Religion and national identity - a fading relationship?

Teodora Karamelska.

The paper examines Eastern Orthodoxy and its “special and traditional role in Bulgarian history” as stated in the preamble of the Law on religious denominations (2003) as a component of national identity. It is revealed how in contemporary Bulgaria religiosity is still part and parcel of the concept of Bulgarians about nation-state (conceived as kinship, shared territory, common language and ethnic homogeneity). The paper tries to answer the question whether traditional Orthodoxy is reduced to metaphysical emblem striped from any emotion, or on the contrary at the background of “a new boundlessness of identities” (Habermas) it turns to be emotionally important for some of Bulgarian citizens.

The analysis is based on results obtained in the sociological survey carried out within the present project (See Boyadjieva, Petkova Gornev in this volume for details of the survey). Series of one way ANOVA’s reveal the impact of age, gender, place of residence, political vote, and education on the dependent variable “Being Eastern Orthodox is important element of my national identity”. There was no significant impact of age and gender on the dependent variable. The two factors that influenced the importance of Eastern Orthodoxy as part of the respondent’s national identity were education and place of residence. The interpretation of the results suggests explanation why belongingness to Eastern Orthodoxy is most important for respondents with college education. The paper discusses why contrary to common expectations that “traditional religion” is more relevant for people living in small towns and villages, it turns to be an important collective resource of social identity for the residents of big cities. Last but not least the paper traces some of the negative effects of “the imprisonment of the church” by the communist regime, which still characterizes its public image. It is argued that the institutional crisis which followed the opening of the files of the archbishops in the secret services in the beginning of 2012 will trigger a tendency for liberation of East Orthodoxy from ethnophiletistic implications, from particularistic, clerical or political pledges. The reconsideration of Orthodoxy in terms of oecumenical Christian unanimity and the promotion of common liturgical experience, stripped from national specificities on the one hand, and the weakening of the state in the context of globalization on the other, will continue to transform the traditional linkage between religion and national identity.