Orthodox Christianity and War: A deliberation (PART 2)

Orthodox Christianity and War: A deliberation (PART 2)

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HYBRID EVENT RG01, Main Buildings, SOAS University of London and on Zoom

10 Thornhaugh Street

London

WC1H 0XG

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Orthodox Christianity and War: A historical, ecclesial & theological deliberation in pursuit of peace & inter-Church conciliation (PART 2)

About this event

In November 2020, a conflict erupted in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Soon after, many in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo community invoked religious discourse to justify pro-war sentiment and to present the current war as patriotic. Others have been silently conflicted about the position they should take, while the EOTC Patriarch has been among a minority in the country speaking openly against it and the violence in Tigray. These different positions suggest that ethnicity and politics have become dividing factors in the Church, creating a divergence of opinions about the meaning of the faith, its theological teachings on war and how the Church should respond in times of division as experienced currently in Ethiopia.

A convergence of faith and politics can also be seen in the crisis that erupted in Ukraine in February 2022. Not only is there a strong identification of political and Church leadership in Russia that favours the war in Ukraine, but religious identity is invoked as a distinctive characteristic of an ‘eastern’ or Russian identity in need of protection from encroaching Western expressions of secular modernity and (multi-)cultural polyvalence. Moreover, the political events unfolding have resulted in rifts and divisions between different Orthodox Churches, endangering Orthodox unity within eastern Christianity.

This convergence of Orthodoxy and politics in the context of war seems alarming and raises important questions:

  • Is not the Orthodox faith one of self-sacrifice and love that should rise above national, ethnic and cultural differences?
  • Given current convergences between political and religious discourse, can the Orthodox faith supersede nationalist and ethnicity-oriented sentiments, to become a force of reconciliation and unification within conflict-riven regions?
  • How might the rifts and divisions that have emerged between different Orthodox churches and communities be overcome and what could be a more conciliatory approach to political crises?

This appears to be a particularly momentous time to have a reflective discussion on the relationship of Orthodox Christianity to war from both theological grounds and the perspective of different countries’ lived historical experiences. We also hope to explore what paths exist for peacebuilding within regional contexts as diverse as Ethiopia and Ukraine.

In a first roundtable that was held on 18 May 2022 we focused on Ukraine (watch the event here), involving a diverse pool of speakers and discussants. In the current roundtable, we will focus on the case of Ethiopia to honour differences in the historical trajectories of Eastern and Oriental faith traditions and the socio-political conditions of the two countries.

The event will comprise of a series of presentations from Ethiopian and international specialists and individuals with direct experience in the country and/or Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christianity and will aim to nuance current representations and discussions in media. The presentations will be followed by a roundtable involving numerous discussants joining from different parts of the world.

Background

This initiative results from a series of informal discussions among colleagues in the UK, Russia, Ethiopia, Kenya and other parts of the world concerned about the unsettling role that Orthodox Churches (Eastern and Oriental alike) are currently playing in politically-motivated wars affecting different parts of the world.

This circle of trusted friends and colleagues has regularly met to informally share updates from their respective geographical contexts, express concerns and support each other. We aim to provide a small contribution to building understanding and a community of trust in these particularly challenging times.

Join the meeting online

The event will be held physically at SOAS and online on Zoom. The details to join the online meeting are as follows:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86832675049?pwd=SUR2UzJheG51Qzl3TXJ0M2kxV2NwZz09

Meeting ID: 868 3267 5049

Passcode: 088336

Contact

Dr Romina Istratii (ri5@soas.ac.uk) and Dr Lars Laamann (ll10@soas.ac.uk).

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