During the recent RESILIENCE webinar on specific features of religious research in the Balkans, various challenges and opportunities were discussed by scholars from all over Europe.
In his introductory remarks, Prof. Karčić noted that the Balkans as a “region in between” is characterised by religious pluralism and syncretism. Despite that, the study of religion as an academic discipline is relatively new for two main reasons. One, during the nation building process in the 19th century, history, language, literature and related themes were national priorities. Second, during the socialist era, academic study of religion was discouraged as religion was considered to be a passing phenomenon. In more recent times, Religious Studies have faced several challenges including lack of proper academic framework as there are no well-established departments of Religious Studies at the universities in the region, lack of expertise of manifestation of religion and lack of funding.
Ivan Ejub Kostic emphasized the quasi academic nature of a lot of academic research in the region and Serbia in particular. It is myths, not scholarly knowledge that dominate the academia. Lack of academic freedom and the authoritarian environment hostile to independent research is conducive to that. Civic sector is a kind of alternative for independent researchers but that sector has its own set of limitations, including sustainable funding. In conclusion, it is independence of research that is needed more than anything else.
Ioannis Kaminis from Greece, Ph.D. candidate at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, presented the situation in Greece. In this country, the Orthodox Church of Christ is considered the “prevailing” religion in Greece, whereas the Orthodox Church is recognized as a public legal entity along with the Muslim minority and the Jewish religious community. In his opinion, RESILIENCE can address the challenge of religious diversity and promote tolerance between different religious traditions.
Also Prof. Vasya Velinova of Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” saw a number of opportunities, namely the establishment of scientific network for academic exchange through conferences and the training specialists in all the denominations present in the Balkans.
During the discussion, Dr. Kovač seconded Prof. Karčić’s and Kostić’s statements of the need for impartial study of religion, especially Islam for which Bosnia is a living laboratory, and widespread mythologisation of national history. He also noted that inter-religious themes are often sensitive for most people. A. Lukas V., a Ph.D. student from Czech Republic, reminded the group of the presence of Orientalism and Balkanism as sorts of academic bias in the study of religion in the region.
He proposed the cooperation between the researchers from the region and outside it as way out. In relation to that, Prof. Karčić observed that the boarders of the Balkans have been moving. During the Balkan congress in 1878, the region was referred to as “Near east”.
In the discussion it was emphasized that RESILIENCE is designed in such a way that it will be able to address some of the challenges mentioned in the webinar. The research infrastructure should – among other things – facilitate exchange of experience, training in various aspects of religious studies, and access to data.
Watch the video of the webinar here.
Here you can read a presentation of RESILIENCE in the Islamic newspaper Preporod.