Globalization and Orthodox Christianity: The Transformations of a Religious Tradition

By Roudometof, Victor; Pahman, Dylan | Journal of Markets & Morality, Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

Globalization and Orthodox Christianity: The Transformations of a Religious Tradition


Roudometof, Victor, Pahman, Dylan, Journal of Markets & Morality


Globalization and Orthodox Christianity: The Transformations of a Religious Tradition Victor Roudometof New York: Routledge, 2014 (228 pages)

In Globalization and Orthodox Christianity, sociologist Victor Roudometof aims to contribute to the scholarly shift in the study of religion from secularization to globalization. His study of Orthodox Christianity is meant to be paradigmatic for future studies of other religious traditions. In the process, he also seeks to dispel common, cliche, and Western-centric concepts of the public role of Orthodoxy and the various Orthodox hierarchical centers and institutions. The goals of the book are thus diverse but limited in scope by its focus on a single religious tradition, Orthodox Christianity. Additionally, it is important to note that the study only marginally touches on the economic aspects of globalization; expanded treatment might have helped to further problematize the sociological analysis.

Key to Roudometof's study is the argument that globalization, unlike secularization, is not a purely modern phenomenon. This gives him the justification, in chapters 2 and 3, for surveying history from the Emperors Constantine and Justinian in the Christian East, to the rise of the Carolingian dynasty in the West and concurrent theological controversies, to the era of the Crusades and the 1204 sack of Constantinople, to the late Byzantine Empire and its downfall to the Ottomans in 1453, to the rise of the Russian Empire. Rather than simply presuming Orthodox Christianity in its modern form, he avoids the pitfall of anachronism by tracing its historical development while, at the same time, demonstrating key themes of his overall study, including one overarching thesis: Orthodoxy has responded and adapted to globalization in a variety of ways all throughout its history, rather than being an adversarial, ossified artifact of the past (as it can sometimes be portrayed from the point of view of secularization). He does not, for that, deny Orthodoxy's traditional and conservative nature, but he adeptly demonstrates that this characteristic has not been a barrier to adaptation and should not be an excuse for sloppy oversimplification by scholars.

The rest of the book examines the early modern era of the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, the modern era of the nineteenth century to 1945, and the current global age post-1945. In the course of the study, he highlights how the church-nation link found so commonly in Eastern Europe is itself a modernization of institutional and cultural relations rather than a simple resistance to modernity. In addition, this model is not the only one present and active today. To demonstrate this, four concepts recur throughout the study, offering a nuanced picture of the historical, institutional development of this religious tradition and its various ways of adapting to globalization: vernacularization, indigenization, nationalization, and transnationalization. He offers an excellent overview in his final and concluding chapter, which actually might have been better placed in the first, introductory one.

"Vernacularization," writes Roudometof, "blends religious universalism with specific languages, which are endowed with the privileged ability to offer communication with the sacred." Unlike Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy has historically been much more open to translating liturgy and other religious texts into various languages, though Roudometof admits that it was "far more common in premodern or preliterate cultures." Nevertheless there are modern examples as well.

Next, Roudometof explains, "Indigenization blends religious universalism with local particularism by adopting religious ritual, expression and hierarchies into the specifics of a particular ethnicity." This is not the same as nationalization since, of course, ethnicity and nationality are distinct, if often related, concepts. "Although pre-modern kingdoms and principalities have made regular use of this process to bolster their rulers' legitimacy, the ties thus constructed have endured far beyond the specific regimes or states," he notes. …

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