Pluralism and Religious Freedom. Insights from Orthodox Europe

Effie Fokas

in eds. Elisabeth A. Diamantopoulou and Louis-Leon Christians, Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights in Europe: A Dialogue Between Theological Paradigms and Socio-Legal Pragmatics, (2018) Oxford: Peter Lang

A snapshot of European societies today reveals the importance of religious minority treatment and the grave potential that the latter can carry for instability and even social unrest in a situation of rapidly increasing religious diversity. The Pew Forum’s influential study on the ‘Rising tide of restrictions on religion’ highlighted the problem on a global scale. Most conspicuous are the reactions of Muslim groups against what they perceive to be intolerant majorities, but other (less attended by the mass media) religious minority experiences are no less compelling evidence of tensions around religious pluralism in localities across Europe. Registration restrictions, curtailed rights to expressions of faith, and exclusion from mass media are amongst several limitations on religious freedom experienced by religious minorities in Europe.

Such limitations of religious freedoms are particularly prominent in countries where Orthodox Christianity is the majority faith. Indicatively, majority Orthodox states are accountable for 63% of all European Court of Human Rights convictions for religious freedoms violations. What is the reason behind this state of affairs? Is there something intrinsic to Orthodoxy as a religious and social institution that makes it intolerant towards minorities? Or are there historical and political particularities in individual Orthodox majority countries that underlie the barriers to religious freedoms in each case?

This chapter draws on empirical research conducted in four majority Orthodox countries with the explicit aim of addressing such questions. Specifically, the text reflects research conducted by the author in Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Greece, in response to two particular realities: first, the aforementioned prominence of limitations to religious freedoms in majority Orthodox contexts, and second, a body of social science literature questioning the relationship between Orthodoxy and pluralism.

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