On May 10-12 an International Conference on “Orthodoxy and Fundamentalism
” was successfully held in Belgrade. The conference was organized by the Volos Academy for Theological Studies
(Volos, Greece) in cooperation with The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity
(Belgrade), the Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University
(New York), the Chair of Orthodox Theology, Münster University
(Münster, Germany), the Romanian Institute for Inter-Orthodox, Inter-Confessional and Inter-Religious Studies
(Cluj-Napoca, Romania), the St Andrews Biblical Theological Institute
(Moscow, Russia), the Sankt Ignatios Orthodox Theological Academy
(Stockholm), the European Forum of Orthodox Schools of Theology
(Brussels), the Center for Philosophy and Theology (Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina), and in cooperation with Dom omladine Beograda
After the welcoming addresses and the opening remarks by Sergej Beuk
(Dom omladine Beograda), Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis
(Volos Academy for Theological Studies), Dr. Davor Džalto
(The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity) and Minister Vladan Vukosavljević
(Serbian Ministry of Culture and Information), the conference started with the first session chaired by Dr. Davor Džalto
Bishop Jovan Culibrk
(Orthodox Church of Serbia) offered some general and introductory reflections on the timely relevance of the conference’s topic, while Dr. Tarek Mitri
(American University of Beirut, Former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lebanon) spoke on “Conservatism, Fundamentalism and Identity Politics in the Arab World,” in which he argued that identity politics tend to blur the distinction between conservatism and fundamentalism. Strengthening communal identity brings conservatives and fundamentalists closer together. At the same time, division among Christians remains noticeable between those who seek spiritual and ethical resources to transcend identity politics and those unable to disentangle their religion from communalism and draw their political capital from disillusionment, resentment and fear.
During the first morning session of May 11, chaired by Dr. Michael Hjälm
(Sankt Ignatios Orthodox Academy, Stockholm), Rev. Dr. Vladan Perisic
(Professor, Faculty of Theology, University of Belgrade; Director, Center for Theology and Philosophy, Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina) presented a paper on the “Theoretical Presuppositions of Christian Fundamentalism”. These presuppositions share mostly unconscious and acquired beliefs, habits and dispositions, which constitute the spirit and atmosphere within which a fundamentalistic attitude gets developed and manifested.
Dr. George Demacopoulos
(Professor, Fordham University; Co-Director Orthodox Christian Studies Center, New York) presented a topic on “The Recent Invention of ‘Traditional’ Orthodoxy” in which he argued that the emergence of “traditional Orthodoxy” as a distinctive and constitutive marker of authentic Orthodox identity during the twentieth century should be understood as the byproduct of an inner-community struggle for meaning and relevance in the wake of centuries of theological dependence/resistance to Western Christianity. Mrs. Katerina Pekridou
(Theological Dialogue Secretary, Conference of European Churches, Brussels) spoke on “Fundamentalism and Ecumenism,” in which she explored Orthodox fundamentalism from a theological perspective and attempts to outline both of its key elements and impact on the engagement of the Orthodox Church in ecumenical dialogue.
At the second morning session chaired by Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis
(Volos Academy), Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou
(Professor, Fordham University; Co-Director, Orthodox Christian Studies Center, New York) spoke on “Pluralism, Secularism and Fundamentalism,” where he offered an analysis of the concept of the “secular,” providing then a theological argument for a Christian secularism understood in terms of radical pluralism. Rev. Dr. Vasileios Thermos
(Child and Adult Psychiatrist; Assistant Professor, Higher Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens, Greece) in his “Fundamentalism: Theology in the service of psychosis” argued that religious fundamentalism is criticized theologically as an absolutization of elements of the created order which hinders the access to the uncreated, while it is also approached psychoanalytically as the “psychosis” of the Church, in terms of a) introducing paranoia and aggression, b) lack of self-criticism, c) prevalence of an inner unconscious representation of a bad persecutory god. The last speaker of this session Dr. Petar Jevremović
(Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Belgrade) spoke on “Epistemology of the Radicalized Faith,” in which he argued that there is something deeply paranoid (narcissistic) within the fundamentalist mental structure. Being radical in the matters of faith implies being absolutely in possession of the divine knowledge.
At the first afternoon session chaired by Mr. Cezar Marksteiner-Ungureanu
(Romanian Institute for Inter-Orthodox, Inter-Confessional, Inter-Religious Studies, INTER, Cluj-Napoca, Romania), Dr. Predrag Dragutinović
(Professor, Faculty of Theology, University of Belgrade) presented a paper on “Reading without interpretation? Fundamentalism and Biblical Hermeneutics,” in which he discussed the hermeneutical foundation of a fundamentalist treating of the biblical texts within the Orthodox biblical scholarship and theology and the need in the Orthodox educational system to promote historical-critical methodology which protects theology against inherent ideological hazards, demarcates perspectives, and renders theology culturally compatible. Rev. Dr. Christoph d’Aloisio
(Director, Institut de théologie orthodoxe St. Jean le théologien, Brussels) in his “Fundamentalist Hermeneutics as a Risk in Education,” analysed first of a practical situation (the case of Belgium) and then he aimed at drawing some general conclusions about what is at stake when one faces fundamentalist hermeneutics in the frame of a State school system. Dr. Vasilios N. Makrides
(Professor, University of Erfurt, Germany) spoke on “The Notion of Orthodoxy as the Sole True Faith: A Particular Source of Orthodox Christian Rigorism,” in which he attempted to consider another specific aspect of the present discussion, namely the notion of Orthodoxy as representing the sole true religious faith in the entire world in order to show how this notion of Orthodoxy and its literal understanding is closely related to the rise of Orthodox rigorism.
At the first morning session of May 12, chaired by Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou
(Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Fordham University, NY), Dr. Haralambos Ventis
(Assistant Professor, School of Theology, University of Athens, Greece) spoke on “Fundamentalism in the Orthodox Church: Intrinsic or Transient?” in which he attempted to identify a number of the thorny obstacles to Orthodoxy’s further growth, evolution, and relevance, assuming that their pious endorsement and prolongation in the spirit of traditional confessional triumphalism will only render this great faith more and more irrelevant and will further sink it to the margins of the civilized world as one more irresponsible, toxic belief system perilous to democracy, freedom, and the open society. Dr. Brandon Gallaher
(Lecturer, University of Exeter, UK) presented the “Conversion to Orthodoxy in North America and Orthodox Fundamentalism: A Personal View,” in which he explored the phenomenon of Orthodox fundamentalism drawing on considerations on the history of non-Orthodox conversion to Orthodoxy in North America and Europe, sociological reflection on the basically modernist cast of mind of religious fundamentalism and the author’s own twenty-five year experience in Orthodoxy as a convert in many countries. Dr. Frances Kostarelos
(Professor, Governor’s State University, Illinois, USA) spoke on the “Conflicting Greek Orthodox Christian Discourses on Fundamentalism and Fragmenting Greek Orthodox Church Institutions in the USA,” in which she examined the use of the emic and etic term fundamentalism articulated among Orthodox Christian laity, clergy, and scholars seeking to explain the influence of Elder Ephraim’s beliefs and practices on Orthodox identity, parish life, and institutions.
During the second morning session chaired by Dr. Alexei Bodrov
(St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute, Moscow), Mr. Sergei Chapnin
(University of Innsbruck, Austria; Former editor of the Magazine of the Moscow Patriarchate, Russia) spoke on “Maltida & Maltiding: The Rise and Fall of the Radical Orthodox Fundamentalism in Russia,” in which he tried to assess the radicalization of some Orthodox groups in Russia, closely connected with the religious justification of violence, discussing the fact that the official Church prefers not to notice the Orthodox radicals, and does not want to give their actions a clear assessment. Dr. Anastasia Mitrofanova
(Professor, Russian State University for the Humanities; Russian Orthodox University) in her “Fundamentalism in the Ideology and Practice of the Orthodox Political Movements in Contemporary Russia,” demonstrated that fundamentalism is not a form of religiosity but a distinctive religious ideology concentrated on the idea of winning back a society that becomes more and more “permissive,” and less and less corresponding with religious demands. Dr. Katerina Bauer
(Assistant Professor, Charles University of Prague) in her “Two Examples of Non-fundamentalist but rooted spirituality: Mother Maria Skobtsova and Alexander Men” explored a middle way between the fundamentalist and extreme liberal reactions to the encounter between religious tradition and modernity, by offering Mother Maria Skobtsova and Father Alexander Men as examples of how to moderate those two positions: how to stay deeply rooted in Orthodox tradition while adjusting it to both the present and the future.
At the concluding session chaired by Dr. Brandon Gallaher
(Exeter University, UK), Dr. Petre Maican
(University of Aberdeen, UK) presented the topic “Giving the Laity its Voice Back: One Way to tackle fundamentalism in the Eastern Orthodox Church” in which he argued that it is essential to establish structures for intra-ecclesial dialogue by proposing six dispositions that the participants should exhibit and one doctrinal criterion for assessing if the results of the dialogue remain within the boundaries of the Orthodox tradition. Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis
(Director, Volos Academy for Theological Studies; Lecturer, Hellenic Open University; Research Fellow, KU Leuven) spoke on “Eschatology and Fundamentalism,” in which he explored the importance of eschatology for theology and Church life, and its crucial implications both for the relationship of Orthodoxy to modernity, and for the challenge of fundamentalism which is a distorted reaction to modernity; an attempt to return to past structures and cultural forms without “remembering the future.”
The last conference speaker, Dr. Davor Džalto
(President, The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity, Belgrade, Serbia; Professor, The American University of Rome, Italy), in his “How to be the right kind of ‘fundamentalist’?” explored the concepts of “fundamentalism,” “extremism” and “radicalism” and the ways in which they can be used to describe both the “negative” and “positive” aspects/manifestations of (political) religiosity, while he sought to affirm a “non-fundamentalist (Christian) radicalism,” which would avoid the negative implications of “fundamentalism” taking into account the need to preserve/affirm the “radicalism” of eschatologically-oriented Christian faith.
You can read the Introductory Remarks by Dr. Pantelis Kalaitzidis
To see photos from the conference click here