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The Geopolitics of Religion and Culture in the Western Balkans: A Thematic Series

Since the end of the Cold War—but particularly in recent years—religion has shown enormous potential to motivate and frame major political changes at both the local and global levels. In Eastern Europe transnational ideas, both religious and secular, have emerged in response to changing circumstances, including the collapse of communism, violent conflicts, global migration patterns, and modern communications technologies. They cumulatively contributed to a new religious pluralism with two salient characteristics: 1) global religious identities which have encouraged greater religious engagement; and 2) more intense geo-religious competition by external factors. Such transnational religious actors play on the chord of religious ideas and doctrine as a form of soft power—and sometimes also “sharp power”—influence, utilizing them to achieve their political interests. As a subregion of Europe at the crossroads of multiple religious and cultural ecosystems, the Western Balkans has emerged as ground zero in the contemporary geopolitics of religion and culture.

This thematic series, which grows out of a partnership between the Berkley Center’s Geopolitics of Religious Soft Power project and the United States Institute of Peace, explores the motivations, effectiveness, and impact of various geopolitical actors attempting to influence local, regional, and international affairs in the Western Balkans. The contributors address a wide range of themes: external religious influences on the Balkans, post-war religiosity and Middle Eastern influences in the Balkans, interreligious relations in the region, and politics of the Russian Orthodox Church and its transnational manifestations. Cumulatively they present a portrait of the complex and increasingly volatile intermingling of religion, culture, and politics in a geopolitical hotspot.

Gradac, 13th Century Serbian Orthodox Monastery

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