This post was originally published at The Wheeland is reposted here with permission.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
In our inaugural editorial in 2015, we stated: “The Wheel is a journal for the intelligent and constructive articulation of the Christian Gospel in the 21st century. We live in an era of pluralism, when the social identity of Christian faith and its role in public discourse present new and unique challenges. By embracing contributions on Orthodox theology, spirituality, and liturgical arts alongside serious engagements with the challenges of contemporary political ideologies, empirical science, and cultural modernism, this publication aims to move beyond the polarizations of much current discourse in the Orthodox Church.”
We also quoted the great theologian of the twentieth century Vladimir Lossky:
Much of the recent controversy about Sarah Riccardi-Swartz’s book Between Heaven and Russia (as well as the National Public Radio piece that highlighted her work along with that of other scholars investigating the influence of far-right currents within U.S. Orthodoxy) has exhibited some confusion about the epistemology of social science disciplines. Sarah’s book is an anthropological study based on over a year of fieldwork at a West Virginia monastery. In the book, she outlines a series of discoveries that she made in conversation with the largely convert population of monks and parishioners in the nearby parish, many of which relate to currents of pro-Putin sentiment, nationalism, and illiberal understandings of gender and racial hierarchies. Much of the ensuing controversy around her book (carried out largely among non-academic Orthodox audiences, many of whom boldly claim they have not read the book but are rather listening to likeminded online actors) relates to whether she has been sufficiently transparent in her methods, or—put more bluntly—whether her project was some sort of deception perpetrated upon the community. In effect, this commentary has been a broadside against the enterprise of anthropology itself.
While I have collaborated with Dr. Riccardi-Swartz and have, like many others, benefited from her insights, my goal in this short essay is less about the substance of her book per se and more about the necessity to understand the epistemological strictures that govern different enterprises in the social sciences, and why it is important to get them right—especially when critiquing conclusions based on methodologies. I will consider three examples: sociology, anthropology, and journalism.
When, in March 2020, Serbian Patriarch Irinej officially sanctioned Dr. Vukašin Milićević, a priest and assistant professor of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology (FOT) at the University of Belgrade, it became clear that the recent interference of higher clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in public speech matters gradually evolved into monopolizing the freedom of expression of its clergy with regard to almost all relevant issues, including science. The Patriarch remarked that Prof. Milićević—by his unannounced appearance in the TV broadcast Utisak nedelje—expressed disobedience to him personally, that he neglected the Constitution of the SPC and compromised the decisions of the Holy Council of Bishops that are binding for all clerics and prelates. Dr. Milićević belongs to a group of younger Orthodox theologians who openly tackle the problems within SPC and at the FOT. He is a co-signer of the 2017 public statement that came as a reaction to the petition of Serbian creationists, claiming that there were no plausible alternative scientific theories that could replace the theory of evolution. This includes the “biblical creation theory,” which, in these theologians’ view, is not a scientific alternative to the theory of evolution. The statement was openly criticized within the SPC, while some of the theologians who signed it were invited to explain their views before the Holy Council of Bishops at one of its May 2017 sessions. Soon after, several priest-professors from the FOT were deprived of their main parish duties and were only allowed to assist in liturgies. By the Patriarch’s immediate decision, they were let go from the editorial boards in the church electronic and print media. All this was accompanied by a warning that whoever violated this rule should be sanctioned in a church-disciplinary process.
A towering intellectual voice in Russian Orthodoxy is no longer. Sergey Sergeevich Horujy passed away in Moscow on September 22, 2020. I write this note with great sadness and full of gratitude to a friend, teacher, and intellectual guide.
I first met Sergey Horujy in 2005 during the research for my doctoral dissertation. He received me in his old apartment at Rechnoy Vokzal, in a room stacked full with books up to the ceiling. I wanted to talk to him about the vicissitudes of Russian religious philosophy in the Soviet period; he wanted to talk to me about his own philosophical project, synergic anthropology. I still see him climbing up the sofa to take a small book from high-up in the book-shelf. It was Who Comes after the Subject? by Jean-Luc Nancy, Eduardo Cadava, and Peter Connor (1991). “This,” he said, “is my question.”