Anna Krasteva is a political scientist and Professor at the New Bulgarian University, Sofia. Her main fields of study are immigration and refugees, ethnicity and citizenship, as well as political discourse. This publication is based upon an empirical study which was carried out by her and a team of PhD students as part of a large research project, “Religion and the Public Sphere. Interdisciplinary Approaches”, funded by the Ministry of Education and Science of Bulgaria.
Рецензия на ‘Еластичен пост-секуларизъм’, С: Фондация Медийна демокрация, 2014 ОТ Plamen Makariev . – Southeastern Europe, 2017, vol. 41, N 1, 79-81.
The book provides an insightful analysis of an extremely complicated and puzzling phenomenon – the return of the public role of religion in postcommunist Bulgaria. Certain obvious traits of this development demonstrate that it is quite different from the postsecularization processes in West-European and North American countries. That is why original research is needed in order to explain and better understand the events of this sort that are taking place in Bulgaria and in other postcommunist societies, as well as to draw conclusions about possible policies which would help the advancement of democracy in them. Krasteva’s monograph is of great interest for anybody who is trying to make sense of the postcommunist development of Bulgarian society. This is particularly true for foreign scholars and consequently a translation of the text into English is highly recommendable.
In most general terms, Krasteva’s research targets a phenomenon which she calls “postcommunist postsecularism” and which, in her opinion, consists in the politicization of religion and “religionization” of politics. The crux of the book is the presentation and analysis of the various patterns in which these processes take place. The subject matter of the empirical research are the positions and the activities of the big political parties in Bulgaria in regard to the role of religion in Bulgarian society. They have been studied by means of analysis of media publications and by interviews with representatives of political parties.
The book consists of a short introduction, twelve chapters, and a conclusion. Regarding their content the chapters can be distributed into three types. The first four ones are primarily theoretical. The terms “secularism”, “desecularization”, “postsecularization” are introduced briefly but fairly comprehensively. The author formulates and substantiates her thesis that the postcommunist status of religion in Bulgaria can be characterized as politicization of religion and religionization of politics. The next four chapters refer to political opinions in Bulgaria about general issues related to the political status of religion. They are studied by means of analysis of media publications and of interviews with political activists. Several themes, important in this respect, are discussed: the specific position of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in regard of social and political life (more specifically, the prioritization of the spiritual functions of religion at the expense of its social duties); the political discourses concerning the other denominations in Bulgaria – Muslims, Protestants, Catholics; and the attempts of nationalist political formations to use the East-Orthodox Christianity for their purposes. The final four chapters are in fact case studies. The author analyzes the discourses related to: the split of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (1992 – 2012); a court suit against thirteen Islamic religious activists (most of them imams) which took place in 2012 – 2014 in Pazardzhik; the teaching of religion at school; and finally, a Bulgarian version of the head-scarf affair. In the conclusion Krasteva proposes and substantiates the formulation “elastic postsecularism” as most adequately capturing the complex, and in many cases self-contradictory, nature of the public role of religion in postcommunist Bulgaria.
To the best of my knowledge, Krasteva’s study is the first one to comprehensively analyze the public communication “mechanisms” of negotiating, legitimating and contesting the status of religion in contemporary Bulgarian society. Combining an up to date theoretical methodology and reliable first-hand empirical information (the interviews were conducted by the author’s research team under her guidance), this is a piece of high quality scholarship. Focused on the study of political discourses regarding the status of religion in postcommunist societies, this publication is an important contribution to the research on religion in Southeastern Europe.
Concerning possible directions for further development of Krasteva’s work in this field, on the one hand I would recommend a clearer differentiation of its descriptive elements, and its evaluative and normative ones, on the other. Had this been a mere descriptive revealing of the discourse strategies applied by the various participants in the public communication concerning the politicization of religion and religionization of politics in Bulgaria, there would have been no methodological problem. However, at least in my opinion, there are substantial evaluative and normative moments in the study (especially concerning the critique of the instrumentalization of religion by the former communist regime and by the present nationalist political formations). If this is the case, then a demarcation line needs to be drawn between claims and argumentations which aim at granting to religion its due (according to the opinion of the respective “speaker”) place in political life, and the manipulative discourses of “zweckrational” (in Weber’s sense) type.
The logic of discourses which are a “product” of intrinsic motivation of the participants is quite different from the one of the discourses which are extrinsically motivated. In the latter instance “anything goes”. So, in such a case the following question should be discussed: to what extent and in what respect is the “elasticity” of postcommunist postsecularism due to real divergence of the views of the participants in public debates about the due role of religion in political life and to what extent and in what respect to the “monkey business” of cynical players on the Bulgarian political stage.
Of course, it is not realistic to expect that a single volume can fulfill such a task. However, to bring this issue to the fore would by itself play the role of a “regulative idea” (in Kant’s sense) in regard of public meta-discussions on this matter. Actually, the prompt public reaction on the internet by professional scholars, as well as by active citizens, to the publication of Krasteva’s book has demonstrated that it has already significantly influenced the “hearts and minds” of the participants in the discourses that have been studied by the author. And this effect is in itself a clear evidence of the “Elastic (Post)secularism”’s merits.
Prof. Dr Plamen Makariev, Sofia University, Faculty of Philosophy