KESTON JOURNAL ISSUE 1 1998

From 1973 to 1991 Keston Institute's highly-acclaimed journal was called 'Religion in Communist Lands'. Seven years after its name was changed to  'Religion, State and Society', Issue 1 1998 focuses on religious affairs in nations which are still under communist control.   In 'China's Persecuted Churches', Paul Marshall and Nina Shea report: 'More people are attending Sunday worship in China than in the whole of Western Europe, and the majority are doing so despite the threat of beatings and labour camps.' The communist authorities in China may be presiding over a burgeoning market economy, but in respect of religion their policies are unreconstructed, having hardened steadily since mid-1995. The authorities do not intend that China should go the way of the Soviet Union. 'The church played an important role in the change in the Soviet empire', noted the Chinese press in 1992. 'If China does not want such a scene to be repeated in its land, it must strangle the baby while it is still in the manger.'   Keston's unique and long experience in monitoring church-state relations in the communist countries of Europe means that it is now able to compare and contrast, and help to discern in present events in countries which are still communist the direction developments are likely to take. Many features of the Chinese situation are similar to those we have already observed in the Soviet Union: as the state-sanctioned Patriotic Church is constrained to compromise and accept all kinds of restrictions, the persecuted underground churches become refuge to those who 'simply want to choose their own churches and pastors, and to worship freely according to the dictates of conscience', or, in government eyes, 'extremists who perversely refuse all government contact and legitimate control'.   In 'Religion, State and Society in Contemporary Laos', Lev Morev outlines another familiar pattern in a country that is still communist. At the same time as 'New Thinking' was leading to perestroika in the Soviet Union, in Laos it produced 'Renewal', which in fact meant transition to the market economy. 'Along with goods, capital investment and new technology, mass western culture flooded in'. Morev notes that Buddhism has historically been a symbol of Lao identity and a consolidating force in society. As in Russia, the religion which believes itself uniquely to articulate the values of the nation now finds itself adopting a hostile stance to foreign religions entering Laos; they are said to be trespassing on traditional Buddhist territory.   Whereas the late 1980s saw the collapse of established communist systems, the late 1990s are seeing the process in mirror image. In 'Church-State Relations in the Decolonisation Period: Hong Kong and Macau', Beatrice Leung looks at how Catholic churches in these colonies prepared for impending reunification with the mainland. She notes that as July 1997 drew nearer the citizens of Hong Kong grew ever more 'docile and submissive...in the face of Beijing's influence on Hong Kong's affairs'. By contrast, the Catholic community became more outspoken; the new editor of a Catholic weekly was openly critical of China's policies on human rights and religion. In Macau, the church was much less inclined to controversy, and as a result has developed smoother relations with Beijing. The Hong Kong Catholics have already been advised not to 'interfere' with the Catholic Church in mainland China after the transfer. 'Under the gradually-increasing political pressure from China', says Leung, 'both the Macau and Hong Kong churches are now trying to distance themselves from socio-political involvement and concentrate their activities within church circles, putting emphasis on traditional pastoral endeavours such as organising Bible study and prayer groups.' As we know from long study of the worldwide encounter between Christianity and institutionalised atheism, however, even this may prove too much for the establishment to tolerate.   Also in this issue: Aziz Niyazi, a specialist on Central Asia at the Russian Academy of Sciences, examines the role of Islam in Tajikistan past and present. Victor Conzemius, a specialist on the churches in totalitarian states and on liberal Catholicism, gives a comparison of Protestants and Catholics in the German Democratic Republic 1945- 90. Roman Dzwonkowski, a professor at the Catholic University of Lublin, discusses the fate of the Catholic clergy in the USSR 1917-39. 'Religion, State and Society' is available from Keston Institute, 4 Park Town, Oxford, OX2 6SH, UK, for an annual subscription of 35/$53 (four issues).