Ani Sarkissian on Religious Liberty in the Post-Soviet World
Date: March 11th, 2013

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The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 heralded what many thought would be a new era of liberty in a region of the world that has known little freedom for most of its history.  However, many of the new regimes that emerged from the Soviet rubble have slipped back into autocracy.  We review these political developments and what it has meant for religious freedom in the region with Prof. Ani Sarkissian, an assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University.  Our discussion begins with some reflections on the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the decade of optimism that it ushered in to the former Soviet world.  Prof. Sarkissian then discusses the “creeping authoritarianism” that has beset the region over the past decade or so, focusing on Russia as a classic example of what is occuring in other regions while also highlighting some of the differences in regime types that have emerged.  Ani mentions that while most scholars have spent time examining how elections and party systems have been manipulated by aspiring autocrats, looking at how groups in civil society — namely religious organizations — are treated is also a first indication of where the government is headed.  She reviews four different patterns of church-state relations that impact religious liberty: 1) states repressing all religions; 2) states repressing all but one faith tradition; 3) states repressing some religions but not others; and 4) states who appear to have wide-ranging religious freedom.  To explain why such variation has emerged, Ani focuses both on factors affecting the religious composition of society, the nature of the authoritarian regime, and the historical church-state relations that existed prior to the Soviet Union and that emerged during Soviet domination.  She reviews a typical country in each of these categories letting us know what is happening in countries such as Uzbekistan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Albania.  Tony notes that he recently met with a Kyrgy delegation interested in implementing religious freedom policies and that he was given a traditional Kyrgy hat that he has to this day.  (A picture of Tony wearing this hat with his favorite Western waistcoat can be viewed on our Facebook Fan Page.)  We finish with Ani’s thoughts about the future of the region and whether there is reason for optimism or pessimism.  Recorded: March 6, 2013.


Ani Sarkissian’s home page at Michigan State University.

Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes after the Cold War, by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way (mentioned during the podcast).

The Political Origins of Religious Liberty, by Anthony Gill (mentioned during the podcast with some prodding).


Catherine Wanner on Religion in Russia.

Jonathan Fox on Religion & State around the World.

Karrie Koesel on Religion & Politics in China.

Thomas Farr on Religion, Religious Liberty, and Diplomacy.

Timothy Shah on the Case for Religious Liberty.

Monica Toft on Religion, Terrorism, and Civil War.

Daniel Philpott on Religious Resurgence & Democratization.

Kevin Cooney on Religion and Rule of Law in China.

Allen Hertzke on Religious Liberty.


2 Responses to “Ani Sarkissian on Religious Liberty in the Post-Soviet World”

  1. Jonathan Fox says:

    Excellent and informative talk. I’m looking forward to the book and I’m not just saying this because I’ve coauthored with Ani and the plug (thanks for that by the way). While I know Ani does this in her work, I’d have liked to see more of a distinction in the interview about privileging some religions on one hand and restricting them on the other. Giving one religion benefits that are not given to others is not the same thing as restricting the free exercise of some religions but not others. In the former case minority religions may have complete religious freedom even if they don’t get as many benefits from the government. In the latter, the minority’s religious rights are clearly being violated.

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