This paper discusses the plights of religious and ethnic minorities in the context of church-state relations in contemporary Poland and it examines the processes of negotiation of religious diversity in a predominantly Catholic society. It asks, on the one hand, whether speaking about pluralism in such a context is at all meaningful, and, on the other hand, it questions some widespread assumptions regarding the presumed homogeneity of the Polish context. Based on the ethnographic study of a multireligious and multiethnic rural community in southern Poland, the paper advocates the study of pluralism “from below,” examining how people actually engage with and produce pluralism locally.
More specifically, the paper explores the ways in which members of religious and ethnic minorities respond to the dominant narrative of the association between Polishness and Catholicism. In so doing, it introduces the concept of “hierarchical pluralism”—an arrangement of social relations that allows plurality while at the same time establishing one ethnic or religious group as the dominant and norm-defining one. Exploring the mechanisms whereby hierarchical pluralism is perpetuated, the paper demonstrates the powerfulness of the discourses and practices which reconfigure religion as “culture” and “tradition” and, by defining the bond between Polishness and Catholicism as “natural” and “normal,” reproduce ethno-religious hierarchies. However, rather than drawing a picture of uneven relations, the paper explores people’s actual practices and discourses as they question existing hierarchies. By presenting several ethnographic snapshots that account for local people’s endeavors to make pluralism, the paper highlights the intricate and mutable character of local religious landscapes and the constant tension between pluralism and hierarchy.
Agnieszka Pasieka holds an MA in Sociology (2007) from the Jagiellonian University, Cracow and a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology (2012) from the Martin Luther University, Halle. Her forthcoming book, Seven Ways to God. Religious Pluralism in Catholic Poland, discussesthe situation of religious and ethnic minorities in the context of church-state relations in Poland. Pasieka was a research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle (2007-2011) and at the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna (2011-2012), and a visiting fellow at Yale University (2013-2014). Currently, she holds a postdoctoral position at the Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, where she is conducting a research project on the intersection between religion, ethnicity, and class. As a part of this project, she conducted a 6-month long historical-ethnographic research with the descendants of Polish immigrants living in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Her research interests include anthropology of religion, ethnicity, politics, education, and social history. Pasieka also works for the association Otwarta Rzeczpospolita (Open Republic), where she is responsible for a program addressed to high school students, which aims at raising awareness of past and present diversity in Poland and promotes new educational methods.
Sponsors: Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies; Copernicus Program in Polish Studies; Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies
Agnieszka Pasieka, assistant professor of anthropology, Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences