The collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of seventy years of anti-religious policies—of a period in which religious expression was severely curtailed and religious institutions were always controlled, at times co-opted, and at other times brutally repressed, with the aim of effecting the demise of religion, an aim which was never fully realized. The post-1991 era was radically different, at least in those newly independent countries that adopted and implemented liberal laws regarding religious expression and organization. It might be expected that religious leaders and practitioners would have a straightforwardly positive view of this widening scope for religious activities, but this turned out not always to be the case.
Posts Tagged ‘communism’
The years of World War II—when thousands of Yugoslav workers, peasants, intellectuals and students joined the Communist-led Partisans—provided the foundation for the myth of the post-war Communist regime. Small forests were torn down just to print hundreds of thousands of pages extolling the virtues or condemning the crimes of the Yugoslav Communists in WWII. Memoirs and war diaries, historical studies and exhibitions, popular songs and films all focused on Communism. Even the most popular children’s story from post-war Yugoslavia, Branko Copic’s The Hedgehog’s House, is widely perceived to be an allegory of the partisan struggle against the Nazis. The primary sources from this period are daunting and the hagiography that accompanies them is stifling.
A recent poll suggests that one in three Chinese consider themselves religious, “an astonishing figure for an officially atheist country, where religion was banned until three decades ago,” writes Louisa Lim. Lim, in a six part series, “New Believers: A Religious Revolution in China,” on NPR’s All Things Considered, is documenting the diversity religious practices in the communist state.
Postwar Yugoslavia was confronted with a rather difficult task: How to give meaning to a new state that was simultaneously the protectorate of religious and national difference but also a project that transcended these differences? Bogdan Bogdanovic’s work, largely focused on monuments commemorating the victims of fascism, was ideal for trying to give this project an architectural language.
In a 1956 text on ethics and literature, Emmanuel Levinas offered the following diagnosis of the philosophical trends of his time: “Contemporary thought holds the surprise for us of an atheism that is not humanist. The gods are dead or withdrawn from the world; concrete, even rational man does not contain the universe.” This atheism that is not humanist, the sense that certain strands of contemporary philosophy had abandoned secularism’s central ethical and political investment in humanism, poses the motivating question behind the book I am presenting for discussion here, An Atheism that Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought. In twentieth-century French thought, particularly in the period from the end of World War I through the late 1950s, a new form of atheism, and with it, a new conception of man, emerged and crystallized. What historians and critics of French thought, literature, and intellectual culture have, since the 1960s, called “antihumanism,” I argue, can be best understood in terms of this development, which is at once theological, epistemological, and political.