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Jehovah's Witnesses in Eastern Germany: 'Reconfigurations' of Identity

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The aim of the article is to look at the process of 'reconfiguration' of Jehovah's Witnesses' identity in the area which comprises the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) and societal and state responses to it. Over 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall Jehovah's Witnesses are one of the largest minority religions in eastern Germany. Being a religious minority in a region that is both stigmatised by the socialist past and considered the most secular part of Europe raises a number of issues. Among these, the question of the identity of the movement and its societal reception plays a crucial role. During the time of the GDR Witnesses built their identity against the state and its functionaries. Persecutions not only destroyed or changed the lives of many members but also strengthened them. Moreover, being a victim of the socialist system provided a basis to build upon after the Unification. A 16-year struggle for the status of public law corporation in the 'new' state - accomplished in 2006 - only reinforced such identification. Nowadays, however, Witnesses in the former GDR have to face a new challenge: building a reliable identity not in opposition to the state or upon their role as victims, but only on the basis of their religion.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2010

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