Strangers and Neighbors

Balkan Summer School on Religion and Public Life, July 2-12, 2017

The 2017 Balkan Summer School on Religion and Public Life (BSSRPL) will be devoted to the theme Strangers and Neighbors. As with previous schools, it proceeds from the idea that religion and other forms of collective belonging are central for the life of both individuals and society, and that our religious communities are often those to which we devote our greatest loyalties.  In our diverse but increasingly interconnected world, we need to find ways to live together in a world populated by people with very different political ideas, moral beliefs, and communal loyalties.

The goal of the Summer School is to provide a laboratory for the practical pedagogy of tolerance and living with difference in a global society.  Its focus is on religion as providing the fundamental terms of moral community and its aim is to produce new practices and understandings for living together in a world populated by “differences”.

The Balkan Summer School takes up this very real challenge and tries to critically define differences, especially communal and religious differences between people as the starting point of a publicly shared life. Its basic aim is to help participants realize their prejudices and question their taken-for-granted assumptions of the other through the construction of a safe social space of exploration and interaction that includes an innovative mixture of academic teaching, experiential field experience (practicums), and affective engagement with the challenges of “living together differently”.

More and more in today’s world, in Europe and elsewhere, we are faced with the challenge of difference. Massive migration across borders and continents have brought the plight of millions of economic migrants, political refugees, and IDP’s (internally displaced persons) to the consciousness of decision makers and citizens the world over.

The case of refugees, migrants, and IDP’s is an extreme case of what is an even more common phenomena: of living amidst strangers – in the cities, towns, and villages of the world. The process of modernization has broken down the relatively homogeneous composition of early forms of social life. Industrialization, and the move to what is sometimes called post-industrial societies, in Western Europe, the post-Communist world, and elsewhere – has seen and increasing divergence of populations and an “explosion of difference” across multiple parameters world wide.

For centuries, the Balkans have been characterized by a diverse and complex mixture of religions, nations, and ethnicities; of orthodoxies and heterodoxies, normative and subaltern beliefs, practices and ways of life. Within this complex mix of populations the challenge of the stranger, and life with the stranger, has been a continual aspect of Balkan societies. Life together in opposition, in dialogue, conflict, neglect, and engagement have all been modes of “accommodation” to this long-standing reality whose different modalities defined different societies at different times in their history. Given the current migrant crises in Western Europe, as well as the centrality of Balkan countries as routes to Western Europe, the theme of neighbors and strangers is of complex relevance in the contemporary world.

Drawing on over fourteen years of CEDAR experience, the BSSRPL seeks to bring together fellows from different walks of life and different religious and confessional communities (as well as those who define themselves as members of no such communities and have no religious identities), to explore these themes together, in conditions of mutual respect and recognition. We look forward to an enriching mix of post-graduate students, professors, NGO leaders, journalists, religious leaders, policy analysts, and teachers from the area of the Balkans, Europe, and beyond to join us for the two weeks of the school.

The BSSRPL combines more traditional academic lectures with field-work, practical, experiential learning and more affectively orientated forms of group learning; in an innovative approach to learning that goes far beyond the purely cognitive.

The successful candidates will be expected to fund their own transportation to Sofia, Bulgaria. The BSSRPL maintains a needs-based tuition policy and bursaries are available.

February 28, 2017, is the deadline for receiving applications. All application material – found here – and questions should be sent to Desislava Dimitrova at

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