Around the Web

Some important law-and-religion stories from around the web:

 

Florensky, “Early Religious Writings” (Jakim, trans.)

As readers of this blog know, the Center co-sponsored a conference last week at the Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Trent, Italy on tradition in American and Russian thought. One thing the conference made clear to me is that, to understand Russian traditionalism, and its implications for law, one must engage with the writings of Orthodox scholars. Sadly, these writings are often untranslated. But here is a new Eerdman’s translation of the writings of one such scholar, Fr. Pavel Florensky: Early Religious Writings, 1903-1909. Florensky, whom the Communists executed in 1937, is known for his insistence on the importance of intuition and experience, rather than reason, as the basis for communion with God, a point some of our Russian interlocutors made at our event last week. Here’s a description of the book from the Eerdman’s website:

9780802874955Profound writings by one of the twentieth century’s greatest polymaths

“Perhaps the most remarkable person devoured by the Gulag” is how Alexandr Solzhenitsyn described Pavel Florensky, a Russian Orthodox mathematician, scientist, linguist, art historian, philosopher, theologian, and priest who was martyred during the Bolshevik purges of the 1930s.

This volume contains eight important religious works written by Florensky in the first decade of the twentieth century, now translated into English—most of them for the first time. Splendidly interweaving religious, scientific, and literary themes, these essays showcase the diversity of Florensky’s broad learning and interests. Including reflections on the sacraments and explorations of Russian monastic culture, the volume concludes with “The Salt of the Earth,” arguably Florensky’s most spiritually moving work.

Anagnostopoulos, “Orthodoxy and Islam”

Next month, Routledge will release Orthodoxy and Islam: Theology and Muslim–Christian Relations in Modern Greece and Turkey by Archimandrite Nikodemos Anagnostopoulos (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople). The publisher’s description follows:

Orthodoxy and IslamThis book analyses contemporary Christian-Muslim relations in the traditional lands of Orthodoxy and Islam. In particular, it examines the development of Eastern Orthodox ecclesiological thinking on Muslim-Christian relations and religious minorities in the context of modern Greece and Turkey. Greece, where the prevailing religion is Eastern Orthodoxy, accommodates an official recognised Muslim minority based in Western Thrace as well as other Muslim populations located at major Greek urban centres and the islands of the Aegean Sea. On the other hand, Turkey, where the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is based, is a Muslim country which accommodates within its borders an official recognised Greek Orthodox Minority. The book then suggests ways in which to overcome the difficulties that Muslim and Christian communities are still facing with the Turkish and Greek States. Finally, it proposes that the positive aspects of the coexistence between Muslims and Christians in Western Thrace and Istanbul might constitute an original model that should be adopted in other EU and Middle East countries, where challenges and obstacles between Muslim and Christian communities still persist.

This book offers a distinct and useful contribution to the ever popular subject of Christian-Muslim relations, especially in South-East Europe and the Middle East. It will be a key resource for students and scholars of Religious Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.

“Political Theologies in Orthodox Christianity” (Stoeckl et al, eds.)

In June, Bloomsbury Publishing will release Political Theologies in Orthodox Christianity: Common Challenges – Diverse Positions edited by Kristina Stoeckl (University of Innsbruck), Ingeborg Gabriel (University of Vienna), and Aristotle Papanikolaou (Fordham University). The publisher’s description follows:

Politics OrthodoxyThis book gathers a wide range of theological perspectives from Orthodox European countries, Russia and the United States in order to demonstrate how divergent the positions are within Orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy is often considered to be out-of-sync with contemporary society, set apart in a world of its own where the church intertwines with the state, in order to claim power over the populace and ignore the individual voices of modern societies.

As a collective, these essays present a different understanding of the relationship of Orthodoxy to secular politics; comprehensive, up-to-date and highly relevant to politically understanding today’s world. The contributors present their views and arguments by drawing lessons from the past, and by elaborating visions for how Orthodox Christianity can find its place in the contemporary liberal democratic order, while also drawing on the experience of the Western Churches and denominations. Touching upon aspects such as anarchism, economy and political theology, these contributions examine how Orthodox Christianity reacts to liberal democracy, and explore the ways that this branch of religion can be rendered more compatible with political modernity.

“Religious Interactions in Europe and the Mediterranean World” (Fukasawa et al, eds.)

In June, Routledge will release “Religious Interactions in Europe and the Mediterranean World: Coexistence and Dialogue from the 12th to the 20th Centuries,” edited by Katsumi Fukasawa (Kyoto-Sangyo University), Benjamin J. Kaplan (University College London), and Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire (University of Nice Sophia Antipolis).  The publisher’s description follows:

 The religious histories of Christian and Muslim countries in Europe and Western Asia are often treated in isolation from one another. This can lead to a limited and 9781138743205simplistic understanding of the international and interreligious interactions currently taking place. This edited collection brings these national and religious narratives into conversation with each other, helping readers to formulate a more sophisticated comprehension of the social and cultural factors involved in the tolerance and intolerance that has taken place in these areas, and continues today.

Part One of this volume examines the history of relations between people of different Christian confessions in western and central Europe. Part Two then looks at the relations between Western and Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Islam and Judaism in the vast area that extends around the Mediterranean from the Iberian Peninsula to western Asia. Each Part ends with a Conclusion that considers the wider implications of the preceding essays and points the way toward future research.

Bringing together scholars from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and America this volume embodies an international collaboration of unusual range. Its comparative approach will be of interest to scholars of Religion and History, particularly those with an emphasis on interreligious relations and religious tolerance.

Burnham & Dickens, “Medieval Heresy”

In May, I.B. Tauris Publishers will release Medieval Heresy: The Church’s Struggle for Orthodoxy and Survival by Louisa Burnham (Middlebury College) and Andrea Janelle Dickens (United Theological Seminary). The publisher’s description follows:

Medieval HereticsInquisitors in the Middle Ages believed they could easily tell the difference between orthodox believers and heretics. They wrote manuals that described the beliefs and practices of heretical groups, devising questions designed to ferret out the fifth columnists hiding dangerously and threateningly in their midst. Heretics were the enemy within, the rotten apples in the religious barrel. It was essential to sort the sheep from the goats, in order to sustain the social and ecclesiastical order. But were heretics and faithful Christians really so very unlike? Louisa Burnham argues that historians have been too anxious to make simplistic distinctions between heresy and canonical orthodoxy. She contends that heretics were part of a complex movement that was as deeply spiritual as that of their enemies.Far from existing at the margins of popular religious life, heresy was central to the medieval Church’s attempt to define itself.Examining in turn some of the key heretical movements of the period (such as the Cathars, Waldensians, Beguins, Lollards, Wycliffites and Hussites), this bold and original textbook shows students and teachers of medieval history that there was a fine line between heresy and orthodoxy: and that, apart from circumstance, the distinction made between sinner and saint might often have been very different.

“Christianity, Democracy, and the Shadow of Constantine” (Demacopoulos & Papanikolaou, eds.)

From Fordham University Press, a new collection on Orthodox perspectives on the relationship between Christianity and liberal democracy: Christianity, Democracy, and the Shadow of Constantine, edited by Fordham professors George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou. The publisher’s description follows:

9780823274208_10The collapse of communism in eastern Europe has forced traditionally Eastern Orthodox countries to consider the relationship between Christianity and liberal democracy. Contributors examine the influence of Constantinianism in both the post-communist Orthodox world and in Western political theology. Constructive theological essays feature Catholic and Protestant theologians reflecting on the relationship between Christianity and democracy, as well as Orthodox theologians reflecting on their tradition’s relationship to liberal democracy. The essays explore prospects of a distinctively Christian politics in a post-communist, post-Constantinian age.

Binns, “The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia”

This month, IB Tauris Publishers releases The Orthodox Church of Ethiopia: A History by John Binns (University Church, Cambridge). The publisher’s description follows:

the-orthodox-church-of-ethopiaSurrounded by steep escarpments to the north, south and east, Ethiopia has always been geographically and culturally set apart. It has the longest archaeological record of any country in the world. Indeed, this precipitous mountain land was where the human race began. It is also home to an ancient church with a remarkable legacy. The Ethiopian Church forms the southern branch of historic Christianity. It is the only pre-colonial church in sub-Saharan Africa, originating in one of the earliest Christian kingdoms-with its king Ezana (supposedly descended from the biblical Solomon) converting around 340 CE. Since then it has maintained its long Christian witness in a region dominated by Islam; today it has a membership of around forty million and is rapidly growing. Yet despite its importance, there has been no comprehensive study available in English of its theology and history. This is a large gap which this authoritative and engagingly written book seeks to fill. The Church of Ethiopia (or formally, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) has a recognized place in worldwide Christianity as one of five non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches.As Dr Binns shows, it has developed a distinctive approach which makes it different from all other churches.

His book explains why this happened and how these special features have shaped the life of the Christian people of Ethiopia. He discusses the famous rock-hewn churches; the Ark of the Covenant (claimed by the Church and housed in Aksum); the medieval monastic tradition; relations with the Coptic Church; co-existence with Islam; missionary activity; and the Church’s venerable oral traditions, especially the discipline of qene-a kind of theological reflection couched in a unique style of improvised allegorical poetry. There is also a sustained exploration of how the Church has been forced to re-think its identity and mission as a result of political changes and upheaval following the overthrow of Haile Selassie (who ruled as Regent, 1916-1930, and then as Emperor, 1930-74) and beyond.

 

Geffert and Stavrou, “Eastern Orthodox Christianity”

Geffert and Stavrou, “Eastern Orthodox Christianity”

Eastern Orthodox Christianity.jpgIn May, Yale University Press released Eastern Orthodox Christianity: The Essential Texts by Bryn Geffert (Amherst College) and Theofanis Stavrou (University of Minnesota). The publisher’s description follows:

Two leading academic scholars offer the first comprehensive source reader on the Eastern Orthodox church for the English-speaking world. Designed specifically for students and accessible to readers with little or no previous knowledge of theology or religious history, this essential, one-of-a-kind work frames, explores, and interprets Eastern Orthodoxy through the use of primary sources and documents. Lively introductions and short narratives that touch on anthropology, art, law, literature, music, politics, women’s studies, and a host of other areas are woven together to provide a coherent and fascinating history of the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition.

Human Rights and the Pan-Orthodox Council

Last week, the Eastern Orthodox Church, a communion of 14 autocephalous, national churches with roots in the Byzantine Christian tradition, concluded an historic synod on the island of Crete. Decades in the planning, the Pan-Orthodox Council, known officially as the Holy and Great Council, was meant to gather patriarchs from all 14 churches for deliberation on a series of issues in contemporary church life, including marriage, fasting, the Orthodox “Diaspora,” and relations with non-Orthodox Christians. At the last minute, four national churches, including the largest, the Russian Orthodox Church, declined to attend—a fact which, notwithstanding the protests of the Council’s supporters, seems as a practical matter to undercut the Council’s significance. Nonetheless, the Council is noteworthy for what it had to say on several topics, including the persecution of Mideast Christians and human rights in general. On the latter, the Council’s documents reveal, once again, important differences with the consensus understanding in the West.

First, though, a word about the churches that stayed away. From what I can tell, most (but not all) of these churches demurred in part because of concerns about what the Council might say about relations with other Christians. Ecumenism occasions much dispute within the Eastern Orthodox Church. Some, especially in monastic communities, believe that ecumenism implies that Orthodoxy has abandoned its claim to represent the one true church. Even referring to non-Orthodox Christians as “churches” can cause controversy.

In its declaration, “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World,” the Council adopted (with all respect) a rather lawyerly solution. Yes, the document indicates, there is only one true church, and that is the Eastern Orthodox Church. But “the Orthodox Church accepts the historical name of other non-Orthodox Christian Churches and Confessions that are not in communion with her and believes that her relations with them should be based on the most speedy and objective clarification possible of the whole ecclesiological question.” In other words, the Council accepts that, historically, other Christian communions have been called “churches” (some of them, even, have been called “Orthodox Churches”!) and will work to clarify the situation. It’s an irenic statement. We’ll see how it is received, especially by those within the Orthodox fold who do not think clarification necessary.

Notwithstanding this hedging on the “ecclesiological question,” the Council did go out of its way to decry the persecution of Christians, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, in the Mideast today. In fact, it condemned the persecution of other religious minorities in the Mideast as well. The encyclical issued at the conclusion of the Council states, “The Orthodox Church is particularly concerned about the situation facing Christians, and other persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. In particular, she addresses an appeal to governments in that region to protect the Christian populations – Orthodox, Ancient Eastern and other Christians – who have survived in the cradle of Christianity. The indigenous Christian and other populations enjoy the inalienable right to remain in their countries as citizens with equal rights.” The Council refers to two Christian bishops, one Eastern and the other Oriental Orthodox, who were abducted two years in Syria and whose whereabouts are still unknown.

The Council’s official documents also speak about human rights generally, demonstrating, once again, how important the idiom is in contemporary debate. Today, everyone from secular lawyers to church patriarchs declares a commitment to the ideal of “human rights,” based in the concept of “human dignity.” It is the price of admission to polite discussion. But the Council’s documents reveal, once again, how differently people understand those terms. In today’s human rights discourse, people use the same words, but mean very different things.

The Council’s official documents are not always so easy to follow, but, taken together, they stand for these propositions: human dignity derives from the fact of divine creation; human freedom, correctly understood, is the freedom to progress toward spiritual perfection in Christ; and a secular understanding of human rights, which promotes Continue reading

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