EXC 2060 B3-26 - Theology of Politics in Orthodox Christianity in Southeast Europe

in Process
Funding Source
DFG - Cluster of Excellence
Project Number
EXC 2060/1
  • Description

    The project is concerned with the understanding of the political, and with the models of the relationship between church and state in Greek-speaking Orthodox theology and its churches (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople with its seat in Istanbul, Orthodox Church of Greece; but the Greek-speaking Orthodox Church of Cyprus is not included). It has often been hypothesized that the theology of Orthodox Christianity and of the Orthodox churches in general has shaped the understanding of state and society, as well as politics and culture, in the Orthodox Christian countries of eastern and southeastern Europe in general. But this has not yet been sufficiently investigated or understood in the German-speaking and Western context. Given the various political tensions in Europe, there is a strong need now to understand better the religious character and politics of various countries in eastern and southeastern Europe. This also applies to the Orthodox Christian countries of southeastern Europe that are member states of the EU.

    Using Greek-language Orthodox theology as an example, this research project is examining the theology of the political. On the church side, the focus is on the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (based in Istanbul) and on the Greek Orthodox Church, but does not include the Greek-speaking Orthodox Church of Cyprus. Besides the theological and historical aspects and dimensions of the Orthodox theology of the political, the project will use historical constellations from the last two centuries and the present to explore the entanglement or tension between religious identity and the political and social context. It will also explore the Orthodox theology of the political with regard to the relationship between tradition and innovation, i.e. its innovative flexibility or its persistence in traditions in times of historical upheavals and challenges. Methodologically, investigating the Orthodox theology of the political in the history of ideas has the advantage first of all that the Orthodox doctrine was largely established in the first millennium, and that this then functioned in the following centuries as a relatively stable point of reference in the ever new adjustment of the Orthodox doctrine between tradition and innovation. This process was driven by historical, and intellectual-historical, changes, but then took place predominantly in the form of interpretations of the theological positions from the first millennium. Thus, reconstructing in terms of the history of ideas the normative conceptions of the political and the relationship between state and church in Greek-speaking Orthodox theology since the 19th century cannot disregard their traditional conceptions. Such a reconstruction, of course, also poses the conceptual difficulty that, although there is a traditional concept of the relationship between state and church in Orthodox theology, traditional Orthodoxy did not conceive and know of a theology of the political or political theology. Only recently has Pantelis Kalaitzidis formulated the need to investigate why Orthodoxy has not developed an explicit “political theology” or theology of the political. In this respect, a contemporary understanding of the political or a political theology is required to examine traditional Orthodox doctrine for equivalent dimensions of the political.

    The project begins with the traditional Byzantine conception of the relationship between state and church as a “synallelie” or “symphony” of the two that Emperor Justinian I established in 535, and that has functioned since then as a quasi-normative model (albeit one that in practice has always been called into question). This conception has been well researched and only needs to be repeated. Since traditional Orthodox theology has not developed its own concept of the political, the first part of the project is examining  for the first time theological texts that have analogous significance for the theology of the political. Among other things, this will take up Giorgio Agamben’s suggestion that discourses on government and rule were conducted in the ancient world in angelology (starting from Dionysius the Areopagite). However, the significance of the monastic community as an ideal of governmental community is also being examined.

    The second part of the project is concerned with the Orthodox theology of the political, and its relationship to state and church in at least three historical constellations from the point of view of the relationship between tradition and innovation in the face of social upheavals and challenges with the resulting collisions of norms. The focus is on the question of whether and how the Orthodox theology of the political reacted innovatively to historical developments. This part of the project is concerned with Greek-language Orthodox theology and church, and focuses again on the history of ideas and conceptual analysis, and thus on the analysis of the dynamics of normative change. The first historical constellation to be examined is the reconfiguration of the relationship between state and church in Greece in connection with Greece’s successful fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire between 1821 and 1830. This also involved the detachment of Greek dioceses from the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the emergence of the Greek Orthodox Church, thereby bringing to an end the centuries-long Ottoman Millet system with the Patriarch of Constantinople as ethnarch. The project is examining the theological discourses that long accompanied the discussions on constitution and church law in terms of how far the traditional conception of the relationship between state and church, and the theological understanding of the political, were developed innovatively – during this phase of dramatic political and social upheaval in Greece.

    This first historical constellation is also exploring the effects of the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire on the Patriarchate of Constantinople (based in Istanbul). This saw the Patriarch lose all political responsibility and function (as “ethnarch”). After the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne with the forced exchange of Turkish citizens of Greek Orthodox faith on Turkish territory, and Greek citizens of Islamic faith on Greek territory, the Patriarch now existed in a Turkish nation-state striving for homogeneity, one that did not seek to hide its hostility towards the Patriarchate and its Greek Orthodox members. The aim here is to examine how theologically there was an innovative reaction on a dogmatic level to this loss of any constructive relationship between church and state. The hypothesis here is that this underlies the Patriarch of Constantinople’s current self-image as an actor on the global political stage (albeit one who is far less conspicuous than the Pope), who is engaged above all in questions of ecology and the preservation of creation.

    The project’s second historical constellation is focusing on the Greek Orthodox Church’s constitution of 1977, which was preceded by a series of church constitutions beginning in 1923. The project is reconstructing the most important theological discourses and conceptions of the relationship between state and church, and how the Greek Orthodox Church understood the political during this phase, when the Church succeeded in breaking away from a long phase of state paternalism. This relationship between state and church is often described with the term “synallelie” (“togetherness”). Nevertheless, even this conception comprises several conflicts of norms between church and state that also led to dogmatic discourses. The project is paying particular attention to these discourses.

    The project’s third historical constellation is examining the theological definition of the relationship between state and church, and the understanding of the political in the last two decades (from about 1997). During this period, the Orthodox Church has felt various consequences of Greece’s EU membership (since 1981), such as the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s increased isolation within Turkey and his distance from the state and the political in general. Theology and the Orthodox Church are critical of the fact that the EU seems to be imposing the secular state ideology of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution in Greece, as in other Orthodox societies, which is not compatible with the concept of “synallily”. They point out that an understanding of the state now dominates where not only the coexistence of state and church is obsolete, but also any institutional role of the church in the modern state. It can now be seen that dogmatic discourses of Greek Orthodox theology are seeking constructive alternatives to “synallelie” – in contrast, for example, to Russian Orthodox theology and church, where the aim is to strengthen the “symphony” of state and church.

    The project is examining key discourses and conceptions of the last 20 years to see how Greek Orthodox theology and church reacts to this very fundamental crisis in the relations between state and church in how it understands the state and the political. This also includes the demand for the development of an explicit theology of the political in Orthodox theology, one that is no longer national but universal. The relationship between tradition and innovation in the Orthodox theology of the political, or of the relationship between state and church, can be examined particularly well in the theological discourses and concepts of the last 20 years, since Orthodox theology naturally reflects this relationship itself. It is of particular interest from a German perspective that Greek Orthodox theology is increasingly oriented towards the cooperative German model of the relationship between state and church or religion, while seeking a connection to the new global (Protestant) discourse on a political “public theology”.

  • Persons