Friday, March 4, 2011

The Personal is the Political: “Ethno-Religious Entrepreneurs” & Responsible Cross Wielding

Fourth and final installment of my paper "Ideas Have Consequences: The Theology of Politics & Identity Construction in the Former Yugoslav Republics". See all installments here.
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“...the manipulation thesis seems to run to another extreme, failing to see, in Weber's words, 'the other side of the causal chain'. It is not clear why ethnic and religious 'entrepreneurs', driven by clearly 'materialist' stimuli, choose ethnic and religious identities (or proto-identities, if they are still to be created or invented) for their aims, and why they finally succeed in 'creating' and mobilising these identities.” - Alexander Agadjanian (1)

Having established the intellectual grounding for Orthodox political theory, the question remains: why should anyone care? The West has been able to establish stable, pluralistic democracies without reliance on Christology or Church hierarchy, and it seems simpler to expect the developing world to follow already established Western trajectories. Katzenstein and Byrnes disagree: “Multiple modernities make us look for and accept political antinomies that are perpetually recreated and that make even traditional fundamentalism look modern. … [The privatization and nationalization of religion] has remained far from complete in a world in which strong religions interact with weak states and in which religion is now experiencing a resurgence on a global scale. This resurgence is not primarily a 'fundamentalist' or 'anti-modernist' reaction to the ineluctable march of modernization and globalization. It is, rather, in its public form a normative critique of historical developments that have failed to bring about the Enlightenment's project.” (2)

Religion persists even in the absence of elites or 'religious entrepreneurs' manipulating it for their own ends—Stalin persecuted the Church so ardently that by 1939 “only four bishops were still allowed to function, and there were probably no more than a few hundred churches open in the whole of Russia; all the theological schools and all the monasteries had long since been closed.” (3) Discussing post-Soviet Eurasia, Agadjanian notes, “certainly [religious symbols] took on, in most cases, new (non-traditional) forms and became highly manipulated by the mass media and by politicians, but they might have been reconstructed and instrumentalised only because they meant something for large numbers of people.” (4)

Re-emphasizing the intellectual content of Christianity when considering ethnic and religious conflict can serve several purposes: not only can engaging Christian leaders on their own terms and demonstrating knowledge of their framework, motivation, and ultimate ends can only serve to strengthen diplomatic efforts, but familiarity with basic Christian doctrine surrounding the relationship between Church and state, the value of human life, and the role of ethnicity can stimulate more productive discourse about the actions of various Church leaders during the wars. For too long political science has looked down its nose at the primitive peoples of the Balkans, and it shows not only in the literature, but in the way the conflicts are covered in the media, and in the sincere inability of many Westerners to comprehend “what's so important” about a town, a church, a writing system, or a name.

In 1644 a group of Lutheran theologians came to Moscow and tried to discuss theology with the radically conservative priest Ivan Nasedka. “We have no time now to hear your philosophy!” he cried. “Don't you know that the end of this world is coming and the judgment of God is at the door?” (5) In a way, the roles are now reversed: western theorists seem to cry out to the Balkan peoples: 'There's no time for your petty squabbles! Can't you see modernity waiting?' In all likelihood, they do—perhaps they just want something more.
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1. Agadjanian, Alexander. "Revising Pandora's Gifts: Religious and National Identity in the Post-Soviet Societal Fabric." Europe-Asia Studies 53.3 (2001): 483-484.
2. Katzenstein, Peter J., and Timothy A. Byrnes. "Transnational Religion in an Expanding Europe." Perspectives on Politics 4.4 (2006): 689.
3. Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. London: Penguin Books, 1997. 154-155.
4. Agadjanian, Alexander. "Revising Pandora's Gifts: Religious and National Identity in the Post-Soviet Societal Fabric." Europe-Asia Studies 53.3 (2001): 484.
5. Billington, James H. The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture. New York: Vintage Books, 1970. 141.

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