News 18 January 2021

EU Enlargement and the Role of Religious Studies: the Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina

During the RESILIENCE webinar of January 14, the theme of EU enlargement (integration of Western Balkan countries into the European Union) was discussed. We talked to Pavle Mijović of the University of Sarajevo about the chances he sees of an EU integration of his country and the role of Religious Studies in this respect.

Pavle Mijović, Associate Professor at the University of Sarajevo


Pavle, in your contribution to the webinar you questioned whether Religious Studies can improve the EU integration process of countries like Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tell us about it.

“It is true that, at first sight or better, in mainstream opinion, it seems that Religious Studies can hardly contribute to the integration process of Bosnia and Herzegovina into the European Union. Despite the recent big “religious boom” in the public sphere, the potential contribution of Religious Studies in the integration processes is still under-researched. The scientific aspect of Religious Studies, based on first-order research (collecting the data, using the research infrastructure etc.) is the starting point of the research, limited, not exclusively, but mostly to experts. As we all know, there is always a big gap between experts and the public. Therefore, the interpretative horizons of Religious Studies should be enlarged to make sense of the information collected by the best data collection methods and tools for either quantitative and qualitative research. This second-order activity, public-friendly, is more than connecting dots based on collected information. It is about making meaning, reducing biases, avoiding tendencies of ghettoization existing both in the world of academia and the concrete living world. The societal benefits can be enormous, especially in relatively fragile societies such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, contingent, among other things, upon its religiously-driven heritage. I am of the thought that soon Religious Studies will become one of the most effective soft power instruments, helping bring change from within in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and raise awareness of the renewed public understanding of the EU. In my opinion, this is what the integration process is all about.

Do you think Religious Studies can improve policy making?

It is quite evident that we need powerful theories that could help policy makers design effective and efficient solutions. On the other hand, the exact role and position the Religious Studies could have in this process is not so evident. This is due to the fact that theories influencing policy-making tended to neglect religious trends, perceiving religious studies as a secondary, if not even tertiary factor in international and domestic politics.

Stephen M. Walt once emphasized that new ideas should emerge from “academic ‘ivory towers’ (i.e., as abstract theory)” and “gradually filter down into the work of applied analysts (and especially people working in public policy “think tanks”), and finally reach the perceptions and actions of policy makers”. Religious Studies are assuming a new importance in public life, and soon will be recognized as a great source for new ideas that can help us tackle and alter many of the pre-packaged ideas existing in the individual domain and in the public sphere. RESILIENCE has already anticipated this future evolution of Religious Studies by emphasizing the necessity of “Inserting into the public discourse religious expertise and related cultural competence”.

Concerning EU enlargement, you referred to a tailor-made approach. What would that mean for your country (Bosnia and Herzegovina)?

Bosnia and Herzegovina is recognized as a “potential candidate country” for accession and is on the current agenda for future enlargement of the European Union. Unfortunately, no significant progress towards EU integration has been detected. EU enlargement is often seen as a quite abstract and bureaucratic process, but it is probably one of the most powerful policy tools existing. Enlargement processes can help new democracies catch up all sorts of advanced Western standards by moving towards democratic consolidation.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina it is possible to detect a generally accepted belief in the need for EU integration. In order to accelerate the process, probably some sort of “tailor- made” accession process should be adapted, bypassing some elements of the standard accession process in order to avoid broader societal problems. In-depth knowledge of Bosnia and Herzegovina is crucial for the proper identification of the problems and the creation of a “tailor-made” approach.

RESILIENCE is one of the closest forms of academic and institutional cooperation with countries inside the EU and it could surely contribute to the proper identification of the problems, both at the scientific and societal level.”


Thank you very much for this interview, Pavle!

The presentations of the RESILIENCE webinar of January 14 will soon be available via our YouTube channel.

Information on the RESILIENCE goes Balkans! webinar can be found here.