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Review article

The Religious Identities and Social Stucture of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Nebojša Šavija-Valha orcid id ; Nansen Dialogue Center, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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page 49-67

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This paper analyzes the structural preconditions of articulation of religious identities in Bosnia-Herzegovina from the historical perspective. These have been produced by the processes of Christianization and Islamization at the intersection of heterogeneous origin of Bosnian-Herzegovinian population, the influence of paganism and folk beliefs, and the geopolitical situation on the border line between the great empires. Due to the influence of these factors, these processes have never been successful in encompassing the entire population, which has always been divided among several simultaneously co-existing religious institutions: Catholicism, Christian Orthodoxy, the Bosnian Church and Islam. Through the institution of Millet, allowing its subjects relative cultural and social freedoms within their religious communities, the Ottoman Empire provides the communities with preconditions for ethnic modelling, but also for “political” articulation. The interplay of these agents has provided a base for interaction among the religious groups, which can be seen at two complementary levels: the vertical one, “the political”, ruled by hierarchical and discriminative relations; and the lateral one, “the social”, which is a sphere of egalitarian trans- and inter-ethnic social practices. Both levels have their religious aspects: at the first, it is about institutionalized religions; at the second, about “folk” religion, a syncretism of pre-Christian tradition and Christian and Islamic elements. Hence, religion has been acting in a totalizing way in Bosnian-Herzegovinian society, appearing both as a primary repertoire of symbolic elements and as a basic mechanism of further group identifications – ethnic and national.


Bosnia-Herzegovina, religious identities, religion, Christianity, Islam, the Bosnian Church, millet

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