Religion in the Public Sphere in Central and Eastern Europe

by Zdzislaw Mach (Volume editor) Emilia Moddelmog-Anweiler (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection 356 Pages


This volume presents the outcomes of qualitative research on the meaning of religion in selected CEE regions. In several case studies, we reveal some features of social perception of religion present in verbalized and institutionalized social experiences and practices. We argue these societies develop their own social model of religion, which seems to be largely based on cultural, religious, and historical schemes dating back to the Habsburg Monarchy. They locate religious identity on a continuum with civic identity. Historical diversity may be endorsed as “traditional pluralism” while equality and tolerance is considered unnecessary. Capturing contradicting images of historical and contemporary pluralism may offer new insight into the puzzle of religion and politics in the CEE region.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Religious identities and religious pluralism in Central/Eastern Europe (Emilia Moddelmog-Anweiler and Zdzisław Mach)
  • The relationship between Church and State and religious multiplicity in Central and Eastern Europe: A historical and legal perspective (Irena Głuszyńska)
  • The law governing the relationship between the state and the Church in Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine (Irena Głuszyńska)
  • Religion in Western Ukraine: History and present times (Bohdan Hud)
  • Religion in the Polish political debates: Stances adopted by the major political actors (Magdalena Kozub-Karkut and Artur Skorek)
  • Religious symbols in public places and the teaching of religion in schools in Poland: An analysis of the media discourse (Dagmara Głuszek-Szafraniec)
  • The Polish in vitro discourse as a “second debate on abortion:” Sociological discourse analysis (Magdalena Kozub-Karkut)
  • Religious issues in the political discourse: Parliamentary debates on civil unions and the public funding of religious institutions (Artur Skorek)
  • Religious issues in the “Good Change” political campaign of the Law and Justice party (Artur Skorek)
  • A model example or complicated cooperation? Ecumenical dialogue as a local narrative on religious pluralism in the region of Cieszyn Silesia (Emilia Moddelmog-Anweiler)
  • Religious pluralism in Cieszyn Silesia: The coverage of religious communities in regional magazine Głos Ziemi Cieszyńskiej (Dagmara Głuszek-Szafraniec)
  • The specificity of the Church-state relationship model in Central/Eastern Europe (Emilia Moddelmog-Anweiler)
  • Conclusions
  • Series Index

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The texts presented in this volume are the result of the research project “Religion in the public sphere. Religious identities in the multireligious regions of Central Eastern Europe, the case of Poland, Ukraine and Slovakia” supported by the National Science Centre in Poland (funding programme OPUS V, registration number 2013/09/B/HS6/03076) and carried out in the years 2014–2016.

Words of thanks are owed to experts in the field of the public sphere: prof. Maria Marczewska-Rytko and prof. Wojciech Misztal (Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Poland), dr Jan Olbrycht (MEP European Parliament), and experts on religion and Church(es) in selected regions of Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine: prof. Janusz Mariański (Catholic University in Lublin, Poland), and prof. Pavol Dancák (Preŝov University, Slovakia) who shared their valuable comments and furthermore took part in the conference that concluded the project. Last but not least we would like to thank all of the researchers who took part in the project and all of those met along the way, especially at the 4th International Religious Studies Congress in Gdynia, who contributed with their insight and constructive criticisms.

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Religion continues to be one of the most important phenomena in contemporary European society, and a focus of attention for the social sciences. It is still a powerful factor determining the choices of millions of Europeans, answering as it does the most fundamental question, especially at critical moments in people’s lives. Religiosity in its various forms is studied as an aspect of culture without which our understanding of society would be incomplete. Religious institutions, established churches, and minority organisations constitute a significant aspect of European social and cultural pluralism. It also has great political significance. The role of religion in the public sphere and the public space remains an issue over which a number of controversies have developed, in recent years as well as in the country’s past, despite the increasing secularisation of European societies. An argument over the direct reference to Christianity in the preambles to EU treaties, or a conflict over the presence of religious symbols in the public space in France constitute examples of a kind of problem discussed in Europe on a daily basis and which have a tendency to generate strong emotions.

As it is generally known, European societies greatly differ as far as religious matters are concerned. For some, religiosity has been largely reduced to the private sphere, while it remains public to a significant extent in others. Churches hold differing positions with regard to their legal status, political involvement, and influence on people’s way of life. Migration makes the reality of religion in European societies even more complex; in some countries, religious pluralism has become an essential aspect of multiculturalism with all its social, cultural, and political implications. Other countries resist multiculturalism and the immigration of “religious others,” and religious institutions play a role in this negative attitude towards the plurality of faith and confession. It is now perhaps evident that the modern theory of increasing secularisation has not been fully confirmed and that religion is and will continue to be present in European societies, albeit in changing relationship with society, its culture, and its political organisation.

Central and Eastern Europe, for several decades of communist domination largely isolated from the civilizational processes encountered in the West, has recently passed through a rapid process of modernisation since the fall of communism in 1989. In many ways, this is a region that lags behind the West in matters of cultural change and which is trying to catch up with the dominant, Western part of Europe. Even if communism reduced and, in some countries, largely eliminated the presence of religion in public life – in the media, in ←9 | 10→education, and in the public space, traditional religiosity remained present in society, while in some countries, notably in Poland, the Catholic Church even strengthened its position as a powerful influence on society and as a public authority, itself recognized by the communist regime. After 1989 a different expectation was expressed regarding the future situation of religion in CEE – some expected continuity of secularisation, this time no longer imposed by the regime but developing as a consequence of individualisation and modernisation. Others predicted the return of traditional religion and its role in society as a pendulum reaction after the imposed secularity under communism and expected Churches to regain their power in society and politics. It is also worth mentioning that in very recent years Central/Eastern Europe has experienced a rise in populism and a “democratic backslide.” These developments, which are reactions to modernity, globalisation, and European integration, seem to be connected with a growth in traditionalism, a return to what is seen as traditional values expected to provide people with direction in life and simple answers to difficult questions. Traditional religious beliefs and practices, even radical, fundamentalist versions of Christianity, are part of this tendency, which adds to the importance of religion and religion-related issues, all of which ought to be studied and understood.

The present volume is an attempt to discuss he current presence of religion, religiosity and religious institutions in Central and Eastern Europe. A particular focus is placed here on one region of CEE, which historically used to be politically part of the Habsburg, Austro-Hungarian Empire and which now is divided into three states: Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Two of these countries are members of the European Union, while Ukraine has an associated membership and strong aspirations to join the EU. The whole region went through a process of rapid modernisation after 1989 to rid themselves of the legacy of communism, and to build the foundations of liberal democracy and the market economy. The region is also characterised by its historical religious pluralism – the presence in the past of many ethnic communities which practised different religions – Christian denominations, and Judaism. This tradition of religious plurality is now challenged by, on the one hand, globalisation, modernisation and secularisation, and on the other individualisation and the principle of free individual choice, which embraces all dimensions of life, including faith and religious practice. At the same time, the regions are in the process of searching for their own new, modern collective identity in the broader context of national and European societies. Tradition, cultural heritage, and religion play a very significant role in this process.

The empirical data presented in this volume is a result of a research project sponsored by the Polish National Centre of Science -NCN (OPUS 5, No. 2013/←10 | 11→09/B/HS6/03076), and carried out in the years 2014–2016. The project covered three regions: in Poland (Cieszyn Silesia), in Slovakia (Central Slovakia-Preszov Oblast) and Western Ukraine (Lviv Oblast). All of the authors of this book are members of the project team. Most of the data come from Poland, partly as a result of the composition of the team and the practical circumstances within which the research was done, but also because of the scale and complexity of the phenomena and processes which are developing in Poland in direct relation to religion, not only locally but also at a national level. Unfortunately, in the end, it proved to be impossible to secure a chapter devoted exclusively to Slovakia, while other chapters frequently refer to Slovakia as well as to Ukraine and Poland.

The main question asked in the book concerns the role of religion in European society, with particular attention to Central/Eastern Europe and to those regions which have a tradition of religious plurality. The authors sought to diagnose the current situation in the region as regarded religious freedom, the scale and forms of religious participation, and the role of religion in its institutional form in public life, including in the media and in politics at both national and local levels. Other questions which the authors attempt to answer refer directly to the specific region in which the empirical, qualitative research was carried out. As mentioned above, the region was in the past characterised by a kind of traditional religious pluralism, based on ethnic division. The question was if in the present conditions of democracy and freedom of choice the local communities would develop a new, modern kind of individualised, cosmopolitan pluralism based on individual choice and individual construction of cultural identity, or the previous, traditional kind of pluralism would be reconstructed. What is the meaning of religious freedom, democracy, and the right to choose for those inhabitants of the region who are conscious of, and often proud of their pluralistic, multireligious heritage?

The book begins with a chapter entitled “Religious Identities and Religious Pluralism in Central/Eastern Europe,” which provides an overview of the present situation of religion and religiosity in the region, with special attention paid to pluralism and the construction of collective identity. There then follow two chapters devoted to the legal conditions of religion and Churches in CEE: one, entitled “The relationship between Church and State and religious multiplicity in Central and Eastern Europe. A historical and legal perspective” deals mainly with the historical background, while the second, “The Law Governing the Relationship between the State and the Church in Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine” presents the current legal norms and processes. These are followed by a chapter on Ukraine (“Religion in Western Ukraine: History and present times”). This is succeeded by five chapters that focus on various aspects of the present situation ←11 | 12→of religion in the public sphere and the public space in Poland, as well as the current public, political debates in which religion and religious values play a crucial role. These are: “Religion in the Polish political debates: Stances adopted by the major political actors,” “Religious symbols in public places and the teaching of religion in schools in Poland. An analysis of the media discourse,” “The Polish in vitro discourse as a “second debate on abortion:” Sociological discourse analysis,” “Religious issues in the political discourse. Parliamentary debates on civil unions and the public funding of religious institutions,” and “Religious issues in the “Good Change” political campaign of the Law and Justice Party.” Two later chapters are devoted to the region of Cieszyn Silesia and to those processes which are specific to what is a region of historically rooted religious pluralism now facing the twin modern challenges of democracy and individualism. These are: “A model example or complicated cooperation? Ecumenical dialogue as a local narrative on religious pluralism in the region of Cieszyn Silesia” and “Religious pluralism in Cieszyn Silesia. The coverage of religious communities in regional magazine Głos Ziemi Cieszyńskiej.” The book concludes with an article entitled “The specificity of the model of Church-state relationships in Central/Eastern Europe.”

The authors and editors of the volume are aware that there is a lot that has been done in the field of the current challenges and changes in the realm of religion in post-communist societies and that even more needs still to be done. It is also clear that this volume has its limitations, particularly concerning how the articles are proportioned at the national and regional levels. However, that which was done in the research project, the results presented here, were all that could be accomplished. We hope that this book will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of the ways in which religious pluralism is developing in Europe, specifically in its post-communist region, and in a region which has its history and which must at present deal with the challenges brought to it by social, political, and economic transformation, openness, and European integration.

Emilia Moddelmog-Anweiler

Zdzisław Mach

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Emilia Moddelmog-Anweiler and Zdzisław Mach

Religious identities and religious pluralism in Central/Eastern Europe

Abstract: Religious identities and the way religion is present in the social life of Central and Eastern European countries have long been described by researchers as specific. Many researchers point to the specificity of the state-Church relationship in this part of Europe, multireligious heritage, cultural religiosity, the authority of the religious tradition. Religion for Central Europeans is also important in the context of national identity and is perceived as expression of moral judgments and collective identity in political disputes. In this chapter, we present the specificity of the meaning of religion in the societies of selected CEE religions in Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine. On the basis of qualitative research, we show the socio-cultural rules of the religion-politics relationship, which seem to be largely based on historical patterns dating back to the Habsburg Monarchy. We argue that these societies develop their own patterns of manifesting ties with religion, which seem to be largely based on cultural religion and historical schemes. The latter locate religious identity on specific continuum with civic identity. A particularly important observation is the conceptualisation of religious pluralism which is based on negotiating historical pluralism with contemporary pluralism ideas brought with democratisation and Europeanisation during the last decades. In the researched regions the historical diversity is endorsed as “traditional pluralism” where “the prevailing” and “national” is expected to be supported by the state and also visibly dominant in terms of professed values and public and media display. Enhancing equality and tolerance is largely considered unnecessary. It is a perspective that may harmonize with the perceptions of more conservative and national circles and some populist sentiments

Keywords: religious identity, Central and Eastern Europe, traditional pluralism, democracy


After 1989, religion in Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine took on new and different importance. With the transition to democracy and the market economy, changes occurred in the status of religion. On the one hand, religion became publicly accepted and endorsed as both a collective identity and as a national heritage, and on the other hand, it became a matter of private choice for individuals and part of their civic freedom. This change demanded adjustment not only at the level of the legal framework and institutions but also a new understanding of the role and place of religion in society, as well as the development of the new ←13 | 14→social “rules of the game” in terms of religious diversity and religious freedom. The religious diversity that existed after the Second World War in Central/Eastern Europe has since changed in many ways; however, knowledge, attitudes, and imaginations related to religion remained in many ways “frozen” in history. Religious identity in the post-communist countries of the region turned out to be a complex issue. Personal choices and individual life-stories revealed incompatibilities with Church teaching, the traditional way of life, and the historical narrative of national and religious values. At the same time religion began to appear in the public space in the ceremonial (heritage), cultural (custom) and political (Churches as public actors) contexts. Religion began to be meaningful as individual and collective identification publicly manifested and privately lived, defined culturally and reflected personally. In all of these senses, it started to be an important theme within public life and was reinterpreted on various levels of social interaction and public life.

In this chapter we will discuss the outcomes of the qualitative studies conducted on the main topic of the project, that is the specificity of the place of religion in the public sphere of Central/Eastern European societies. In our opinion, this specificity concerns the social meanings of religious identity under the conditions of religious pluralism, which is set at the heart of the liberal framework of democracy. As has been described in numerous studies of pluralism in the region, the descriptive and normative senses of the plurality of religions in the new democracies of the region seem to mark a gap in social research on the issue (Nespor 2008, Tomka 2006, 2011a, 2011b, Beckford 2014, Borowik 2009). Religious pluralism is “easy to identify and easy to find empirically” (Borowik, Doktór 2001) simply because of the presence of different historical, denominational, and newly-founded religious groups and Churches (even if they manifest their identities publicly only very little, or not at all). There is also a functioning legal framework based on the pattern of liberal democracy. This empirical evidence is however not compatible or parallel to the shared visions, social attitudes, and attendant social practice regarding religious identity and plurality within these societies (Ališauskiene, Schröder 2012, Pasieka 2015a, 2015b, Zrinščak 2011, Zielińska 2018). Although the legal framework organizing the relationship between Churches and the state, the recognition of historical religious minorities, and formal religious freedom is implemented, it seems that the idea of a pluralistic society is perceived as a formally accepted standard (associated mainly with European ideas such as “unity in diversity”) that is to be found in the law and the language of officials, rather than as a binding norm that can be observed in everyday social interactions. “Re-thinking religious pluralism” (Beckford 2014) in social research requires distinguishing pluralism ←14 | 15→and diversity in various contexts: the legal, cultural, and social. In CEE countries this issue today also concerns political divisions and the language of public debate since both the ideas of the pluralistic society and diversity have here their local and social meanings, constructed in the context of national history and the history of the processes of transformation, economic and cultural changes, European integration, and the ongoing debate on collective identity in these countries. Religious pluralism is in this context especially interesting since it is welcomed as a principle, seen as it is an element of religious freedom, while it is also limited because religious boundaries are markers of collective identity. The social meanings of religious pluralism seem to float between these two motivations expressed by everyday people, politicians, and representatives of religious institutions.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (July)
religion identity Central Eastern Europe pluralism public sphere church-state relations
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 356 pp., 16 fig. b/w, 7 tables.

Biographical notes

Zdzislaw Mach (Volume editor) Emilia Moddelmog-Anweiler (Volume editor)

Zdzisław Mach is Professor of Sociology and the founder of the Institute for European Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. His research interests cover identity issues of nationalism, minorities and ethnicity, (re)constructions of identities, religion and politics in Central-Eastern Europe. Emilia Moddelmog-Anweiler is researcher at the Institute of European Studies at the Jagiellonian University. Her research interests include issues of social and cultural identities, religion and public discourses in Central Eastern Europe, European politics and migration.


Title: Religion in the Public Sphere in Central and Eastern Europe
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358 pages