23 August 2003

A dramatic rise in christian belief in Serbia

Here is an interesting article on efforts to restore an ancient Serbian monastery destroyed by the Ottoman Turks and abandoned in 1689: "Barnstorming to raise the roof." Although the article focusses on the unusual method of holding a rock concert to raise funds for the project, I was intrigued by the statistics concerning the apparent dramatic rise of christian faith among Serb youth.

A renewed interest in faith is evident among Serbia’s youth. At the end of the communist era, just 10 percent of young people identified themselves as “believers.” Up to 90 percent do so today, according to recent polls. Fifty years of authoritarian rule, difficult times in the 1990s, wars, and nationalism all contributed to this return to "traditional values." The results of the 2002 census in Serbia, published in early July 2003, show that some 95 percent of Serbians (excluding Kosovo) declared a religious affiliation, and 85 percent declared themselves to be Orthodox Christians.

It's not clear to me how we should interpret such figures. Were people reluctant to express allegiance to Christianity a dozen years ago after being pummelled with atheistic propaganda for 40 years? Have huge numbers simply decided that God's revelation in Jesus Christ is truth after having been atheists themselves for decades? Or has Serbian nationalism motivated ordinary Serbs to embrace only a nominal Orthodoxy, which is, after all, the most significant marker of Serb national identity?

The polls and census do not seem to offer information on church attendance, so we don't know whether this has actually increased. My guess is that the numbers willing to identify themselves as Orthodox Christians is likely much greater than those making an active commitment to attending their local parish on a regular basis.

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