Alfons Bruning and Evert Van der Zweerde (Eds.), Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights

By Toroczkai, Ciprian Iulian | The Ecumenical Review, July 2013 | Go to article overview

Alfons Bruning and Evert Van der Zweerde (Eds.), Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights


Toroczkai, Ciprian Iulian, The Ecumenical Review


Alfons Bruning and Evert van der Zweerde (eds.), Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights (Eastern Christian Studies 13), Leuven; Paris; Walpole, Mass.: Peeters, 2012, 399pp.

The latest book published in the excellent series Eastern Christian Studies--edited by the Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, Nijmegen (the Netherlands)--is a new valuable contribution to understanding the values of Orthodox theology in the contemporary socio-cultural context. The theme is illustrated by the relationship between Orthodox theology and the human rights issues, most of the studies reunited in the volume having been presented at the international conference organized by the above mentioned Institute (Instituut voor Oosters Christendom --IvOC): "Orthodox Christianity and Human Rights," 9-11 February 2009, at Radboud University, Nijmegen (the Netherlands).

Although human rights are not strictly a religious issue, their Christian foundations are doubtless. This is the unanimous understanding of the authors contributing to this volume. It opens with three general studies in which are exposed human rights discourse and its vicissitudes. Johannes van der Ven reminds us that it has been over 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted (UDHR, 1948), and Everet van der Zweerde deepens the religious and non-religious foundations of the UDHR, underlying that there is no confrontation between them (respect for the human rights sets out the framework within which people can freely express their religious beliefs). Elena Pribytkova compares the two conceptions of natural law: the "Orthodox" conception of Vladimir Solovyov and the "Roman Catholic" conception of Jacques Maritain, who was one of the founding fathers of the 1948 Declaration.

In the next section Mikhail V. Dmitriev, Tatiana Artemyeva and Alfons Bruning are trying to answer the following question: Are there two different civilizations in the European culture: the humanist, Western one and the Orthodox, Eastern one? In other words, Samuel P. Huntington's noted thesis about "the clash of civilizations" is analyzed here in terms of human rights. On one hand, it is true that the concept of human rights was born in a particular socio-historical and cultural-religious context which is related to the Western world; on the other hand, a closer analysis notes that this does not result in inevitable conflict with the values of the Orthodox Christian tradition. Therefore, both the contradictions and the similarities between the two views must be stated.

Several central terms are then presented: human rights in the 2008 bilateral discussions of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Evangelical Church of Germany and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (Heta Hurskainen), Sergey Bulgakov's concept of human dignity (Regula Zwahlen) and the position of Christos Yannaras on human rights (Kristina Stoeckl). The next section extends the analysis to the Orthodox Church in general: Christopher Marsh and Daniel Payne write about religiosity, tolerance and human rights in the Orthodox world, citing some of the most authoritative voices in the contemporary Orthodox theology: Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos, Christos Yannaras, Patriarch Kirill I (Gundyayev) of the Moscow Patriarchate and Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev. The two authors strengthen the idea that the differences between East and West are much less pronounced than one might have expected. For example, the difference between the Western notion of tolerance and the Russian notion of terpimost' ("patience") reminds one, according to them, of the theoretical distinction between positive and negative tolerance. However, this distinction is a subtle one and is certainly not mirrored in a "cultural" difference between East and West.

The other two studies, by Inna Naletova and Maija Turunen, show other ambiguities regarding the Orthodox conception of human rights. The first finds a certain predominance of "an authoritarian value-outlook" in the main approach of the Orthodox churches toward human rights --but an orientation toward the authority of the Orthodox church does not necessarily mean rejection of the modern democratic principles of equality and respect for other religions. …

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