Revival of Religious Discourse in Belarus?

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The ad of the exhibition “Belarus: the Revival of Spirituality”

This autumn seems really hectic when it comes to religion-related events in the region. The current hot item is the decision of the Constantinople Bartholomew to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. I will comment upon this in the next post, but now let’s see what has recently happened in Belarus.

Two important events have recently taken place in Minsk, which proves, I think, that there might be a shift in the official religious discourse; first, “Belarus: the Revival of Spirituality”, an exhibition at the National Historical Museum; and second, “Belarus and the Bible”, the large event organised at the National Library.

Interestingly, the data on religiosity demonstrate that Belarusians are not particularly observant, although quite many of them declare belief in God (84% of respondents according to Pew Research Center’s 2017 report). At the same time, only small numbers of them say they pray, or attend the Sunday service for that matter.  Thus the question which springs to mind is what lies behind this recent outbreak of a religious discourse in Belarus? Is there a demand for the narrative which presents a distinctive historical and religious legacy of Belarusians?

Revival of spirituality or a discourse on spirituality?

When I saw the ad of the exhibition “Belarus: the Revival of Spirituality” at the Historical Museum, I knew this was a must-see for me. Just looking at it, two thoughts sprang to my mind.

First, I assumed it would present how religion (!) has been revived among Belarusians these days. It turned out, however, that it was more about the development of various forms of “spirituality” on Belarusian lands over the history. The whole story began with traditionally embroidered folk clothes worn by Belarusians. As I understood, the authors wanted to say that the traditional clothes played a role in forming a distinct identity of Belarusians.

My second assumption turned wrong too. I imagined that the leading role of Eastern Orthodoxy and, especially, the role of the Russian Orthodox Church would be significantly emphasised. In fact, what surprised me a lot,  the historical presence of Protestant communities on Belarusian lands has been emphasised too. In other words – it was not mono-thematic.

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Traditional embroidered clothes

It is definitely worth visiting the museum to see the exhibition. Yet, since there is no lift, staff not particularly enthusiastic to assist, and it is located on the highest floor, it might be tricky to access for disabled persons or mothers with pushchairs (as it was in my case).

Discussing the role of the Bible for Belarusians

The second event, “Belarus and the Bible, is of much higher calibre. It has become a major event of 2018, when celebrations of the translation of the Bible by Francišak Skaryna have been taking place. It has been accompanied by strong academic elements – roundtables and open lectures.

Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to see it with my own eyes, but just followed it on social media. It seems that thousands of ordinary Belarusians attended it, not just a bunch of enthusiastic domestic and foreign scholars of the Bible.

Interestingly, the state has promoted the event (for example, the state media). Perhaps it heralds the shift in the current official narrative on religion. In any event, it looks interesting especially in the present context – when the news on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church make the public opinion red-hot.

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