Accepted Paper:

Striving for survival: children of Jehovah's Witnesses in eastern Germany  


Malgorzata Rajtar (Institute of Philosophy and Sociology Polish Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

The paper analyses the situation of children of Jehovah's Witnesses under the socialist regime and at present in Saxony, Eastern Germany. I argue that religious socialisation proved more effective than GDR's efforts to develop a "new socialist personality" - thus, ensuring the movement's survival.

Paper long abstract:

This paper addresses a vital problem for many religious movements: to keep conversion rates growing and to retain member's children. This issue is analysed in a rather unusual setting of the former German Democratic Republic, which is considered the most secularised country in Europe. For forty years of the socialist regime, many religious groups were banned and their members suffered surveillance and prosecutions. Jehovah's Witnesses, banned from 1950-1990, managed to retain the numbers of its members during the GDR. After 1990, the number of members significantly increased. I would argue that the socialisation model of the Society certainly contributed to the survival of the movement during the socialist regime.

In the GDR, Witness children were caught up in an educational discourse that perceived the educational process not only as an instrument of transmitting knowledge but first and foremost, the instrument of socialist upbringing. One of the goals of this ideological education was the morality of the "new socialist personality", a mixture of patriotism, humanism, collectivism and responsibility to the Party. Owing their primarily loyalty to God, Witness children did not participate in any mass organisations. Therefore, they were considered by the state authorities as unable to develop a "socialist character" and were deprived of educational and professional chances. In the same process, however, their religious identity has been formed.

Panel W031
Children, youth and religion: visions of mutuality and diversity across generations