- Eastern Orthodox Encounters of Identity and Otherness: Values, Self-Reflection, Dialogue ed. by Andrii Krawchuk and Thomas Bremer
This volume emerged from papers presented at the eighth World Congress of the International Council for Central and East European Studies in Stockholm, 2010. Andrii Krawchuk and Thomas Bremer compiled the work of twenty scholars of varying backgrounds. The editors organized the book into six sections under the umbrella theme of encounters of identity and otherness. The sections cover the themes of identities and the challenge of pluralism, perceptions of the religious other, Orthodox critiques of the West, encounters with European values, prospects for encounter, consensus, and cooperation, and emerging encounters in post-Soviet Central Asia.
In his introduction to the book, Krawchuk states that the book's objective is to "analyze and assess diverse experiences, challenges, and responses of Orthodox churches in the period since the 1980's" (4). The book is partially successful in achieving this objective, as most of the essays deliver original, substantive, and well-researched views on the positions on contemporary issues of some of the world's Orthodox churches and their leaders. Rigorous examination of the issues of the times is a strength of this book. It is particularly effective in elucidating developments on social issues, human rights, nationalism, and European values in the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, seven of the book's twenty essays address identity and otherness in dialogue with today's pressing issues in the Russian Orthodox Church. The book is also original in its coverage of the religious plurality in republics of the former Soviet Union, devoting its final section to Islam and Islamic-Orthodox encounter in post-Soviet Central Asia.
The book's Russo- and Euro-centrism leaves readers with only a partial sense of Orthodox identity. Krawchuk defined the context of the book as dealing with identity in the post-Soviet context, so this explains why the content privileges Orthodox policy and thinking in traditionally Orthodox countries that were under Soviet rule and influence. Readers learn much about developments in Russian Orthodox thinking and engagement with government and society during a period of great vulnerability for the Church and her people, the Church's initial period of reconstructing life following the end of the Soviet regime, and the breakup of the union into several independent republics. Anna Briskina-Müller's essay stands out among the solid contributions in this volume, as she narrates the Russian Church's travails in navigating women's issues, such as purity rules and qualifications for ordination. She also shows how contemporary Russian Orthodox literature exposes rank-and-file clergy and monastics grappling with the challenge of criticizing the Church and experiencing loneliness, especially in the search for intellectual companionship (75). Hagiographical hyperbole and ecclesial triumphalism [End Page 103] dominate mainstream coverage of Orthodox Russia, and her profiles of literary works that address the state of the Church from unconventional angles demonstrate signs of intellectual plurality within Russian Orthodoxy.
The Eurocentric approach also provides solid essays on Serbian and Greek mistrust of Western theology (by Julia Anna Lis) and an outstanding examination of Yannaras's caricature of Western theology as inferior to that of the Orthodox East (by Vasilios Makrides). Lis's treatment of the theological underpinnings of Serbian anti-Western bias is the best part of her essay. She suggests that the writings of Nikolai Velimirovic and Justin Popovic have become popular in reinvigorating the desire for restoring the Serbian golden age and critiquing the moral decay of the West, especially in the fertile period of Serbian anger towards the West in the latter's condemnation of Serbs in the conflicts with Bosnia and at Kosovo. Lis's essay is too brief to effectively demonstrate a dependence of contemporary Serbian thinking on these theological works, as she does not clearly manifest the theological underpinning of Serbian anti-Western sentiment. Nevertheless, her identification of the capacity of these theological works to enhance a nationalistic and anti-Western ideology in Serbia is quite evocative.
Makrides presents a...