"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
mattress,/
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Christians and Middle East Conflict

It's hard to know where to focus one's concerns today given so many conflicts involving putative Christians and ostensibly Christian powers. The Russia-Ukraine conflict of course ranks high, but the Middle East, especially in Syria and Iraq, are conflicts at least as important and at least as deadly for the Christians involved. A new book helps situate these conflicts in wider context: Paul Rowe et al, eds., Christians and the Middle East Conflict (Routledge 2014), 200pp.

About this book we are told:
Christians and the Middle East Conflict deals with the relationship of Christians and Christian theology to the various conflicts in the Middle East, a topic that is often sensationalized but still insufficiently understood. Political developments over the last two decades, however, have prompted observers to rediscover and examine the central role religious motivations play in shaping public discourses.
This book proceeds on the assumption that neither a focus on the eschatological nor a narrow understanding of the plight of Christians in the Middle East is sufficient. Instead, it is necessary to understand Christians in context and to explore the ways that Christian theology applies through the actions of Christians who have lived and continue to live through conflict in the region either as native inhabitants or interested foreign observers. This volume addresses issues of concern to Christians from a theological perspective, from the perspective of Christian responses to conflict throughout history, and in reflection on the contemporary realities of Christians in the Middle East.
The essays in this volume combine contextual political and theological reflections written by both scholars and Christian activists and will be of interest to students and scholars of Politics, Religion and Middle East Studies.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Resurrecting Russian Orthodoxy

There has, of course, been enormous attention focused on Russia this year, chiefly for its machinations in Ukraine. But scholars have been paying greater and more critical attention to the Russian Orthodox Church's relationship to the state over the last century, and wondering, in part, whether current relations do not in fact reflect old patterns. A book set for October release will continue this important critical analysis: Daniela Kalkandjieva, The Russian Orthodox Church, 1917-1948: From Decline to Resurrection (Routledge, 2014), 384pp.

About this book we are told:
This book tells the remarkable story of the decline and revival of the Russian Orthodox Church in the first half of the twentieth century and the astonishing U-turn in the attitude of the Soviet Union’s leaders towards the church. In the years after 1917 the Bolsheviks’ anti-religious policies, the loss of the former western territories of the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union’s isolation from the rest of the world and the consequent separation of Russian emigrés from the church were disastrous for the church, which declined very significantly in the 1920s and 1930s. However, when Poland was partitioned in 1939 between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Stalin allowed the Patriarch of Moscow, Sergei, jurisdiction over orthodox congregations in the conquered territories and went on, later, to encourage the church to promote patriotic activities as part of the resistance to the Nazi invasion. He agreed a Concordat with the church in 1943, and continued to encourage the church, especially its claims to jurisdiction over émigré Russian orthodox churches, in the immediate postwar period. Based on extensive original research, the book puts forward a great deal of new information and overturns established thinking on many key points.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Problem of Bishops

It has been well known among scholars since at least 1970 that the office Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran Christians call "bishop" is a relatively late development, that is, the idea that there is one figure with exclusive "jurisdiction" (to use a notoriously slippery term) over a discrete and delimited territory is probably a late second-century development, if not later. Such a phenomenon--the so-called monepiscopate--is, as far as we can see, something that predates our more customary understanding of the episcopacy--one man to one city. But a new book, released this summer, looks like it will challenge some of these understandings: Alistair C. Stewart, Original Bishops, The: Office and Order in the First Christian Communities (Baker Academic, 2014), 416pp. 

About this book we are told:
A leading authority on early Christianity provides a new starting point for studying the origins of church offices, offering careful readings of the ancient evidence. This work provides a new starting point for studying the origins of church offices. Alistair Stewart, a leading authority on early Christianity and a meticulous scholar, provides essential groundwork for historical and theological discussions. Stewart refutes a long-held consensus that church offices emerged from collective leadership at the end of the first century. He argues that governance by elders was unknown in the first centuries and that bishops emerged at the beginning of the church; however, they were nothing like bishops of a later period. The church offices as presently known emerged in the late second century. Stewart debunks widespread assumptions and misunderstandings, offers carefully nuanced readings of the ancient evidence, and fully interacts with pertinent secondary scholarship.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Experiencing Byzantium

Interest in all things "Byzantine" has remained high, and shows no sign of abating, as I have so often mentioned on here over the years. A recently released academic collection continues to fuel that interest: Clair Nesbitt and Mark Jackson, eds., Experiencing Byzantium: Papers from the 44th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Newcastle and Durham, April 2011 (Ashgate, 2013), 390pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
From the reception of imperial ekphraseis in Hagia Sophia to the sounds and smells of the back streets of Constantinople, the sensory perception of Byzantium is an area that lends itself perfectly to an investigation into the experience of the Byzantine world. The theme of experience embraces all aspects of Byzantine studies and the Experiencing Byzantium symposium brought together archaeologists, architects, art historians, historians, musicians and theologians in a common quest to step across the line that divides how we understand and experience the Byzantine world and how the Byzantines themselves perceived the sensual aspects of their empire and also their faith, spirituality, identity and the nature of 'being' in Byzantium.The papers in this volume derive from the 44th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, held for the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies by the University of Newcastle and University of Durham, at Newcastle upon Tyne in April 2011. They are written by a group of international scholars who have crossed disciplinary boundaries to approach an understanding of experience in the Byzantine world.Experiencing Byzantium is volume 18 in the series published by Ashgate on behalf of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Fall of the Ottoman Empire

As I have noted repeatedly already, this year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War and all the associated and consequent catastrophes--from the Armenian genocide and Russian revolution to the collapse of various empires. Next year one of the most consequential of those collapses, with far-reaching consequences for Eastern Christians, will be reviewed anew in Eugene Rogan's forthcoming book, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East (Basic, 2015), 448pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
In The Fall of the Ottomans, Eugene Rogan weaves a captivating account of the First World War in the Middle East. Supplied by Germany with guns and military advisors, the Ottoman Empire entered the war with gusto, taking on the Russians in the Caucasus and the French and British in North Africa and South Asia. Caught off guard by the Ottomans’ innovative tactics and surprisingly effective forces, the Entente armies rapidly lost ground.

As Rogan shows, it was only by exploiting divisions within the Arab world that the Entente powers were able to break the Ottomans and turn the tide of the war. The ensuing treaties laid the groundwork for the modern Middle East: the Ottomans’ Arab holdings were distributed among the French and British victors, whose control over Palestine and Northern Iraq would have disastrous and lasting consequences. A sweeping narrative of battles and political intrigue from Gallipoli to Damascus, The Fall of the Ottomans shows how a European conflict became a global conflagration.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Muslim Views of the Crusades

As I have had too-frequent occasion to lament on here, the Crusades today remain arguably the most deliberately and often maliciously misunderstood of any of the myriad conflicts of the later Middle Ages and early modern period. We are still struggling to correct wild misunderstandings about the Christian participation in them, but only recently have we started to see scholarship on how Islamic sources viewed the Crusades. A new book from Routledge will aid in this task: Niall Christie, Muslims and Crusaders: Christianity's Wars in the Middle East, 1095-1382, from the Islamic Sources (Routledge, 2014), 224pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Muslims and Crusaders supplements and counterbalances the numerous books that tell the story of the crusading period from the European point of view, enabling readers to achieve a broader and more complete perspective on the period. It presents the Crusades from the perspective of those against whom they were waged, the Muslim peoples of the Levant. The book introduces the reader to the most significant issues that affected their responses to the European crusaders, and their descendants who would go on to live in the Latin Christian states that were created in the region.
This book combines chronological narrative, discussion of important areas of scholarly enquiry and evidence from primary sources to give a well-rounded survey of the period. It considers not only the military meetings between Muslims and the Crusaders, but also the personal, political, diplomatic and trade interactions that took place between Muslims and Franks away from the battlefield. Through the use of a wide range of translated primary source documents, including chronicles, dynastic histories, religious and legal texts and poetry, the people of the time are able to speak to us in their own voices.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Nicholas Denysenko on Chrismation and Catholics

My friend Nicholas Denysenko is a prolific fellow. I interviewed him in late 2012 about his first book, The Blessing of Waters and Epiphany: The Eastern Liturgical Tradition. Now his second book in as many years has recently been published: Chrismation: A Primer for Catholics (Liturgical Press, 2014), xxxvii+209pp. I am looking forward to teaching my graduate class on liturgy next year precisely so that I can have the students read this book, for with my students few topics incite as much heated though inconclusive debate as the topic of the ordering of the sacraments of initiation in the Latin Church.

This new book is at once deeply immersed in the history and theology of the East, particularly (but not exclusively) Byzantine practice, but also written, as the sub-title clearly suggests, for Catholics navigating these issues in their own contexts. It is not in any way a polemical work in which an Orthodox apologist attempts to, well, pontificate about how the Latin Church should structure her life. It is, on the contrary, irenical and helpful scholarship at its best. To use a phrase I used in my own book on the papacy, a phrase that the late Pope John Paul II and the late Margaret O'Gara both popularized, Nick's book is an "ecumenical gift-exchange" of the best sort: it looks at some of the contemporary struggles around sacramental practice in the Latin Church and says, with genuine solicitude and without any triumphalism, "Have you considered some possible alternative practices used in the East?" The history and theology of those practices is then displayed here along with some suggestions as to possible ways forward. It is not smugly prescriptive but it is, to reclaim the verb I just used in its typical pejorative sense, a pontification of the best sort: the word, of course, comes from the Latin pontifex and is usually translated as bridge-builder. Nick builds bridges between, if you will, old and new Rome, offering the former some of the wisdom that comes from the practices of the latter in case they may be of use. In short, this is ecumenical scholarship of the best possible kind.

I asked Nick for an interview about this book, and here are his thoughts.

AD: Tell us what led you from a book on Theophany and water blessings to a book on Chrismation

ND: In writing the book on the blessing of waters, I engaged numerous historical monographs on the history of the rites of initiation. These studies opened my eyes to the labyrinthian history of Confirmation in the West and contributed to my interest in the question of anointing with Chrism. To be honest, I was inspired largely by my classroom experience. Students were shocked and perplexed by my historical presentations of Confirmation, and I noted a dissonance between the liturgical theology of the sacrament and its popular perception among the laity. It became a research project at a meeting of the North American Academy of Liturgy when several Episcopalian and Catholic colleagues remarked that the Orthodox are the only ones who have really retained tradition. I wondered to myself, "have we? Do we really understand the anointing with Chrism, or do we just define it through Western lenses?" These are the events and conversations that inspired me to look into the question.

AD: Your preface notes that much of the inspiration for writing came from participating in real baptisms and chrismations with real people. Following something Robert Taft said a few years ago about liturgical studies moving from a focus on texts to the experiences of people in the pews, do you see your book as much more "experiential" in nature? Is that what you mean by using the word "primer" in your sub-title?

Real life experience is central. I have provided diaconal service or chanting at dozens of Chrismations, and no two pastoral explanations are alike. Two aspects of the rite of Chrismation struck me profoundly: first, when infants are anointed, Chrismation is really a continuation of the rite of Baptism. There is no particular moment where the assembly pauses with the deacon announcing, "we have now transitioned from Baptism to Chrismation and N. is receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit." The memory of Chrismation as belonging to a complete process of initiation remained with me when I began to research this topic in earnest. Also, when converts are received into the Church, they tend to describe it as a strong liturgical moment marking belonging. I really wanted to explore these aspects of anointing I had observed from ritual and I believe that my book was strengthened by including this dimension. My use of "primer" is a short way of saying, "here's an immersion into the real meaning of Chrismation."

AD: What was your purpose, as an Orthodox deacon and professor of theology, in addressing your book to Catholics? Was that focus born out of your experience at LMU and your Catholic students there?

This book is for everyone; Orthodox, too. But I primarily addressed Catholics because the tension in academic and pastoral discourse on Chrismation often leaves representatives of all sides referring to Orthodox Chrismation as supporting a particular point. My hope in this book was to bring the two liturgical traditions into dialogue, not so that one tradition would be absorbed by the other, but to promote healthy mutual understanding. Let me add this: ecumenical dialogue is a precious asset for promoting self-understanding, too.

AD: My own Catholic graduate students, most of whom work in parochial schools or parishes as catechists or RCIA directors, regularly get into lengthy and inconclusive debates with each other and with me about the proper ordering of the sacraments of initiation. They are often sympathetic to the historical arguments about the order Baptism-Chrismation-Communion, but worry that restoring that order would drain Catholic programs, parishes, and parochial schools of many kids who attend only long enough to get confirmed at or after eighth grade. They thus view the historical ordering as a real risk today not simply to the viability of schools but also to the opportunity for longer formation and catechesis. I admit I never have any good counter-arguments here. What are your thoughts?

I think that Catholics would really benefit from initiating their children into the complete life of the kingdom by allowing them to participate in the Eucharist. The current sequence of sacraments results in Eucharistic communities stratified by age groups. I really sympathize with ministers and catechists who are committed to retention of youth, but I am utterly unconvinced that Confirmation as adolescent initiation is an effective approach. Initiating all our children into the fullness of the life of the Kingdom and permitting them to partake of the banquet is essential for faith communities that promote and exalt the dignity of human life. All Christians should be concerned with retaining youth and encouraging them to exercise their divine citizenship. Too often, we hijack sacraments in attempts to fulfill a particular objective, but in so doing, we do not honor the fullness of Christ's body. In an ideal world, I'd love to contribute to a thinking group that works on creating mystagogical programs that encourage our youth to live in a Spirit of thanksgiving and connect their Eucharistic participation with daily life. To do so, isn't delaying initiation into the Eucharistic assembly setting them back?

AD: Unlike some other sacramental and liturgical actions you review, you note that Chrismation or Confirmation, whether in the East or West, is too often for most people "a cloaked mystery" (xx) whose meaning it is not easy to extract. Tell us briefly why you think that is.

Despite the twentieth-century linkage of liturgy to ecclesiology, in practice, many sacraments are still private family matters. If we think about unrepeatable sacraments like Baptism and Chrismation, they often occur as quick and necessary pastoral tasks without much community engagement. Obviously, the reinvigoration of the RCIA has contributed to a paradigm shift on this matter, but in general, Baptism and Chrismation are often faded memories and we gain a glimpse of these sacraments when we have to participate as godparents or friends of families "invited" to the event. Given the theological and soteriological weight invested in initiation, the gap between "faded memory" and "capacity to shape daily life" needs to be filled. I'm hoping that this book might prove to be an asset in filling that gap.

AD: You note that despite some similarities as a post-baptismal rite conferring the gift of the Holy Spirit, nonetheless Orthodox ideas of Chrismation and Catholic ideas of Confirmation "have many differences" (xxv), and one of these is the number and timing of anointings. It seems to me that in some respects contemporary (post-conciliar) RC practice tends to "fudge" the difference or blur the boundaries between Baptism and Confirmation by conferring at baptism "the first of two different anointings with Chrism" (xxvii) on children (but not adolescents or adults) before their first Confession and Communion, both of which occur before their Confirmation. Is that your read of the situation?

I discuss this history in the book. Catholic infants are indeed chrismated after Baptism, whereas those who participate in the RCIA do not receive the post-baptismal anointing. The separation becomes problematic when we also separate theologies and make Confirmation THE sacrament of the Spirit, as if Baptism is not pneumatological. If Confirmation continues and completes Baptism, then it would be best to restore its order so that it literally completes baptism in sequence. This requires a pastoral adjustment permitting presbyters to confirm, because the retention of episcopal presidency at Confirmation - which is a historically venerable tradition - simply cannot be sustained in our time without significantly impacting the meaning of Confirmation.

AD: Part of your emphasis through the book, you signal in your introduction, will be on the "crisis of belonging" experienced by people today, especially when it comes to the "institutional" church. When you talk about that crisis, what do you have in mind? Is it just that people don't come to liturgy on Sunday as often as they should, or is there more to it than that?

Almost all churches in America are experiencing attrition, no matter how much we try to bolster our numbers. For the Orthodox Churches, a good introduction to the topic of belonging is provided by Amy Slagle in her recent study on converts, The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity. We are on the tail end of a painful paradigm shift. In the past, one used to attend the parish or congregation of one's village. In urban areas, people attended church in their neighborhood, often by foot. Now, one might drive 25 or more miles to church. Church is a significant commitment and people attend for all kinds of reasons that ultimately begin with a sense of belonging. In the paradigm shift, the criterion for choosing a church - and yes, it is a matter of voluntary selection - is whether or not one can identify with the pastoral leadership and the people to say with confidence, "we belong." Sacramental theology is all about "belonging," and in this study, I have attempted to demonstrate how the anointing with Chrism happens to be a rite that communicates a rich sense of belonging to the community of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I compared the language of the liturgy and its expression of belonging to the responses of people who experienced anointing in an attempt to parse out how Chrismation communicates belonging. When we talk about the sacraments or mysteries of the Church, it's essential to illuminate that initiation is not fleeting: one does not merely belong to a congregation with plenty of single people where one can enjoy a happy social life with like-minded folks. Rather, one might have joined a culturally and politically pluralistic community where difference prevails with one exception: everyone participating can refer to a common citizenship in God's kingdom, the most powerful foundation for meaningful daily life. Baptism, Chrismation, and Eucharist deliver an eschatological reality: we belong to God's family. What we need is to find creative ways to communicate why this beautiful reality of belonging to God - forever - can be life-giving and life-changing today, in this life. In my opinion, this is an urgent pastoral matter.

AD: Your second chapter reviews the diversity of practices governing the reception of converts. If you could suddenly vault yourself to a position of omnipotence over all Orthodoxy, would you retain that diversity or try to institute one universal practice, and in either case why? 
In principle, I find liturgical diversity healthy, and I'll be writing about this in the next manuscript I need to finish. In contemporary Orthodoxy, we need an adjustment that brings more uniformity to the rites of receiving converts. In our time, conversion is really equivalent to changing denominations (the unchurched are baptized, and not received by anointing). Pastors need to exercise discretion when they require candidates to renounce particular teachings because the received tradition espouses a theology of exclusion that does not conform to progress in the ecumenical movement. If I had the power you describe here, I would require Orthodox seminarians to learn much more about the historical and theological traditions of the West to understand why certain positions were assumed. Too often, we repeat polemical statements we inherited for no good reason. I think one can cause irreparable damage by accentuating theological deficiencies in Catholic and Reformed traditions, and requiring renunciations only perpetuates this problem. Asking people to renounce ideas also denotes some renunciation of the communities who hold some variants of those theological ideas. In real life, this can isolate people and create unnecessary friction, especially if the person who has become Orthodox through anointing with Chrism belongs to a non-Orthodox family. Instead of renouncing, why not affirm with enthusiasm what the Orthodox Church confesses and teaches while helping our own faithful understand other Christians without insulting them?

AD: Your fourth chapter repeats the oft-heard line about Confirmation being a sacrament in search of a theology. Why is that? How did it come to seem theologically adrift?

Bp. Kevin Rhoades, Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend
Confirmation's detachment from Baptism became permanent around the thirteenth century because of the Roman reservation of episcopal presidency at the sacrament. The Church's geographical diffusion did not permit bishops to visit parishes frequently which resulted in delayed Confirmation. With children receiving Confirmation at an older age, a new theology emerged in conjunction with this ritual evolution that explained the delay. Confirmation was construed as a sacrament of strength and maturity demonstrating one's attainment of sufficient development to live as faithful Christians. This explanation is somewhat incoherent with the liturgical theology of Confirmation, which reveals the sacrament as imparting the Christic offices of priest, prophet, and king to participants and granting them the manifold gift of the Holy Spirit. We learn an important lesson of liturgical history from Confirmation: pastoral explanations of sacramental meaning evolve in response to the historical circumstances that dictate the sacrament's evolution. The existence of multiple theologies of Confirmation reveal it as a sacrament in search of a theology.

AD: You note that the Pauline reforms after Vatican II attempted to more clearly restore a connection between Baptism and Confirmation. Do you think that intent been undermined by the diversity of practice across even just American dioceses, where some retain a clearer connection while others interpose one or both of Confession and Communion (and not always in that order)?

The renewal of baptismal vows and confessions of faith at Confirmation refer to Baptism. The most important Pauline reform was the illumination of Confirmation as the sacrament imparting the gift of the Holy Spirit, mostly through the adoption of the Byzantine formula, "the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit." The diversity of ritual practices in the Roman Church manifests the competing theologies of Confirmation. I think a stronger rehabilitation of the Eucharist as the repeatable and repeated sacrament of initiation is the key to promoting a sound understanding of how the sacraments of initiation establish a pattern of God giving the gift of the Spirit to the assembly: in baptism, anointing, and Eucharist, over and over again.

AD: You note (p.146) that Paul VI's adaptation of Byzantine emphasis in the revised rite of Confirmation went largely unnoticed by the lay faithful. But what about Orthodox liturgists and theologians, then and since? Have they remarked on this at all or seen it as significant?

The Orthodox theologians tend to view Catholic sacramental theology and liturgical reform as a reference point for comparison. To be honest, most Orthodox theologian haven't attended to revisions in Catholic liturgy and tend to contribute to the fissure between perception and reality. Has anyone heard of an Orthodox theologian discussing the composition of three new Eucharistic prayers and their addition to the Roman Missal? Paul Meyendorff's contributions to the Faith and Order Commission's work on the sacraments of (the World Council of Churches) exemplifies Orthodox attention to the realities of liturgical and sacramental life in global Christianity. Typically, Orthodox theologians are asked to explain their own tradition, so it is most convenient to refer to other Christian traditions by referring to their differences. I hope that my work might inspire Orthodox theologians to read the Catholic liturgical tradition more carefully, to note similarities in ritual structure, euchology, and especially the theological foundations underpinning liturgical structures. Perhaps a more careful reading might help the Orthodox realize how much we actually have in common with other Christians. I have more to say about this, but I'll save it for my next book on liturgical reform.  

AD: You note that "the Vatican II reform of confirmation was incomplete" (p.153).  If Francis dies tomorrow, and Catholics elected you as pope, what would you do to complete the reforms?

Well, as a faithful son of the Orthodox Church, I'd have to respectfully decline, despite my fondness for Papal vesture. All kidding aside, the most urgent task would be a restoration of Confirmation to infants, followed by granting infants access to holy communion. If the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Kingdom, the Church needs to ritualize it and allow children to partake of the table since they too participate in the offering. Such a ritual reform would be faithful to Roman Catholic tradition and Catholic theologians would certainly capture the opportunity to expound theologically on the reform.
 
AD: Having finished Chrismation: A Primer for Catholics, what are you working on now?

I just finished a book on contemporary Orthodox architecture, which is currently under review by a major university press. Now I am in the process of completing a book on liturgical reform in the Orthodox Church. In this book, I'll assess Orthodox participation in the liturgical movement and compare instances of liturgical reform with ample attention to Father Alexander Schmemann and New Skete Monastery. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Next Year in Jerusalem!

Early this year, Our Sunday Visitor, the largest Catholic newspaper in the United States, commissioned me to write a long essay on Orthodox-Catholic relations on the eve of the papal and patriarchal visit to Jerusalem. Francis and Bartholomew were both going to the holy city in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of their predecessors, Paul VI and Athenagoras, meeting there in 1964. In my essay I reviewed centuries of Orthodox-Catholic relations and then looked at where we are today, what outstanding issues remain to be resolved, and what prospects for the future look like.

Several short essays, covering much the same territory, were published this spring around the time of my essay in a very small little book by Fordham University Press: John Chryssavgis, ed., Dialogue of Love: Breaking the Silence of Centuries (Fordham UP, 2014), xv+75pp.

This wee book, which I read in a couple of hours yesterday, contains a preface by Chryssavgis (an archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne and well-known Orthodox theologian) and is published in Fordham University Press's welcome Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought imprint. The very brief introduction is written by the metropolitan of Pergamon and very well-known Greek theologian John Zizioulas who uses a phrase of his mentor Georges Florovsky to describe the East and West as two conjoined sisters who actually cannot be separated from one another without very serious damage.

After these short preliminaries, Chryssavgis gives us a very helpful chronology of the events and personalities leading up to the 1964 meeting, and details of that meeting also. This essay is nicely done, with just enough detail to set the scene without overwhelming the reader with the tedious trivia ("and then, at 10:17am, the pope went to the bathroom and had to ask the patriarch the way...") one sometimes finds in accounts like this.

The second chapter is by the Jesuit patrologist and historical theologian Brian Daley of Notre Dame. It is a first-rate survey of what has happened since 1964--the so-called dialogue of love. Daley begins by noting that the groundwork for much of this was laid by Yves Congar in his hugely important and influential 1954 book After Nine Hundred Years: The Background of the Schism Between the Eastern and Western Churches.

Daley deftly reviews the details of the development of the international dialogue, but also, justly, spends a good bit of time on its coterminous North American counterpart, of which he has been a member since 1981 and, more recently, the executive secretary for the Catholic side. As he notes, the North American dialogue "has been at times, if only by default, the world's main forum for constructive Orthodox-Catholic conversation" (31). He reveals one detail of which I was not aware: the very first Catholic members proposed for the North American dialogue in March 1965 included "three Eastern-rite Catholic priests (two of them Jesuits from Fordham)" (33) and this caused no small alarm on the Orthodox side. Thus one sees that the "Uniate" issue was neuralgic long before the international dialogue tried to address it in the infamous Balamand statement of 1993.

I met the members of the North American dialogue in the autumn of 2002 when they met in Ottawa at Saint Paul University, where I was a doctoral student. (Several of us grad students volunteered to serve wine and various amuse-bouches to the dialogue at a reception--a way not only for free food and wine but, to my mind, the even more important access to long and profitable conversations with the Orthodox and Catholic hierarchs and theologians there assembled.) It was very clear to me then that they got along well and worked profitably in large part, as Daley confirms here, because of the shared cultural background of the participants as well as the fact that many people have been involved for more than a quarter-century and over that time have come to "deeply cherish each other's friendship" (44).

Daley ends with a few commonplace suggestions on changes needed in Catholicism--a decentralized papacy and greater level of synodal governance (where have we heard that before? Oh, right: Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity)--and in Orthodoxy: mechanisms to overcome fractious ethnic divides and speak with one mind on important issue.

The final chapter consists of an introduction by Matthew Baker, a newly ordained Greek Orthodox priest and outstanding doctoral student at Fordham who is already a very accomplished young scholar from whom we can expect further important work. Baker very intelligently introduces us to an essay by Georges Florovsky that he unearthed, one that was published in Paris in 1964 but never translated or given wider dissemination which, Baker rightly notes, is odd given the huge influence Florovsky had in twentieth-century Orthodoxy and given, moreover, his widespread involvement in the ecumenical movement. Baker translates the essay here from the Russian original and annotates it with a few useful footnotes.  There is nothing terribly new here, but we would do well to continue to adhere to Florovsky's counsel to always seek out "sober historical memory [as] the indispensable guarantee of responsible action" (61), something with which the impudent sectarians frothing at the mouth about the "pan-heresy of ecumenism" and the "errors of the Latins" seem to have so little intimate congress, then as now.

In sum, Dialogue of Love: Breaking the Silence of Centuries is indeed, as we say in French, a souvenir. That verb is a reflexive one in French: Je me souviens (Quebec's official motto, as it happens), usually "I remember" but equally "I remind myself." And we all need to remind ourselves gratefully of the courage and foresight of our forbears fifty years ago to seek each other out and to begin the dialogue and work for unity, which has not ended. We need, indeed, to remember, as I said elsewhere about the 2014 Jerusalem visit, that the search for unity is not an optional extra but a dominical imperative: the Lord expects us to be one. Please God we will not have to wait another fifty years for that to happen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cambridge History of Christianity

For those of you impecunious enough to pass by the hardcover editions of the last decade, never fear: Cambridge University Press has just last week brought out very affordable paperback editions of their well-received nine-volume Cambridge History of Christianity. After beginning with the scene-setting first volume, The Cambridge History of Christianity (Volume 1), you will immediately want to jump to the Cambridge History of Christianity (Volume 2), which is edited by the Orthodox scholar Augustine Casiday, whom I have twice interviewed on here about his other books.

About this volume the publisher tells us:
This volume in the Cambridge History of Christianity presents the 'Golden Age' of patristic Christianity. After episodes of persecution by the Roman government, Christianity emerged as a licit religion enjoying imperial patronage and eventually became the favoured religion of the empire. The articles in this volume discuss the rapid transformation of Christianity during late antiquity, giving specific consideration to artistic, social, literary, philosophical, political, inter-religious and cultural aspects. The volume moves away from simple dichotomies and reductive schematizations (e.g., 'heresy v. orthodoxy') toward an inclusive description of the diverse practices and theories that made up Christianity at this time. Whilst proportional attention is given to the emergence of the Great Church within the Roman Empire, other topics are treated as well - such as the development of Christian communities outside the empire.

After this, if you don't want immediately to buy the intervening volumes, then jump ahead to volume 5,  The Cambridge History of Christianity (744pp). This volume, edited by Michael Angold, is devoted to Eastern Christianity. About it the publisher tells us:

About this volume the publisher tells us:
This volume brings together in one compass the Orthodox Churches - the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople and the Russian, Armenian, Ethiopian, Egyptian and Syrian Churches. It follows their fortunes from the late Middle Ages until modern times - exactly the period when their history has been most neglected. Inevitably, this emphasises differences in teachings and experience, but it also brings out common threads, most notably the resilience displayed in the face of alien and often hostile political regimes. The central theme is the survival against the odds of Orthodoxy in its many forms into the modern era. The last phase of Byzantium proves to have been surprisingly important in this survival. It provided Orthodoxy with the intellectual, artistic and spiritual reserves to meet later challenges. The continuing vitality of the Orthodox Churches is evident for example in the Sunday School Movement in Egypt and the Zoe brotherhood in Greece.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire

I am delighted to learn that an invaluable two-volume work published now more than 30 years ago, and rather hard to come by, has just been released, albeit in an abridged edition, by a new publisher: Benjamin Braude, ed., Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Abridged Edition, with a New Introduction (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2014), 350pp.

The value of this book for Eastern Christians is that it was one of the first places to document, in scrupulous scholarly detail, the whole phenomenon of dhimmitude, about which few people had heard in the 1980s though we have, of course, since seen a considerable number of books on the topic in the last three decades. The articles on that topic, and many others, as well as the footnotes, remain invaluable.

About this book we are told in the publisher's blurb:
How did the vast Ottoman empire, stretching from the Balkans to the Sahara, endure for more than four centuries despite its great ethnic and religious diversity? The classic work on this plural society, the two-volume Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire, offered seminal reinterpretations of the empire's core institutions and has sparked more than a generation of innovative work since it was first published in 1982. This new, abridged, and reorganized edition, with a substantial new introduction and bibliography covering issues and scholarship of the past thirty years, has been carefully designed to be accessible to a wider readership.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Monasticism in Eastern Europe and Eastern Christianity

Ines Murzaku e-mailed me this week to let me know of her most recent book, and another one set for release next year, both on similar themes. The one recently published by Peeters in Leuven is Monastic Tradition in Eastern Christianity and the Outside World: A Call for Dialogue (Peeters, 2013), xvi+286pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
This volume's focus is threefold, thus corresponding to its tri-partite topical division: to analyze Eastern monasticism's unique place in the life transforming journey to theosis; Eastern monasticism's hospitality and mutual encounters with culture; and Eastern and Western monasticism's hospitality to Christian and non-Christian religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam (even though Islam does not have any monastic institution, its adherents have been historically in dialogue with Christian monastics and have the potential to achieve a spiritual affinity with monks of other religious traditions). The three parts of the volume share one unifying argument: monasticism's special call to spiritually symbiotic relationship or impact on the very socio-politic-historic structures of reality. The topics are explored from historical, theological, and literary standpoints. The volume's overall intention is to help make monastic ecumenical engagement or its potential for inter-faith dialogue better known, appreciated, and relevant within inter-religious dialogue.
The publisher also helpfully provides a detailed table of contents in this PDF. I hope to interview Ines about both books in the coming weeks.

Her second book, set for release in the spring of 2015 by Routledge, is entitled Monasticism in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Republics. About this book we are told:

This book looks at Eastern and Western monasticism’s continuous and intensive interactions with society in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Former Soviet Republics. It discusses the role monastic’s played in fostering national identities; and the potentiality of monasteries and religious orders to be vehicles of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue within and beyond national boundaries. Using a country-specific analysis, the book highlights the monastic tradition and monastic establishments. It addresses gaps in the academic study of religion in Eastern European and Russian historiography, and looks at the role of monasticism as a cultural and national identity forming determinant in the region.
We are also given the table of contents:
Monasticism in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics: An Introduction Ines Angeli Murzaku

Part 1: Monasticism in Eastern: Central Europe 1. Monasticism in Bulgaria Daniela Kalkandjieva 2. Croatian Monasticism and Glagolitic Tradition: Glagolitic Letters at Home and Abroad Julia Verkholantsev 3. Monasticism in Slovakia and Slovak National Development Stanislav J. Kirschbaum 4. Catholic Monasticism, Orders, and Societies in Hungary: Ten Centuries of Expansion, Disaster and Revival James P. Niessen 5. Religion and Identity in Montenegro Jelena Dzankic 6. Relations between the Holy Mountain and Eastern Europe c.1850-2000 Graham Speake 7. Roman-Catholic Monasticism in Poland Krystyna Górniak-Kocikowska 8. Orthodox Monasticism and the Development of the Modern Romanian State: From Dora d’Istria’s Criticism to Cyclical Reevaluation of Monastic Spirituality in Contemporary Romania Antonio D’Alessandri 9. Monasticism in Serbia in the Modern Period: Development, Influence, Importance Radmila Radić 10. The Church and Religious Orders in Slovenia in the Twentieth Century Kolar Bogdan 11. Between East and West, Albania's Monastic Mosaic Ines Angeli Murzaku

Part 2: Monasticism in Russia and Former Russian Republics 12. Monasticism in Modern Russia Scott Kenworthy 13. Monasticism in Russia's Far North in the Pre-Petrine Era: Social, Cultural, and Economic Interaction Jennifer Spock 14. Abbots and Artifacts: The Construction of Orthodox-Based Russian National Identity at Resurrection "New Jerusalem" Monastery in the Nineteenth Century Kevin Kain 15. Monasticism and the Construction of the Armenian Intellectual Tradition Sergio La Porta-Haig and Isabel Berberian 16. Monks and Monasticism in Georgia in the nineteenth and twentieth Centuries Paul Crego 17. Greco-Catholic Monasticism in Ukraine: Between Mission and Contemplation Daniel Galadza Conclusions Ines Angeli Murzaku

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Great War and the Great Losses in Russia

Unless you've been living under a rock for over a year, you will know that we have been gearing up for the events commemorated between the end of June and this week: the Sarajevo assassination of 28 June 1914 of the heir to the Habsburg throne that led, somewhat, to the outbreak of hostilities in Europe 100 years ago this week. The destruction of the so-called Great War was widespread and nobody escaped the sorrow and bloodshed, but for Eastern Christians there is perhaps an extra sorrow in what happened not only during the war but during the subsequent revolution and civil war in Russia. Some seem never to have recovered from the loss of empire and everything that went with it, including the apparent promise of a great Orthodox power on the world stage. A new book, to be released in November, will set fresh eyes on these multiple losses: Joshua Sanborn, Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire (Oxford UP, 2014), 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
Imperial Apocalypse describes the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War One. Drawing material from nine different archives and hundreds of published sources, this study ties together state failure, military violence, and decolonization in a single story. Joshua Sanborn excavates the individual lives of soldiers, doctors, nurses, politicians, and civilians caught up in the global conflict along the way, creating a narrative that is both humane and conceptually rich.
The volume opens by laying out the theoretical relationship between state failure, social collapse, and decolonization, and then moves chronologically from the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 through the fierce battles and massive human dislocations of 1914-16 to the final collapse of the empire in the midst of revolution in 1917-18. Imperial Apocalypse is the first major study which treats the demise of the Russian Empire as part of the twentieth-century phenomenon of modern decolonization, and provides a readable account of military activity and political change throughout this turbulent period of war and revolution. Sanborn argues that the sudden rise of groups seeking national self-determination in the borderlands of the empire was the consequence of state failure, not its cause. At the same time, he shows how the destruction of state institutions and the spread of violence from the front to the rear led to a collapse of traditional social bonds and the emergence of a new, more dangerous, and more militant political atmosphere.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When You were Transfigured on the Mount, O Christ God.....

On this loveliest of the summer festivals, so full of vibrant and abundant promise of our paschal life to come, I can do no better than to refer you to what I wrote last year about the Transfiguration and the lovely book of homilies mentioned there as well as the video of the vigil from St. Elias.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Russian Orthodoxy and Human Rights

In the spring issue of Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, of which I am editor, we feature an article by Christopher Brenna on Orthodox approaches to the question of human rights. This is, as the author notes, a relatively new area for theological exploration. But the relationship of Orthodoxy and rights has been examined by sociologists and political scientists in a series of new books over the last decade, the newest of which, released just this spring, is by Kristina Stoeckl, a research associate in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Vienna: The Russian Orthodox Church and Human Rights (Routledge, 2014). I contacted her for an interview, and here are her thoughts:

AD: Tell us about your background and what led to the writing of The Russian Orthodox Church and Human Rights.

Kristina Stoeckl: In the preface of the book I reveal a piece of biographical background and my reasons for engaging in the topic of the Russian Orthodox Church and human rights. Readers of the preface will understand that I have a fairly traditional Catholic background which, in my academic work, has made me sensitive to the topic of religion in politics. They will also understand that the book is the work of a European political theorist who cannot but confront the towering paradigm of “postsecular society” expressed by Jürgen Habermas. I did not come to the topic of Russian Orthodoxy and human rights because I had a pre-determined interested in human rights as such; I was instead interested in the work of “translation” between religious content and secular norms. The Russian Orthodox debate on human rights appeared like a good example.  What readers of the preface will not find out is that I have an academic background in Russian and comparative literature and philosophy. I had the fortune to have very good teachers during my underground studies of Russian literature and philosophy at the University of Innsbruck in Austria: Fedor Dostoevskij, Vladimir Solov’ev, the philosophers of the Russian Silver Age, the generation of Soviet semioticians around Jurij Lotman, and later on also the religious thinkers of the Russian emigration were my early guiding lights for approaching Russian thought and culture. This background is much more evident in my first book and PhD-thesis entitled Community after Totalitarianism and published in 2008. This background explains why, despite all criticism of what the Russian Orthodox Church represents today, my approach to the Russian Orthodox tradition is sympathetic.


AD: Your first chapter notes the different responses to human rights discourse in modern Orthodoxy, from those very critical and dismissive to those who are more receptive. At the end of your chapter you note that the Russian Orthodox Church has adopted rather a middle position here--not totally dismissive, but not fully accepting, either. Why the middle position? 
 
KS: I call the Russian Orthodox Church’s a middle position, because it really stands for a response to the issue of human rights that steers mid-way between a complete rejection of human rights and acceptance. The Russian Orthodox Church published, in 2008, a document entitled “The Russian Orthodox Church’s Teaching on Human Dignity, Freedom and Rights”. This document fundamentally changed the position on human rights which the Church had explained eight years earlier in the “Basis of the Social Doctrine” in 2000 (in which human rights are rejected as a sign of apostasy), but it did not go all the way to accepting human rights as a legal instrument that should be fully endorsed and supported by the Church. Why did the Church adopt this middle position? In the book, I give several reasons: relevance - the Moscow Patriarchate recognized that it cannot continue to ignore or dismiss the topic in its internal and external relations; politics – the Moscow Patriarchate recognized that for having a voice in politics, it better speak the language of contemporary politics; soteriology – the Church understood very well that Orthodox believers live in secularized societies and ask from their Church to express itself and provide guiding lines on topics of contemporary relevance; and lastly individuals – the individual members of the Russian Orthodox Church involved in the working out of the document between 2006 and 2008 were not unanimous in their assessment of human rights, some wanted total dismissal, some wanted endorsement. The document is a compromise between these actors. It is important to be aware that the individual dynamics may since have changed. I am not sure whether today, in 2014, a new document on human rights of the Russian Orthodox Church would still occupy a middle-position or would not demonstrate a regress to earlier, dismissive positions.
 
AD: You also note in your first chapter that religious groups in a majority position tend to be less favourably disposed to human rights than to minority religious groups. Have you found, e.g., that Catholics or Jews or Muslims in Russia invoke human rights language more than their Russian Orthodox counterparts?

KS: In the book I note in the first and analyse in detail in the last chapter that majority religions tend to be less favourably disposed to human rights than minority religious groups, who invoke the right to religious freedom in order to assure their survival and flourishing. Minority religious groups need the protection of the international human rights regime where majority religions simply rely on traditional privileges. This dynamic is clearly visible in the Russian case, both in the debates around the 1997 law on religious freedom and in cases on religious freedom that have reached the European Court of Human Rights. It is, however, not unique to Russia. Also many Western European countries are in the process of discovering that they have become, due to immigration, religiously pluralistic societies where individual human rights trump the historical privileges of waning majority religions. I have not done systematic research on the way in which minority religious groups appeal to human rights, but I refer the interested reader to the work of my colleague Effie Fokas, who is conducting a long-term research project on precisely this point.  

AD: You note that post-1991, Russia had two very different paths before it, and in the end chose the path of "religious nationalism." What motivated that choice--was it purely an anti-Western spirit, or was there something positive to it?

KS: The two paths I mean are “religious nationalism” and “religious renewal”. A religious renewal would have required a thorough process of critical self-reflection, a laying open of the guilt which the Church had heaped upon itself during the decades of Soviet collaboration and a renewal of the Church in the spirit of religious dissidence. This did not happen; what we got instead was continuity and strengthening of the religious apparatus. I think this choice was motivated less by ideological reasons (anti- versus pro-Western) but mostly by pragmatic considerations. The religious nationalism promised more public echo, more political support, and it apparently convinced many Russians. At the same time, inside the leadership structure of the Church and on the level of parish communities pockets of liberal renewal continued and continue to exist. Was there something positive to the path of religious nationalism? I don’t think so, but inasmuch as I interpret it not as an ideological, but as a pragmatic development, the only positive element there was is that the official religious nationalism has left some space for alternative viewpoints to emerge, which enjoy less visibility, but continue to exist. I should also add that I feel this space is significantly narrower today than it was in the period I study in this book.

AD: You note in your second chapter that the 2000 document "Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church" was very much the product of the Department for External Church Relations, headed by now-Patriarch Kiril, who seems to have positioned himself somewhere between "liberals" and "zealots." Has he maintained that balance since taking over as patriarch?

Source: Mospat.ru
KS: This is the much debated question among scholars dealing with the Russian Orthodox Church! On the first glance, it would seem that Kirill has given up his middle-stance in favour of more fundamentalist positions. He has appointed some real hardliners to important positions inside the Church, for example Vsevolod Chaplin who became responsible for Church-Society Relations. Since 2009, when Kirill became Patriarch, we have also seen a number of events which have tipped the balance in favour of the zealots: for example the trial of the punk-band Pussy Riot, the legislation against “homosexual propaganda” and “offense of religious feelings.” But there are also examples to the contrary, like the relatively balanced stance which Kirill has assumed in the present crisis in Ukraine (which I have analysed elsewhere). Leaving aside for a moment the position of Patriarch Kirill and his successful or unsuccessful attempts to maintain an independent position for the Church, what is clear is that in foreign and also in Russian public perception, this independence has already been lost. The Moscow Patriarchate is now widely perceived to stand unconditionally on the side of Putin and in support of his anti-Western politics.

AD: You note that the history in the "Bases" document attempts to sketch out a very different lineage for any notion of human rights in Russia, away from Western history, and all the way back to Byzantium. Why is that? Why the constant effort to so vociferously differentiate itself from "the West"? 
 
KS: Not the entire “Bases of the Social Doctrine” document, but definitely its section on human rights conveys a strong Orthodox anti-Westernism that goes back to the Slavophiles and to Orthodox resentments against the Latin West. The paradoxical feature about this anti-Westernism is that it comes in a format that is influenced by “Latin” Christian models of theological reasoning. In my interviews for this book it became clear that the Russian Orthodox Church has learned (and wanted to learn) from Catholic and Protestant theologians in matters of social teaching: conferences were held, working groups were created, position-documents were exchanged. This also explains the deep disappointment about the “Human Rights Doctrine” expressed by the German Protestant Churches, an episode I explain in chapter 4 of the book. These Western theologians felt that they had been part of a real exchange and had accompanied the Russian Orthodox colleagues in a “learning process” – and then they saw that the Russian Orthodox Church had given the entire debate an anti-Western twist.   

AD: You note (p. 101) that the Church today has shifted away from "inward" focus (on church-state relations) to "outward" focus on issues of "society, family, and values." Does that reflect new-found strength in the Church? What are the risks for this strategy? And are Russian Orthodox Christians fully supportive of this shift or--to go back to your opening discussion of the Pussy Riot--are they generally more ambivalent? 

KS:Yes, I do believe that this reflects a new-found strength in the Church structure. For a large part of the 1990s and 2000s the Church was busy with sorting out its own matters: the restitution of Church property once confiscated by the Soviet state, the establishment of courses that teach Orthodox “culture” in public schools, the building up of a system of Orthodox military chaplaincy, etc. Under Patriarch Kirill the Church has now moved to issues of society, family, and values. It has taken a firm moral conservative stance on issues of life, sexuality and gender, and religious freedom. I argue in the book that this shift does not only come from inside the Russian Orthodox Church, but is also the result of cooperation between Russian Orthodox actors and traditionalist sections inside the Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical Churches. My feeling is that ordinary Russian believers feel somewhat puzzled by this shift. The remaking of post-Soviet Russia as the world’s leading nation that respects “traditional values” is deeply paradoxical.
 
AD: Your data (p. 106-07) revealed that "since 2008, representatives of the Church and the Russian government have pursued an active human rights agenda at international level, in particular in the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations." Clearly it seems to me that one area where we have recently seen evidence of this is Russia's support for Syria against US intervention in the on-going civil war. Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church claim to have been motivated here by their concern to protect the rights of fellow Orthodox Christians in Syria. What do you make of these arguments?
 
I have not followed the Church’s argumentation on Syria closely and I was not aware that Putin has motivated his support for Syria (and Russia’s veto-position in the UN Security Council) on grounds of intra-Orthodox solidarity. I would interpret this stance merely as a rhetorical tool to cover up what the Russian agenda really is about: preventing regime-change at all costs.
 
AD: In your opening, and then again in the conclusion of your book, you return to the idea of Charles Taylor in speaking of a "mutual fragilization" as taking place in the encounter between Russian Orthodoxy and modernity. Explain this for us a little bit. 
 
Charles Taylor's concept of “mutual fragilization” adds an important feature to the paradigm of the “post-secular”. Habermas’ notion of post-secular society confidently assumes that religious and secular actors may learn from each other for the good of society as a whole; mutual fragilization reminds us of the fact that getting to know the other better may not always result in greater understanding, but in greater insecurity and self-reflexivity. Insecurity and self-reflexivity are positive, because hardened-up and doubt-free identities can be very frightening, whether religious or secular. In the history of the Russian Orthodox tradition, the period of the Russian émigré-theologians Sergij Bulgakov, Vladimir Lossky and Georges Florovsky strikes me as an example of “mutual fragilization”, where both the Orthodox as well as some of their Western interlocutors were faced with the moral breakdown of their respective traditions (Bolshevism in the East, Fascism and Nazism in the West), recognized that they were facing similar questions, learned from another and enriched their respective standpoints through encounter with the other. In that particular case, the encounter resulted in the neo-patristic turn in theology, a point I have made in my book Community after Totalitarianism.
  
AD: Very interestingly for me in a theology department, you end your book by noting that you are not a theologian but a political scientist, but nevertheless "it is there--in theology--where the future trajectory of the encounter of Orthodoxy and modernity is being mapped out" (p.131). Why do you say that? Tell us a bit more about how you see this trajectory being mapped out.
 
KS: I have studied the Russian Orthodox intellectual tradition for many years now and I have covered important periods from Solov’ev and Dostoevskij to the émigré-theologians, to late Soviet dissidence and contemporary debates. My impression is that during all this history, the Russian Orthodox Church has found itself tied to the state, has actually actively tied itself to the state and has failed to give an independent response to society and the world. These responses have come from elsewhere inside and outside the Church, from theology and religious philosophy. Such voices also exist today and many of my Orthodox friends and colleagues understand themselves as engaged in precisely this endeavour. It is them that I had in mind when I wrote those pages, obviously with the hope that theology may at one point prevail over reasons of church-state relations. At the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna we organized a workshop on “Orthodox political theologies” earlier this year, where we brought together theologians from Russia, Western Europe and the United States. The aim of the publication that will come out of this meeting is precisely to take stock of the ways in which Orthodox theologians map out the relation between their churches and politics.
 
AD: Sum up what you hope the book accomplishes

KS: The book wants to make a contribution to contemporary debates on the compatibility of religious claims and secular norms. It wants to challenge the prevailing theories of religious-secular accommodation by studying a “difficult” case like the Russian Orthodox Church’s treatment of human rights. I may not have managed to give full answers in chapter 5 of this book, but I am confident that I raised relevant questions which I intend to explore further. The book also wants to offer a balanced account of the ideas and politics inside the Russian Orthodox Church. It wants to highlight one aspect that is frequently overlooked in research in this field, and that is the interactions and relatedness of the Russian Orthodox Church with religious actors outside Russia, its engagement on the level of international institutions and its external relations.

AD: What projects--books, articles--are you at work on now?
 
KS: Since finishing the book I have tried to work further on the theoretical questions that emerge from my Russian case study. I have made some preliminary considerations on what I perceive as “theology's blind spot” in contemporary theorizing of religion and politics here and I plan to develop these ideas further into a full-fledged theoretical contribution. I am also working on a project to study present-day Russian moral conservatism. You can follow my work on my website and at the IWM.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

To Live in the Age of Identity

As I've noted on here many times in the past year alone, the question of Orthodox identity seems to be a paramount one today judging by the number and quality of books on the topic that keep emerging. Next month, Ashgate will present us with another: Maria Hämmerli, University of Fribourg, Switzerland and Jean-François Mayer, eds., Orthodox Identities in Western Europe: Migration, Settlement and Innovation (Ashgate, 2014), 262pp.

The publisher gives us an overview and table of contents for this book:

The Orthodox migration in the West matters, despite its unobtrusive presence. And it matters in a way that has not yet been explored in social and religious studies: in terms of size, geographical scope, theological input and social impact. This book explores the adjustment of Orthodox migrants and their churches to Western social and religious contexts in different scenarios. This variety is consistent with Orthodox internal diversity regarding ethnicity, migration circumstances, Church-State relations and in line with the specificities of the receiving country in terms of religious landscape, degree of secularisation, legal treatment of immigrant religious institutions or socio-economic configurations. Exploring how Orthodox identities develop when displaced from traditional ground where they are socially and culturally embedded, this book offers fresh insights into Orthodox identities in secular, religiously pluralistic social contexts.
Contents: Introduction, Maria Hämmerli and Jean-François Mayer. Part I Migration and Settlement: Romanian Orthodox churches in Italy: the construction of the Romanian-Italian transnational Orthodox space, Suna Gülfer Ihlamur-Öner; The myth of an ideal leader: the case of the Syriac Orthodox community in Europe, Naures Atto; The transformation of social capital among Assyrians in the migration context, Soner Onder Barthoma; Orthodox churches in Germany: from migrant groups to permanent homeland, Reinhard Thöle; The ambivalent ecumenical relations among Russian Orthodox faithful in Germany, Sebastian Rimestad and Ernest Kadotschnikow; How do Orthodox integrate in their host countries? Examples from Switzerland, Maria Hämmerli; The Orthodox churches in the United Kingdom, Hugh Wybrew; Population movements and Orthodox Christianity in Finland: dislocations, resettlements, migrations and identities, Tuomas Martikainen and Teuvo Laitila; Orthodox parishes in Strasbourg: between migration and integration, Guillaume Keller; Orthodox priests in Norway: serving or ruling?, Berit Thorbjørnsrud. Part II Innovation: Not just caviar and balalaikas: unity and division in Russian Orthodox congregations in Denmark, Annika Hvithamar; Mediating Orthodoxy: convert agency and discursive autochthonism in Ireland, James A. Kapaló; The Great Athonite tradition in France: circulation of Athonite imaginaries and the emergence of a French style of Orthodoxy, Laurent Denizeau; ‘We are Westerners and must remain Westerners’: Orthodoxy and Western rites in Western Europe, Jean-François Mayer; Innovation in the Russian Orthodox Church: the crisis in the diocese of Sourozh in Britain, Maria Hämmerli and Edmund Mucha. Index.
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