In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Religion and Post-Socialism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Politics, Nation, and Religion
  • Post-socialist Religion and Economy
  • Post-socialist Religion and Morality
  • Transmission of Religious Knowledge, and Religious Education
  • Atheism, Non-religion, and Secularism
  • Journals

Anthropology Religion and Post-Socialism
Tobias Köllner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0201


Despite all the differences between different socialist states and different periods, one important feature of socialist ideology was a general objection to religion. Based on Marxist-Leninist-Maoist dogma, two main reasons were especially relevant. On the one hand, religion was considered to be a key obstacle to modernization and a major reason for backwardness. Thus, religion was perceived to be superstition. On the other hand, religion was used to legitimize the privileges of the ruling class and as a means to stay in command. Karl Marx’s famous interpretation of religion as the “opiate of the people” is the key phrase in this context. The influence of these two interpretations lost considerable ground and, with the demise of socialism, gave way to new readings. In this new reading, religion lost its negative connotations and gained more interest from the people and those in power. Religion reappeared in the public sphere and became one of the key topics for the post-socialist states. In the early 21st century, many people in these states understand the current situation by comparing it to the socialist past. Yet, the concept of post-socialism has diminishing explanatory power because the next generation has different points of reference. For the time being, however, socialism as a point of reference is still important and has left its mark on certain topics in particular. These topics are the possibility to express religious beliefs and practices in public; religious change; the interrelation among religion, politics, and the nation; the interrelation between religion and the economy; the introduction of religious education; and the interrelation between religion and morality.

General Overviews

It has to be stated that the interrelation between religion and post-socialism remains an understudied topic that deserves much more anthropological analysis than it has received since the mid-1990s. Certainly it is not as it was midway through the first decade of the 21st century, when Douglas Rogers (Rogers 2005, p. 14) noted the following: “to date the anthropology of religion in the former Soviet bloc has been a rather ad hoc enterprise. While there is a substantial amount of solid research going on in the field, studies remain disparate and linked to each other only tenuously.” Since then, some efforts have been undertaken to provide a general overview of the region, but it is still a region that definitely deserves further integrative efforts in order to contribute to ongoing theoretical debates in anthropology, such as the debate on the anthropology of Christianity. Among the few efforts undertaken to synthesize individual accounts is Hann and “Civil Religion” Group 2006. Hann and Goltz 2010 provides yet another substantial account on Eastern Christianity. Another more general introduction to post-Soviet religion is provided in Steinberg and Wanner 2008. A general introduction focusing on Islam and post-socialism is provided in Khalid 2014.

  • Hann, Chris, and “Civil Religion” Group, eds. 2006. The postsocialist religious question: Faith and power in central Asia and east-central Europe. Münster, Germany: LIT Verlag.

    It is argued that despite all the differences within and between these countries, the term “post-socialism” is still relevant. The volume is divided into two regional clusters, central Asia and east-central Europe, which allows for comparisons between Islamic and Christian traditions. On a more general level, the volume is unified by the common denominator of civility, which includes civil society, civil religion, and civility as a notion of tolerance.

  • Hann, Chris, and Hermann Goltz, eds. 2010. Orthodoxy, orthopraxy, parádosis: Eastern Christians in anthropological perspective. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    This volume adds a new perspective to the anthropology of Christianity, a newly emerging topic that has hitherto largely neglected the hundreds of millions of Eastern Christians situated mainly in post-socialist countries. In addition, the volume offers new anthropological insights into a number of different topics and issues in Eastern Christianity.

  • Khalid, Adeeb. 2014. Islam after communism: Religion and politics in central Asia. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    An important overview on Islam and post-socialism. Khalid describes the displacement of Islam and the public sphere during socialism and its subordination to ethnic and cultural identities. Despite massive changes in socialism’s aftermath, some of these legacies are still relevant.

  • Rogers, Douglas J. 2005. Introductory essay: The anthropology of religion after socialism. In Special issue: The anthropology of religion after socialism. Edited by Philip Walters. Religion, State and Society 33:5–18.

    DOI: 10.1080/0963749042000330848

    This special issue is one of the first successful attempts to integrate ongoing anthropological research into a broader perspective and to make new inroads into the anthropological study of religion and post-socialism.

  • Steinberg, Mark D., and Catherine Wanner, eds. 2008. Religion, morality, and community in post-Soviet societies. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

    A strong interdisciplinary volume that combines anthropological, historical, and political-science perspectives in discussing a wide range of religious groups. In particular, it addresses the sphere of morality and its links to religion in times of rapid social change and societal fragmentation.

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