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The Mystical as Political

Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy

Aristotle Papanikolaou

Publication Year: 2012

Theosis, or the principle of divine-human communion, sparks the theological imagination of Orthodox Christians and has been historically important to questions of political theology. In The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy, Aristotle Papanikolaou argues that a political theology grounded in the principle of divine-human communion must be one that unequivocally endorses a political community that is democratic in a way that structures itself around the modern liberal principles of freedom of religion, the protection of human rights, and church-state separation. Papanikolaou hopes to forge a non-radical Orthodox political theology that extends beyond a reflexive opposition to the West and a nostalgic return to a Byzantine-like unified political-religious culture. His exploration is prompted by two trends: the fall of communism in traditionally Orthodox countries has revealed an unpreparedness on the part of Orthodox Christianity to address the question of political theology in a way that is consistent with its core axiom of theosis; and recent Christian political theology, some of it evoking the notion of “deification,” has been critical of liberal democracy, implying a mutual incompatibility between a Christian worldview and that of modern liberal democracy. The first comprehensive treatment from an Orthodox theological perspective of the issue of the compatibility between Orthodoxy and liberal democracy, Papanikolaou’s is an affirmation that Orthodox support for liberal forms of democracy is justified within the framework of Orthodox understandings of God and the human person. His overtly theological approach shows that the basic principles of liberal democracy are not tied exclusively to the language and categories of Enlightenment philosophy and, so, are not inherently secular.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

I want first to thank John Witte Jr. and Frank Alexander, co-founding directors of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, for inviting me to be a senior fellow of the center, and to participate in the Christian Jurisprudence II project...

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pp. 1-12

The Christian theological notion of theosis, usually translated as deification, is not intuitively associated with political theology. In fact, some might argue that theosis gets in the way of a Christian political theology, as it focuses attention on the individual striving for a mystical, nonhistorical, world-denying...

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1. Orthodox Political Theology through the Centuries

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pp. 13-54

It is quite a remarkable fact that in the history of theology in the Christian East, there exists a core and guiding principle that is never challenged within the movement of the tradition: the principle of divine-human communion. This principle may sometimes be ignored, or often under-emphasized, but there...

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2. Eucharist or Democracy?

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pp. 55-86

When Roman Catholics immigrated to the United States, it was not at all clear whether they could accept American democracy, together with its separation of church and state, without compromise. Among others, John Courtney Murray emerged to convince Catholics and non-Catholics alike that Western democracy...

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3. Personhood and Human Rights

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pp. 87-130

This chapter will continue the immanent critique of the Christian theological assault on modern liberal democracy. The focus will be on the modern liberal notion of human rights, and the theological ground will shift from ecclesiology to theological anthropology, even if the two are theological mutually...

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4. Divine-Human Communion and the Common Good

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pp. 131-161

The last two chapters engaged in an immanent critique of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christian attacks against modern liberal democracy and the modern liberal notion of human rights. Taking for granted Orthodox understandings of a eucharistic ecclesiology and relational notions of personhood, I argued...

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5. Truth-Telling, Political Forgiveness, and Free Speech

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pp. 163-194

The previous chapters explored the implications of the principle of divine-human communion for Christian thinking on both the form of political community and the performance of Christian politics. Though still anchored in the principle of divine-human communion, this chapter will deal less with the form...

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pp. 195-200

Since the fall of Communism in the early 1990s, the world’s focus has shifted to Islam. There has been much discussion on whether Islam is mutually exclusive with Western liberal democracy. While it seemed that a universal consensus existed, especially after Vatican II, on the compatibility between liberal democracy...


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pp. 201-226


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pp. 227-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780268089832
E-ISBN-10: 0268089833
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268038960
Print-ISBN-10: 0268038961

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2012