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Balkan Summer School on Religion and Public Life, Plovdiv, 10-24 August 2013‏

Balkan Summer School on Religion and Public Life
The Paissiy Hilendarski University of Plovdiv
August 10th-24th 2013

The organizers of the 2013 Balkan Summer School on Religion and Public Life (BSSRPL) on Syncretic Societies – Bridging Traditions and Modernity? proceed from the idea that religion and religious identities are central for the life of both individuals and society, and that our religious communities are often those to which we devote our greatest loyalties. In our diverse but increasingly interconnected world, we need to find ways to live together in a world populated by people with very different political ideas, moral beliefs and communal loyalties.

The goal of the Summer School is to provide a laboratory for the practical pedagogy of tolerance and living with difference in a global society. Its focus is on religion as a basic identification marker of the individual and society, and its aim is to produce new practices and understandings for living together in a world populated by “differences”.

The Balkan Summer School takes up this very real challenge and tries to critically define differences,especially communal and religious differences between people as the starting point of a publically shared life.Its basic aim is to help participants realize their prejudices and question their taken-for-granted assumptions of the other through the construction of a safe social space of exploration and interaction that includes an innovative mixture of academic teaching, experiential field experience (practicums) and affective engagement with the challenges of “living together differently”.

For centuries, if not millennia, the Balkans have been characterized by a diverse and complex mixture of religions, nations and ethnicities; of orthodoxies and heterodoxies, normative and subaltern beliefs, practices and ways of life. From medieval Bogomiles, to early modern Sabbateans, contemporary Bektashi, to the cult of Dionysius in antiquity – the Balkans has been a site of religious contestation and innovation. Not surprisingly, it has also been a cauldron of different forms of religious syncretism, with fractal boundaries between communities and a strong “lived” or practical tolerance of shared practices (rather than of homogenous beliefs). As in many other global spaces, this culture came under the assault of modern ideological agendas (nationalism, communism, fascism, liberal-secularism, etc.) with serious consequences for the practices of shared life that had characterized more traditional communal life-worlds.

Our 2013 summer school will explore the issue of religious syncretism (in the Balkans and elsewhere), as a unique form of accommodating difference (in law, community organization, religious practice, family obligations, definitions of gender, etc.). Inquiry into religious syncretism as lived practice in the area of the Rhodope Mountains and the Thracian plain around the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv will thus serve as the sharp lens of our inquiry. Ultimately, however we shall be focusing on the experience of our own boundaries, preconceptions, lived practices, prejudices and preconceptions – to better appreciate how to live with difference rather than deny, trivialize or abrogate it.

Drawing on over ten years experience of the International Summer School on Religion and Public Life ( the BSSRPL seeks to bring together some 30 fellows from different walks of life and different religious and confessional communities, (as well as those who define themselves as members of no such communities and have no religious identities) to explore these themes together, in conditions of mutual respect and recognition. We look forward to an enriching mix of post-graduate students, professors, NGO leaders, journalists, religious leaders, policy analysts, and teachers from the area of the Balkans, Europe and beyond to join us for the two weeks of the school.

As noted above, the BSSRPL combines more traditional academic lectures with field-work, practical, experiential learning and more affectively orientated forms of group learning; in a innovative approach to learning that goes far beyond the purely cognitive. In the past, schools have been held in Bosnia&Herzegovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Indonesia, Israel, Turkey, United Kingdom, and USA. The BSSRPL draws, in personnel, pedagogical principles and orientations from these past experiences and is organized in affiliation with the ISSRPL, as well with the Equator Peace Academy that is run out of the Uganda Martyrs University and which is holding its first school in Uganda and Rwanda in December 2012 devoted to Whole Community? Memory, Conflict and Tradition Please join us this August in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Application forms can be downloaded and further information attained at: