Territoriality of the Georgian Orthodox Church is Indigo’s project led by Dr. Tornike Metreveli (PhD in Sociology). The project was created in 2021 with financial support from the University of St. Gallen. This database describes churches and monasteries in the country’s territory, lists the immovable property owned by the Orthodox Christian Church of Georgia, and thematically categorizes the epistles of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Georgia. Given the limited access to information, the data do not cover the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The project was published in December, only a month before, therefore it’s complicated to speak about the impact and its measurable indicators. Despite such a short period, the project has already contributed to public discussion, as it was widely shared via social networks. up to 10K users have already visited the map. Some media outlets have been interested in the project and asked to explain how to use it. They plan to prepare long reads based on it. While head of programs at high educational institutions also invited us to present the project to students. In spring we plan to arrange a conference and discuss project results with journalists, scholars, and representatives of religious institutions.
To collect the data we use open sources, personal communication, field work. A total of 1,335 individuals provided us with information on churches in 3,633 villages. Information about 88 churches was collected on the ground. some Information about the churches and monasteries was provided to us by the local diocese, while data on the buildings in 4 Municipalities was offered by local city halls. As for the immovable property relies on official data retrieved from the Public Registry. We analyzed applications filed by the Patriarchate with the Public Registry, unisng cadaster codes of relevant territories we requested documentation from the Public Registry to confirm property rights. demographic data were retrieved from the website of the National Statistics Office of Georgia which covers the results of the latest census of 2014. In addition, epistles published on the website of the Patriarchate of Georgia and the Orthodox Christian website www.orthodoxy.ge were analyzed. 10 topics most frequently addressed by the Patriarch were identified. Based on inductive and deductive approaches, thematic categories were defined and added to predefined themes. Next, the content analysis came into play to identify both latent and manifested meanings.
To visualize collected data we have created an interactive map. chart.js, jquery, leaflet, mapbox were used for development. The first part is a map related to churches and property of it, while the second part is the categorization of epistles. The map includes 33 filters, which can be used for data analysis. As for the narrative part, 13 filters are enabled. Visitors can zoom in and click on each icon for further information. All data is available to download as an excel file.
What was the hardest part of this project?
This project is the first in Georgia to have inventoried the churches and monasteries in the territory of the country. The data encompass 3,407 structures built from the 5th century to 2021, both operating and functionless churches or sites of cultural heritage. Buildings, where no divine services are held or held only on great feasts, are listed as functionless in the database.
The data regarding the immovable property of the orthodox church is also unique. None of this information is centralized even in Orthodox Church itself. We collected information and proved that this institution owns more than 60 000 000 m2 of land which is equivalent to an area of 3 big cities in Georgia. The most of lands (62%) are transferred from the government for free, which means that public property now is under the Orthodox Church ownership.
The map enables visitors to track the building process of churches and registration of property. On the other hand, the narrative section thematically categorizes the epistles of Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II which gives data to understand the correlation between key messages of epistles and getting property from the government.
In Georgia where the Orthodox Church is one of the most privileged and at the same time closed institutions, collecting and publicizing such data is more important as information on public property owned by Orthodox Church now is disclosed and publicly available. It promotes debates on the relationship between government and the Church, its privileges, state benefits and etc.
What can others learn from this project?
The database is open-source, which can be used in various directions. It will give the scholarly community and interested bodies to extract, examine and communicate data from the fifth century to today. Journalists are able to prepare in-depth materials on the tendency of transferring public property to the Georgian Orthodox Church. When and where starts massively building of churches, which territory is the most covered by monasteries, which eparchy is richer and analyses roots such redistribution. Apart from this, the huge amount of data is a significant base to be used as a secondary source for journalists. They can refer to it while working on religious issues as well as benefits to the Orthodox Church, compare their property to another religious institution and visualize tendencies. Until now there was no such database and all decree on transferring public property to the Church was followed by discussion based on only impression and attitudes as there were only pieces of news materials, fragmentized stories that did not enable the audience to see the bigger picture.