COREnet Conference on Religious Diversity gathered over 110 researchers from 31 European states

May 14, 2024

The international COST Action COREnet and ISORECEA conference, a significant academic event centred around the theme of “Religious Diversity and Social Cohesion in Central and Eastern Europe and Beyond”, took place in Tirana (Albania) from April 25 to April 27, 2024. 

This academic event was the successful outcome of a fruitful collaboration between Bedër University (Tirana, Albania), ISORECEA (International Study of Religion in Eastern and Central Europe Association), and the COST Action CA20107 – “Connecting Theory and Practical Issues of Migration and Religious Diversity (COREnet).” The event brought together over 110 participants from 31 European states, providing a pan-European platform for exchanging scientific research and exploring innovative frontiers.

The Image of Refugees as One of the Factors Influencing the Social Cohesion: Insights from the Psychology of Culture and Religion

The first keynote lecture of the conference, “The Image of Refugees as One of the Factors Influencing the Social Cohesion: Insights from the Psychology of Culture and Religion,” was given by Prof. Dr. Halina Grzymala-Mosczynska from Poland. Prof. Grzymala-Mosczynska argued that the one-sided image of refugees in the media, as well as in the broader social perception, results from several factors. Refugees are presented as passive victims of wars and persecution. Also, as individuals whose needs are limited to obtaining shelter and food. Refugees are also often contrasted with economic migrants. While refugees are attributed with passivity and exploiting the resources of the host country, and their identity is usually limited to the presentation of a crowd or a human wave or tsunami, economic migrants are most often presented as contributing to the host country’s economy, as active in the job market. In simplification, refugees are presented as a burden on the host country. In contrast, economic migrants are presented as a bonus for their new country of residence. 

Understanding the origin of such an image is worth realising, as well as who is behind it and who is propagating it. A closer analysis of the context indicates that, among others, the scientific community is responsible for such an image, discussing the adaptation problems of refugees without listening to their voices and taking for granted their ethnocentric perspective. Political leaders then exploit the image of refugees to manipulate societies in their countries by sowing fear and creating intra-social divisions. The second group of interests exploiting such an image is aid organisations, which, by presenting refugees as helpless victims in need of assistance, gain access to financial resources that enable them to assist according to their conception of what is needed for refugees and their own continued functioning. This image lacks consideration for both the agency and resilience of refugees.

Fabricating Difference: Religious Diversity, Nationalism, Populism

The second keynote lecture, “Fabricating Difference: Religious Diversity, Nationalism, Populism,” was given by Prof. Dr. Marian Burchard from Germany. Prof. Burchard contended that Albanian history is an actual reservoir of the most diverse collective experiences with religious diversity, from the gradual arrival of Christianity and Islam, the rise of nationalism and the notion of Albanianism in the 19th and early 20th century, the brutal curtailing of religious freedom under communism and Enver Hodxhas regime through the 1990s religious revival, with Albania becoming the target of interested parties from abroad and the subsequent secular settlement that, again allowed Albanians to perhaps become an important example of religious tolerance to the world. Albanian history also demonstrates that religious affiliations and identities are anything but stable and objective but contingent upon historical events. They are eventful themselves. Just as ethnic groups are not preexisting but emerge and are visible in different degrees of groupness, religious groups in Albania and elsewhere have different degrees of groupness and internal cohesion, depending on historical circumstances. Thus, to understand religion and religious diversity and cohesion, not only long-term processes such as secularisation but also historical events, such as wars, revolutions, political collapses, openings, closures and so on matter in our analysis.

Prof. Burchard is interested in how nation-states regulate religious diversity and how these regulations are premised upon and reshape certain notions of secularity, that is, distinctions between the religious and non-religious spheres in society. Religious diversity and secularism have become key themes in sociological and anthropological debates over the last two decades. The approach he proposes in the lecture aims to revive issues of religious diversity further and insist on their importance for general sociological questions of social order and cultural differences and how they are shaped through power relations. Chiefly, he suggests considerable merit in going beyond the currently dominant use of religious diversity as a descriptive category that depicts the existence of several different religious traditions in a given territory and that becomes subject to regulatory intervention by state actors such as legislatures, courts and administrative bodies. Instead, he argues that we should explore how religious diversity is turned into an epistemic and administrative category through which states observe societies, render populations legible and contribute to configuring their cultural allegiances. This allows us to understand why religious diversity has become the premise of a range of policies, laws and jurisprudential ideas that shape people’s religious and non-religious identities while seeking to protect them.

Where Does a Rainbow End? – Some Aspects on Religious Diversity

The third keynote lecture, “Where Does a Rainbow End? – Some Aspects on Religious Diversity,” was given by Prof. Dr. Johan Hafner from Germany. Prof. Hafner presented how the rainbow of religious diversity is getting more colourful in Europe. This comes as no surprise sinceunder freedom of movement, people migrate and mix, especially in urban areas. In every European city, you will find more religions than 20 years ago. Far from one’s hometown, one has to recalibrate one’s religiosity. In a few cases, such a decontextualised religion gets more committed, “purer”, and sometimes more radical. But in most cases, religious activity is decreasing – less participation in services, less prayer, less rituals –because there is less social expectation by milieu or village. So, while we observe more colours in the rainbow, the rainbow as a whole is fading out.

Of course, the first generation who leaves its local synagogue, mosque or parish will keep a large portion of the religiosity it was raised in. But not so the second and third generations, who will have no opportunity to learn the language of religious symbols, rites, and attitudes. In modern societies, religiosity is bequeathed by 60-70% to the next generation, whereas non-religiosity is by nearly 100%. How come? The young do not decide against their parents’ religion; rather, they embrace the ocean of new opportunities to spend time and attention: art, sports, entertainment, and flexible working hours. So, neither atheism nor interreligious competition, but secular diversity, is the great distractor. The function of religion traditionally was to help people cope with the loss or lack of opportunities. In the future, religion will have to retrieve its traditions to cope with the oversupply of opportunities.

More than fifty COREnet members presented their research

During the conference, more than fifty COST Action COREnet members discussed Action activities in their Working Group meetings and presented their research in parallel sessions on intersections between religious diversity and migration in various European contexts. This successful academic event provided an opportunity to participate in useful scientific discussions and to develop a vibrant network among European researchers in fascinating Albania, which attracts attention for its approach to religious diversity and its Balkan spirit.


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