A Context-Grounded Approach to Religious Freedom: The Case of Orthodoxy in the Moldovan Republic


This paper explores the relationship between human rights and social analysis within the main historical and theoretical perspectives adopted by social sciences. In particular, religious freedom will be analysed as one of the central issues in the recent engagement of the social sciences with human rights. After examining current narratives and mainstream approaches of the social sciences towards the right to religious freedom, this article will then underline the importance of a social epistemology which goes beyond a normative and legal perspective, bridging the gap between the framework of human rights and the social roles of religion in context. Within this framework, religious freedom represents a social construct, whose perception, definition and implementation dynamically evolves according to its influence, at different levels, in the lived dimension of social relations. The second part of the article proposes a context-grounded analysis of religious freedom in the Republic of Moldova. This case study is characterised by the impressive growth of Orthodoxy after the demise of the Soviet Union and by a complex and contradictory political approach towards religious freedom, both as a legal standard and as a concept. Emerging through the analysis of local political narratives and some preliminary ethnographical observations, the social importance of religion will be investigated both as a governmental instrument and as an embodied means of dealing with widespread socio-economic insecurity, creating tensions between religious rootedness and religious freedom. The local debate on religious freedom will then be related to the influence of geopolitical borders, the topic of traditional identity and the religious form of adaptation to the ineffectiveness of the new secular local policies, with orthodox institutions and parishes having new socio-political roles at both a global and local scale.

Davide N. Carnevale