Religion, by Rache Clogg

Religion of Abkhazians

Chapter 14. 'The Abkhazians: A Handbook' by George Hewitt (Editor) Richmond, Surrey: The Curzon Press 1999.

An Abkhaz historian (Stanislav Lak’oba), when asked recently about the religion of Abkhazia, answered that the Abkhaz are eighty percent Christian, twenty percent [Sunni] Muslim, and one hundred percent pagan! While this was said partly in jest, it hints at an underlying truth.

As Neal Ascherson (1995.249-250) recently observed: 'Trees matter to Abkhazians. Their two conversions to world religions, to Christianity in the sixth century and then to Islam under the Turks, have been less enduring than older ways of reverence for natural objects and for the dead.' There are few census-data, and estimates of religious affiliation vary from twenty percent Muslim at the lower end of the scale to upwards of forty at the upper end, leaving Christians the remaining majority. The ambiguity of numbers reflects a wider ambiguity; the Abkhaz would generally define themselves as either Christian or Muslim, yet this designation indicates little in terms of religious practice or belief. Very few Abkhaz Christians are churchgoers, few Abkhaz Muslims follow the practice of circumcision or daily prayers, obey Muslim dress-codes, or have ever seen a Koran.

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