Religion in Eastern Europe, especially in Orthodox nations, is likely to have a growing influence in forming new national identities, according to sociologist Irena Borowik. With the fall of communist ideologies and the impact of globalization, Eastern European countries are experiencing a rapid change in their identities.
This is the major difference with Western Europe, where identity problems are not as urgent, writes Borowik inSocial Compass (June). She notes similarities in the shape of religiosity both in Western and Eastern Europe (low level of attendance, selectivity of beliefs and practices, etc.): however, in the latter countries, even for people who are only nominally affiliated, religion has a much stronger impact in forming new, specific identities, since there are few other sources of ideological support.
Orthodox Churches face pressing problems: internal splits, disagreements over property, lack of personnel, low levels of education, and competition with other religions. Despite those difficulties, religion in Eastern Europe offers tools for reconstructing individual, national, cultural and political identities. According to Borowik, the need is especially acute where the communist myth was strongest, i.e. in the Soviet Union. In a changing world, Orthodoxy may assist Russia in reasserting its role as the “central nation” as was the case during communist times, although on different terms.
More generally, Orthodoxy helps countries where the faith used to be dominant to create distinctive political identities. In this context, different national projects do sometimes clash: such is the case in Ukraine, where Ukrainian Orthodox autonomy (or autocephaly) has been used for a long time to assert independence from Russia.
(Social Compass, Sage Publications, 1 Oliver‘s Yard, 55 City Rd., London EC1Y 1SP, UK)
— By Jean-Francois Mayer