The Political Significance of Popular Religion in Greece / La Signification politique de la religion populaire en Grèce. - article ; n°1 ; vol.64, pg 37-52
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The Political Significance of Popular Religion in Greece / La Signification politique de la religion populaire en Grèce. - article ; n°1 ; vol.64, pg 37-52

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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1987 - Volume 64 - Numéro 1 - Pages 37-52
16 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



Publié par
Publié le 01 janvier 1987
Nombre de lectures 25
Langue Français
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo


Nikos Kokosalakis
The Political Significance of Popular Religion in Greece / La
Signification politique de la religion populaire en Grèce.
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 64/1, 1987. pp. 37-52.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Kokosalakis Nikos. The Political Significance of Popular Religion in Greece / La Signification politique de la religion populaire en
Grèce. In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 64/1, 1987. pp. 37-52.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1987.2437 Sc soc des Rel. 1987 64/ï juillet-septembre) 37-52
Le thème des relations entre religion et politique dans les divers
contextes nationaux ouvre des perspectives nouvelles la sociologie
des religions article traite de cette question dans le cadre de la
société grecque et des inextricables connexions qui lient la culture
religieuse populaire et la religion officiellement instituée auteur
analyse la portée politique de la religion populaire dans une pers
pective ethnique et historique en insistant sur le rôle qu elle joue dans
la montée du nationalisme grec et sur les rapports elle entretient
avec la religion civile
Des exemples concrets de croyances et de pratiques religieuses popu
laires institutionnelles ou informelles liées aux principales fêtes
envergure nationale comme le culte de la Vierge et des saints
mettent en évidence importance politique de ces croyances et pra
tiques dans la double perspective de la légitimation du pouvoir
politique et des relations entre glise et tat
Popular religion in modern Greece covers major part of religious culture
which is as yet unexplored from sociological and anthropological standpoint
There are some sociological studies on aspects of the Greek Orthodox Church
and some anthropological refer to religiosity in village communities
Campbell 1964 Du Boulay 1974 but the complex and important connections
between popular religion and modern public life have not yet been studied
Popular religion in Greece is fused with the official religion of the established
Church and also forms part of the general culture and history of Greek society
People may know very little about formal theological doctrine but popular beliefs
and liturgical practice form an essential part of individual and collective religious
life The institutional Church on the other hand has always managed to absorb
popular religiosity and even superstitious beliefs and practices within its formal
ecclesiastical structures and traditions Indeed one of the striking features of the
Orthodox Church generally which distinguishes it from all other Christian
Churches is its dramatic ritual character and the way it incorporates folk
religious culture into its formal structures The importance of popular religion for
public life in Greece however lies not just in its inseparable connection with the
official Church but in its ethnic folk character which gives it direct civil and
political relevance Popular religion carries with it and mediates certain cultural
values which are immediately connected with public life with Greek ethnicity
and by implication with the state This whole process of the diffusion of popular
religion with the wider culture is greatly facilitated by the cultural and religious
homogeneity of Greek society and also by the structure of authority in the
Orthodox Church which allows tenuous and informal relations between the
institution and the individual
However my concern here is not to deal with the structure of authority and
the beliefs and practices of the Greek Orthodox Church Rather seek to highlight
the special character of Greek popular religiosity and make explicit its connec
tions with formal organised religion More importantly am concerned to explore
the socially significant links between popular religion civil religion and political
life The connections between popular religion and the public domain in Greek
society are not immediately obvious as many of the underlying values of religious
culture are diffused in the wider culture In this context 1983 term
diffused religion which he used to highlight the relationship of religion and
politics in contemporary Italy is very apt for the Greek case wish to emphasise
however that diffused religion here does not mean what is usually referred to as
implicit or invisible religion which cannot be located empirically in the realm
of social and institutional life Popular religion in the Greek case refers to specific
beliefs practices and cults which in many cases involve directly the public the
Church and the State Especially the various civil rituals the cult of the Virgin and
the saints and the various major festivals function as potent symbolic mediators
between religion and political culture This connection between religious culture
and politics does not imply that modernity with its distinctive secular character
has not seriously affected the relation between religion and society Nor is it my
intention to argue that secularisation is less prevalent in Greece than in other
European societies Indeed it could be argued that one of the areas where
secularisation manifests itself is that of the popular religious culture In Church
and State relations too ever since Greek independence it is the State which
manages not just Greek cultural life but even the affairs of the Church itself Yet
the serious tensions in Church and State relations and the fact that the State has to
treat with great care and sensitivity all matters concerning religious culture is
clear indication of the continuing significance of that culture Indeed Church
and State in Greece seem altogether unable to separate their respective areas of
influence and control over issues which have anything to do with religion Even
as important an issue as the option of civil marriage went into the statute book as
late as 1982 after considerable opposition by the Church The State on the other
hand has been actively interfering in the affairs of the Church and the appoint
ment of higher clergy and has been refusing the Church the right to train her own
clergy Moreover Greece is the only European country where all the parish are the employees of the State These facts do not just derive from the
privileged position which the Orthodox Church enjoys under the Greek Constitu-
tion but also from the special relationship which has existed between Church and
State in the Greek world ever since the Emperor Constantine Indeed it can be
argued that such facts are indicative of the cultural specificity of Greek society
which cannot separate itself either from its Byzantine or its ancient past The
State of course exploits religious culture for political ends and this is facilitated
by the long and close historical connection between Greek Orthodoxy and Greek
ethnic identity
Perhaps it is worth stressing at this point that the specific relation between
religious and political culture in Greece carries with it wider methodological
implications for the study of religion and politics at large and also for the study of
popular religion Certainly the cultural and political idiosyncracy of Greece owes
much to the specific historical and configurations of religion
and ethnicity and to the popular character of Byzantine culture However despite
their very different histories there are strong parallels in other societies such as
Poland and Ireland for instance In Greece religion which can stretch from the
individual to the family to the local community and up to the ethnic and national
domains simultaneously underpins the special character of contemporary Greek
society and culture significantly The folk and ethnic character of Orthodox
religiosity render it at once an important feature of the so called civil religion as
well as basic factor of social control At the same time popular religiosity
constitutes sensitive area connected with the individual and collective auto
nomy of the Greek people No government can afford to ignore such an important
factor This does not mean that Greece is very religious society it simply means
that modern Greek nationalism is significantly legitimised by religious culture
For these reasons alone and there are other substantive ones which have to do
with the relation of religion ideology and power generally politics and reli
gion are related in Greece in both formal and informal context It is important
to mention that such connections are now becoming very explicit in various parts
of the world as in Latin America and some Islamic societies in particular
observation that in nationalist age societies worship themselves
brazenly and openly spurning the camouflage 1983 56) applies to Greece
too However it is questionable whether the camouflage can be spurned altoge
ther No society can operate without symbolic mediational structure and
modern societies in this nationalist age are no exception In the case of Greec

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