Arbeitsgruppe für Empirische Religionsforschung (AGER)

Forschungsbereich Religion und Modernisierung in Osteuropa

Our project title is “Religion and political and economic transformations in ex-socialist countries”. One of the striking features of cultural landscape of twenty-first century Europe is the great variation in economic success of post-communist regimes. While a number of explanations have been put forward to account for these differences, a key variable that is often overlooked is religion. Thus, while it is well known that religion played a significant role in undermining the legitimacy of certain communist regimes (e.g. Catholicism in Poland), less attention has been paid to the ways in which previously suppressed religious traditions and values have contributed to, or inhibited, economic growth in the post-communist era. Specifically, it might be the case that a lack of religious freedom and an overwhelming state apparatus generated closed religious systems that have stunted the economic development. Moreover, it seems plausible that different religious confessions - say, Orthodoxy vs. Catholicism - vary in the way in which they have either supported or inhibited free market economies. The main question of the project, then, is to ask whether religious freedom and religiosity are important factors in the transformation of ex-communist countries from socialist economic systems to free market capitalism. The question will be explored by an empirical analysis, focusing specifically on Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania. While it is clear that patterns of religious freedom and religiosity in Eastern Europe affect the systemic transformation of these countries in a non-linear way, our thesis may be that there are strong connections between these phenomena.
The project will analyze each country's regulatory mechanisms of religious freedom, considering both the legal framework and financial support (subsidies, grants etc.) for different denominations, with a view to determining whether they may generate, unofficially, a religious monopoly and a close relationship with the state.

A second project in Eastern Europe is:

Religion and patterns of social and economic organization. Elective affinity between religion and economy in Christian denominations in Switzerland and Russia

Prior to the crisis of 2008 that took place in the US and Europe, the socio-economic situation was described by many economists and political analysts from the dominant neoliberal wing as late modernity with representative democracy and the free market as sole normative model of social and economic system. After the crisis of 2008, this normative example has seized to be unquestionable: the crisis affected the developed countries which actively promoted the centrality of financial innovation, from the stock market to mortgages and the practices of unsecured borrowing (credits)

Economic models which view religion as a predictor of economic development in society consider that the market economy, being the dominant type of economic relations in the contemporary world, is the equivalent of development. Traditionally, this model views certain Protestant denominations as those religious systems that effectively foster the process of economic development. Currently, there is no model which would allow analyzing both the contributions of religion to the development of human societies and, at the same time, the involvement of the types of economic relations as an alternative or complement to the market exchange.

In this contemporary situation the proposed research project explores the capacity of religion in facilitating the development of various patterns of social and economic organization by analyzing the elective affinity (Weber) of various Christian denominations (Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Protestantism) and three types of economic relations (market exchange, redistribution, gift exchange). The main research questions are the following:

1) How does religion contribute to economic growth and sustainable development?
2) How the relation between religions and economy is influenced by different types and components of religion and religiosity?
3) How the relation between religions and economy is moderated by those types of economic relations – market exchange, redistribution, and reciprocity (gift exchange)?

The research methods include a questionnaire survey and semi-structured interviews. The object of our project is represented by Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant (both the traditional faith and also new denominations) believers who attend the religious services.

The elaborated model within this project could be used for analyzing the contribution of religion to economic growth and sustainable development. Also, it may provide for international economic institutions some important insights regarding the assessment of the quality of life.

Cooperation partner Russia:Prof. Ivan Zabaev
Project Investigator Russia:St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University, Sociology of Religion

Project collaboration Switzerland
Karin Mykytjuk-Hitz



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Prof. Dr. Stefan Huber
Theol. Fakultät
Länggassstrasse 51
3012 Bern