Bulgaria is a parliamentary republic with no state religion, although the Bulgarian constitution designates Eastern Orthodoxy as the “traditional” religion in the country.
EAST ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY
A 19th century Orthodox monastery near Gabrovo
Over 80% of the Bulgarian citizens and over 90% of the so called “ethnic Bulgarians” identify themselves as Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Christianity became the official religion of the Bulgarian state in the middle of the 9th century. After briefly evaluating offers from both Rome and Constantinople, Bulgaria settled on Eastern Orthodox Christianity, thus putting Bulgaria under the cultural influence of the Byzantine world.
During the Ottoman rule (15th - 19th centuries), Christianity became a minority religion. The construction of churches halted and even though religious freedoms were mostly guaranteed by the authorities, Christians had to pay higher taxes and never enjoyed equal rights.
The 19th century European idea of nation-states arrived in the Bulgarian lands, and Christianity (Eastern Orthodoxy in particular) became a symbol of ethnicity, national unity, and European identity that contrasted with the Ottoman past.
Even today, with dwindling church attendance, the majority of Bulgarians identify themselves as Eastern Orthodox Christians, a sign of an ethnic identity more than a religiosity.
ISLAM IN BULGARIA
Muslims communities are concentrated in the northeast, as well as in the Eastern Rhodope mountains
During the Ottoman rule (15th - 19th centuries), commercial opportunities encouraged the movement of different minorities around the empire’s vast territory. A shrewd system of self-governance kept the minorities separate and unequal, but mostly undisturbed. In addition, the Ottoman authorities encouraged the settlement of ethnic Turks in the potentially rebellious Christian lands, and welcomed mass conversions to Islam, voluntary as well as by force.
As a result, Bulgaria is home to one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations in the region. The majority of Muslims in Bulgaria are ethnic Turks who live in the northeast part of the country around the towns of Razgrad and Targovishte, and in the Eastern Rhodope mountains around the town of Kardzhali.
In contrast with other European countries, Bulgarian Muslims are not recent immigrants but a well-established community with close to 500 years of history.
Most of the Bulgarian Muslims adhere to Sunni Islam, the type of Islam favored in the Ottoman Empire. About 50,000 or approximately 10% of Bulgarian Muslims are Alevi, a school of Islam combining Shia Islam with Sufi elements.
Close to half of the Bulgarian Roma people are Muslim.
Sofia Synagogue was built in teh beginning of the 20th century to serve the once numerous congregation
The once numerous Jewish community is now largely gone. In the 2012 census, less than 1,000 people identified themselves as Jewish.
Followers gather each August in Rila mountains for a ritual circle dance called paneurhythmy.
Bulgaria is the birthplace of one of the world’s newer religious practices. Danovism, named after its founder Peter Deunov, was founded in the beginning of the 20th century. His followers, called “the white brotherhood” (a reference not to race but to spiritual clarity), gather each year around the Seven Lakes District in the Rila mountains for a ritual circle dance called paneurhythmy. The practice combines elements of paganism and Christianity with practices like yoga and vegetarianism. The exact number of followers is not known.
Catholicism put roots in the country in the Middle Ages. Evangelical missionaries arrived in the 19th century and became even more active after the end of the COmmunist Regime in 1989.