Milda ALISAUSKIENE and Ingo SCHRODER, (Eds.) . Religious Diversity in Post-Soviet Society: Ethnographies of Catholic Hegemony and the New Pluralism in Lithuania. 2012. xiii + 212 pages. ISBN 978-1-4094-0912-0.
Reviewed by Richard RYMARZ, St Joseph’s College, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB.

The edited volume is a welcomed addition to the burgeoning literature on religion, broadly understood, in post Soviet Eastern Europe. The focus here is on Lithuania and the chapters explore the relationship between a traditional Catholic religious hegemony and new religious expressions. I think it has succeeded admirably in its aim of providing a comprehensive overview of the contemporary religion in Lithuania. The ethnographic methodology that is referred to throughout the volume is a very effective means of providing such an overview, as it is both rigorous and attuned to cultural changes in situ.

One central theme of the volume is bringing to light a hitherto underreported pluralism in post-Soviet Lithuania. This is discussed in light of the traditional strength of Catholicism in the country. The ubiquity of Catholic belief and practise is still a very active factor but it remains a diffuse influence. The diversity of beliefs and practises though, even in rural areas, is a revelation. As in many European countries a critical aspect of this pluralism is a rising tide of religious indifferentism, especially amongst the young in urban areas. This issue is well discussed in Schroder’s chapter where he examines this alienation by drawing on both Gramsci and Bourdieu and is further investigated in the chapter by Pranaityte-Wergin looks at the place of Catholicism in a southern Lithuanian village.

In providing a conceptual framework for the book Alissaukiene and Schroder use three standard sociological concepts to frame the discussion on religion in contemporary Lithuania. They see marketization of religion, hegemony and bricolage as all active explanatory factors. Moreover, they all have an impact simultaneously and a key task of the scholar is to understand their complex interrelationship. A good example of this interplay is the relationship between the Catholic Church and other religious communities such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostal movements. Lankauskas in his chapter examines the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Word of Faith, a Pentecostal church that has grown rapidly in recent times. In dealing with the Word of Faith, the initial position of the Catholic church was to attempt to assert its religious hegemony but this strategy has been modified as the church comes to terms with a new religious marketplace. This is one which is much more consumer oriented and where all religious groups need to be responsive to popular demands for relevance and efficacy of religious belonging. In addition, the breakdown in Soviet institutional structures has allowed for a much more vigorous expression of religious individualism – often seen as a self constructed bricolage.

The place of religious minorities is explored in a number of places in the book. Racius provides a chapter on Islam which is seen as alien to Lithuania even though it has had a small presence in the country for centuries. In keeping with a clear trend in European sociology of religion this volume also examines New Age spiritualities such as the Romuva neopagan movement lead by the cultural historian Jonas Trinkunas. Strmiska critically engages with the claim that neopagans represent not a new religious expression but are a reversion to an indigenous pre-Christian ritually embodied worldview. At the same time Romuva seeks to consolidate its links with Eastern Hindu based organizations. In a similar vein Alisauskiene discusses New Age spiritualities as expressions both of popular Catholicism and as a religious alternative.

TO ORDER BOOKS: - Continuum - Crossroad - Eerdmans Publishing - Liturgical Press - Orbis Books