- Globalization and Orthodox Christianity: The Transformation of Religious Tradition by Victor Roudometof
Those of us who grew up as members of the Orthodox Church clearly remember that we were told that the Church never changes, that from the time when the apostles were leading it until today, it remained essentially the same. Yet, when we acquired historical and social consciousness we became aware that human institutions transform together with the always-changing society, the Church included. Very often, however, we keep these mature insights to ourselves in order not to disturb the tradition. Victor Roudometof is one of those courageous and exceptional scholars who studies change in the Orthodox Churches and in the societies that we, for the lack of better term, call Eastern Orthodox. Drawing on his wide-ranging experience in the field of sociology of religion, Roudometof paints a picture of the Orthodox Church that is dynamic and detailed. The picture of static, unchangeable Orthodox culture that the author seeks to dismantle does not come only from within. Very often, this picture is imposed by the West. Many Western scholars take the unity between the Orthodox tradition and the community as a given starting point and assume the existence of an unchanging Orthodox Commonwealth at all times in history. Roudometof makes it very clear that this is a misleading picture. According to him, Orthodox Christianity is far more creative in its answers to the modern world that either its supporters or critics give it credit for.
In order to analyze the relationship between religion and community, Roudometof looks at the relationship between Orthodoxy and globalization. He identifies four different social processes—vernacularization, indigenization, nationalization, and transnationalization. All of these represent the ways by which the Orthodox religion has been transformed or has transformed itself in reaction to the process of globalization. The essence of Roudometof’s argument is that it is not true that Orthodoxy in the global world is characterized only by the rise of ethno-nationalism and by the ever-closer identification of tradition with society. He rightfully and forcefully criticizes the Western concept of secularization, which puts the rest of the world in a passive role and engenders reaction in two distinctly anti-Western forms: ethno-nationalism and religious fundamentalism. He understands that Orthodoxy is not just about reacting to the West and its version of modernity: modern Orthodoxy is much more complex than simple pride in eternal Orthodox tradition and the obsession of being different from the West.
Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 present an acute sociological analysis of the various modern reactions to nationalism by the Orthodox Church. The differences in how Orthodoxy and nationalism interact in various social environments are at the core of this book’s argument. First there are the societies that emerged as post-Ottoman states in the Balkans. There nationalism could be seen as a struggle for identity in the transnational Ottoman Empire, and we should not forget that the nationalism of the Balkan Christians is often counterbalanced by the transnational approach of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Secondly, we have the case of Imperial Russia, where the problem of alienation between the rigid state structures and ordinary believers was acute. Roudometof rightfully points to the Russian Old Believers to illustrate subtle differences in the way Orthodox Christians reacted to the globalizing Russian Empire. The best [End Page 458] chapter in this book is, in my opinion, the chapter on Cyprus, which also deals with the Orthodox Church in the colonial situation. There Roudometof masterfully explains how the Church of Cyprus was creative in its dealings with British colonial authorities and how that interaction shaped Cypriot society. Finally, in the multi-ethnic context of the United States, Roudometof argues that Orthodox Christianity is profoundly transnational, though still struggling to overcome the boundaries of national groups. Altogether, Roudometof presents an impressive sociological analysis of the modern Orthodox world.
The further we go back into the past, the less information we have, and that makes the task of historical sociology more...