Cultural Reductionism

The re-emergence of cultural and civilizational analysis in sociology has led to claims being made about the supposed internal consequences of Orthodoxy in Russia and other former Communist societies. The same kinds of mechanisms at work in the Huntington school are also deployed here. This means that religious traditions, in this case Orthodoxy, has characteristics imputed to it from a particular reading of theological texts and then presumed to have fairly direct cultural and societal consequences, especially in the economic and political sphere, and not only on believers but, it seems, on the majority of the population. For example, A. Pollis (1993) claims that Eastern Orthodoxy is incompatible with modern western conceptions of individual rights. In the economic sphere a range of commentators, both academics and journalists, have made claims about Eastern Orthodoxy and comparisons between it and Catholicism in relation to market-based business activity, citing the former's supposed hostility to it or lack of aptitude (Dinello 1998; Kaplan 2000; Nedelchev 2002).

The basic problem of all these arguments and studies is their cultural reductionism in which whole societies are typified and apparently explained by reference to their being Orthodox or Catholic. So, for example, Nedelchev (2002) wants to argue that Catholicism promotes a cultural environment conducive to a market transition and Orthodoxy does not. He seeks to establish this via a comparison of two 'Catholic' countries, Poland and Hungary, and two 'Orthodox' countries, Bulgaria and Rumania. By doing so he subsumes the complex and deeply differentiated histories under these global categories of apparently religious differences. Or take the following assertion presented by Kaplan (2000): 'Since 1989, the economies of the Catholic and Protestant countries of Poland, Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have all grown faster, or at least have been less stagnant, than those of Orthodox Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, and largely Muslim Albania.' M. Bakic-Hayden provides some sensible commentary on this statement when she writes:

What is being qualified here: [the] economy as Catholic? Protestant, or Orthodox? Or, Catholicism and Protestantism as faster growing or less stagnant than Orthodoxy? In what way, one wonders, can these religious designations be helpful in understanding the logic of investment in post-communist Eastern Europe? Why, indeed, has Hungary had more investment than Romania? Can politics perhaps explain more than religion in this case? (2002: 73)

The answer must of course be: Yes, politics, and social structure and wider economic and international relations are necessary elements of a more complete explanation. (Once more Mouzelis's book makes for some interesting starting points and comparisons.) One of the interesting findings in Nedelchev's research is that (opinion) polling between Catholic and Orthodox countries indicates that 'Catholics demonstrate greater preference for incentive driven distribution of income and a more positive view of wealth than the Orthodox' and in general 'are closer to the profile of modern personality than the characteristics of the Orthodox' (Nedelchev 2002: 1). This is especially interesting given classical status in the discipline of sociology of Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which sought to establish the traditionalism of Catholicism in regard to wealth. This should at least give us pause for thought and suggest the possibility of quite dramatic cultural change or that there might indeed be something wrong in thinking about the relationship between religion and society in this kind of way.

Religion is nothing if it is not about meanings and the communication of those meanings over time. Eastern Orthodoxy is a Church or group of churches that exists

Western Orthodox

Christianity Christianity circa 1500 and Islam

Western Orthodox

Christianity Christianity circa 1500 and Islam

Huntington's civilizational map of Europe. Redrawn from Huntington (1993).

within the broad and deep civilizational framework of Christianity. It has within it varied currents, it is not indefinably fluid but neither is it entirely rigid and predetermined, it has never been entirely uninfluenced by, or uninfluential upon, the Christian Churches of the West, Catholic and Protestant, or in regard to its sister Churches in the East, the so-called Oriental Churches. It makes no sense to define the history of Orthodoxy or western churches as A. Pollis does, as existing from the 'fourteenth century [with] a nearly impermeable iron curtain [having descended between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. The former emphasized liturgy and conformity to rites and rituals' (1993: 341). To support this claim she quotes George Florovsky, who says 'Christianity is a liturgical religion and the Church is first of all a worshipping community' (1993: 341 n. 3). It is virtually impossible to imagine any Roman Catholic theologian dissenting from this view of what the Church and its life is. However, historical detail is less important than the methodological point concerning the mode by which religion exists in a modern complex society. It is perhaps best to draw on the understanding of the French sociologist of religon Daniele Hervieu-Leger, who speaks of religion as 'a chain of memory' (Hervieu-Leger 2000). It consists of the tradition as a kind of collective memory for the religious community, with the chain being as it were the way the memory acts via individuals (certainly not just theologians), making them members of a community of past, present and future members. The members of the Christian Churches both East and West are the bearers of their tradition in both institutional and non-institutional ways. Those who believe that Orthodoxy 'remains frozen in the past' and 'unable to say anything about the nature of persons and their possible rights' (Pollis 1993: 353) should ponder both the hermeneutical richness of the Orthodox Christian tradition and the history of the Christian Churches in general. Critics who see no possible chance of change and development should ponder the history of the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century in particular.

The chain of memory is not broken in the Orthodox Churches in spite of the great difficulties and hardships it has had to endure in the twentieth century. In a world that is now more open to critical thought about secularity and modernity the spiritual traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy will have space to help shape the minds and hearts of new generations.

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