"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, December 3, 2018

Russian and Other Nationalisms

We live in an era that has suddenly rediscovered the problems of nationalism it seems. For those of us in the Christian East, this has been a problem since at least the beginning of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century. It has never gone away, but here too seems to be undergoing an unwelcome and unhelpful revival. As a result, more and more scholarly attention is being paid to it in a variety of contexts, as the following brand new books indicate.

With the ongoing war Russia has launched against Ukraine (and before it Georgia let us not forget) and is recently ratcheting up, it is no wonder that more and more attention is being paid to Russian nationalism, though what we are seeing in Ukraine and elsewhere is more properly a re-emergence of neo-imperialism. Nevertheless, a new book by Marlene Laruelle may help us understand this picture more clearly: Russian Nationalism: Imaginaries, Doctrines, and Political Battlefields (Routledge, 2018), 256pp.

About this book the publisher tells us the following:
This book, by one of the foremost authorities on the subject, explores the complex nature of Russian nationalism. It examines nationalism as a multilayered and multifaceted repertoire displayed by a myriad of actors. It considers nationalism as various concepts and ideas emphasizing Russia’s distinctive national character, based on the country’s geography, history, Orthodoxy, and Soviet technological advances. It analyzes the ideologies of Russia’s ultra-nationalist and far-right groups, explores the use of nationalism in the conflict with Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, and discusses how Putin’s political opponents, including Alexei Navalny, make use of nationalism. Overall the book provides a rich analysis of a key force which is profoundly affecting political and societal developments both inside Russia and beyond.
Nationalism is not just a political phenomenon, of course, but often has deep psychodynamics at play, many if not most of them illusions in the strict Freudian sense, and sometimes pathologically so. Two new books examine some of those fascinating dynamics: first and more broadly is Patrick Colm Hogan, Understanding Nationalism: On Narrative, Cognitive Science, and Identity (Ohio State University Press, 2018), 408pp.

About this book the publisher gives us the following information:
From the rise of Nazism to the conflict in Kashmir in 2008, nationalism has been one of the most potent forces in modern history. Yet the motivational power of nationalism is still not well understood. In Understanding Nationalism: On Narrative, Cognitive Science, and Identity, Patrick Colm Hogan begins with empirical research on the cognitive psychology of group relations to isolate varieties of identification, arguing that other treatments of nationalism confuse distinct types of identity formation. Synthesizing different strands of this research, Hogan articulates a motivational groundwork for nationalist thought and action.
Understanding Nationalism goes on to elaborate a cognitive poetics of national imagination, most importantly, narrative structure. Hogan focuses particularly on three complex narrative prototypes that are prominent in human thought and action cross-culturally and trans-historically. He argues that our ideas and feelings about what nations are and what they should be are fundamentally organized and oriented by these prototypes. He develops this hypothesis through detailed analyses of national writings from Whitman to George W. Bush, from Hitler to Gandhi.
Hogan’s book alters and expands our comprehension of nationalism generally—its cognitive structures, its emotional operations. It deepens our understanding of the particular, important works he analyzes. Finally, it extends our conception of the cognitive scope and political consequence of narrative.
The second book takes us into some of the dynamics of the on-going assault by Russia on Ukraine, including a chapter on the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in the conflict: Neighbourhood Perceptions of the Ukraine Crisis: From the Soviet Union into Eurasia? eds. Gerhard Besier and Katarzyna Stoklosa (Routledge, 2018), 282pp.

About this book we are told the following:
Recent events in Ukraine and Russia and the subsequent incorporation of Crimea into the Russian state, with the support of some circles of inhabitants of the peninsula, have shown that the desire of people to belong to the Western part of Europe should not automatically be assumed. Discussing different perceptions of the Ukrainian-Russian war in neighbouring countries, this book offers an analysis of the conflicts and issues connected with the shifting of the border regions of Russia and Ukraine to show how ’material’ and ’psychological’ borders are never completely stable ideas. The contributors – historians, sociologists, anthropologists and political scientists from across Europe – use an interdisciplinary and comparative approach to explore the different national and transnational perceptions of a possible future role for Russia.

As I mentioned at the outset, the role of Christianity within nationalism--whether Russian, Romanian, Greek, Serbian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, or any other--is of course well known. But a new book takes a wider look at the role of Religion and Nationalism in Global Perspective by J. Christopher Soper and Joel S. Fetzer (Cambridge UP, 2018), 304pp.

This book contains chapters on countries with substantial Eastern Christian presence, including Israel, India, and Greece. We are further told the following about this book:
It is difficult to imagine forces in the modern world as potent as nationalism and religion. Both provide people with a source of meaning, each has motivated individuals to carry out extraordinary acts of heroism and cruelty, and both serve as the foundation for communal and personal identity. While the subject has received both scholarly and popular attention, this distinctive book is the first comparative study to examine the origins and development of three distinct models: religious nationalism, secular nationalism, and civil-religious nationalism. Using multiple methods, the authors develop a new theoretical framework that can be applied across diverse countries and religious traditions to understand the emergence, development, and stability of different church-state arrangements over time. The work combines public opinion, constitutional, and content analysis of the United States, Israel, India, Greece, Uruguay, and Malaysia, weaving together historical and contemporary illustrations.
Finally, this book caught my interest because of the role of music, not least in two Orthodox-majority countries it covers, viz., Serbia and Bulgaria:  Choral Societies and Nationalism in Europe eds. Krisztina Lajosi and Andreas Stynen (Brill, 2018), 285pp.

About this book we are told this:
This wide-ranging contribution to the study of nationalism and the social history of music examines the relationship between choral societies and national mobilization in the nineteenth century. From Norway to the Basque country and from Wales to Bulgaria, this pioneering study explores and compares the ways choral societies influenced and reflected the development of national awareness under differing political and social circumstances. By the second half of the nineteenth century, organized communal singing became a primary leisure activity that attracted all layers of society. Though strongly patriotic in tone, choral societies borrowed from each other and relied heavily on prominent German or French models. This volume is the first to address both the national and transnational significance.

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