Home Religion Religions and Migrations in the Black Sea Region
Religion and Migration
It has become widely accepted that a comprehensive definition of ‘religion’ can hardly be proffered. Etymologically one can trace the term back to four Latin verbs: relegere, religare, reeligere and relinquere. These four verbs influence scholars’ approaches to the meaning and claims of religion. So, religion may be defined as a reading over of phenomena pertaining to the worship of God (relegere). It could be interpreted as a bond (religare) which binds the human world with the spiritual one. It could signify the choice human beings are called to make to re-enter into a relationship with the Creator (reeligere). And last but not least, religion could be seen as an act of rejecting certain aspects of this world (relinquere) in order to wilfully submit to God’s will. While these etymological definitions are important, they expressly link ‘religion’ with a Western tradition of Christianity and thus are far from sufficient for anyone who seeks an understanding of the meaning of ‘religion’ as a global concept (see also King 1999).
According to Robert Scott Appleby, “religion is the human response to a reality perceived as sacred” (2000, 8-9). Appleby further elaborates: “Most find their religious bearings and spiritual resources in a multigenerational religious community grounded in a distinctive and encompassing tradition (“that which has been passed down from our forebears” [from the Latin traditio, “to pass along or hand over”]). It has been noted that the term ‘religion’ was not one that was frequently used, even by Christians, until the Enlightenment’s deployment of the secular/religious distinction. Before the Enlightenment, the terms ‘faith’ and ‘tradition’ were more commonly used. The 1648 Peace of Westphalia is often cited as the beginning of a secularism in Europe. Paradoxically, the religious wars that had raged through Europe up until that point were also wars of state building that led to the consolidation of national sentiment. The Peace of Westphalia by no means meant the immediate prevalence of a secular approach to the public sphere: rather, it was followed by a mixture of forced conversion, legal sanctions against religious minorities and forced relocations of peoples. If there was a gradual advance of institutional secularism, this was prompted by the rationalising effects of science, capitalism and social movements.
The secular/religious dichotomy has been the Enlightenment’s legacy on Western thought. Yet it is not at all clear what this distinction demarcates. One interpretation of secularism is that it refers to the principle of state neutrality: in other words, the belief that public institutions should be unfettered by influences that privilege particular religions and faiths. According to this interpretation, secularism continues a tradition of differentiating church and state that existed for centuries in the Christian West. According to another view, however, secularism implies that people in the modern world make sense of their existence only through reference to the non-metaphysical world. During the 1970s, most sociologists and political theorists were convinced that modern societies were undergoing a process of secularisation. This did not mean that sociologists expected religion to disappear, but rather that most anticipated an increasing relegation of religion to the private sphere. For Peter Berger (1967), for instance, religious institutions were expected to undergo a process of internal secularisation taking on market characteristics of pluralism, choice, and privatisation. Individuals would gradually be exposed to many religious world views, and thus would be able to choose among competitors in a religious market situation according to individual preferences.
In order to better understand the provenance of various brands of the secularisation thesis, one has to consider how social scientific understandings of religion were and still are informed by basic philosophical ideas about Western modernity, the course of history, and the place of human beings in this world. The process of transition from a dominant ‘religious paradigm’ to a ‘secular one’ was long. According to Ivan Strenski (2006, 1-7), the sixteenth century marked the emergence of a more scientific approach to deity and religion, which culminated in the nineteenth century. Eduard Burnett Tylor (1958) and James Frazer (1933) undertook an intellectual quest regarding the origin of religion and its universal significance. For example, Frazer approached religion as “a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and human life” (1933, 58-59). These ideas treated religion as part of the human need to understand the world, which was first approached through animism and magic, then through polytheistic and monotheistic religion, and finally through science.
Three modern philosophers had the strongest impact on Western thought about religion and society: Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. These predominant theories of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sealed for many years the anthropological, and not only, research among different cultures and societies in a variety of ways. Moreover, they put the premises for different approaches towards religions and religious phenomena in different societies.
Going against this evolutionary determinism, Emile Durkheim (1912) stressed the function of religion as coherent factor for social solidarity but also underlined its symbolic salience through the demarcation between the sacred and the profane. He defined religion as (Ibid, 44) “a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set aside and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church”. For Durkheim, too, religion is replaced as civilisation progresses. Yet, here the role of religion is distinct. According to Durkheim, what distinguishes human beings is their double nature: they are made of body and soul. The body is driven by egoistic natural drives and desires, while the soul is social and moral. The task of society is to harness people’s egoistic drives and create a community of moral agents. Morality is instilled through shared beliefs and here religion holds a primary function, for through religious doctrine and ritual a sense of morality and responsibility is born. However, as science progresses, scientific knowledge becomes a quasi-religion itself, offering world-creating views and shared principles.
In 1930, Max Weber postulated the significance of Protestantism on the development of capitalism. For Weber (1930), religion becomes a private attempt to address the stifling effect of an over-controlled social system. Western bureaucracy controls and manages almost every aspect of human experience according to secular, utilitarian principles. In this rationalist system of social policing and internalised self-control, religion has been ousted from the public sphere. Instead, religion has become a private choice for those who seek a way of responding with morality and dignity to capitalist disenchantment and secularisation.
As opposed to this positive functionalism, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels between 1841(2012) and 1846 pinpointed the ideological aspects of religion as part of the dominant-class ruling principles. In less advanced socio-economic stages, religion expresses people’s lack of understanding of and control over nature. In more advanced stages, religion distorts people’s appreciation of social inequality through its promise of the transcendental power of God. Religions prevent social change by encouraging the lower classes to submit to society’s exploiting class structures in the promise of compensation after death. Thus for Marx, once capitalism would be overturned, religion would disappear and people would be able to understand and control society rationally. For Marx, religion is human beings’ response to the mysteriousness of nature. The ideas of these three philosophers may have been each very distinct, yet they shared a uni- versalist outlook and sealed the emergence of various disciplines of the nineteenth century in terms of their understanding of the religious. For example, Bronislaw Malinowski (1954) developed a socio-psychological approach in which religion served the social order of things. Claude Levi- Strauss’ (1963) mythic and symbolic take underlined the role of religion in societies as a way in order to renegotiate social or ideological oppositions.
Through the 1970s, empirical evidence of Western secularisation was perceived in abundance: religion was losing power within political institutions; there was a decline in church attendance and congregations were ageing. Such processes were often deemed as a necessary parameter of modernisation. Debates about the meaning and function of religion ensued. In the 1970s, Clifford Geertz’s seminal work in Bali shifted the paradigm for the discipline. He tried to fuse the sacred with the everyday, faith with authority and religion with culture. In his much acclaimed definition, he identified the following characteristics as integral to religion (1973, 90):
(1) a system of symbols which act to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.
However, even this more holistic definition of religion did not take up issues of power and how the latter shaped religious practices, discourses and their representations. Talal Asad challenged such cultural approaches to religion in his 1993 essay The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category and claimed that “there cannot be a universal definition of religion, not only because its constituent elements and relationships are historically specific, but because that definition is itself the historical product of discursive processes” (29). The influences of poststructuralism are clearly discernible in Asad’s thesis. Gradually, questions of power, subject construction, representation and contextualisation were brought to bear on the study of religion. Intersections of religion and the media (Meyer and Moors 2005; Anderson 2003) and religion and gender (King 1995) started being explored.
Nevertheless, contrary to social scientists’ predictions, the 1990s saw a dramatic resurgence of religion in the public sphere on a global scale. Religion returned in the 1990s as a forceful shaper of identities in ethnic conflict situations from India and Sri Lanka, to Ireland and the Balkans. This was not irrelevant to the multilayered political, economic and cultural transformations often involved in the concept of globalisation (de-territorialisation of borders, flexible economy and labour, ethnic conflicts, multiculturalism), illustrated in the previous section. In this rapidly altering context, many geopolitical changes, which took place in that period, were often combined with the coming back of religion as factor of instability and nationalist conflicts. Some examples from the wider Black Sea area, seem to confirm that point: the war in Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan (1988-1994), the wars in the former Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1995 (in Bosnia, 1998-1999, in Kosovo, in 2001 in the Former Republic of Macedonia between the Albanian- and the Macedonian-speaking communities), the Sivas massacre in Turkey (in 1993), Hindu and Muslim violent conflicts in Mumbai in 1992, the Gulf War in 1990-1991. These cases were considered as an indication of an unavoidable “clash of civilisations” (Huntington 1993). This view identified religion, and especially Islam, with violence. There was a rise in political Islam in the Middle East and beyond, and religious movements began to challenge state secularism (Juergensmeyer 1993).
Responding to these perceptions, Edward Said (2001) stressed that static understandings of social and religious groups can result in these views which ascribe names and meanings to specific groups of people. Resonating Said’s argument, William Cavanaugh (2009) postulated that the connection of religion with conflict and violence and frequently the interwoven perceptions of religion as fundamentally opposed to secularism overlooked the conditions, ideologies, symbols, practices that could generate and spread violence. This point will be further developed in the concluding chapter of this volume. These conditions were much more multilayered and complex and often transcended the boundaries of a group or a region. Nonetheless, the spreading violence and conflicts, such as those mentioned above, led to migration movements.
Today the ideas which discover a naive causality between religion and conflict seem to be consider as oversimplistic. Many scholars consider that it is more appropriate to treat ‘religion,’ ‘politics’ and ‘economics’ as pervasive, interwoven categories rather than bounded spheres (see, for example, Herzfeld 2001, xi). The term ‘religion’ is used to demarcate the ideas, practices, beliefs and institutions that are related to particular faiths and traditions. Moreover, many people claim to be spiritual, but not religious, meaning that they do not belong to any particular religious institution or faith, but they do believe in the sacred. Often this inward personal experience of the sacred is described as spirituality or mysticism. However, the term ‘mysticism’ usually is employed to denote the ineffable nature of God and the experience of union with the divine. Questions are being raised whether ‘a’ religion can be treated as unitary, and the extent to which different cultures or nations shape divergent versions of ‘a’ religion (Calhoun et al. 2011, 17). Indeed, it is becoming increasingly unclear whether, and if so how far, we can differentiate religion from culture, ethnicity, national identity or other such secular concepts. For some, religion functions as a secular identity, almost like ethnicity. In this case Muslim, Christian or Hindu religious identities signify much like an ethnic category, and are mobilised as secular ones. People can also be unclear about the relationship between the use of a religious label to denote religion as such, on the one hand, and to denote a population on the other.
One of the most interesting features of the study of religion in recent years has been the resurgence of interest in its relationship with the political world (Wuthnow 1998). Many scholars now recognise that earlier assumptions, at least in Western academic circles, about the fading of religion from political life have not been borne out (Westerlund 1996; Sahliyeh 1990). Indeed, the widespread rhetoric about the “clash of civilisations” (Huntington 1993) and the global war on terror have put religion back in the spotlight. Black Sea states, in particular, are faced with a number of interrelated questions as far as religion and religious identities are concerned. For instance, although ethnic and religious identities in the region do not fully coincide, they have often been dealt with in parallel and their claims unduly equated. This has only supported the tendency towards explaining ethnic tensions based on religious factors and has contributed to the polarisation of society in many countries. Another important aspect of this renewed interest in religion in the Black Sea area is the emphasis placed on the role of religion as a security issue in domestic and international affairs. Security concerns revolve around the impact of religion on the marginalisation and radicalisation of parts of the popula?tion; the growing influence of ‘globalised’ religious movements; the role of religion in regional conflicts.
Historically, the Black Sea has served as a bridge between civilisations and a crossroads of traditional and modern routes of migration and commerce. Religion in particular has long played a significant role as a parameter shaping colonial encounters. For instance, formation of ancient Greek identity and consciousness was largely enhanced by colonisation movements in the Black Sea region from the eighth century BC onwards. Colonisation brought the Greeks into direct contact with foreign people, whose language, culture and general way of life contrasted with their own. Greek philosophers and historians, beginning with Herodotus, were in many cases intrigued by the habits and customs of the various peoples they met around the Black Sea, especially their religious beliefs, mythologies and rituals. More traditional scholarly approaches read such encounters in terms of a Hellenisation of the Black Sea littoral (Malkin 2004) and an example of Greek cultural imperialism. In contrast to such interpretations, recent post-colonial readings of Greek encounters with nomadic tribes occupying the Black Sea coast—such as the Scythians or the Thracians—have argued that the native context can no longer be seen as tabula rasa for the imposition of Greek culture (Heit 2005; Malkin 2004). The concept of hybridity is now adopted to describe the complex process of the mutual dialogue between Greek and local cultures ostensible particularly in issues pertaining to religious mythologies, rituals and beliefs. An indicative example of religious syncretism is the Thracian goddess Bendis, whose cult was introduced to Greeks and was later absorbed into that of Artemis, or the cult of the Thracian Hero or Horseman, who was identified with various Greek gods such as Ares, Hermes, Asclepius and Apollo. Religion has also functioned as a tool in tactics of colonial expansion and cultural imperialism. For instance, Christianity had been a powerful tool of statecraft for the Byzantine emperors, especially in their relation with the Rhos and the Bulgars. Conversion was often seen as an alternative to military conflict, and indeed a most successful one. “What the Byzantines were unable to do by force of arms they hoped to achieve by the Gospel” Charles King writes (2004, 78). The Bulgars converted to Christianity in the ninth century and remained on the Byzantine side during the Great schism that separated Eastern from Western Christendom in 1054.
In recent history, religion and its claims have often been associated with practices of social engineering and nationalist violence. Upon indepen?dence, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, states of the region have had to rebuild and redefine their national identity. Religious institutions in particular have had to redefine their identity and relations with the state, given that under Soviet rule religious expression had been repressed. In certain cases violent conflicts have broken out. Religion has often been a tool in the consolidation of national identity, or it has been seen as a threat that had to be managed through social engineering. An example of the latter was the population politics in the broader Young Turk era (1913-1950), which included the Armenian genocide in 1915, ethnic cleansing through the deportation of Anatolian Greeks in 1921-1922, and forced assimilation of various minority populations. Crimean Tatars are another example of a religious group that was targeted and persecuted. Crimean Tatars were subject to ethnic cleansing and forced migration under Russian tsars and, in 1944, were deported en masse under Stalin to Central Asia. It was only during the Gorbachev rule that Tatars were allowed to return to Crimea.
The 1990s were marked by an extensive reformation of borders, a process that also affected the Black Sea countries and was often perceived in the West in terms of a war of civilizations between the Christian West and the Muslim East. In this framework, a discussion regarding perceptions of the sacred and the secular begun, where the latter was identified with the modernising nation state project. This change had to be addressed in relation to another transformation, that of interstate system, in other words the de-nationalisation of economics and politics (Sassen 2003), which privileged biopolitics as one of the last fields where traditional political elites and governments could still exert power. In this way, the secularisation process that was often represented as sign of European modernity was put into re-examination and the notion that citizenship and religion were mutually exclusive started to be challenged.
In other words, religion was either treated as something of the past, a pre-modern element not matching the European modernity, or according to Jodicke (2014, 9) as “modernization or religion.” Alternatively religion was considered as adapting to modernity to suit the needs of believers (individualistic approach); orit was treated as inextricably linked with new forms of communal engagement and allegiance, for example nationalism. Both these approaches are faulty as they consider modernity as a completed project applied in a uniform way and at the same time, they take for granted that religion persists only through transformation. However, both these conceptualisations of religious continuity are important in order to examine religion and migration in the Black Sea.
Religious revival in the Black Sea area in the post-Soviet period has largely been driven by people’s desire to explore their cultural legacy. With the demise of Eastern European communism, Black Sea nations have felt the impact of the rise of the USA as the new global power in the West. Capitalism, consumerism and multinational corporations are shaping forces in an increasingly global marketplace. Moreover, one cannot ignore the cultural and political impact of the ‘new technologies’ and the ‘global network’ of cyberspace on the most recent rivalries and conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, and their respective allies. It should be noted that religion has not played a major role in the conflicts that the Black Sea region has experienced following the collapse of the Soviet Union, although the sides in these conflicts have often been of different religions. One example that can be cited is the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Although the clash is between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azeris, it is not primarily a religious dispute. This is not to deny that the conflict led to mass expulsions of populations on both sides and atrocities that have sometimes taken on a religious character. However, these features do not justify qualifying the conflict as religious. A counter-example, however, would be the situation in Russia’s Northern Caucasus regions. There, religious movements have become important stakeholders in the Chechen conflict after the first Chechen war. A complex mix of ethnic, socio-economic and religious factors as well as inadequate responses from local and federal authorities have favoured the emergence of radical movements in Chechnya and other parts of the Caucasus.
The strategic importance of the Black Sea today cannot be sufficiently stressed. The Black Sea connects Europe with the Middle East and Central Asia, thus marking an important cultural, economic and political triangle. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the enlargement of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have brought the West closer than ever to the Black Sea. The accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU has meant that the Black Sea now coincides with the EU border. Thus, the Black Sea region represents Europe’s borders to the East and, as such, it is the space where definitions of European identity are challenged and redefined. This is especially the case today, when the Black Sea countries experience significant migration challenges, being transit, origin and destination areas for migrants. While the Black Sea states have very different socio-economic and political histories, most of them are undergoing transition to democracy and are in the process of liberalizing their economies. The migration problems they face are often connected to this process. For instance, poverty and lack of opportunities are among the major push factors for migration from the area. Labour migration flows follow a trajectory from the poorer to the richer countries of the region, and further towards the EU and the USA. As will become apparent in the following chapters, irregular migration remains a reality in the region as opportunities for legal migration are often limited. Globalisation has intensified the de-territorialisation of culture, and by extension the de-territori- alisation of religion. If today culture is to be understood as a practice rather than a characteristic (Baumann 1996, 1999), then the same is the case with religious identities: they are continuously under revision. At the same time, globalisation has intensified the possibilities for religions to imagine and actively reproduce a sense of community among co-believers. And it has facilitated cosmopolitan encounters with ‘others’ of the same faith tradition. Such encounters challenge the hold of ethnicity, broaden awareness of global religious identities and encourage subjects’ self-conscious negotiations of the claims of faith and religious belonging.
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