The post-Soviet Challenge: Emerging Religious Diversity

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The Hill of Crosses, Lithuania. Source: dailymail.co.uk

How does Lithuania cope with an emerging religious diversity after regaining its independence? That is one of the questions Dr. Milda Alisauskiene,  Professor of Sociology at Vytautas Magnus University, raised in a podcast from  a series “The Religious Studies Project“.

Dr. Alisauskiene discussed also dynamics between the Catholic Church and the communist authorities in the Soviet-occupied Lithuania, but also some current developments regarding the Lithuanian religiosity.

By the way, I happened to write a review of the book edited by M. Alisauskiene and I. Shroeder “Religious Diversity in Post-Soviet Society. Ethnographies of Catholic Hegemony and the New Pluralism in Lithuania”.

The Catholic Church for the Lithuanian national identity 

Dr Alisauskiene noted the Church took part in the Lithuanian national awakening and identity building at the end of 18th century. This can certainly resemble developments in Poland, where Catholicism has been strongly intertwined with the national identity. However, she argues that Lithuanian religious symbolism, forms of religiosity differ from Polish.

In her view the communist ideas had more significant impact on the Roman Catholic Church in Lithuania rather than in Poland, as the country constituted a part of the Soviet Union. The life style in Poland was more individualistic, also the rural communities kept the religious life more vibrant, she further noted.

The “Western Spies” among us: Catholics and Protestants?

The Catholic priests started documenting the acts of the state’s oppression in underground “Chronicle of the Catholic Church in Lithuania”, published at homes. She also explained why we should be cautious about the data on religiosity from the Soviet times – people were afraid of discussing such issues openly.

Interestingly, Dr. Alisauskiene noted that the Soviet authorities perceived both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants with suspicion, particularly because of their clearly Western roots.

Also, with regards to Protestants the authorities even attempted to force Pentecostals and Baptists to become one church, which created some confusion among the believers.

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“Religious Diversity in Post-Soviet Society” ed. by M. Alisauskiene and I. Shroeder

Actually, when piloting my research in Belarus earlier this summer I heard a lot from my interviewees that the authorities remained suspicious towards them as they saw Protestants as the Western (American?) spies.

Also, apparently the Belarusian authorities seem to be cautious of them due to Protestants’ Western networks and their cultural identity.It seems to me that such suspicion and distrust have simply been a legacy of the Soviet politics vis-a-vis religious groups in the Soviet Belarus.

The post-Soviet challenge in Lithuania: emerging religious diversity

Along with proclaiming independent Lithuania, religious has come back to the public sphere, Dr. Alisauskiene notes. The changing political climate facilitated emergence of religious diversity in the society, thus challenging the hegemonic position of the Catholic Church.

The society and the authorities had to recognize the other religious minorities and work out a policy towards them. Actually, the situation similar to some other post-Soviet and post-communist societies, like Belarus and Ukraine. However, here the local Orthodox Churches played the significant role.

Further reading: Alisauskiene, M., Shroeder, I. W. (eds.) (2012) Religious Diversity in post-Soviet Society: Ethnographies of Catholic Hegemony and the New Pluralism in Lithuania. Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate Pub.

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