Between Memory and Forgetting

International Program of the Balkan Summer School on Religion and Public Life

Bulgaria | September 1-9, 2023

How and what different communities remember so as to forge continuities in their fragile existence and what they forget with the very same goal in mind, serves as the entry point in this week-long educational program. It is now 80 years since the historical events that led to the 1943 rescue of the Bulgarian Jewish community from deportation to Nazi extermination camps.

Our program marks these events and recognizes the fragile hopes they embody even as it explores the complex, contradictory, and often less than hopeful aspects of their broader context—both in Bulgaria and beyond. The implications of both, we feel, are significant for Bulgaria, the Balkans, and the broader world.

Against the background of one of the most tragic episodes in 20th century history—the persecution and annihilation of Europe’s Jews—the French critic of Bulgarian origin Tsvetan Todorov saw the potential to explore “the miracle of goodness” in individual and collective acts that changed the seemingly inexorable course of history. In this respect, Bulgaria as well as Denmark stand out in preserving their Jewish communities from destruction. Yet, and at the same time that Bulgarian Jews were saved from annihilation, Bulgaria oversaw the deportation of over 11,000 Jews from areas of Aegean Thrace and Macedonia. The complexity of this legacy as attested to in documented fact, historical narrative, personal story and communal memory to its present-day manifestations is indisputable. It often underlies regional politics and generates competing narratives and controversies in memorization and forgetfulness. Most importantly though, the organizers of the program see in this complex legacy an opportunity to draw morally relevant lessons for contemporary humanity and communities who are living with difference throughout the world.

This year’s BSSRPL program will explore the continuing contestations on the boundary between memory and forgetting. Both, together, weave those communal historical narratives that seep through every aspect of our shared social life thus shaping the lived experience of our cultural, and ethnic histories. It is our hope that the insights generated by this inquiry will prove relevant for a much broader and global set of cases in which “acts of goodness” (Todorov) have the potential to make a difference.

The 2023 BSSRPL will thus convene an engaging one-week experiential program aimed at understanding the dynamics of contested pasts in the making of our shared future. Over the course of the program, we will focus our attention on how ethnic, religious, and national differences have led to different and contrasting historical narratives. Listening to the voice of our “others” will allow participants to appreciate the challenge of a newly confrontational politics of citizenship and the necessity of difference in living together.

The BSSRPL is an affiliate of CEDAR, whose programs combine pluralistic perspectives on religious thought with social scientific research on tolerance and civil society, and an open, dialogic, approach to pedagogic practice. Its goal is to transform both the theoretical models and concrete practices through which religious orientations and secular models of politics and society engage one another. As with other CEDAR affiliates, the BSSRPL program combines academic courses with intensive group-building processes and the construction of working relationships across religious and ethnic identities. Its didactic goals are both social and cognitive.

May 15, 2023, is the deadline for receiving applications. All application material – found here – and questions should be sent to

The BSSRPL is a CEDAR affiliate program working in collaboration with Plovdiv University.

The BSSRPL 2023 is financially supported by the Bulgarian National Program “Celebrating the 80th Anniversary of the Rescue of Bulgarian Jews During World War II”

All fellows in the BSSRPL program will need to cover their travel expenses to and from Bulgaria.