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Religion under Communism

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Eastern Europe is not only ethnically diverse, but also features a variety of coexistent religions and churches which transcend national boundaries. The relationship of larger churches with the Communist state was complicated and changed over time. As a general rule, religiosity was less tolerated in the Stalinist epoch, while in periods of relative liberalization it was more accepted. The attitude of the Party and the secret police towards priests largely depended on how much the priests and their churches were willing to cooperate. In some cases, the major church in the country closely collaborated with the central power; in other cases, however, churches proved to be one of the primary spaces of dissidence, and suffered the most from state violence. Smaller (semi-)autonomous religious circles were even more likely to be targeted, for these were considered more difficult to control by the Party. This module introduces students to the diverse strategies churches, religious communities, and individuals used to cope with oppression by the state.




  • Kunicki, M. (2009). Between Accommodation, Resistance, and Dialogue: Church-State Relations in Communist Poland, 1945-1989. In A. Suppan & W. Mueller (Eds.), Peaceful Coexistence or Iron Curtain? Austria, Neutrality, and Eastern Europe in the Cold War and Détente, 1955-1989 (pp. 393–411). Wien: LIT. Retrieved from
  • Ivascu, B. (2011). Confronting Communism with Christian Ethics: The Ethico-Religious Motivation of Eastern European Dissidence. Politics, Religion & Ideology, 12(1), 51–64.

Featured Items from COURAGE Registry (selection)

Related Collections from COURAGE Registry (selection)



In-class or short-term assignments
1) Browse the COURAGE Registry and identify smaller religious communities that were under state surveillance. Why were these communities harassed?

2) Were there any communities persecuted for their religious affiliation in your country's history? Briefly introduce such a case for your classmates.

3) Use the COURAGE Registry, an online encyclopedia or the World Factbook to identify the most common religions and churches in each Eastern European country. Compare your results in class.

4) The Vatican played a crucial role in relations between the Catholic Church and the State under Communism that often affected other churches as well. Identify who the popes were between the Second World War and the regime changes in 1989. Make a timeline! Add crucial agreements with Eastern European states to the timeline in class. Discuss their effects.
Offsite, longer-term assignments
1) Consult your local librarian: is there a book, a journal, an archival document or an artwork that was not accessible for religious reasons at any time in the history of that collection? Find out why. What were the differences and similarities to religious materials banned in Communist Eastern Europe (based upon your search in the COURAGE Registry)? Write a 2000-word long essay on the topic.

2) Using your own social circles, try to find  and interview a conscientious objector who refused military service on religious grounds. What were his motives? Introduce his thoughts in 1000 words. If you cannot find one, identify such a person based on published or online materials, and summarize his story in 1000 words. Which religious organization did he belong to? Was that religious group operating in Eastern Europe during Communism?


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