Muslim Pilgrims at the Orthodox Christian Monastery in Hadzhidimovo

Studies on Religious Anti-syncretism in the Western Rhodopes, Bulgaria

in Anthropological Journal of European Cultures
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This essay questions the thesis of the supposed syncretic nature of the religion of Bulgarian-speaking Muslims, an idea still espoused in Bulgarian ethnography and popular among the Rhodope Christian population. It examines the Muslim motivations for attending Christian holy places in the Rhodopes, particularly the Monastery of St George in Hadzhidimovo, to gather evidence from the actual participants. It shows that the local Muslims and Christians offer incompatible interpretations of the Muslim practice. Furthermore, it takes into account Muslim and Christian testimonies on how Muslims behave in the monastery of St George, and how their gestures are interpreted by both groups. Although the Muslim narratives betray a rather anti-syncretic attitude to Christianity, the Christians sometimes tend to see them as actual crypto-Christians. In my conclusions I stake out a position in the recent polemic between Glenn Bowman and Robert Hayden concerning the specificity of interactions between dissenters at sacred shrines.