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Summary of International Conference

Orthodox Christianity
and Identity Politics

The international Conference on the topic “Orthodox Christianity and Identity Politics” took place in Münster, Germany, between June 28 and July 1, 2024. The Conference was organized by the Chair of Orthodox Theology, Center for Religious Studies, University of Münster, in cooperation with the Volos Academy for Theological Studies (Greece), the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University (New York, USA), the Sankt Ignatios Orthodox Theological Academy (Stockholm, Sweden), the Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity (Belgrade, Serbia), the Center for Philosophy and Theology of Trebinje (Bosnia-Herzegovina), the St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute (Moscow, Russia) and the European Forum of Orthodox Schools of Theology – EFOST (Brussels, Belgium). The Conference aimed to explore the changes that have occurred in Orthodox Christianity, resulting in a radical swift from a universal, catholic, and ecumenical vision, to a number of nation-centered narratives, and the possible ways of overcoming this problematic situation.

The Conference was inaugurated on Friday, June 28, in the presence of His Eminence Augoustinos, Metropolitan of Germany, who, in his greeting speech, underlined the importance of unity in the Church, especially in times of international turmoil, sometimes with a theological legitimization. On behalf of the organizers, they also greet the conference, Dr. Assaad Elias Kattan, Professor of Orthodox Theology at the University of Münster (local organizer), and Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Director of Volos Academy for Theological Studies (Coordinator of the Network of cooperating theological institutions). Speaking first in the row of the Conference speakers, Dr. George Demacopoulos (Fr. John Meyendorff & Patterson Family Chair of Orthodox Christian Studies; Co-founding Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University, NY, USA) analyzed the formation of contemporary Orthodox identities in relation to the imagined past of Byzantium, which is frequently mistaken as the normative Orthodox experience. Taking the floor, Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis (Director of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies, Volos, Greece) spoke on the rise of Identitarian Christianity, and the shift from the aim for universal salvation to the narratives of national revivals, which should be transcended in favor of the unity in Christ.

 On Saturday, June 29, Dr. Tim Noble (Associate Professor of Missiology, Protestant Theological Faculty Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic), speaking also on behalf of Dr. Ivana Noble (Professor of Ecumenical Theology, Protestant Theological Faculty, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic), analyzed the selective use of memory in the construction of Orthodox identities and metanarratives, with the frequent exclusion of non-conforming cases. Rev. Dr. Vasilios Thermos (Professor, Supreme Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens; Psychiatrist of Children and Adolescents, Athens, Greece) developed the notion of healthy identities opposed to identities that are built as a defense, and the applications of such distinctions in the context of the Orthodox Church. Dr. Sarah Riccardi-Swartz (Assistant Professor of Religion and Anthropology, Northeastern University, USA) spoke on the activity of Far Right Orthodox agents in the USA and their empowerment through the use of digital media. Dr. Hans-Peter Grosshans (Professor of Systematic Theology, Institute for Ecumenical Theology, Faculty for Protestant Theology, University of Münster, Germany) highlighted the common ground of the discussion in Orthodox and Protestant communities, setting forth questions on the relations of the Churches with the various local communities, in total contrast to the transnational, transethnic and transcultural character of Christianity, while Dr. Anna Briskina-Müller (Research Associate, Saxonian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Leipzig; Lecturer at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Halle, Germany) presented the multiethnic and multilingual brotherhood of Paissius Velitchkovsky in the 18 th century Romanian Moldova and the ways it coped with national dominances.

In the afternoon sessions, Dr. Michael Hjälm (Senior Lecturer in Eastern Christian Studies, Dean of Sankt Ignatios College, Stockholm, Sweden) spoke on the importance of prioritizing the Christian ethos, as the ethnic narratives have gradually become overpronounced in the various diasporas. Staying on the topic of diaspora, Dr. Yauheniya Danilovich (Lecturer, Institute for Orthodox theology, University of Munich; Research Associate, Evangelical Theological Faculty, University of Münster, Germany) spoke on the relationship between identity and religious education in the Orthodox communities in Germany, and the particular role of the language and the various countries of origin. Dr. Vladimir Latinovic (Lecturer & Research Fellow, University of Tübingen, Germany) explored theoretical pathways for Orthodox Churches to transcend their roles as conduits for specific national interests. and instead evolve into a supranational paradigm. Rev. Dr. Christophe D’Aloisio (Director, Orthodox Theological Institute of Brussels – IOJ; Secretary of the European Forum of Orthodox Schools of Theology – EFOST, Belgium) approached the question of a panorthodox identity, outlining the difficulties that are posed by the current models of working in the inter-Orthodox dialogue. Last in the day, Dr. Athanasios N. Papathanasiou (Associate Professor of Missiology, Supreme Ecclesiastical Academy, Athens, Greece; Chief Editor of the Greek Theological Quarterly “Synaxi”) highlighted the need to denounce traditionalism which imprisons the Gospel in particular cultures and seek the development of an authentic Christian Eschatology. The day ended with a visit to the Exhibition “Encounters with Orthodox Christianity in Greece”, with photos by Olya Gluschenko and Costis Drygianakis from the Metropolis of Demetrias, co-organized by the Protestant Faculty of Theology of the University of Münster and the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.

 

 

On Sunday, June 30, the day started with the Divine Liturgy at the Antiochian Orthodox Church of the Annunciation at Hiltrup, which included the annual commemoration of the late Metropolitan of Nigeria, Alexandros Yanniris; Athanasios Papathanasiou gave a short eulogy, highlighting the close ties the late Metropolitan had developed with the Diocese entrusted to him, in spirit of true unity and inclusivity with the African people. The sessions continued in the afternoon with Dr. Georges El Hage (Lecturer, Catholic Institute of Paris, France; President of “Syndesmos”) who spoke on the Orthodox in Antioch and their struggle to avoid the labels of Levantinism, proposed by the westerners but also by their muslim compatriots. Dr. Ionut Biliuta (Research Associate, Gh. Sincai Institute, Romanian Academy, Târgu Mureș, Romania) presented the ultranationalist and fundamentalist tendencies of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the post-Communist years, which culminated in an anti-Western theology. In the next session, after a short intervention by Μüfit Daknili (University of Hamburg), specialized in Islamic Philosophy, Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth (Professor of Ecumenical Theology with special reference to Orthodox Christianity, Faculty of Theology, Göttingen University, Germany) spoke on the approaches of Protestantism in Russian academic theology in the late 19 th and early 20th centuries, and the Russian effort to forge identities through polemical delineation. Staying in the Russian territory, Dr. Nadezhda Beliakova (Guest Researcher, University of Bielefeld, Germany) spoke on the possibilities for a feminist identity in the Russian Orthodox Church and the related cases that have appeared in the last centuries.

On Monday, July 1, Dr. Branko Sekulić (Lecturer, University Center for Protestant Theology “Matthias Flacius Illyricus”, Zagreb, Croatia), speaking also on behalf of Dr. Zoran Grozdanov (Associate Professor, same university), presented aspects of the theology of national liberation and the subversions that have taken place in the years after the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. In the last session, Dr. Regina Elsner (Professor of Eastern Churches and Ecumenism, Catholic Theological Faculty, University of Münster, Germany) presented the quest for a new Orthodox paradigm in Ukraine from a Roman Catholic point of view, taking into account the bad example of the Russian Orthodox Church especially in the recent war, while the last speaker, Dr. Lidiya Lozova (Post-Doctoral Researcher, Exeter University, UK; “Spirit and Letter” Research and Publishing Association, Kyiv, Ukraine) spoke on the visual identity of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, claiming the right of the Church to be supportive to the national struggle against foreign invasions.

The proceedings of the Conference are in the process of preparation.

 

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