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Socialist Secularism

Religion, Modernity, and Muslim Women's Emancipation in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, 1945–1991

Pamela Ballinger and Kristen Ghodsee

This article uses the examples of socialist Bulgaria and Yugoslavia to propose some new directions for rethinking scholarly understandings of “secularism” and the ways in which socialist secularizing projects were intricately intertwined with questions of gender equality. Current scholarly debates on the genealogy of secularism root its origins in the Catholic/Protestant West, and systematically ignore cases from the former communist world. This article takes two cases of Balkan states to explore the theoretical contours of what we call “socialist secularism.” Although Bulgaria and Yugoslavia’s experiences of socialist secularism differed in the degree of their coerciveness, this article examines the similarities in the conceptualization of the secularizing imperative and the rhetoric used to justify it, specifically the rhetoric of communist modernism and women’s liberation from religious backwardness.

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Pamela Ballinger and Kristen P. Ghodsee

Scholars of religion have increasingly brought secularism within the framework of critical studies of spirituality, analyzing the dialogic relationship between religions and secularisms past and present. This emerging field of “postsecularist” studies examines the multiple meanings and practices that different cultures and societies attach to the concepts of “religion,” “faith,” and “piety.” The articles presented in this special section of Aspasia contribute to these larger academic debates by focusing on the multiethnic and historically pluralistic region of Southeastern Europe, an area too often ignored in larger scholarly discussions that have focused primarily on Western Europe and the so-called Third World. More important, the articles in this volume demonstrate how secularization projects are intricately interwoven with gender relations in any given society. Collectively, the articles urge readers to draw connections between the shifting spiritual cartographies, state formations, and definitions of appropriate masculinity and femininity of particular Southeastern European societies.