Featured Interview

Our research partners in Lithuania explain the rationale behind GREASE’s Country Reports. In doing so they offer insights into their ongoing investigations in Russia, Hungary and Slovakia.

From left: Daniel Vekony, Egdūnas Račius (lead researcher) and Marat Iliyasov of Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania.

What can we expect from GREASE’s 23 Country Reports? 
Egdūnas: First of all, the reports give a perspective on the different ways that religion is governed around the world. They show that even in Europe, religious governance regimes differ significantly. While the reports themselves are not comparative, they do have a common structure that invites comparison. 
Secondly, the reports provide an overview on how states perceive and seek to prevent radicalisation. Though radicalisation may often be religious in nature, it frequently has nationalist, populist or otherwise secular dimensions as well. And it almost always – inevitably – has a political dimension. 
With respect to both radicalisation and governance of religion, the reports provide useful background (including an extensive bibliography) and can serve as a stepping stone for more in-depth analysis.

Daniel: I think this project is unique, as it tries to give a comparative scope to religion, secularism and radicalism from a truly global perspective. Few research projects take on such ambitious goals, and this gives us a huge opportunity to learn from each other.

Russia is a geographically massive country with a high degree of cultural heterogeneity. Is it possible to generalise about religious diversity and radicalisation in such a place?

Marat: It is impossible to generalise about the process of radicalisation not only in Russia but elsewhere in the world. Each case is individual and needs to be treated as unique. Nonetheless, some cases may have similar or even identical features. Which makes it interesting to compare them. It is possible to identify patterns among the cases and group them into categories, broadening our understanding about the radicalisation process and the drivers behind it. And yet, there will be some cases that can fit anywhere. That’s what makes radicalisation so difficult to pinpoint.

Egdūnas: Russia is almost a continent unto itself. So one needs to be cautious in making generalisations about it, and not only regarding religious radicalisation. The same applies to India and other countries with great religious and cultural diversity, so Russia is not unique in this regard; it’s just that it looms large compared to other, less populous and less culturally diverse countries. But even in those cases, we have to keep in mind that there is a vast spectrum of religious diversity (even within a given faith) and avoid making sweeping generalisations about any country.

Hungary and Slovakia are neighbouring states. Has your research found many similarities?

Daniel: Hungary and Slovakia have a rather problematic shared history. Even though the two peoples had many conflicts in the past, they share a number of characteristics in their national identity. Both countries regard their Christian heritage as an essential element of their national identity. If one takes a look at the coat of arms of the two countries, one immediately sees that the Slovakian coat of arms (the double cross standing on three hills) is the same as the right side of the Hungarian one. So, strong links are there in these basic symbols, too. 
Both countries struggle with their past and their national identity. Because of the past traumas for both countries, the ideal of a homogeneous national society is something positive. This is why both societies have challenges as far as minority groups (ethnic and religious) are concerned. This issue is also tangibly present in the domain of religion and migration. Many people in these societies regard migration (involving people of non-Christian background) as a potential challenge for achieving a harmonious society.

When the country reports are published, who do you think will benefit most from reading them? 

Egdūnas: The Country Reports, though written by academics, are meant to serve a general readership. We are trying to write them in such a way that will make them valuable for academics but also comprehensible to readers who have only a limited knowledge of the subject matter. The accompanying Country Profiles – which provide basic information on the countries covered – will help make the material even more accessible.
The reports will definitely be of interest to students in various fields of social sciences like political science, sociology, law, etc. But they may also prove useful to practitioners such as state employees at ministries and other governmental institutions and those working for NGOs or in the civil society sector. The reports will appeal particularly to two groups: those who deal with issues involving cultural and religious diversity (and the governance thereof); and those working on preventing radicalisation (religious or otherwise). People representing religious institutions – and those affiliated with them – may also find these reports informative and useful. And finally, journalists who report on related issues should find the reports very handy. 

GREASE’s Country Reports and Country Profiles will be published in late 2019.

This interview originally appeared in N2, the second issue of the GREASE Newsletter.