STATEMENT OF SOLIDARITY: WIDER CHRISTIAN ACADEMIC COMMUNITY JOINS IN DENOUNCING “RUSSIAN WORLD” IDEOLOGY by Marietta van der Tol

For context see A Declaration on the “Russian World” (Russkii Mir) Teaching.

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Archimandrite Dr. Cyril Hovorun receives Statement of Solidarity
University Church, Oxford University

Last week, the Oxford conference “Christian Identity in National, Transnational, and Local Space” recreated the spirit of the ecumenical Oxford Life and Work conference of 1937. At that time, ecumenical voices sought to articulate Christian responses to the rise of Nazism and Soviet totalitarianism. The conference was one of the most important moments in the history of the World Council of Churches, and within Oxford, it inspired eminent scholars to continue conversations about Christianity, state, and society — also known as “The Moot” (1938-1944), under the leadership of J.H. Oldham. 

This past week, the Protestant Political Thought project (University of Oxford) convened scholars from across and beyond Christian traditions — including Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic — to discuss the danger associated with the political ideologization of the russkii mir (“Russian world”): the idea that there is a transnational and holy unity of the Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarussian peoples. The ideology of the russkii mir declares a particular civilisation holy and identifies it with “the good” — and it casts its ideological and political others to be the evil forces, even in the language of the apocalypse. This ideology has its critics within the international Orthodox community, some of whom raised their voice in the Barmenesque declaration on the russkii mir teaching

The temptation is of course to frame the russkii mir ideology as an Orthodox, or even Russian problem, but the truth is that its tendencies are shared in Christian Nationalism, in and beyond Europe. It may manifest in the sacralisation of political communities, or the designation of good and evil in matters of political and social differences which ought to be negotiated in good faith. Such designations amount to a secular projection of the end times — but without Christ as its redeemer, and without the true Christian hope. Whether in the shape of the russkii mir or of Christian Nationalism, its claim to Christianity is fundamentally and thoroughly false.  

A number of the scholars present at the conference, along with a range of international supporters, have signed this Statement of Solidarity as a way to express that Orthodox scholarship is not alone in its challenge to the russkii mir ideology. It is born from the conviction that dissenting Orthodox scholars ought to be supported by their colleagues within and beyond the wider Christian tradition(s), and by the vision that answers to the pressing questions in Christian political thought and theology are best confronted in solidarity. We call for an ecumenical “Theology after Christendom” and we attach to this call the promise of a conference in 2023 in Oxford. 

Next year, we will bring together ecumenical voices to discuss theological alternatives to narratives that stem from Christendom and its claims to political and cultural dominance. Ideas about a theology after Christendom have been developed within several Christian traditions, and it is important to bring these ideas together in a series of ecumenical conversations. That is not to say that we need a “Theology after Christianity,” as if this were triggered by secularisation. Rather, it is about new ways in which Christianity can be brought to bear upon political thought, when claims of cultural and political dominance are let go of.

The Statement was signed in the Old Library of New College and offered to Prof. Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun at the conclusion of his public lecture on Orthodox political theology at the University Church in Oxford. We are delighted that eminent figures from across and beyond the Christian traditions support it with their signature, including Jürgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Tomáš Halík, Ivana Noble, Pantelis Kalaitzidis and Jose Casanova. The Protestant Political Thought project, along with its international partners, is looking forward to the exploration of new directions in the discipline of Christian political thought and theology in the near future.

For security reasons, Orthodoxy in Dialogue has agreed to accept the signatures of our readers who wish to add their names to the Statement of Solidarity. Send your full name (place of residence not needed) to editors@orthodoxyindialogue.com with “Solidarity” in the subject header. We will forward them to the Statement of Solidarity committee.
Orthodoxy in Dialogue thanks Dr. Deacon Brandon Gallaher for bringing this Statement to our attention and putting us in touch with Dr. van der Tol.
Dr. Marietta van der Tol is research fellow at the University of Oxford. Her research interests include the relationship between religion, politics, and society, and the role that political imaginaries play in the formation of law and public policy with regard to religious minorities in Europe. She works with the Alfred Landecker Programme and leads the international networking collaboration “Religion, ethnicity and politics in German, Dutch, and Anglo-American contexts: nationalism and the future of democracy,” as well as the project “Protestant political thought: religion, state, nation.”
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