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

Monday, May 16, 2011

Orthodoxy and the Spiritual Marketplace

I'm delighted to learn this week that Amy Slagle's fascinating study, part of which formed the basis for her presentation to the Association for the Study of Eastern Christian History and Culture in 2005, is going to be released by Northern Illinois University Press in September: The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity.

About this study, the publisher informs us:

Like many Americans, the Eastern Orthodox converts in this study are participants in what scholars today refer to as the “spiritual marketplace” or quest culture of expanding religious diversity and individual choice-making that marks the post-World War II American religious landscape.

In this highly readable ethnographic study, Slagle explores the ways in which converts, clerics, and lifelong church members use marketplace metaphors in describing and enacting their religious lives.

Slagle conducted participant observation and formal semi-structured interviews in Orthodox churches in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Jackson, Mississippi. Known among Orthodox Christians as the “Holy Land” of North American Orthodoxy, Pittsburgh offers an important
context for exploring the interplay of Orthodox Christianity with the mainstreams of American religious life. Slagle’s second round of research in Jackson sheds light on the American Bible Belt where over the past thirty years the Orthodox Church in America has marshaled significant resources to build mission parishes.

Relatively few ethnographic studies have examined Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the United States, and Slagle’s book fills a significant gap. This lucidly written book is an ideal selection for courses in the sociology and anthropology of religion, contemporary Christianity, and religious change. Scholars of Orthodox Christianity, as well as clerical and lay people interested in Eastern Orthodoxy, will find this book to be of great appeal.
Having heard her speak at the ASEC conference at Ohio State in October 2009 on a similar theme, I am sure her book will be fascinating, not least in demonstrating that many converts to Orthodoxy today fashion an identity à la carte and so prove themselves to be utter creatures of modernity even as they present themselves as the paragons of "traditionalism." We will certainly have this reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies.

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