Navigating Religious and Secular Identities in the (Post-)Ottoman Balkans

AHA Session 7
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Room 204 (Hynes Convention Center)
Robert J. Donia, University of Michigan

Session Abstract

The “sacred” was an integral part of Ottoman society in the Balkans. Ethical frameworks, community networks, legal codes, social structures, and cultural activities were fostered through and rooted in confessional cultures. Consequently, the "unmixing" of peoples that accompanied the political transition to the post-Ottoman nation-states—that is, mass migration, border disputes, forced popular transfers, etc.—had significant confessional dimensions. While conflicts between communities of Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Jews were prevalent, there was also significant tension within communities as religious and political leaders adapted confessional traditions to conform to the modernizing legal and social systems. At times, political leaders sought to co-opt the sacred sphere to further their goal of nationalizing people. In other cases, religious leaders aimed to use their power with large constituencies as a negotiating tool with political leaders in order to secure autonomy over cultural and socio-legal affairs (e.g. marriage, conversion, inheritance, custody, education). Central to both processes was the relationship between religious practice and collective identity, a shifting relationship under regular scrutiny.

How did the post-Ottoman nation-states adapt existing cultural, social, and legal practices in order to redefine the relationship between the individual and her confessional community? What kinds of social activities, legal practices, and political programs did they rely on in encouraging community bonds to develop in particular ways? In what ways did the secularizing nation-states adapt their laws to conform to confessional traditions and in what ways did they seek to eradicate such agendas? And how do the legacies of the early transitional period translate into contemporary history and policy? 

This panel examines how communities of Christians and Muslims navigated the fluid confessional and political/national demarcations in Bulgaria, Greece, and Yugoslavia, analyzing especially how different communities conceived of and negotiated the position of faith as the political and social landscape dramatically shifted around them from the collapse of empire to the formation of nation-states, and from the Cold War to post-socialism. By adopting a broad chronological framework, this panel will illuminate the persistence and continuity of confessional politics in the (post-)Ottoman world.

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