The Process of De-Secularization in Macedonian Society

The Macedonian confessional milieu is multiple in majority and minority religious communities. The majority religious communities are the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the Islamic Community, while the minority ones are the Protestant and minority Christian religious communities including the few believers determined for the eastern cults. However, one should bear in mind the fact that until recently a large group of atheists existed in Macedonian society, and one should not neglect the existence of categories of citizens that have none or at least not an active relationship towards religion (undefined - a category that is indifferent to the question of religion).

The Macedonian confessional milieu is basically defined as a two-fold, mainly defined from the existence of the two large religious collectivities - the Muslim and the Orthodox religious communities. The Macedonian population is basically defined as Orthodox, while the Albanian population is homogenous in pertaining to the Muslim denomination. Following the historical tendencies, we can note a high percentage of stability in the categories of believers within these two collectivities that are quietly disintegrating. The mutual national conflicts are accompanied by, and result from, the total "nationalistic confrontation" that has emerged in this region through the conflict situation afflicting the Yugoslav community, a part of which was Macedonia as well, for a long period of time. Gradually, the national conflicts were transported to these regions as well, and the result was the feeling, action and mobilization of the religious collectivities within the "national awakening" and behavior.

I see the shaping of the minority religious potential, which is really and actually in the margins, first of all as a reflection of the development of the process of de-secularization, that is, the entry of the religious into the secular living. We should here emphasize the strong logistic of the international base that follows this grouping. [1]

De-secularization as a social phenomenon is explained as a step-by-step entry of the holy into the established secular surrounding. De-secularization is trying to impose the religious view on the world, giving it a religious colorfulness, imposing the religious values and giving particular priority to the religious ethics, while in the political and social life it is the legitimization of religion as a political, that is a "respectable" social subject surmounting the phase in which it was shaped as a private matter of the believers. [2]

The de-secularization is articulated through the development on the example of religious fundamentalism, through the upsurge of neo-charismatic communities, through the upsurge of numerous confined religious communities that emphasize their originality, through the upsurge of the right-oriented political force, through the creation of the so-called moral majority, through the upsurge of many fortune-tellers and dream interpreters, through the creation of "sanctuaries" in which religious "therapy" is used to cure pathological diseases that are created as a result of the rule of atheism, and so on. The de-secularization determines the creation of new, and reinforcement of already existing, religious communities, but due to the development of religious fundamentalism, on the macro plan the religious communities act in less harmony, great ideas for unification are abandoned and smaller associations among the communities that are close in the dogma are created.

On the other hand, the counter-secularization is shaped as a sudden turning towards the secular, as a hundred percent rapid change in the tendency, and a literal replacement with the contrast sanctity instead of the secularity. [3]

The development of the process of de-secularization in Macedonian society is definitely attached to the "results" achieved by the process of secularization. This process has firmly affected the Orthodox community, which is particularly notable in the research of religiosity implemented in this period. For instance, the work of Ph.D. Stefan Kostovski from 1972 entitled "Religion among the Rural Population in Dolni Polog", lists data according to which the larger presence of atheists from the Orthodox community is stressed, of which seven percent are rational and 26.1 percent elemental atheists. We should here incorporate the hesitating believers, which is 26.1 percent. With the Muslim population, up to 77 percent of the respondents pointed out that they were traditional believers, which is 33 percent more than with the Orthodox believers, while the rates of rational atheists (2.6 percent), elemental atheists (5.2 percent), and hesitating believers (15.2 percent) are significantly lower. By generalizing these figures we want to indicate to the fact that there is a more profound entry in the process of secularization in the Orthodox community, while this rate is far lower with the Muslim population, that is, its range is significantly limited.

According to research in the religiosity carried out by Yugoslav authors covering the entire Yugoslav area in the period 1986-1987, the highest rate of believers is in Kosovo (up to 78 percent), it is 59 percent in Slovenia, 55 percent in Croatia, 53 percent in Macedonia, 50 percent in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 37 percent in Serbia, 28 percent in Vojvodina and 19 percent in Montenegro. [4] These data covering the larger area denote a high rate of believers from the Islamic confession, which directly points to the limited influence of the process of secularization.

According to the data obtained in the research of religiosity among the Macedonian population in 1997 [5] , there is an increasing de-secularization in the Macedonian religious life.

Religious background     
Muslim 237 20.99 %
Orthodox 881 78.03%
Catholic 2 0.18%
Protestant 6 0.53%
Other 3 0.27%
Total 1,129 100.00%

The data clearly indicate the high rate of positive religious identification, which speaks about the big influence of these confessions in the development and structure of the Macedonian social community. The positive religious identification among this heterogeneous religious population speaks about the effect of confessions on the total life of the ethnic, that is religious, groupings, and it ultimately conditions the disintegrative framework of the community burdened by many conflicts, especially during the transition period. The Orthodox religion has been accepted and transmitted by members of the Macedonian nation, while the Islamic confession is characteristic of the Albanian population. In the course of history, these confessions acquire the prefix of national religions and thus become their characteristic and extremely important brand. Probably, the conflict between these two ethnic groupings contributes to the reinforcement of the positions of the religion, and therefore due to the connection of the religious with the national, the possibilities for a transfer to an over-national religion are nearly impossible. This is probably why Protestantism is not largely rooted in Macedonia and does not show a particularly large expansionism.

The research from 1999 [6] confirms this tendency to de-secularization. I would first of all like to indicate the sustentation of the high rate of confessional identification, which indicates the presence of a higher rate of traditionalism, and the rate absorbing the active relationship towards religion is relatively lower. It is necessary to add to these data the gradual overlap of the regional and the confessional, that is, the concentration of a specific confession in a definite area.

Religious background No. of respondents %
Muslim 324 21.62
Orthodox 1,157 77.13
Catholic 13 0.86
Protestant 4 0.26
Other 2 0.13
Total 1,500 100.00

Regional and confessional background

  Muslim Orthodox Catholic Protestant Other Other
Eastern Macedonia 4 - 1.60% 246 - 98.40% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 250 - 100.00%
Western 208- 57.78% 148 - 41.11% 4 - 1.11% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 360 - 100.00%
Northern 36 - 27.69 % 93 - 71.54 % 0 - 0.00% 1 - 0.77% 0 - 0.00% 130 - 100.00%
Southern 2 - 0.53% 187 - 98.42% 0 - 0.00% 1 - 0.53% 0 - 0.00% 190 - 100.00%
Central 5 - 3.57% 132 - 94.29% 3 - 2.14% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 140 - 100.00%
Skopje 69 - 16.05% 351 - 81.63% 6 - 1.40% 2 - 0.47% 2 - 0.47% 430 - 100.00%
Total 324 1157 13 4 2 1,500

In conformity with the presented data, it is essential to indicate the regional segregation of the confessional communities. In Eastern, Southern and Central Macedonia the dominating population was identified as Orthodox, but in Western Macedonia the Albanian population of Muslim confession is concentrated. The crossing of national and confessional identification gives the process of de-secularization a strong ethnic dimension.

National and confessional identification

  Muslim Orthodox Catholic Protestant Other Total
Macedonian 9 - 0.81% 1,094 - 98.03% 8 - 0.72% 3 - 0.27% 2 - 0.18% 1,116 - 100.00%
Albanian 258 - 97,36% 6 - 2.26% 1 - 0.38% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0,00% 265 - 100.00%
Turk 21 - 95.45% 1 - 4.55% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 22 - 100.00%
Serb 2 - 6.06% 31 - 93.94% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 33 - 100.00%
Roma 26 - 92.86% 1 - 3.57% 0 - 0.00% 1 - 3.57% 0 - 0.00% 28 - 100.00%
Vlach 0 - 0.00% 18 - 100.00 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 18 - 100.00
Maced.Muslim 1 - 50.00% 0 - 0.00% 1 - 50.00% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 2 - 100.00
Montenegrin 2 - 50.00% 2 - 50.00% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 4 - 100.00%
Other 5 - 55.55% 2 - 22.22% 2 - 22.22% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 9 - 100.00
Non-pronounced 0 - 0.00% 2 - 66.67% 1 - 33.33% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 3 - 100.00%
Total 324 1,157 13 4 2 1,500

(Coefficient of contingency 0.4775)

The character of the Orthodox religion is strongly rooted with a Macedonian prefix, as the table above indicates, and it is closely associated with the Macedonian nation, while the Muslim confession is primarily associated with the Albanian population. In these frameworks, the confession (the reference is to the mother confession) acquires an integrative function. However, in the macro environment, the religious factor acts in a disintegrative manner, polarizing the community into two collectivities with antagonistic positions. This kind of polarized national and religious colorfulness determines a confessional and national dichotomy; it determines the creation of two collectivities that, together with the regional segregation, gradually enter more intensive conflict zones, often very directly shaped and directed by the social milieu with a common denominator formulated in the general disintegration of the Macedonian society in transition.

The confessional identification is just an expression of the process of de-secularization. It is normally completed with the personal identification that is monitored through the precise declaration, that is, self-definition of the individuals in reference to religion.

Personal religious identification

Please state if you are N. of respondents %
Believer 977 65.14
Non-believer 139 9.26
Something in between 384 25.6
Total 1,500 100.00

This indicator measures the respondent's primary active attitude towards religion, which is how much one self-defines oneself as a believer. This means that not only regarding the system of values but also regarding one's practical behavior one will act in conformity with the regulations created by one's confession, and thus one will do whatever one's religion requires one to do. Out of the total number of respondents, two thirds declared themselves to be believers, which means that less than one third of them are in the phase of "definition." The active attitude towards religion is primarily and to a great extent an expression of the revitalized process of de-secularization that deepens and activates individual religious life. The national background adequately "colors" the personal religious identification. [7] Namely, a high rate of national and personal identification as believers is noted among the Albanian population, while "non-believers" or individual formulation of confession is largely present among the Macedonian population, which is regularly most present in the Orthodox religion. It is worthwhile stressing here that the process of de-secularization follows the process of secularization that left deep traces in the Orthodox religious population, and therefore the believers return to the church counties with greater difficulty and very slowly.

Awareness about the need for religion in modern society can be defined as a very important and direct indicator in the development of the process of de-secularization. The need for the religious aggregate gradually to "replace" secular culture, which is considering religion as the only alternative for the crisis in the secular living, can undoubtedly and empirically be viewed in the answers to the question about the need for religion (according to the mentioned research in religiosity from 1999).

Does man need religion?

Macedonian 664 - 59.50% 115 - 10.30% 337 - 30.20% 1,116 - 100.00%
Albanian 234 - 88.30% 9 - 3.40% 22 - 8.30% 265 - 100.00%
Turk 18 - 81.82% 2 - 9.09% 2 - 9.09% 22 - 100.00%
Serb 17 - 51.52% 7 - 21.21% 9 - 27.27% 33 - 100.00%
Roma 19 - 67.86% 3 - 10.71% 6 - 21.43% 28 - 100.00%
Vlach 12 - 66.67% 1 - 5.56% 5 - 27.78% 18 - 100.00
Macedonian Muslim 2 - 100.00% 0 - 0.00% 0 - 0.00% 2 - 100.00%
Montenegrin 2 - 50.00% 1 - 25.00% 1 0 25.00% 4 - 100.00%
Other 7 - 77.78% 0 - 0.00% 2 - 22.22% 9 - 100.00%
No answer 2 - 66.67% 1 - 33.33% 0 - 0.00% 3 - 100.00%
Total 977 139 384 1,500

Yes 1112 74.13%
No 103 6.86%
It is harmful 13 0.86%
Haven't thought it over 272 18.13%
Total 1,500 100.00%

1,112 or 74.13 percent of the respondents place religion in the context of man's needs. One must bear in mind that the pre-transitional "state" ideology indicated that religion was superfluous and harmful to modern man. According to it, religion as opium for the masses should be gradually atrophied and then pushed out of modern life. However, the high rate of respondents that believe religion is necessary to man points to the conclusion that in this transition period it acquires a new dimension. In other words, the religious motherboard of value is accepted as an expression of the old good "moral" behavior, that is to say, a longing for the time in which there was more "happiness," an expression of the need to state one's own national brand, underline the traditional background, explain some "limiting" contents, and so on. Regardless of the need it satisfies, religion remains quite present in the religious life in the transition period. The religious motherboard of values is interpreted as the only alternative to the secular motherboard of values, and we would say that the confessional religiosity becomes a kind of a "replacement" for the secular. [8]

Religious practice becomes an inseparable part of religious consciousness. It is monitored on an individual and group level. The individual practice of religion reflects the individual idea and interpretation of faith; it depicts the power that religion directly exerts over the individual. The individual practice of religion is just conditionally separated from its majority manifestation because in reality they are directly intertwined and connected. The individual practice lives in the believer, while the group practice makes it general, stronger, gives it a group framework and gives "power" to the collectivity. The practice is obvious in the customs and celebrities, but it is also viewed in the dynamics and actions of the church and believers during a longer period of time. Attending church, or assembling the religious group in the sacred house, has logic in the target structure, that is to say, in the introduction, transmission and continuation of the doctrine of the same religion. This means its "fulfillment" through a concrete mass and customs. The sociologist monitors the public practice manifested in the church assembly that, shaped in this way, acquires a double "legality" through the impression about its volume and coherence that leaves it on the outside, as well as through the fact that stresses the believer's self-confidence that is directly fed by its joint spirit and unity. On the other hand, the practice is more exposed to the influence of the social milieu because its actors are believers who more or less exist in it.

Generally, religious practice is researched through indicators related to the attendance in religious houses or practice of religious rituals.

Do you go to church, mosque?

Do you go to church, mosque? No. of respondents %
Yes, regularly 340 22.67
Sometimes 628 41.87
On religious holidays 427 28.46
Not at all 105 7
Total 1,500 100.00

The communication established with the religious edifice, which is very intensive with one category and less intensive with another, is a straight picture of the developed process that revitalizes religion and returns the believers to the religious edifices. The revitalization of the religious collectivities followed by casual visits gradually creates real possibilities for the formation of a stronger collectivity that will absorb the energy and power of the individual, and which will abide by its own rules. I would only like to emphasize here that the table above reflects the connection between the religious edifices and the believers. It is somewhere more, in other places less, intensive, and yet it expresses the grouping in the frameworks of the religious edifice, it expresses the creation of a religious collectivity, which gradually obtains "its own force" and starts affecting the believer and the individuals who are shaping it. However, religious practice is not solely viewed through the activities related to the religious edifice, but also outside of it, in the practice of prayers, celebrations and so on. Nevertheless, the main events in a man's life like birth, marriage and death are marked in the religious edifice. [9]

In the period of transition the believers notably return to the churches, religious holidays return to man's everyday life and religious rituals become quite a normal and everyday necessity. The emphasized religious movement is marked in all segments of man's life. The religious communities are those that are first of all trying to gather their "flock," to introduce them more profoundly into their being, to form the religious collectivity that will later have a profound influence on the population of believers. The transition period marks a significantly developed religious consciousness, which is most directly "conditioned" and followed through religious practice.

The process of de-secularization and the process of coming to life of religious everyday life are specifically manifested in the process of evangelization and the process of "confession practice" of the population. The religious identification expresses most directly the influence of the traditional milieu on the religious life of the individual. However, it has often to do with a most direct influence on the modern surrounding, that is to say, on the active subjects that are "trying" to reshape the traditionally defined milieu. It has to do with the "fruits" of the process of evangelization. The active evangelization often makes big cuts in the traditionally timely religious living. The reasons for abandoning the traditionally defined religious group are owed to the influence of outside factors, but with this process the weaknesses are often dimensioned, that is to say, the incompleteness and inconsistencies in the traditional religious framework. Very often the traditional religious living becomes stiffened and non-flexible, sometimes easily ceding the place to a more engaged and at moments more flexible religious shape of living. [10]


*          *

Considering the previous text, we could define the religiosity in the transitional period as a period in which de-secularization dominates, as a period that is basically religious and "longing" to adapt the religious system of values to the newly created situation. The "regeneration" of religious collectivities is first of all monitored through the high rate of fans and believers visiting religious edifices.

The Macedonian social community is shaped as bipolar regarding the confessional aspect, as two-collective, as a community composed of two large communities, developing as two different groupings, less and less annulling the emerged antagonisms, less and less affirming the joint spirit, the similarities, the positive. Depending on the influence of the internal as well as the "external factor," these two collectivities are developing as separate and clearly divided communities, entering deeper in some conflict phases, the result of which is viewed in the disintegrative trends of the Macedonian social entity.

The etiology of the process of de-secularization should be studied through the projection of the social determinant of crisis. Namely, the crisis of the secular society, manifested in all the forms of man's action and organization, imposes the need for returning to religion, that is to say, for making the religious the only alternative to the secular. The gradual replacement of the holy with the secular in different collectivities is experienced and practised in different ways. The collectivity shaped in the frameworks of Islam, first of all due to the demographic explosion, stays; that is to say, in its frameworks the secularization has a limited influence because of which the process of de-secularization has quite a better starting base. As a matter of fact, in these frameworks the promotion of the quality of the active religious subject is more present, and relatively smaller is the return of the believers to the religious edifices that they had never truly abandoned. In the shaped Orthodox collectivity, the process of de-secularization has made deeper inroads and its transformation into de-secularization is carried out in a different way. As a matter of fact, the most numerous class in the Macedonian community was separated from the church in masses and, under the influence of the secular education and the general living, religious feeling was placed in the private sphere of the individual. The good quality return of religion among the conditionally defined Orthodox collectivity requires an extremely active religious community that must offer a good quality "product" because the active evangelization practised by the minority religious communities in the Macedonian sociological milieu can orient its believers outside its edifices. In this context we must speak of "competition" ruling in the Christian world, while it is drastically lower in the Islamic religion. There are a number of Christian minority communities that are making big efforts in christening the Albanian population, but the result is quite symbolic. [11]

The direct engagement in the field, particularly the well-trained personnel created first of all by the dominating religious communities in Macedonia (12), with the minority communities not lagging too much behind, become an important factor in the process of de-secularization in their collectivities.

It is essential to underline how confined these collectivities were at the time of a stronger revitalization of the process of de-secularization.

The absence of adequate joint bodies, as well as the absence of elementary cooperation among the religious communities in Macedonia, accompanied by a mutual lack of understanding and sometimes impatience, produce a less tolerant attitude of the ones towards the others. The process of de-secularization is somehow bringing more to light the labeling and damnation of the "enemy camp" without making a more serious effort in creating a more moderate climate for religious tolerance. Intolerance, or to put it more mildly, indifference of religious communities, ones towards the others, contribute to their confinement and stronger internal integration, while on the global plan the latent appearance of disintegration is clear.



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[1] The phases of crisis in American history followed through the development of religious fundamentalism and biblical spirit place again in the center of the attention the theological thought, and an entire multitude of religious communities are created that stress their originality and pledge for its maintenance. Some, initially minority communities, with the impossibility of overcoming their exclusivity, exclude communication and joint action with the other religious communities, that is to say, they are "renegades" from the social trends rejecting directly or indirectly the achievements and possibilities for a global collective living, alluding to their differences and constant untouchable sense for criticizing the majority communities.

[2] In essence, secularization is defined as a reversed process of de-secularization and as a gradual replacement of the holy with the secular in all the forms of man's activity. Secularization is monitored on several levels: a) theoretical-philosophical - which denotes that the dominating understanding is that the world is interpreted with the world itself, not reaching for "over-worldly" forces; b) in the system of values or the content of life - the spiritual (knowledgeable, moral, aesthetic and other) and vital values "of this side" prevail, while religious values are either weakened or pushed out; c) in ethical theory - the moral of man's (psychological, rational and social) forces and needs are founded; and d) in the political and social life - religion is withdrawn in the church, in the sphere of private right and private life (this, normally, is a tendency and not a completed process). - Pavicevic Vuko, Sociologija religije sa elementima filozofije religije, BIGZ, Beograd, 1988, p. 314.

[3] In this context we should observe the process of laymanization as an integral part of the process of de-secularization, as well as the general tendency of christening, which is the reversed direction to de-christening.

[4] Data from S. Pojatina's work "Religija i religioznost u jugoslovenskom dru{tvu" were used, in the publication by a group of authors: "Empirijska istra`ivawa dru{tvene svesti," Centar za dru{tvena istra`ivawa, Beograd 1988.

[5] Data from the research "Socio-ekonomska struktura i problemi na naselenieto vo Republika Makedonija" from 1997/98, published in 2001, ISPPI, Skopje

[6] In this part data are used from the project "Socijalnoto raslojuvawe i kvalitetot na `ivotot vo periodot na tranzicija," accomplished in 1997/98, published in 2001, ISPPI, Skopje

[7] National and personal religious identification (data from the above mentioned research from 1999)

[8] In the research in religiosity from 1999, we asked the respondents to put their answers in the context of the evident poverty and military campaigns in the present day, which are framed in the following way:

Do you believe that war and poverty are God's punishment for committed sins?

War, poverty - God's punishment?

No. of respondents








Haven't thought about it






Over half of the respondents said that war and poverty in the present day are not a result of God's anger, and they looked for the answer to this question in other spheres of man's existence. 20.66% of the respondents are convinced that war and poverty are an expression of God's anger. Somewhat higher is the number of those (416 or 27.73%) who said that they did not have a view on this question.

In monitoring the answers, it is unavoidable to point out the high rate of answers saying that war and poverty are an expression of God's anger - 56.63% of the Macedonian respondents, 41.89% of the Albanian respondents. (Data used from the research in religiosity from 1999)

Do you practice religious rituals (prayers, religious holidays, christening, wedding, requiem mass…)?


No. of respondents


Yes, regularly












Regular practice of religious rituals is present with 46.4% of the respondents, representing 696 from the total number of 1,500 respondents. Those who sometimes practise religious rituals is somewhat higher (49.66%), while the number of those who never in their lives practise religious rituals is small.

[9] Have you been offered religious literature?


No. of respondents








Don't remember






[10] On the other hand, one must bear in mind the fact that, for a long period of time, if one abandoned the Islamic religion, one was sentenced to death.

[11] In the last decade of the 20th century there has been a higher rate of students in the Seminary Faculty in Skopje (in 1999 there were enlisted 276, in 2000 - 268, and in 2001 - 169). A total of 136 students have graduated from this faculty.

There are 87 regular and 57 visiting students at the Faculty of Theology in the frameworks of the Islamic community in Macedonia.