Religion and Immigration in Cyprus: A Comparative Study

  • Abstract:

    Cyprus is well known for its border, being a divided island – state after the Turkish invasion in 1974, which followed the wide-spread intercommunal violence that plagued the island since the early 60s. Cyprus itself is an EU border since it is the South-easternmost EU member-state, EU’s border with the Arab countries of the Middle East. In the past few years, Cyprus became a host country for thousands of immigrants, mostly from South-East Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Also a remarkable number of immigrants from the Russian Federation reside these days in Cyprus. Cyprus’ and Europe’s religious landscape has changed, in part, because of immigration, but the religious practices of immigrant religious groups have not been thoroughly studied yet. The main research questions I will address in this paper are: Is religion a barrier or bridge for immigrant integration? Does religion obstruct or promote social integration? How is religion related with social identity, cultural identity, and public opinion? I will attempt to answer these questions by focusing on immigrants’ religion and its role in integration, religious assimilation and adaptation. The paper is based on data gathered in the course of a mixed methods research project, co-funded by the Solidarity Funds and the Ministry of Interior. Particularly, we focused comparatively on Syrian, Russian, Philippino and Sri-Lankan nationals residing in Cyprus. This choice was dictated by the religion of the majority of the population in the Republic of Cyprus, which are Orthodox Christians and also by the significance of religion as a vital part of the Greek-Cypriot national identity. Therefore we chose an Orthodox immigrant community, a Catholic one, which is a common denomination in many European countries, a Buddhist one, since Buddhism is a religion that did not historically exist in Cyprus and Europe in general and a Muslim one, which represents, in a way, Greek Cypriots’ ‘constitutive Others’, Turkish Cypriots. Moreover, Philippinos and Sri-Lankans generally stay in Cyprus for a shorter period of time than Syrians and Russians. In terms of methodology, qualitative interviews, observation and quantitative research were conducted in order to shed light in as many aspects of the role of religion in immigrant integration as possible.