic may be pertinent to several projects under way in Department I of this Institute ("Integration and Conflict"), the data on the legal status will be pertinent to work in the project group on legal pluralism. In the latter case we do not assume that changes in state law have necessarily worked through to other levels; several of our projects will investigate how local officials, both religious and secular, may counter or undermine the ideals, in both religious and secular law, which they are formally required to support and enforce.
In addition to contributing to postsocialist studies and several branches of anthropology, these projects will address numerous issues of still wider concern in the social and political sciences, among them how to define "civil society" and "public sphere"; and how to reconcile religious human rights with respect for traditions and the need to maintain social cohesion. Finally, the postsocialist countries may be an instructive setting in which to revisit the concept of "civil religion".

Go to Editor View