Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe

Winner of four book prizes

Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe examines how gender identities were reconfigured in a Bulgarian Muslim community following the demise of Communism and an influx of international aid from the Islamic world. Kristen Ghodsee conducted extensive ethnographic research among a small population of Pomaks, Slavic Muslims living in the remote mountains of southern Bulgaria. After Communism fell in 1989, Muslim minorities in Bulgaria sought to rediscover their faith after decades of state-imposed atheism. But instead of returning to their traditionally heterodox roots, isolated groups of Pomaks embraced a distinctly foreign type of Islam, which swept into their communities on the back of Saudi-financed international aid to Balkan Muslims, and which these Pomaks believe to be a more correct interpretation of their religion.

Ghodsee explores how gender relations among the Pomaks had to be renegotiated after the collapse of both Communism and the region's state-subsidized lead and zinc mines. She shows how mosques have replaced the mines as the primary site for jobless and underemployed men to express their masculinity, and how Muslim women have encouraged this as a way to combat alcoholism and domestic violence. Ghodsee demonstrates how women's embrace of this new form of Islam has led them to adopt more conservative family roles, and how the Pomaks' new religion remains deeply influenced by Bulgaria's Marxist-Leninist legacy, with its calls for morality, social justice, and human solidarity.


"Islamic studies scholars who increasingly focus on a wide range of Muslim societies in both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries will find this volume informative. The author presents her work in an accessible fashion, and the volume will appeal to people with diverse interests."--Choice

"Ghodsee accomplishes a great deal with Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe. . . . [T]his work may be a useful teaching tool for classes focusing on political transitions and may help steer young students and international bureaucrats away from crude stereotypes about Muslims in the Balkans."--Isa Blumi, H-Net Reviews

"Muslim Lives in Eastern Europe offers an insightful analysis of the social and economic factors that propelled the spread of new forms of religious allegiances and gender roles among Pomaks in Bulgaria. It is an excellent contribution to the study of Islam in postcommunist society."--Ina Merdjanova, Religion, State & Society

"Ghodsee does an excellent job at unpacking the complexities of Muslim life in Madan and beyond. Her thought-provoking book gives life to a world in which the dust of the past is still settling on the complex world of post-1989."--Mary Neuburger, Slavic Review


  • Winner of the 2011 William A. Douglass Prize in Europeanist Anthropology, Society for the Anthropology of Europe, American Anthropological Association
  • Winner of the 2011 Davis Center Book Prize in Political and Social Studies, Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
  • Winner of the 2011 John D. Bell Memorial Book Prize, Bulgarian Studies Association
  • Winner of the 2010 Heldt Prize for the best book in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian women's studies, Association for Women in Slavic Studies


Read an excerpt:  Introduction

Listen to Kristen Ghodsee discuss Bulgarian Muslims with Lisa Mullins on BBC/PRI radio program The World.